Triathlon may not be an easy sport but it is actually a fairly simple one. So, when athletes are making mistakes on the race course or in training, those mistakes are usually commonly made ones. Today, we’re going to talk about four of those common triathlon mistakes. The great thing is that these mistakes are easily correctable during training so you don’t make them during a race, which means you’ll end up going faster. And who doesn’t want to go faster?
MISTAKE #1: NOT SWIMMING STRAIGHT IN OPEN WATER
The first really common triathlon mistake a lot of people make is that they can’t swim straight in open water. You might be saying, “Yeah, but I just follow the toes in front of me.” Would you follow the person speeding on the highway by 20 miles an hour? No. You don’t want to rely entirely on other people in open water because there are a lot of dumb toes out there. What you want to do is practice an open water swim technique that will help you swim straight, and you want to learn how to sight, to keep yourself going in a straight line.
How To Fix Mistake #1: Bilateral Breathing
One of the things that’ll help you swim in a straight line, that you can work on in the pool, is evening out your stroke by learning bilateral breathing. Bilateral breathing simply means you’ll be alternating which side you take your breaths on, usually every three to five to seven strokes. So that would look like: stroke stroke stroke, left side breath, stroke stroke stroke, right side breath, stroke stroke stroke, left side breath, stroke stroke stroke, right side breath, etc. By balancing out your stroke with bilateral breathing, you’ll be more symmetrical and that should cause you to swim in a straighter line.
One way to test out how straight you are right now is by swimming with a Finis Swimmer’s Snorkel and seeing if you veer from side to side. If you’re really gutsy, you can swim with your eyes closed and see how far down the lane you can get while staying on the black line. This is really tough, so start slowly and see if you can build up to it. Do a lot of work in the pool to even out your stroke, and make it as easy for yourself as possible to go in a straight line before you even get into open water, where it’ll be a lot tougher.
Another Way To Fix Mistake #1: Learn To Sight
If you’ve got that evened out stroke, then the question becomes how do you point yourself in a straight line? This has to do with sighting. A few things you need to know about sighting, number one is your sighting technique should be very subtle.
Essentially, you just want to be pulling your eyes out of the water, leaving your nose in the water, and then moving your head to the side slightly to get a breath out of the side of your mouth. It’s not about lifting your entire body or even your whole head because that is going to cause your legs to whip out from side to side and make your legs sink down. Whipping around and sinking your back end means you’re going to slow yourself down. That sighting technique should be very, very, subtle.
The next thing you should do for good sighting technique is not to sight the water, but to cite landmarks on shore. What I’ll often do before a race is, I’ll get into the water and I’ll swim out to some of the buoys. When I get there, I’ll look to the left and to the right, and I’ll look at the swim exit. I’ll see if there are trees or power lines on shore, and I’ll pick those sight lines as opposed to looking in the water. Having an object further away to use for sighting is going to keep you straighter, especially since it’s a bigger structure that you’ll be able to see more easily. As you start taking that subtle sight every four or five strokes, you’re looking for that landmark on shore and that should keep you going in the right direction.
MISTAKE #2: FADING DURING THE FIRST FEW MILES OF THE RUN
The second really common triathlon mistake a lot of runners make is that they fade dramatically in the first few miles of the run. Often this is because of cramping up. I was a very big victim of this during my first two or three years of my triathlon training.
How To Fix Mistake #2: Brick Workouts
I mention brick workouts in a lot of my triathlon training videos as one of the most important (but not talked about enough!) aspects of tri training. That moment where you hop off the bike and all of sudden your body has to reroute blood flow into your legs while also supporting its body weight for the first time in the race, is a very tough thing for your body to do, if it hasn’t been trained to do that blood reroute very quickly. What you want to do is incorporate brick training (aka: going from the bike to the run) quite a bit in your tri training.
If you haven’t done at least six brick workouts in the previous four/five weeks before a race, your body isn’t going to be tuned-in to do well in that first few miles of the run. You’re going to cramp up. You’re going to stiffen up. It’s going to feel awkward and/or awful. Your body is going to feel heavy and then the entire run is going to be a mess for you. If you can get your body used to rerouting that blood flow quickly by doing a lot of brick workout training, your actual race will feel a whole lot better after trainsition.
MISTAKE #3: FALLING APART IN THE FINAL FEW MILES OF THE RUN
The third triathlon mistake that a lot of people make is that they fall apart in the final few miles of the run. While the last issue had to do with cramping, this issue has a lot more to do with how much you’re fueling and how much you’ve trained coming into the race. To battle this issue, you should be doing the following two things:
How To Fix Mistake #3: Increase Your Training Volume
If you can’t go the distance at a race pace that your actual race is, you’re not going to be able to go that race pace for that period of time. You can combat this is by doing what I call “over distances.” For example, in a half-Ironman race, I know I’m going to have to bike 90km. But I don’t get myself ready to bike only 90km, I do my training as 130km or 140km, so when I get to that faster race pace at a shorter distance, it doesn’t feel like it’s taking nearly as long and my body is accepting that I’ve got to go hard for that period of time. I’ll do the same with running, incorporating 24km and 25km runs so when I’m doing a 21km run in a race, it doesn’t feel so long or hard.
You also need to train at race pace and do speed work. You need to actually train your body to go at race pace. If you never go as fast as race pace in your training, when you’re involved in the real race, you’re going to blow your legs apart and they’re going to be destroyed by the end. You can avoid that if you incorporate a fair number of “over distances” and a bit of speed work in your training leading up to a race.
Another Way To Fix Mistake #3: Fuel Properly
This is something that you’re going to figure out. For any distance longer than a sprint triathlon, typically, you want to take in about 200 to 300 calories every half hour in the race, and enough electrolytes and fluid so that you’re hydrated. You’re going to have to figure out, on your own through trial and error, what works for you. Is it bars, chews or gels? Is it just electrolyte and energy drinks? 200 to 300 calories every half hour is just a bit of a starting point. Shoot for about 400 to 500 calories every hour, and about 16oz of fluid with some electrolytes for distances longer than a sprint..
MISTAKE #4: SLOW TRANSITIONS
The fourth triathlon mistake that might be keeping you from getting fast is that your transitions are brutally slow. This is a pet peeve of mine because I notice a lot of people setting up shop and virtually having a picnic in the transition zone. That’s not the place to settle yourself down. The place to settle yourself down between the swim and the bike, then the bike and the run, is in the first few kilometers of each discipline. Instead of taking it easy in the transition, you want to take it easy in the first few kilometers of the bike or the first few kilometers of the run.
Transition should be a place that is very, very, minimal. You shouldn’t have to put on a lot of equipment. You shouldn’t have to change much in the way of clothing. You shouldn’t have to put on sunscreen or body butter, or tune your bike, or re-lace your shoes, or take pictures, or set up a GoPro. Your goal in the triathlon transition should be to get in quickly and get out quickly.
HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean that you need to be getting your heart rate up by racing through. Just go through at a steady pace and take anything that you would otherwise be doing in transition out with you onto the bike or the run (eg: if you need to fuel, don’t take your food or liquid until you’re on the course). If you can’t carry it with you onto the bike or the run, you’re probably doing too much.
I believe in a very, very, minimal transition and doing the majority of the work to prep for the rest of the race while you’re out on the course so that you’re always moving forward. Less is more in transition. Remember that.
And, there you have it, triathletes. I think with those tips, you’re going to be able to avoid a lot of the triathlon errors that a lot of early triathletes make in the first few years of getting into the sport. They’re not a big deal because they’re easy fixes.
If you’d like to check out the Triathlon Taren video on this, click the link right here.