Survival tips in triathlon training

Posted by William 30/01/2018 0 Comment(s)

Jemima is an Age Group triathlete, Pilates instructor and psychology undergraduate student at the University of Bath. Jemima is a true lover of endurance sport and she is always in search of a new challenge. She has big dreams and aspirations to become a professional athlete and is ready to work hard to achieve this.

Jemima has been an Active Root Ambassador since October 2017. On top of this she also writes for 3XSport. You can find her articles here:

"Swimming, biking, running- they can be hard enough on their own, but doing them all one after another?! We must be crazy, right? Wrong! Of course, this multi-sport business is a challenge- but that is half the fun off it. Sometimes it can be the  scary thoughts of all the unknowns and should I’s? The feelings of not knowing where to start can stop you from getting started and championing your tri training, and keep you firmly rooted on the sofa! But take it from me- it really doesn’t have to be  that complicated. It really can be fun and you really can do it! 

All you have to do is SWIM (like your boat sunk), BIKE (like you stole it), RUN (like  they are chasing you)!

But just to help anyone feeling still a little unsure about the whole thing, here are some training survival tips that helped me from rookie to frontrunner. 

Choose wisely where to burn your energy 

When we have three sports to play with, the potential for more, more, more is endless. But if you need to do X, why do X+10?! In triathlon, it is essential that you choose quality over quantity. Trying to go at everything at 100mph, is not going to get you very far!

So, choose a few key sessions to target and hit hard each week. These might be a speed run focusing on short fast intervals, a threshold swim with 100meter intervals at top end speed or a hill repetition session to target power on the bike. The rest of the time- take it easy! 

The key here is creating disparity in your training: i.e. when you are going easy- this is  truly EASY. When you are going hard this is truly HARD! This is where you see the benefits of speed, lactate endurance and metabolising optimising for optimum performance. (Unfortunately) there are no prizes and little gain to be made from  endless steady state work, so push the intensity up once in a while so you can gradually maintain harder for longer. 

That said, you must intersperse the hard sessions with easy recovery sessions (i.e. low heart rate and breathing rate like an easy flat course spin on the bike, a slow jog or a technique focused swim). The recovery response that these types of sessions will offer you will increase aerobic capacity, increase fatty acid usage and the low-intensity exercise will pump blood into your tired muscles, delivering much-needed nutrients and removing lactic acid and waste products that can accumulate in muscle cells which cause aches and pains. So, your muscles recover faster and you can smash your next key workout!

Trungary: ‘State of ravenous hunger after triathlon training usually accompanied with excessive biscuit consumption and a bad mood until done so’

Fuelling. Oh, how much we active types like to drag on about the pros and cons of this and that diet. The pluses and minuses of veganism and cherry juice and nitrates and whey protein. But let me degarbage some of this nutrition confusion. Food is fuel. Fuel is energy. Energy is power, speed and strength. 

There are no prizes for the riders hanging on for dear life at the back of a group having hit the notorious ‘wall’ on the back of a 3hour ride. No heroes made by emptying the tank and collapsing on the track after a hard run sesh. No champs made by underperformingdue to under fuelled a long swim set. If you are feeling hungry in your session- it is probably too late. And believe me, failure to fuel properly on a long ride will lead to a very expensive consumption of your entire fridge and biscuit cupboard on your return (take it from me- this is best avoided!) 

If you are going to inflict the training load of a three sport regime on your body, you have to treat it right. Just like a car doesn’t work without petrol- your body won’t perform without food. Basics. 

Riding is where you are likely to spend the longest periods training and where people often seem to get it wrong with their nutrition. For me, my rides are fuelled with 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour (depending on ride length and intensity). Usually that looks like 1x 500ml bottle of Active Root plus one energy bar or energy gel per hour. In the pool, I also sip on a healthy dose of Active Root to keep me going for the 5/6km. This means I can keep on working at a higher intensity for longer and I get more out of the session. 

Be a lazy athlete 

Believe me when I say I take this one VERY seriously. I may train at least 2/3 times a    day, but show me a set of stairs and I’ll look for a lift. I park next to the supermarket entrance, and right now- you bet, feet up writing this on my sofa. If you want to perform in your sessions, you have to make sure that you reserve your finite energy supplies. Across social media you have ‘just do it’, ‘never give up’ and ‘beast it’ slogans twinned with the endless pictures of bikes, lycra and sweaty selfies. It’s enough to make any individual who is not being excessively active feel inadequate. Yes, to achieve success in triathlon you need to work hard keep consistent, but this ‘go hard or go home’ ethos is really not the whole story.

Without time for a bit of R+R, the body can’t recover between workouts and so reaches a kind of level of constant tiredness. Due to your exhausted body, your muscles and energy systems just can’t hit the upper reaches of intensity required to get the most training adaptation. Ultimately all your training becomes is mediocre.

So go on, watch that bad Saturday, night romcom. Let yourself chill a little! The hoovering can sometimes wait. You can have a day off chores. When you are on you are on. When you are off, you are off!

Pace don’t race 

In triathlon, we are trying to be awesome at three sports and quite frankly, however many superpowers these Ironmen and Olympians seem to have, there is only so many ways that your body can be pulled in different directions before something snaps. At different times in training both week to week and even over an entire season, one of the disciplines is likely to be going a little better than another. This is ok. Don’t stress or fear it. The idea is to make sure that you are training consistently across all three sports. 

Don’t neglect your weakest sport or overdo it your strongest/ favourite one. It’s a game of balance! Make sure you plan time in your program to address all three and you’ll be grand!

There is no such thing as a fast bike 

“I swim, then I ride, then I run out of money” Us triathletes and most keen cyclists will soon start to learn about the trials and tribulations of aerodynamics on the bike. “These over shoes will save you 1 Watt”, “A lighter crank X watts and Y grams.” You can buy away upgrading your bottle cage, buying fancy wheels and ultra light components all day, but at the end of the day, there is no such thing as a ‘Fast Bike'. There is, however a ‘Bike that goes fast’. If you don’t put in the training and have a good engine sitting upon that full carbon saddle and disk wheel, then however ‘fast’ the bike may look and however light or aerodynamic it will never go anywhere!!!! Before you even look at what aero water bottle cages you can buy for half your month’s pay cheque, just take a little step back and think about how you are training and fuelling your engine. Once you’ve got a constant and sustainable progress plan in place, then it’s time for the shopping spree!

So I hope my tips can help you out a little on your tri journey. Triathlon is (in my very biased opinion) THE best sport out there. A physical and mental challenge like no other, a sport for everyone and an opportunity for anyone to do quite extraordinary things. 

Beyond the training programs, fuelling strategies and recovery compression tights- make sure you are doing it for fun. Keep things interesting. Keep on smiling. Keep at it and you’ll be a winner!