Triathlon is such a diverse sport that it is virtually impossible to perfect. I guess that’s why so many athletes are drawn to it. You never stop learning and are always striving to be better at it. You will make triathlon mistakes, the trick is learning from those mistakes and fixing it next time out.
The Novice is more susceptible to making mistakes as they begin the long arduous learning curve that is the sport of TRI. However, even the Pro’s and most experienced age-groupers will also make mistakes, they just make less of them.
So where to we begin? We have set-out to try and simplify it as best as possible and highlight only a few potential mistakes you may make in both training and racing. There are many more one could mention but that would take pages. So here goes, learn from other peoples mistakes before you end up making them yourselves.
- Worrying too much about swim technique:
Get the basic technique in place from the start then start working on building your base and getting swim fit. A poor swimmer needs 4 sessions per week minimum.
- Limit the number of training tools you think you need to buy:
Paddles, kickboards, fins, snorkels etc are all great to use but it comes at a price. To swim faster and get fitter does not mean you have to buy everything that is available. You can achieve the same in training with less expensive resources.
- Too much too soon:
If you start out new to swim training and push yourself too hard, too far, too soon, you do risk injuries, particularly in the shoulder and arms. First, build the base then up the mileage and intensity
- Starting too fast!
It’s a natural reaction because the adrenalin juices are flowing at maximum level. Start out a little slower over the first couple of hundred meters and you will end up with a faster swim time.
Swimming with hundreds of others all clambering over one another has seen the very best of them lose their cool and begin to hyperventilate. Roll onto your back, take off the goggles and take a few seconds to regain composure mentally and you will be okay to carry on.
- Swimming off course!
You need to find your own markers out in the open water and not rely on others to point you in the right direction. Make sure you know where you need to swim before you start out. No sense in wasting valuable time and swimming extra distance for no apparent reason.
- Incorrect bike set-up:
You need to have a proper bike set-up suited to your riding style and body build. No use being super aero but completely uncomfortable. Find your optimum “comfortable” riding position right from the start, even if it means tossing away some aerodynamic principles.
- Inconsistency during training:
You should be riding on average between 2-3 times per week if you are training for an Ironman, depending on the length of the sessions. It is much better to try and find the time to spread your weekly mileage out evenly throughout the week than cram train with longer sessions on the weekends. Consistency during weekly training rides will lead to better and more sustainable race results.
- Racing during training:
It’s always good to mix in a few time trial efforts and hard training rides with friends and training groups but you still need to have the ability to lift your game when the race comes along. Too many in-experienced athletes put too much into racing and being super competitive whilst they are training when they should be holding back on some occasions and saving their best for race day. Learn restraint in training so you can explode when it counts most during racing.
- Neglecting nutrition on the bike!
You have logged countless miles during training and have your nutritional needs down to a fine art. So why go blow your race time by neglecting it on race day? A number of factors like excessive heat, pushing the body to the limit may hinder you from ingesting an adequate supply. Prevent a guaranteed failure on the run if you go without the proper intake of food by taking the time to get it down, even if it means stopping at the roadside.
- Changing and tweaking the bike position the day before or on race day!
Your bike has been boxed for travel and you prepare to put it back together when you arrive at the race venue. If you do not have accurate measurements and markings in place, you could get the saddle height wrong (very common!), tighten the tri bars at a different angle or even alter the saddle position (to name but a few). Get this done properly and make sure you have the same position in place as you have had during all those training rides. Your body will thank you for it on the run.
- Riding faster from the start than planned!
Yep, we have all been guilty or will be guilty of this someday. The swim to bike ride transition is frantic and if you do not keep a cool head, you could be belting along the freeway in the early parts of the 180km at a pace that is not sustainable. Let the nervous speed freaks plot their own demise when they come passing by too quickly. Stick to the pace you know and you will have the gas in the tank to have a fair shot at a good marathon.
- Training at Low intensity but “trying” to race at a higher intensity
You cannot do all your training at one pace (normally slow/moderate) and then expect to lift that pace to fast/high during a race. It’s almost physically impossible, especially over the longer distances. Avoid this by mixing up your weekly training regime with 1 time trial (5-8km) 1 interval/hill session and 1 tempo run (over any distance but at a pace just less than race pace but well above that of normal training pace)
- Training through an injury:
This is a common area of familiarity amongst endurance athletes. They stick to the program at all costs even if it means running through an injury. This will often result in a minor injury developing into a major one. The first step to take when confronted by injury woes is get it diagnosed properly. Once you know what the problem is, you can then work on fixing it. It could mean the difference between taking only a few days off training as opposed to missing the race completely.
- Changing shoes and brand during the high mileage phase!
Some runners are gifted with a normal (or semi-normal) foot strike. They are not the ones that sit with the problems. It is the other 80% that have to worry. Try and avoid switching shoes (during the big mile weeks) and especially to those of an alternate brand, if your happy with the way the shoes are treating your feet. You can do this when the weekly distance is not that great. You do risk plenty pains and niggles and possible long-term injuries if you do it when you’re running long.
- Start Fast, Finish slow:
You will seldom recover sufficiently enough (to finish strongly) from an effort that had you go out hard, in the beginning, hoping to keep the pace going. If you got too hard from the start, you will end up taking more strain than you should have. The key to any successful race strategy is to be conservative at the start and then up the tempo if you have anything left towards the end. You must always run with something left in the gas tank, you never know when you may need it. The race is not over until you have finished the run leg completely. Remember that! Start Slow, Finish Fast!
- Walking when you should be running:
You always hear about this so-called “2nd wind” that runners experience. When you’re in the doldrums and resigned to walking the rest of the way, push through the pain and mental barrier and try and find your second wind. It could be no more than a water table or less away. Try running faster (almost putting in a surge) at that exact moment and you will be amazed at how the body responds. Walking just prolongs the agony before the ecstasy of crossing that finish line.
- You cannot run properly on an empty stomach!
Your body needs some solids to feed off when it needs to cover 42km after having already completed 183.8km. Take the time after the bike to eat something solid (sandwich/cake) before you jump into the gels/drinks and other. If you start out on an empty stomach, the chances of running to your pace schedule will become increasingly harder as you get further down the track. Fuelling up before the start of the run may only then require nutritional top-ups at the water tables as opposed to feasting on anything and everything you can get your hands on. If you start on reserve, you finish on empty!