Be Your Best on the Big Day

Take a tip from the top with our expert guide to completing a triathlon


Posted: 11 November 2009

Whether you're tripped up in transition, or you struggle with the swim, everyone has different weaknesses and strengths when it comes to triathlons. That's part of the appeal - and the challenge - of a multi-sport event. To help make that leap between disciplines a little bit easier, we asked some professional triathletes for their tips on tackling every aspect of the race.

Pre-race

"I like to do a short run on the morning of my race. It helps to clear the mind, warm up the legs and offers a bit of 'me-time' to focus on the race ahead. I also warm up with a swim - it's important to be ready for the fast start."
Hollie Avil, European and World Junior Triathlon Champion and Corus Elite Ambassador

"I tackle the warm up in reverse order by going from the run, to the bike, then the swim.  How much time I spend on each is dictated by the weather: if it's really hot I only run for a short time."
Andrea Whitcombe, Winner of 2006 London Triathlon, she's represented Great Britain at the Olympics

"Make sure you have plenty of time before the race. Take the time to work out the route from the swim to your bike and then from the transition area to the start of the cycle. Do the same for the return from the bike and out on the run. Nothing is worse in the heat of competition than not being able to find your bike or running shoes in the transition area." 
Richard Hobson, Five-time British Middle Distance Champion and triathlete coach at www.triliving.co.uk

"Stay calm and relaxed. I double check transition set ups, put my wetsuit on then visualise the race route in my head from beginning to end. Once the gun goes off you are just executing the race as you have prepared in training, taking every stroke, pedal and foot step as they come."
Scott Neyedli, UK Ironman Champion and British Triathlon's Male Elite Long Distance Triathlete of Year 2007

"The day before the race have a carbohydrate-biased day to ensure you are fully fuelled. Keep fully hydrated and keep drinking water up to within an hour of the start."
Sam Gardner, former winner, of the Vitruvian Half-Ironman and the 2005 London Duathlon

"I like to have everything else ready and organised so all I have to do for the last hour before the race is get my body ready. I do a 15-minute jog to warm up then five sets of strides to increase blood flow to my legs, building the pace each time. I prepare my arms with stretches, then put on my wetsuit and jump in the water to do a swim warm-up."
Stephen Bayliss, Former Bala Middle Distance Champion and Ibiza HDF Spanish Long Distance Champion

Swim

"Don't look up too often to try to see where you are going. It's important to know what direction you're going in, but raising your head up out of the water can break the rhythm of your stroke. A good tip is to follow the bubbles from the person's feet in front of you."
Hollie Avil

"Try to stay relaxed on the swim - it's easier said than done but if you're tense your muscles will tighten up
and your stroke will become shorter."
Andrea Whitcombe

"Practise sighting beforehand: it is difficult to swim in a straight line when you have no lines to follow in open water. Be prepared to be bumped around a bit, stay calm and keep swimming."
Richard Hobson

"Practise the water-polo drill - swimming freestyle but holding your face out of the water - before you race, either in a pool or in open water. This will strengthen your neck for when you need to pull your head out of the water to sight buoys. Learning to breathe bilaterally is also a good idea."
Scott Neyedli

"If you are swimming in the sea, breathe on your less-favoured side to avoid the waves coming from the left/right. Try to draft someone that is a similar speed to you, but don't presume they are going in the right direction. And wear your hat over your goggles, so they don't get ripped off by one of your competitors' arms." 
Sam Gardner

"Mass starts in open water can be intimidating for novices or weaker swimmers. Try to find some space for yourself at the side or back of the pack to avoid the washing-machine effect the other triathletes will create."
Stephen Bayliss

"Look at what direction any boats in the water are facing - they will always face against the current. If you are swimming in a river it's best to stick to the bank but in the middle of the water you'll be faster with the current pushing you on."
James Parker, British Middle Distance Junior Champion in 1997. Winner of the Orca Longest Day Tri

T1

"Visualise the transition beforehand, imagining yourself doing it and remembering the order that you need to do things. Just as I'm coming to the end of the swim in a race, I go through a check list of what I need to do when I'm in the first transition and in what order."
Hollie Avil

"I tie my bike shoes to my bike with elastic bands and always cover the shoes in talc and vaseline so I can slide my feet in easily. I also balance my helmet and sunglasses on my tribars so they are easy to put on."
Andrea Whitcombe

"Practise transitions during race week and if possible, incorporate brick swim/bike sessions into your training programme. Also simply practise taking off your wetsuit quickly after a pool swim to ensure you are not doing anything new when you race."
Scott Neyedli

"Have a clear plan in your head as to which order you will do everything: wetsuit off, helmet on, shoes on, bike off rack, jump on bike. And remember: less haste more speed."
Stephen Bayliss

"Kicking your legs a little stronger towards the end of the swim will increase the blood flow to your outer limbs and reduce the dizziness that you could feel when standing. Once on your feet, steady yourself and make your way as comfortably as you can to your bike. Remember if you don't plan to succeed then you plan to fail."
James Parker

Bike

"In a competitive event, be prepared to go flat out from the start and go with the pace of the pack. If the pace eases off at any point, you can grab a drink. If you are suffering badly, tell yourself to hang on - the pain will ease off eventually."
Andrea Whitcombe

"You should spin at a high cadence of 90 to 100 repetitions per minute, and use the gears regularly to make sure your legs are moving at the same speed."
Sam Gardner

"Race wheels can be quite expensive but if your budget allows it, think about investing in a good set of wheels that you only use for racing to help reduce wind resistance and turbulence."
Scott Neyedli

"Don't worry too much about being aerodynamic if you are new to triathlon, but you should make sure that your bike fits. A good bike shop should be able to help you find a comfortable cycling position by adjusting the saddle height and reach to the handle bars."
Stephen Bayliss

"Understand the specificity of the fit of your bike. If you want to undertake an Ironman a standard road bike might not be the best choice for you and likewise if you are new to triathlon, riding an extreme-positioned time-trial bike may not be the best idea."
James Parker

T2

"This is the time to remind yourself of all the hours of hard training you've put in and say to yourself that you are physically able to cope with the run ahead. Only a mental hitch can stop you now - if you let it. If you love racing, you'll love getting on to the run as that's what determines the winner."
Hollie Avil

"Believe in yourself - the training that you have put in will get you through the run. I look forward to this part of the race because I can't wait to get off the bike."
Andrea Whitcombe

"Get to know the feeling of going from the bike to the run - you might not feel great at first but as you get into the run it becomes easier, and practise makes a real difference. Also remember that you might feel tired but so will everyone else."
Richard Hobson

"There are always highs and lows in a race and at T2 I boost my spirits by telling myself 'two legs completed, one to go.' I also try to focus, even if I'm not feeling too good, by taking every step as it comes and breaking up the race into smaller chunks to make the run leg seem shorter. This could include land marks, where you know you have supporters, aid stations or turn around points."
Scott Neyedli

"Remember that everybody is tired at this point - just put your running shoes on, start steady and try to maintain a good steady pace throughout. The biggest skill in triathlon running is being strong and fit so you can run well after cycling hard."
Stephen Bayliss

"The first 15 minutes when you run off the bike are certainly the most uncomfortable but you'll feel better from then on. It's easy to become demoralised because you might feel you are not running at your full potential, but a little patience at the transition will go a long way towards the end of your race."
James Parker

Run

"Don't get carried away at the start. Many triathletes start the run too fast then suffer later on in the race. Start off at a steady pace and aim to pick it up gradually if you feel good. It's much better to finish well than to blow up half way through and not finish at all."
Andrea Whitcombe

"Break the run into smaller sections, like the next feed station, or the next lap if it's a multi-lap course. Try to Concentrate on technique if you're struggling, such as keeping your shoulders relaxed and using your arms. Finding a breathing rhythm in time with your feet will take your mind off the pain you're enduring."
Sam Gardner

"Check out the terrain and road conditions prior to the race start to ensure you make the correct running shoe choice. Try to run within your known limits at least until half way to three quarters through the run and then, if you are still feeling good, push for the finish."
Scott Neyedli

"It is very unlikely that you will run faster in the last half of the run than the first, so aim to be conservative in the first half."
Stephen Bayliss

"There's no point in setting off at four-minute kilometres if you are aiming to finish with an average of five-minute kilometres: start off slower than your target pace and build up the speed. You may feel like you can't keep going and you need to slow down, but be strong and the chances are you will be able to keep going!"
James Parker


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