As you make the transition from runner to triathlete, you have to learn to let go of your running, develop new skills and become very good at multi-tasking! But master the sport and you’ll reap fitness rewards, have a fantastic time, and maybe even run a PB in your next running event. Runner turning triathlete, Fiona Bugler, reports.
Transition is where you swap from one discipline to the other. At the start of the race you’ll need to enter transition with your helmet on and number visible. Set up your bike and gear and make sure you clock where you’re positioned. A brightly coloured towel may help (since 2016 no bags or boxes are allowed).
This is the fourth discipline in tri, and you can lose time if you haven’t mastered it. Smother yourself in baby oil to make wetsuit removal easier, and invest in a lightweight pair of shoes with lock laces for the run. As you progress you may want to practice mounting the bike with your shoes already attached – but don’t try this in a race unless you’ve practiced. Importantly, there are basic transition area rules, regarding wearing of your helmet and number, easy to forget in a race situation – make sure you’re clued up!
Technique “Swimming is not about fitness, it’s about technique,” says author and triathlete coach Joe Friel, who made the transition from runner to triathlete in the 1980s. “Make sure you get a good skills instructor,” he recommends. For a good triathlon coach, check out the Club Section of The British Triathlon Federation.
Open Water is very different to swimming in a pool! The most important thing you can do to help yourself is to practice, so you can acclimatize to the cold, as well as the lack of walls and lifeguards. If you can learn to breathe bilaterally (i.e on both sides) and learn to swim water polo style (i.e with your head out of the water) it will help you stay on track. Check out my session with Mark Kleanthous, for typical runner mistakes!
Drills. There are lots of drills you can do to improve your swimming. Kicking will strengthen the legs, although as a runner you may find you need to spend more time on upper body work and paddle drills. To really improve technique you’ll need to break down each part of the stroke, and use paddles, pull bouy, float and fins so you concentrate on each element.
Swim Surprises Having your breath taken away in cold water (it’s okay to do breaststroke); getting a kick in the face by a fellow swimmer; getting pulled in different directions by the current if you’re swimming in the sea and feeling panicky – relax and focus on your strength, don’t worry about pace and remember the swim is usually less important in terms of time, so if you find yourself at the back of the pack, remember you have two more races to go!
Running fitness isn’t enough for the bike section. “The key to success in triathlon is the bike. Train at least three times per week, four is better,” says Joe Friel. In The Complete Book of Triathlon Training (www.m-m-sports.com) Mark Kleanthous recommends this combination of training for IronMan triathletes: 70 per cent bike, 20 per cent run and 10 per cent swimming. This is because your body can get the strength and aerobic benefits it needs for the endurance event without the break down you might expect from high volume running – and you will spend at least double the time on the bike as on the run. For sprint triathlon it makes sense to work on a turbo or a spin class twice a week and ride long once a week. For Braveheart, try to get out on a long hilly ride and master gear changes.
Set Up is probably the most important thing in getting cycling right. Ideally, get a professional to sort you out, so that you can get your foot horizontal on the bottom of the pedal stroke and your seated so your back is parallel to the top lube of your bike and your arms are positioned so that they are relaxed with a slight elbow bend. “Expect to take 1,000 miles (1,600km) before your body gets used to any changes in position,” says Mark Kelanthous.
Technique Push down and pull up. “Learn to transfer power through the entire pedal stroke by imagining that you’re trying to clean a little dog poop off your shoe,” says Mike Finch in Triathlon.
Bike Surprises Repairing it: be prepared for a puncture or your chain coming off. And don’t forget you’re most likely to be sharing the road with car drivers and pedestrians. If you’re in a race it’s easy to forget that cars still need to get to where they’re going and won’t care if you’re trying to catch the person ahead.
Less is more “Cut back on your running mileage and do only one hard and/or long run per week plus a couple of easy, maintenance runs,” says Joe Friel (www.JoeFrielsBlog.com and co founder of www.TrainingPeaks.com) who made the transition from runner to triathlete in the early 1980s.
Adapt your schedule. If you run five times a week, start by replacing your two easy runs with a swim and cycle. If you can manage it run to and from a spin class or swimming session, and make sure you’ve practiced running after a bike ride so you can get your body used to that dead leg feeling (which usually disappears after the first kilometre).
Times Expect to run at least five to 10 per cent slower than your normal run time.
Run Surprises The feeling of dead legs and not being able to gauge your pace as you would in a run only race. To combat dead legs, increase the pedal speed (cadence) in the last kilometre of your bike ride as this will help activate your hamstring muscles and clear out any lactic acid. But be careful not to then go off like lightening – it’s easy to do as your legs are ticking over at a higher cadence, but you could pay for it in the latter part of the race.