As covered in my last article regarding transition tips to improve your triathlon time, there are several ways to knock seconds off your overall time and consequently improving your race position.
For the elites and in sprint and Olympic distance races, the margins at the sharp end of the field can be a few seconds (I personally have finished 3rd and 2nd by three and eight seconds respectively in two races in 2016!) so eking out as much time as possible can be very important to your overall position.
Train your weaknesses
There is no point ignoring or neglecting your weakest discipline as this will continue to hold you back when race day rolls around. Investing some time and effort into it will pay dividends as you will likely have the most to gain in the sport.
So if your swimming is weak technically, get some video analysis or coaching done by a qualified professional, or ask a friend, training partner or family member to film you swimming several lengths from different angles. This can be really informative regarding your stroke and highlight inefficiencies that may be holding you back such as over gliding or crossing the centre line of your body.
Increasing your frequency, if not your total volume, of swimming will also be beneficial as it will improve and maintain your ‘feel’ for the water. Three shorter swims a week will be better and help you improve quicker than a single longer session.
You can gain time during an open water swim by making sure that you swim in a straight line (most people actually don’t!) and sighting efficiently. Getting used to your wetsuit, swimming in a group and drafting, and swimming on someone’s feet or hip to save energy will also make you more confident and quicker in the water.
If your bike leg is weak, initially riding more can be beneficial, but after the initial adaption period or when you cannot fit more training in, it is time to move towards structured sessions designed to improve your ability to ride at ‘race effort’/heart rate/power.
If you are a less confident bike handler, for example you struggle when descending or on twisty, technical bike routes, specifically go out and ride those kind of routes until they become second nature. You could also ask another cyclist to accompany you on rides that incorporate aspects you are not confident on and follow their lead for picking the best lines and when to brake.
Finally, if running is your weakness, again, building up your volume and incorporating some interval or hill work will improve both your aerobic running and ‘race pace’ efforts.
Having a gait analysis session performed will also allow you to ensure that you are using the right running shoes for your running style and also highlight if you are a heel striker or not. If you are, looking to transition towards more of a mid to forefoot strike will reduce the stress put on your body with each footfall and help speed you up.
As it is with all sports, don’t go jumping in the deep end and massively increase your training volume as this will likely result in an overuse injury. Take it easy, increasing at most by 10% of your total volume per week and taking the fourth week easier and at a reduced volume.
Make your strengths weapons
This may seem counter-intuitive considering the last point but putting a bit of focus into your strongest discipline will see you really put time into your competitors and make up for any deficiencies in your other sports.
If you are an uber cyclist, really utilise that in training and racing, and the same holds true with swimming and running – if you can really lay down the hurt on everyone else and catapult yourself through the positions, don’t allow that to go to waste by neglecting it.
Performing brick sessions (moving from one discipline to another within the same training session) can really improve your triathlon performance come race day. The most common is a bike to run session that gets your body used to changing positions and utilising slightly different muscle groups.
Start out by riding for a set distance or time, for sprint or Olympic distance racing the 20/40K bike leg is a good target, then quickly changing into your running kit and heading out for a run. Starting off easily in this session is best before building the intensities to a point when you are finishing the bike portion at a ‘race effort’ and then taking the first 5-10 minutes of the run out also at a ‘race effort’ before easing off. It is a good way to prime your body for the demands of race day and will quickly get you used to running with the ‘jelly leg’ feeling that commonly happens during the bike to run transition. Keep practicing it as it does go away with time!
Practice with race kit and nutrition
There is no point doing all your training then having it all come to nothing or be hindered by the fact you haven’t tried out your race equipment and your body doesn’t like it.
This means practicing with the nutrition you plan to use come race day, using your wetsuit and goggles out in open water, practicing on your time trial bike if you have one and running sockless in your running shoes. All of these things can make your racing experience more comfortable, less ‘alien’ for your body and hopefully faster.
Get a partner
Whether this is joining a triathlon, swimming, cycling or running club, teaming up with a friend or someone you regularly end up bumping into when training, getting your sessions done with a partner can be very beneficial. It holds you accountable to your training and is an extra incentive to get out and train even when you don’t feel like it.
Training with someone else, especially if they are of a similar or better standard than yourself, can really help you push more than you would when solo and can quickly lead to improvements. A training partner can also give you helpful tips and pointers regarding different aspects of training and racing, and can help prevent potential tedium taking hold if you are training for the longer distance races.
Make sure that you don’t get too carried away though and compromise your other training sessions by burying yourself each time you train with someone else. The next day of training is just as important as the current days. So be sensible, if your training schedule has an easy recovery day planned, don’t go out smashing up hills for a couple of hours with a strong bike group!
Be consistent and realistic
Continuing from my last point above, the best way to improve with your training is to be consistent. There is no point logging a twenty hour training week, followed by a three hour week, then sixteen hours followed by five hours. If you know that week in, week out you can get nine hours of training in, stick to it and you will improve at a better rate than if you are constantly changing your training hours up and down.
Being realistic in this sense is the most important thing and not trying to do too much training should also help you avoid overuse injuries. Your body isn’t going to thank you for suddenly increasing your volume for a week or two because you have decided to squeeze in several new sessions.
As I pointed out above, today’s training is just as important as yesterdays and tomorrows, so again, be sensible and listen to your body by not doing too much and ending up side-lined with an injury.
So there you have it, six training tips that will help you improve your triathlon times. Check out next month’s article that will round up equipment choices and tricks that will also save you time when racing.
About the Author:
James Hodgson is a competitive triathlete, representing the Great Britain age group team at European and World Championship events. When he’s not swimming, riding his bike or out running, he can be found doing core exercises and studying for his Masters degree.