What’s involved in Triathlon?

Tri_swim_bike_run

So a few people have suggested that I outline what exactly triathlon is and what is involved in getting into the sport. On the surface of it anything new can be daunting, heck, just taking on one new discipline can be a challenge especially when you have so many other things going on in your life like a career and family commitments, never mind trying to incorporate training for three sports disciplines !! However I am here to tell you it is very doable.

First of all triathlon involves cycling, swimming and running and as it happens you do them in that order. The triathlon season itself runs from April to September and this is obviously for weather related reasons. It would be just too difficult to take part in outdoor triathlons when getting battered by the elements and freezing temperatures. So the winter months are used to train and hone your technique in all three disciplines. Obviously you can run and cycle outdoors from the beginning but when taking on triathlon some people find it easier to start their training inside. Inevitably swimming will be pool based until you are a confident swimmer and for that I would suggest getting lessons. Swimming is easily the most technical of the three sports and learning it certainly cannot be rushed. In all three sports it cannot be overstated how important frequency of training is. I’m not necessarily talking volume, just frequency of sessions.

There are lots of Try a Tri competitions for those who are just getting into the sport, which involve a 250m swim, a 6 km cycle and a 3km run. Now that doesn’t sound like much but believe me it is more demanding than it sounds but not so demanding that it would put you off triathlon for good, in fact it is guaranteed only to whet your appetite for competing in longer distance races. Many people choose to join a triathlon club where they can attend training sessions which may be geared towards their ability. It also structures training over the short, medium and longer term which gives you mini goals to aim for along the way. Training with a group also gives you an added incentive to not skip sessions when you might not necessarily be feeling in the mood.

Now lets talk about price because it is really very easy to spend an absolute fortune when competing in the sport of triathlon. It is not uncommon to see people wearing wetsuits costing 500 euro and cycling the most streamlined aerodynamic bikes that cost upwards of 10,000 euro. If you have the money then fine but it really isn’t necessary especially when just starting out.

Wetsuit

 

The wet suit above is an Orca wetsuit ¬†(this is not a sponsored ad by the way). It cost me 120 euro and is very buoyant and warm. It is easily one of the cheapest on the market. Regular readers will know this is in fact my second Orca wetsuit as the first one was faulty and had to be replaced which was a nuisance but I’m presuming that was just an exception because this model has worked fine more me in my races and training so far.

carrera

This bike is similar to my own. It is a Halford’s bought Carrera TDF and cost a couple of hundred euro. It won’t win many awards for being light as it’s a hefty 11 kg and it is only an 8 speed but it has enabled me to secure 3 top 20 positions in my last three triathlons. If I can do it then anyone can, yes even on a cheap bike.

Token aero bars

The one thing I did do was invest in clip on aerobars. These cost me 40 euro and clip on to my handle bars allowing me to adopt a more aerodynamic position when cycling, this is important because you possess a smaller frontal profile when cutting through the air which means less drag and that translates into more speed.mavic.jpg

One other thing I did with my bike and reading copious amounts of articles was upgrade my wheels. These mavic aksiom elite wheels together cost 200 euro and were substantially lighter than wheels that came with the bike and facilitate a faster ride. You are generally advised to invest in wheels if you can’t afford spending alot of money on a new flashy bike. In fact its possible to spend 1000s of euro on wheels alone. Money will buy you extremely light, ultra aerodynamic wheels that are super tough but we’re talking minimum 500 euro here.

 

My most recent purchases have been clipless pedals and the cycling shoes to go with them. Clipless pedals are an industry standard and are used by all the pros. Apparently clipless pedals allow you to adopt a more energy efficient cycling rhythm as they literally attach you directly to your bike. The pedals are shimano pedals which cost 30 euro and the muddyfox triathlon specific cycling shoes cost 40 euro. Again You can spend an absolute fortune on both these items if you have the cash, only last week I saw a pair of hi tech ultra light cycling shoes costing 800 euro !!! BUT that is not necessary whatsoever.

I am still getting used to the clipless pedals myself. There is a knack when it comes to clicking in and out of them in time especially when you are coming up to a set of traffic lights. I was told everyone has teething problems and falls off their bike when first using clipless pedals, I was no different. I went out on the bike yesterday for the first time and thought i was doing fantastically but I managed to forget I was clipped in and keeled over at a roundabout after 13 km , mortifying but thankfully I wasn’t injured. There does seem to be an increase in speed though when using clipless pedals but I need to look at the data over a period of a few sessions till I can confirm this.

There are other bits and pieces of kit that I have accumulated gradually over the course of the last few months here and there but outlined above are the most basic components of gear that you would need to compete in triathlon. The clipless pedals just about scrape in, but aren’t absolutely vital. I have yet to adopt them in a race but I am assured I will see a benefit. I have spent all in all about 700 all in on triathlon equipment so far, remember some people choose to spend this much on a wheel or a wetsuit, but that is entirely up to you, I’m just here to say triathlon can be done on a budget.

Finally, I popped out to check out the Ironman 70.3 competition in Dublin this weekend. This is essentially a half a full Ironman distance wise comprising a 1.9km swim, a 90km cycle and a half marathon at 21 km. The swim segment as you can see above was in Sandycove as was the first transition to the bike and the run segment was in the Phoenix Park. There were 2000 competitors from all over the world taking part, alas not including me. I’m still new to the sport but I will do a half ironman at some stage for sure. The interesting thing for me was the sheer size and scale of the Ironman machine and the buzz around the athletes. I look forward to joining them at some point.

 

Advertisements

You stole my mudguard… Really ?

swim drills

Hey there thanks so much for stopping by, its so fulfilling to see so many people take an interest in my triathlon trials and tribulations.

So this week has been quiet enough. No race till next week which gave the the opportunity to do some training. It’s funny how as a sports competitor in spite of being in peak physical condition you always seem to be carrying a minor niggle and this week was no different. While that cut has healed on my foot (thankfully after cutting it on a rock in Seapoint three weeks ago) I acquired another minor injury to my right calf muscle a few days ago. I had gone on a 20km cycle and had decided to turn my training session into a brick session, where you run immediately after getting off the bike. Triathletes are advised to do this as it replicates what happens in an actual race and you need to physically experience running at pace straight after cycling at pace if you want to be able to compete in a triathlon.

Interestingly when you go from a being in a crouched seated position as is the case on a bike, to an upright running position, the body undergoes a shock of sorts. From a cardio circulatory standpoint the body has to immediately redirect blood to different muscle groups to meet the new demand brought on by the running leg of the triathlon. Many triathletes complain of having weak or wobbly legs in the initial stages of the run primarily because their body is adapting as they are running. By practising brick sessions you in effect rewire the body so that it undergoes less of a shock during your next race.

So having cycled 20 km I parked up my bike in the Phoenix Park at the polo grounds and proceeded to do a few laps at a reasonable enough pace. At one point I felt a twinge in my calf and I knew it was muscle cramp which I believe can arise from lack of hydration and or an electrolyte imbalance which in hindsight made sense to me as I didn’t have much to eat or drink prior to setting off that morning , a silly error on my part. I managed to complete a few laps all the same and cycled home. It was only later that day I noticed a tightness and stiffness which stayed with me for several days. I employed the foam roller and stretches to work out the tightness but running again would have to wait a few days. In the meantime it was back to open water swimming with a good session in Seapoint where I managed 2 km in 25 minutes which was a good time in the choppy conditions and certainly a faster pace than I managed in my last triathlon in Greystones and I think I know why.

Screenshot_2017-08-12-14-17-32 (1)

When you’re swimming in open water you don’t have the benefit of crystal clear waters and a lines to follow at the bottom of the pool so in order to see where you are going you have to periodically lift your eyes out of the water which is called sighting. Sighting is a vital skill that I had only done for the first time a couple of months ago and is just another element in the already highly technical sport that is swimming. I seem to swim faster in open water in training than I do in a race, especially in the sea and I think its because I am sighting too much in a race context. The problem with this is that every time you lift your head to sight, unless you are a very good swimmer technically, your legs drop thereby creating more drag and slowing you down. The more often you sight the more often you are putting the breaks on. With a mass simultaneous swim start as was the case in Greystones I think I was a little paranoid of hitting someone or being hit in the washing machine melee that ensued. There were arms and legs flying as swimmers manoeuvred for position and it has a disruptive effect and a disconcerting one especially to a newbie like me. As a result I found myself lifting my head too often and it showed in my race pace.

This sighting issue was something I worked on yesterday in the pool amongst other things. I had recruited the help of a former junior aquathon champion and 2015 winner of the Liffey Swim to help me with some aspects of my stroke in an effort to become more efficient and quicker in the water. Orla Walsh knows her stuff about swimming and managed a 4th place in her first triathlon of the year only last week so I could only benefit from her tuition. The beauty about having someone knowledgeable watching you swim is that they can obviously see what you can’t, suggest improvements and then watch you as you adapt to their instructions. This was in fact my first formal swimming lesson as such. While I had some lessons as a child I was never able to swim with my head in the water till I taught myself 4 years ago. While I have absolutely made immense strides since then I felt it was time to get help of an expert. Orla gave me a variety of drills to practise as she watched me go up and down the pool. The drills are designed to adopt a better stroke by getting you to break down the entire stroke into bits and essentially exaggerating them so they become imprinted on your muscle memory.

My overall stroke is apparently not bad, I just need to improve my hand entry and stretch more to get more length on my stroke. The other area which I need to work on is my ¬†elbow position when I’m pulling through the stroke under water. I have a tendency to let my elbow drop which gives me less purchase on the water and preventing me from going faster. I have to say Orla was terrific and explained where I needed to improve and I’l be having another session with her to see if i have put those corrections into practice. And the best of luck to Orla who is competing in The Harbour Race tomorrow, its a 2.2 km race around Dun Laoghaire harbour which itself is impressive but even more so when you realise simmers don’t use wetsuits.

One last thing, I bought some triathlon goodies last week which included a speedometer and a detachable plastic mudguard for a tenner. Wouldn’t you know, someone decided they’d steal the cheap plastic mudguard!!! Thanks a lot !!! GRRRR. Another excuse to go shopping I suppose!

Oh Nooo Shoes !!

Screenshot_2017-08-07-13-51-21

Hey there happy bank holiday ! It is actually a lovely day in Dublin today and would be ideal conditions for a triathlon but there having done two races in a row and being new to the sport I thought I’d rest this week. I have also been hampered by a cut I sustained swimming a few weeks ago which has been slow to heal because of all the activity. So having done a couple of tris lately I took the opportunity to chill this weekend. In fact the next race I pencilled in wont be for another 10 days which suits me and will give me a chance to heal up.

I have also booked a trip to Jersey for the end of September to see Superleague which is a new triathlon competition that launched in Australia a few months ago. It sees the top 20 male and female triathletes in the world compete in multiple rounds of shorter course triathlons over 2 days. Having watch the inaugural contest I was very drawn to the new format and then when I heard they were bringing the entire franchise to Jersey I thought what a great opportunity to see the best of the best up close in the flesh. I have also made a contact that might enable me to see behind the scenes at some stage. What I liked about Superleague is that it made triathlon very accessible to newcomers. Their use of social media meant that you saw all the races as well getting in depth analysis of the contest and the triathletes. Currently I find it difficult to get easy access to viewing triathlons. You actually have to pay an annual subscription if you want to watch an ITU race online which I think is a crazy barrer if you are trying to promote the sport. The BBC shows some ITU races certainly but I don’t have a TV, online is the perfect medium as far as I’m concerned and it should be free.

Anyhow I am very excited to travel to jersey a beautiful part of the world I have never been to see some exciting racing so I will have plenty more on that in the coming weeks.

No training this weekend so it was off to buy something I’ve been meaning to buy for a while and that is cycling shoes. Now to the uninitiated cycling shoes are a form of shoe that enables you to attach yourself to your bike’s pedals. Having done plenty of research, the general consensus is these kinds of shoes facilitate more efficient cycling by a rider which means expending less energy for the same outcome as someone using runners, which has been me up till this point. The shoes above have to be used in conjunction with pedals like these.clip

While you ‘clip’ your cycling shoes into your pedals they are actually called clipless pedals, its confusing I know but there aren’t actually any clips involved. The ‘clipless’ reference is used to differentiate new pedals from the old style of bike pedals which seemingly had clips.

The idea of using shows that enable you to become attached to your bike is that essentially you become one with your bike. It sounds very new age and holistic I know but it basically encourages a greater cycling confidence by the cyclist with the knowledge that your foot won’t come off the pedal at speed. There is also a school of thought that clipless pedals and bike shoes promote a more even cycling stroke contributing to that cycling efficiency I was talking about earlier. The long and the short of it for me came down to observing high ranked amateurs and the pros who all adopt clipless cycling shoes and pedals. Heck if it works for them it can’t but work for me.

Now all I have to get are some actual clipless pedals !!