Photo credit: James Mitchell
With so many moving parts, there’s a lot that can go wrong when training for (and racing) a triathlon. Here are our top triathlon mistakes and how to avoid them.
While most triathletes have former experience with one of the three disciplines, fine-tuning the other two is oftentimes done with a trial-and-error approach. What works for one athlete may not be appropriate for another, and that’s fine and to be expected.
But, more often than not, many of the triathlon mistakes that happen all too often are completely preventable. Suitable for veteran athletes and newbies alike, here are our tips for dodging these nine common triathlon training and racing mistakes.
1. Making gear a priority
There’s no denying it – aero helmets and superbikes can give you a performance advantage on race day. High-end gear is valuable, but many triathletes focus too much on being aero and not enough on the basics.
Just shedding a few pounds by training smarter is not only healthier, but it’s cheaper than spending an additional $6,000 on a lighter bike. Find affordable gear within your price range that has the right mix of durability, performance and comfort.
2. Not tapering
From a logical perspective, it makes sense to train up until race day in order to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your body. In practice, though, this approach couldn’t be further from the truth.
Tapering is the act of decreasing your training efforts in the weeks prior to race day in order to manifest your fitness and give your body time to show up recovered and sharp. The length of your taper will vary based on the length of your race, but a gradual decrease in total training days and workout length is standard practice leading up to your event.
As backwards as it may seem at the time, it’s better to show up well rested and ready to perform rather than overtrained and exhausted.
3. Not practicing transitions
Especially important in sprint- and Olympic-distance racing, a smooth transition can be the difference between a podium finish and fourth place.
In theory, transitioning from the swim to the bike and the bike to the run sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly hectic and tedious when in the moment. Mark a few days in your calendar to practice the transitions before you toe the line.
4. Not honing your nutrition
Many consider nutrition the fourth discipline of triathlon, and just like transitions, improper nutrition can seriously derail a race.
Nutrition varies from person to person, so it’s critical to experiment with solid food and performance products to see what works best for you while training.
Remember, only change one variable at a time to see if your body reacts positivity or negatively. Once you find a formula that works, don’t mix things up on race day – no matter how many tasty samples you score from the race expo.
5. Not strength training
Whether it’s from inexperience or being afraid to gain weight, many triathletes don’t include a strength training day in their weekly training schedule.
Strength training can alleviate the effects of muscular imbalances due to the repetitive motions of swimming, cycling and running, and can help keep you injury-free during the course of the triathlon season.
Plus, a strong core and back is the foundation of your power on the bike and on the run, so don’t skimp on core-specific moves.
6. Programming incorrectly
There’s a fine line between overtraining and injuring yourself, and undertraining and not reaching your full potential.
It’s important to tailor your training load based on your individual needs, and a triathlon coach is a great asset to get the most out of your efforts.
Use a triathlon watch to track your individual sessions and training load, and your coach can use this data to make adjustments to your training plan based on your body’s feedback.
7. Playing favorites
If you have a background as a swimmer, cyclist or runner, you’re likely more inclined to favor that sport while training. Nobody is equally fluent in all three disciplines, but focusing on your weaknesses can pay dividends on race day.
No matter if you’re intimidated by the swim or hate running off the bike, make a conscious effort to become mentally and physically prepared for your weaker leg during your next training block. Honing your strongest discipline will produce marginal gains, at best.
8. Mixing things up on race day
The lead up to race day can be stressful. Not only do you have to drive to the venue, check into the hotel and pick up your packet, but oftentimes your diet will suffer as well.
At the very least, keep things consistent on race morning. If you eat a packet of oatmeal and a banana before your training rides, be sure to pack these essentials for the big day.
As tempting as it may be, don’t head to the free continental breakfast beforehand – you’ll likely end up regretting it halfway through the swim.
9. Not recovering properly
Triathletes, especially Ironman triathletes, put their bodies through an extraordinary amount of stress on a weekly basis. Just like preventative maintenance on your car, your body needs time to recover and heal before your next hard training session.
Keep the popular R.I.C.E. approach in mind – rest, ice, compression and elevation – after each workout to reduce pain and inflammation so you can successfully execute your training schedule. This may sound tedious, but trust us, proper recovery is less inconvenient than being sidelined with a nagging overuse injury.