Long Distance Triathlon: What to Expect & Prepare For


Long distance is the all-encompassing daddy of racing, it’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and to top it all off, a lovely 26.2 mile run. It takes everything you have to give; a fine-tuned combination of passion, motivation, focus, and dogged determination.

Yes, nutrition and training is absolutely imperative but it takes more. We’re talking true grit and sheer tolerance of everything that comes with it, and one of the most important elements, a defiantly positive mindset to get you across that finish line. But despite the tough parts, one thing is for certain, you will absolutely love it and you will want to do it again and again.

Know what to expect

Firstly, expect it to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, accept that, and love it for that reason. Because the feeling of completion is worth the sweat, time and grit it takes to get you there. Plus bragging rights for…ever!

Secondly, training for long distance takes commitment like no other and a total change of pace. You’re now thinking long-term with huge focus on pace. Long distance training takes time and one thing that many of us lack in this busy world is exactly that – time. So, if you want to fit your long-distance ambitions into everyday life, a training schedule is going to be key.

Our triathlon beginners guide contains an example training plan for a sprint triathlon, you can adapt this to suit your long-distance style.

Preparation is key

In the words of the great Boy Scout’s “always be prepared” and they would be right. This means physically and mentally. Be prepared to dedicate not just time but mental energy. If your goal is to complete an Ironman-distance triathlon, inadvertently your life will become focused on the race.

You’ll find yourself being ever more mindful of what you eat and drink; thinking about that all-important training you have the next day and how it won’t be benefitted by an extra pint. Or, you’ll find yourself running a mile when someone next to you sneezes, for fear that you might catch it. But strangely this is all part of the fun, that focus and drive is exciting; It gives you purpose and reason behind everything you do. You have to go cycling all day because you’re training. You have to eat healthy nutritious meals because you’re training. You will live and breathe it and love it.

Flexibility and adaption can make it work

Training for such a race can take its toll on people in your life so be mindful of this; You will be seemingly trying to incorporate training into every extra bit of time you have. Not so good for the loved ones who want to spend time with you without having to train for a marathon to keep up.

Long distance Challenge Henley finisher and Zone 3 follower, Thomas Swinhoe, made his weekend training work for him and his fiancé, Maxine: “I lived and breathed training and had to adapt weekends to suit us both, so she would cycle with my training provisions in a backpack next to me and I would do my running training alongside. We were able to enjoy our weekend together and get training in too”.

How to prepare

Keep your kit in check

Just like any race, you have to make sure your kit is up to scratch. Long distance training will take its toll on your equipment so to ensure it’s always at its best, add time on your schedule for maintenance and repair, and consider replacement of parts and kit in good time before race day.

This will mean that when race day does arrive there should just be regular maintenance to do and shoes and other kit will be sufficiently broken in. The last thing you want on race day is for your bike to feel completely unfamiliar or to be breaking-in new cleats or finding the zip on a brand new tri-suit.

For the day

Before the big day, use your experience of previous races and training to create a Race Day Plan. This is more than a kit list, this is an ‘everything list’. Write down everything you will need for the race including kit, food, and equipment. Note what you’re going to eat from the moment you wake up to the moment you pass out with satisfaction on the post-race night, and plan what times you are going to eat and drink it.

This may seem a bit much but you will know your body and you will know when you need to put more energy in. Planning it like this will help you to prepare physically, buying everything you need ahead of time, as well as aiding mental preparation; knowing you are fully prepared and have exactly what you need to get to that finish line. A big part of long-distance racing is the mindset. If you know you are 100% prepared you will feel at ease and you can focus on the race and only the race and not whether you forgot your swimming cap.

Find food that works for you

Food preparation and nutrition is also a massive part of long distance races and training. You always want to focus on putting energy back in after heavy training and most importantly you will find what works for you when it comes to pre and post-training nutrition.

Avoid trying new foods or experimenting too close to race day. Find what works for you and go with it.

AN EXAMPLE RACE MEAL PLAN

Dinner the night before

Grilled chicken, sweet potato mash, spinach and broccoli

Race-day breakfast

A big bowl of porridge or wholemeal toast with peanut butter and banana.

Race snacks

Salted pretzels

Energy Gels

Homemade natural energy bars

Sports drink with electrolytes

TIP: Try to mix it up by nibbling on pretzels and bars as well as gels, by the time you get to your run your stomach won’t be enjoying processing just gels so get some salt back in with salty snacks and electrolytes and some solid carbohydrates to maintain energy levels.

Post-race

Rehydrate and eat whatever your heart desires, you deserve it!

Although if possible, try to keep it as simple as possible because your stomach has been churning all day and your energy will be truly depleted so preferably opt for energy restoration and optimum muscle recovery with a mix of carbohydrates and protein.

Find focus

Mindset

The mind is a powerful thing and a huge influencer when it comes to long distance racing. As we’ve discussed you will need to summon some determination and grit from within to train let along to complete this awesome race but part of the journey is the mindset and knowing from the start that you can achieve your goal.

Visualise yourself crossing the finish line. Picture it every day up until the race; during training, when you’re eating breakfast and on your tea break at work. The more you see yourself accomplishing it, the more likely you are to do it.

Find Your Practice

Yoga is a fantastic practice for recovery, mindset and retaining a strong core and flexibility because it works on balance, power, and control.

Whether you find a regular session at your local sports centre or follow an online practice, it can be a great way to find focus and give some time to concentrating on your breathing. Even if you use Yoga solely as a stretching exercise it can be hugely beneficial because stretching is a huge part of recovery and can help to lessen the stiffness of tired post-training muscles.

Meditation practice can also be a hugely effective tool in finding focus, if incorporated into your training and recovery it can be used on race day to get into the zone. Meditation is about concentrating on the moment you are in, forgetting the past and not thinking too far ahead. This can be a great way to stay calm and focused during a race.

You will find what motivates you and helps you to focus during training, whether that’s music, peace and quiet, the buzz of a group training session or simply being on your own to meditate for 10 minutes pre-race.

Long distance side effects

Post-race blues is a very real thing and it makes total sense because you’ve dedicated a year or so of training to this one race and it’s suddenly over. You will be unbelievably relieved and satisfied on one hand, but also, your reason to train has come to an end, for now. So before race day, it might have something planned that you can focus on in a month or two after the race. You may want to avoid booking in more races because your body will need a well-earned rest. In fact, we recommend a holiday! Book it, put it on the calendar and use it as a post-race reward and time to reflect on your great achievement.

So, know you can do it and be prepared to accept not just the beautiful tiredness of post-training and satisfaction that comes with a long distance race, but the addiction that will develop, as a result, the true love and the drive to go further, this is long distance – and if you’re lucky, it will take hold furiously and wonderfully.