A triathlon is a race in which competitors have to swim, cycle and then run. The three disciplines take place immediately after each other with no break. The competitor’s time includes that taken for each discipline plus any time spent getting from one section to another or changing clothes and shoes. This means that as well as concentrating on completing the 3 sports as quickly as possible competitors also have to learn to perform a quick ‘transition’ from one event to another.
Don’t be frightened by pictures of the professional triathletes racing on expensive bikes in skimpy swim suits. Novice triathlons do not require expensive equipment and near nudity is not compulsory. A guide to the requirements for each part of the race is given below:
You can swim in a normal swim suit or to save time you may wish to use lycra shorts (and a lycra top for the ladies). This saves having to put on shorts between the swim and the cycle. Try to avoid fabrics which hold water as they will be uncomfortable once you leave the pool.
Chlorine is not good for the eyes so choose a pair of well-fitting goggles. It may be worth having them slightly tighter than usual to make sure that they will not leak. Also use goggles which do not steam up or purchase anti-fog liquid and smear this over the lens before the race.
You will be supplied with a coloured swim cap prior to the swim. This makes the job of the length counters easier as they can distinguish between the various swimmers. This swim cap should be removed before you leave the pool at the end of your swim.
When you have finished the swim you will run through the changing rooms, out of the pool, across the grass and road and into the transition area in the playing field. If you are worried about doing this in bare feet you could leave some ‘flip flops’ in the changing room. Please make sure that you keep the gangway clear for other competitors.
As a novice your priority should be warmth and comfort. The weather can be unpredictable so bring a choice of clothes and decide at the last minute. Your number must be pinned to the back of the T-shirt or jersey that you plan to wear for cycling. If you plan to use the same garment for the run make sure that you have a number pinned to the front as well.
Choose clothes that are easy to put on when you are wet and which do not absorb moisture. Nudity is not permitted in transition so bring a large towel to hide in if you want to remove your wet clothes.
Cycling shorts are great for comfort BUT they tend to feel like a ‘nappy’ once you start to run. Those with thin padding are best or just plain lycra shorts.
Experienced cyclists may have specialist cycling shoes but otherwise you will be fine riding in your running shoes. You can save time in transition by going without socks but again remember that comfort may be more important than a few seconds gained.
You are required to wear a helmet when cycling, and to have it securely fastened at all times when your bike is removed from the rack. The use of gloves and protective / sun glasses is a matter of preference.
You are allowed to use any ‘road worthy’ bike for the competition. If it has not been used regularly, it would be worth a trip to the bike shop to make sure that gears and brakes etc. are working correctly. There are 3 quite sharp hills on the course so inexperienced cyclists will need to make sure that they have sufficient gears. A mountain bike will be fine as will a road bike which has 3 rings at the front. For a road bike with two front rings we would recommend either 39 teeth on the smaller front ring and at least 25 teeth on the largest at the back OR 42 teeth on the smaller front ring and at least 26 teeth on the largest at the back. Bike shops will usually be able to change the number of teeth on the back wheel.
Mountain bikes have ‘nobbly’ tyres designed for riding off road. These create unnecessary resistance on the road so it is worth changing to ‘slicks’. These are wide tyres with the minimum tread. Again, your local bike shop should be able to help with this.
You will need at least one bottle cage on the bike – carry a bottle of water, squash or energy drink e.g. Isostar or Gatorade.
If you have a puncture or mechanical problem whilst racing the roving marshals will have some equipment and spare tubes but we cannot guarantee to help everyone. You should ideally carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers and pump to ensure that you can continue racing.
As far as equipment goes, the run is the easy part of the race but it is important to have the right pair of shoes. If you are new to running it is worth going to a specialist running shop to have your style analysed and receive advice on a suitable pair. To help understand the advice they may give, the following definitions may prove helpful. Runners fall into 3 categories:
1. Neutral runners – these have an efficient running style which involves some transfer of weight from the outside of the heel across to the big toe as the foot strikes the ground. Shoes which offer cushioning and perhaps some support are appropriate.
2. Pronators – these runners have excessive movement from the outside of the heel across to the big toe. To prevent injury runners should use a shoe which offers stability as well as cushioning.
3. Supinators – this is rarer and involves insufficient transfer of weight across the foot. The runner tends to remain on the outside of the foot. Shoes which allow for the maximum movement are required i.e. cushioning but no support.
Using the wrong type of shoe can cause or aggravate injuries so it is worth locating a shop which offers a pad or treadmill system to show how the weight is distributed as your foot strikes the ground.
Purchasing some ‘lace locks’ for your shoes will save time in transition. These slide up the laces to tighten the shoes and save having to tie a bow. Triathlon retailers such as Total Fitness in Nottingham sell these mail order for a few pounds.
Your run clothing can be the same as that used for the bike or you can remove a layer if the weather is warm. You will have to plan this before the start of the race to make sure that your run number is on the front of your chosen garment. Try out the clothing that you plan to race in on a few training runs. Some clothing may chafe when you sweat and Vaseline can be used to prevent this.
The way in which you lay out your kit in transition can have a significant effect on the time taken to change between the 3 stages. The marshals in the transition area will be happy to advise you but the basics are as follows:
1. Place an old towel on the ground – folded if it is a large towel. This will allow you to dry / clean your feet and marks the space for your kit.
2. Prepare your shoes by loosening the laces and pulling the tongue out. Place your socks (if you plan to use them) inside your shoes and roll the tops back on themselves to make it easier to pull them on. If you plan to use separate cycling and running shoes, make sure that you have them placed in order with the cycling shoes at the front.
3. Your cycling / running tops should also be laid out with the bottom half rolled up over the top. This makes it much easier to put on. If you are wearing a very stretchy top, make sure that you stretch it before pinning the number on – otherwise the pins may pop open as you put it on.
4. Gloves and sun glasses are best placed inside your helmet which should be placed the right way round to go straight onto your head and with the straps out to the side. Your cycling top can then be placed on top of this.
5. If the weather is wet, place a bin liner over your kit and weigh it down with some stones.
The swim starter will warn you approximately 30-60 seconds before you are due to start and you will be asked to get into the shallow end of the pool. You will then have a 5 second countdown before you are allowed to push off from the wall.
You will swim in lanes with ropes in between and there will be a maximum of 3 swimmers in each lane. Each lane will be asked to swim round either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Make sure that you have checked which way your lane is swimming before starting. Try to keep reasonably close to the ropes – this will ensure that you do not clash with other swimmers.
If you plan to swim breast stroke please try not to kick too wide as you pass other swimmers, and remember that there may be swimmers in the lane next to you as well. Backstroke is allowed but please be very careful to keep to your side of the lane and check the whereabouts of other swimmers at the start of each length.
If a faster swimmer joins your lane and catches you up, please let them past when you reach an end. They may tap your feet to let you know that they are behind.
Try to swim a ‘time trial’ over the 400m distance about 2 weeks before the race. If your time estimate on the race entry form was wrong, contact the race secretary (email@example.com) to revise it. This will ensure that you are swimming with other competitors of about the same speed.
You should be warned by the lane counters when you have two more lengths to swim. However, do not rely on this and try to keep a count of the number of lengths completed. The lane counters will tell you when the 16 lengths have been completed.
Once you have finished you should climb out over the end of the pool. If you want to use steps to leave the pool, please ask the starter to put you in one of the side lanes. Take off your race swim cap – you can drop this on poolside. Remember that the side of the pool is slippery so take care when walking / running through the changing rooms and out to transition.
When you arrive in transition from the swim make sure that you are systematic about the way you prepare for the bike. If you wish to you can sit down to change but make sure that you do not get in the way of any other competitors. The order in which you put on your kit is a matter of preference but follow these general principles:
· Put on any ‘bottom half’ garments first – you can be rubbing and drying your feet on the towel whilst doing this
· Next put on your socks and shoes
· Put on your cycling top and roll down the bottom half
· Put on sunglasses and then your helmet – make sure that your helmet is correctly fastened
· Put on gloves if required and then enjoy the ride
You have 21 kilometers to ride so use the first part of the bike leg to settle down and warm up your legs.
Keep well over to the side of the road unless you need to pass an obstruction or another competitor. Always be aware of other competitors and cars – glance behind before moving out and shout to warn other riders if you plan to pass and they do not seem to be aware of you.
Make sure that you understand the rules about drafting which are included in the competitor’s booklet. Drafting is defined as taking shelter behind or beside another competitor. The 'draft zone' is an area 7m long by 3m wide that surrounds every bicycle. If you want to overtake someone you can enter their draft zone but must exit (i.e. be at leasy 7m ahead of them) within 15 seconds.
Remember to drink whilst you are on the bike – even on a cold day you can soon become dehydrated. You should drink at least one large bottle during the course of the ride.
Towards the end of the ride change to an easy gear and spin your legs round. This make the transition to running less painful although your legs will still feel like jelly as you start to run!
When you return from the cycle you must rack your bike before doing anything else. Once this is done you can undo and remove your helmet and change clothing and shoes if required.
It is a good idea to have a drink before starting the run – water will be provided as you leave transition.
Unless you are an experienced runner the trick is to take things easily at first. The run is not long but running on sand can be hard work.
Novice runners may wish to walk part of the course and this is where a watch is useful. Set yourself a target e.g. to run for 3 minutes and then walk for 1. This makes the run seem more achievable and you will not wear yourself out by working too hard at the beginning. If you do need to walk, try to let other competitors past.
The final climb up the steps is not too long – even walking it only takes a few minutes to get to the top. By this stage you should be so pleased to be within sight of the finish that adrenaline will see you through.
Once you have received your medal, make sure that you have plenty to drink and if the weather is poor put some warm clothes on as quickly as possible. If you have checked in clothes at registration, your bag will be opposite the Castle in the Hall.
Have something to eat soon after the race – this helps your body to recover from the exertion. Also stretch your leg muscles (calves, hamstrings and quads) – this helps to prevent you stiffening up.
Finally go back to your friends and start showing off!!