Triathlon is a tough sport for various reasons. There are the obvious things like the length of a race; the amount of training needed; the different types of conditions you can face and their variability; and the mass start aspect of the swim, which very often can make or break your race from the beginning depending on how it goes. But I think one of the hardest parts of all is getting the right blend in training so that come a race you can put all the aspects together to reflect the training performances you have been showing.
Very often you see people who are very strong in training in a certain discipline but come a race they do not show the potential they have shown in training. This is usually due to being so tired from their weaker discipline or the previous one that they cannot perform when it comes to the part that they are strongest in. Even in the swim you see athletes who are awesome swimmers and the best in the pool but in a triathlon they are nowhere to be seen at the front of the swim.
This is where what I like to call getting the right ‘blend’ in training become so important. I have learned very much over the years to see triathlon as a completely separate sport to the singular aspects of swim, bike and run. I try to see it as another single discipline, with many aspects within it to get right and to produce the right ‘blend’ of those aspects to produce the best triathlon performance.
Carry on working on everything NOT just your weaker discipline
The most common mistake people make when trying to train for triathlon is completely concentrating on their weakest discipline to improve on it as much as possible. In turn this ends up causing them to lose the strengths they have as they start to just float along in the other 2 sports. It is so important to make sure that even when concentrating on your weaker discipline that you keep a decent level of training up in your stronger disciplines. After all, you are still trying to improve in those too and do not want to turn what used to be a strength into a relative weakness. This is what is so hard about triathlon, keeping a mind on the overall picture while training in each of the three disciplines.
Working on the skills
What is also often missed in training that can make such a big difference to a race is the skill aspects of triathlon, such as open water skills, transition skills, bike handling skills and tactical awareness in a competitive situation. These are things that can be just a few minutes at the end of a session that will make a huge difference to your overall time in a race. These are also essential things that go into perfecting the ‘blend’ of training to get the best out of your races.
Examples of things that can be done in training are:
· Group swimming – do swim sets where you swim right on the feet of the person in front and swap the person on the front every 100m or so. This will help your ability to hold onto someone ahead of you and also get used to swimming in a pack of people.
· Group sprints at the end of a session – do short sprints (up to 25m) lined up in 3s across a lane in the pool and sprint the required distance. This ensure that you get used to swimming hard with people around you and restricts the space you have in the water just like it would be in a race.
· Transition practice – if you find that you are being left behind in the transition then it is so important to make sure you practice jumping on and off your bike so that this becomes a part of the race that is second nature, and not a separate discipline. If you struggle to jump on your bike then find the very fastest way to get on and off your bike without injuring yourself. But if you can learn the jump then this is by far the fastest way to get on and off your bike. Also practice putting your helmet on and how to put your feet into your bike shoes with them on the bike. And putting your shoes on as fast as possible. All these things take minimal physical effort but can make big differences come a race.
· Race scenario training – try to make some of your training sessions similar to a race scenario. For example, if you are a drafting triathlon racer then try to do more rides with others and practice through-and-off riding and attacking each other, just like it would be in a race. Similarly if you are a non-drafting athlete then still go out with others on the bike but do your session with the 10 or 12 metre gap between you that you would have to adhere to in a race. This is very important as even in non-drafting letting the gap go to 13-14 metres will mean you are giving time away for no reason, you may as well be at the required distance to maximise your performance.
This is something I learned back in the 2013 season – there is no better specific session than a race. I ended up racing 22 times in the season – a little too much in the end but it really did help me to hone my racing skills and I was finding that I was less nervous and putting out good performances more often. So even if you are a long distance racer and only have 3 or 4 big races in a year try to get down to some of your local races. This will give you a proper race scenario training session done every so often so that when it comes to the big day the racing experience is not totally alien to you and you eliminate that ‘rusty’ feeling one can get when having not raced much.
Another way to get the blend right in your big races and maximise your performance is to time a smaller race so that it fits in nicely with your schedule before the bigger race. This will help you to iron out anything that you need to work on for the big one and, again, this will give you that race feel that is so hard to get from normal training sessions.
Try to see triathlon as a single sport rather than it being made up of lots of completely separate parts. Your swim will affect the bike leg and your bike leg will affect your run leg and transitions can enhance all three if you get them right, or ruin a race if you get them wrong. Always keep a part of your mind on the other disciplines even when working on your weaknesses.
Don’t worry too much in training if the individual sports are not quite where you want them to be because when it comes to putting it together in a race it is the final result that counts. If you have the right blend in training then you will see the great results pouring in.