Triathlon – a Race from A to B
Nice Bike Leg But…
After your next race, have a listen to your competitor’s analysis of their race. It’s likely that it will include a recap of an outstanding swim or bike performance quickly followed by an explanation of some other event or “bad luck” which otherwise would have meant a better result. Then ask yourself, was that other event or “bad luck” something that could have been prepared for or practiced?
The concept underlying triathlon performance is simple. It’s a race. That race has a start line and a finish line. A triathlon isn’t a swimming race, a bike race or a running race - executing a triathlon is a lot more complicated than that.
Triathlon is a Continuum of Skill Execution Activities
Getting from the start line to the finish line in the least amount of time involves completing a continuum of skill execution activities in parallel with mental processes (such as decision making, self-talk, and race plan management) and hydration/nutrition control activities – with all of these activities being undertaken under physical stress. The continuum of skill execution includes:
- a very high intensity run to T1.
- executing a mechanical skill sequence under pressure in T1 (e.g. wetsuit off, helmet on, unrack bike etc).
- a run while steering a bike from T1 to the bike exit.
- executing a bike mount under pressure.
- executing a bike dismount under pressure.
- a run while steering a bike into T2.
- executing a mechanical skill sequence under pressure (rack bike, helmet off, shoes on, hat on) in T2.
Each of the above elements can, and should, be further broken down into a lower level sequence of skill executions. For example, the swim element could involve a float start, an acceleration phase, straight line swimming, buoy turns, surging, drafting and the like.
The Shorter the Race the Better Your Skills Better Be
Your total finish time depends on how long it takes you to execute each of the continuum of skill execution activities. The shorter the event, the greater the proportional effect each activity has. For example, in a sprint distance event, if you average a swim of 1m20/100, ride at 40kmph, and run at 3m30/km pace that contributes 57m30 to the finishing time. Let’s say that the run to T2 (from water’s edge) takes 20sec, skill execution in T1 takes 40sec, the run to bike exit takes 15 sec, the bike mount takes 15sec, the combined dismount and run takes 20sec, and executing the T2 mechanical skill under pressure takes 15sec. That means that there is about 2m00, or about 3.5% of the total race time spent executing a skill other than swimming, riding or running – if things go well – compared to about 1.5% of a 2hr00 Olympic Distance event and less for a 70.3 or IM distance event. A 20 to 30 second reduction in total execution time of these activities could be the difference between hitting your best time or not. These types of performance gains are achievable by gearing your training to prepare for all aspects of competition, not just a fast bike leg. Yet these race specific aspects are often overlooked.
Review Your Sessions Against the Demands of Competition
Because there are so many aspects which contribute to your overall triathlon performance, it is possible that your training is not preparing you for every one of those. It’s worth reviewing your training schedule to see whether you are able to identify any aspects of competition which your training is not taking into account – otherwise you may be only experiencing any overlooked aspects for the first time on race day!
Let’s take the swim element as an example.
Reviewing your Swim Training
Have a look at the swim sets you have completed recently – did they include elements designed to meet or exceed the demands of a triathlon swim? Were all of your sets executed in the benign environment of the pool, or at a pace which not linked to you goal race pace? Do your sets include practice elements intended to prepare you for the rigors of the swim leg?
It’s not hard to include triathlon specific elements in your swim training sessions – and there are significant performance gains to be had by doing that. Here are some of the approaches I use to prepare Olympic distance athletes for the swim element.
- Include race pace focussed sets: With pool sets, I’ll usually include a pace set based on the athletes 1km PB.An example set for an athlete with a 1km PB of 12:44 is a set of 6 x 200 @ 2m30 leaving on 3m15 – remember, pool sets will typically be quicker than open water swims because of the kick off.
- Don’t push off the wall: not pushing off the wall challenges an athlete to accelerate a “dead weight” which replicates the race start and provides the additional benefit having the athlete complete more strokes between turns.A set I like to use is a 400m free with paddles with no push off on the odd 50s and focussing on accelerating the “dead weight”.
- Include disruptive elements: the triathlon swim far from benign. Executing the swim leg involves an equal amount of swimming and argy-bargy!With your pool sets, try including elements which disrupt your stroke – for example, have a training partner interfere with your kick by pushing down on your feet when swimming, or swim to your side (left side and right side) to interfere with your arm action.
- Practice triathlon specific swim skills: include open water sets with buoy turning, congested swimming, run-ins and run-outs, sighting skills (such as ball fetching), and drafting – these are tough sets, but they are meant to be – they are intended to prepare you for race specific elements which you can’t replicate in the pool environment.
- Complete short efforts on a roller (or ergo) between reps: the swim leg of the triathlon is not raced in isolation!Replicate the effort of hitting the bike hard out of the water by completing short high intensity bike efforts on the back of hard swim elements, with transition rehearsal.One set I like to use is 3 x (400 free as max + with 6m00 ergo including last 4m00 as best effort, with 200 back as recovery).
Time to Make Some Changes?
Triathlons are a race from A to B with a stack of opportunities to improve your time along the way. Giving yourself the best opportunity to complete your race in the quickest time you can, involves preparing for all of the aspects that contribute to your overall time. It’s worth taking the time to review your training sets to identify whether there are any aspects you are not preparing for.
If you find gaps, work out ways to incorporate those, and get going!
Fuse Multisport Racing Team