- Home Article - Race tips for triathlon – Part 2
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In Part 1 of this series, elite 2XU triathletes from around the world gave you their secrets to a good race preparation. Now it’s time for them to take you to the start line and lead you into the water!
“It’s really important to get your body ready for the start, even before you start thinking about where you position yourself at the start line,” says Australian Ironman triathlete Todd Israel. “I’ll normally do a good warm-up that includes at least 5 x 50m at faster than race pace. This helps me get my body fired up and ready to go, plus it helps stop the arms from going lactic in the first 400m.” (before the swim pace slows down to an easier pace)
If you’re swimming in a wetsuit, here’s a tip from 2XU open water swimming specialist, Sam Sheppard.
“I swim in a 2XU Sleeveless Wetsuit because I like the shoulder mobility, but when I wear a wetsuit with sleeves, I pull the sleeves right up to about 5cm below the elbows. This means that more of the suit is bunched up around the shoulders so I have more movement there. Also, having the sleeves pulled up higher makes the ends tighter on the arms so that water is less likely to get into the suit. That’s just personal preference. I see a lot of triathletes cut off part of the legs of their wetsuit so that they can run out of the water and get them off easier than if the suit went all the way to the ankles.”
Aim to position yourself on the racing line, but watch what’s going on around you.
“I like to line up early and if I find the area around me is far too congested, then I’ll move to the outside to find more space,” says Aaron Royle, 2012 Under 23 ITU World Triathlon Champion. “Sometimes it’s worth taking the longer route to get clear water.”
Our triathletes agree that the key to a good start is being honest about your swimming ability and doing your homework on the other competitors.
“If the swim is your weakness, I’d suggest you stay a bit behind and also maybe a bit more on the side of the main pack,” says Edith Niederfriniger. “That way you can find your own rhythm, you don’t get pushed and you’ll be more relaxed and have less risk of getting angry!”
Of course, if swimming is a strength, you have to make sure that nothing holds it back.
“I’m comfortable pack swimming and I want to be surrounded by as many swimmers who swim at the same speed as me or preferably slightly faster,” says Thomas Gerlach. “Be aggressive, put yourself on the same level as everyone else. If I start a row back then I’m already a body length behind. If I’m aggressive, starting at the front it will give me a chance to take a few strokes – if there are faster swimmers, they have to go around me. Regardless, I can ride their wake for a stroke or two, which helps.”
“The pack is what it is,” Thomas Gerlach says. “Be calm – it helps to go in with the expectation that for the first 400 yards it is going to be a full contact sport.”
Czech triathlete and former World Duathlon champion Vendula Frintova has her own simple rule: “Don’t fight – just swim.”
“No-one enjoys the roughness of a swim,” Aaron Royle says. “If you find yourself stuck in a tussle with those around you, remain calm, move away from that area if you can. Don’t retaliate to someone dunking you or swimming over your legs – it’ll be quicker to just keep swimming.”
It’s important to have a good sighting technique so you can save time and cut down the distance you swim.
“A good sighting technique will enable you to keep a streamlined body position without dropping your hips down or disrupting the rhythm of your stroke,” says New Zealand junior triathlete Sam Ward. “The technique that I use (and most triathletes, too) is I lift my head as my lead arm starts the catch, then I either put my head back into its natural position or I take a breath immediately after, within the normal timing of my stroke. Aim to sight every 6-8 strokes.”
Our triathletes tend to agree that drafting on the swim requires patience and the need to acknowledge your own abilities relative to the competition.
“If you’re drafting off a swimmer’s feet, then you’re not choosing your own line, you’re are following their line,” warns Thomas Gerlach. “If the swimmer isn’t swimming straight, then you have two choices: leave their feet and forge ahead, or keep drafting probably swim a little longer, but faster. Numerous times I’ve left the feet of swerving swimmers only to regret the decision 400m later. This happened mostly recently at Ironman Racine 70.3 and the end result was one of the poorest swims of the season.”
Brendan Sexton says good drafting skills are a must if you are a weaker swimmer or, like him, have trouble sighting the buoys/markers.
“I’ll always try to know my competition and start near someone who is slightly stronger than me and follow the bubbles from their feet, which means less need to look above the water. The longer that I can sit behind their feet, the better off I’ll be.”
Aussie junior triathlete Dylan Evans says nothing beats practice to speed up your transitions.
“You can do this in a hallway at home or outside. Set up some loud music or have someone to distract you. You only need to do this for 15 minutes a week and it can help.”
When it comes to the real thing, the pros have a few tricks for a fast in-and-out at transition 1.
“Many triathletes find that taking their wetsuit off can take them ages, which wastes time at T1,” Sam Ward says. “You can speed things up if you let some water in through the top of your wetsuit just before you exit the water. Then take the arms of the wetsuit off as you run to transition. As you approach your bike, push your wetsuit down below your bum so that you can still run, then once you’re at your bike, push your wetsuit down as far as you can. As you stand on the wetsuit with one foot, lift your other foot as fast and high as you can and then do the same with the other leg. The excess water you put in your suit will help with your legs slide a lot easier.”
Now the wetsuit’s off, here’s a sneaky tip from Brendan Sexton to get you into your shoes faster.
“Use small elastic bands attached to the heel strap of your bike shoes to hold them in position on the bike rack. I then wrap the other end of the band to the rear wheel skewer lever so the crank is horizontal and the shoe is flat. I do the same with the other shoe, but attach the other end of the band to the front derailleur or bottle cage. This keeps the shoes in a flat position and prevents them spinning around when running with your bike. Be sure to use light bands that will snap once you begin to pedal and stretch them.”
In Part 3 we’ll look at tips for the cycle and run legs, plus how to eat/drink and deal with the heat during a race.