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Triathlete Blog

75 Tips for Triathlon

By October 21, 2009July 13th, 2015No Comments

Like I said before, I learned a lot last weekend. Here is my interpretation of the “take away points” from the combined seminars. Some are things you are already know. Some are things you know but everyone needs to hear from time to time. Some are things you may not know. After a weekend of things like this it’s safe to say I had complete brain freeze, like I just ate a giant popsicle of information in less than 30 seconds.


It’s a long list; 75 tips for triathlon. Hopefully there is one thing you can take away and integrate into your own training. If you have any questions, let me know!

1. If you want to achieve a goal (ie., qualifying for Kona, winning your AG at the local sprint race), look at the time/placement that it takes & honestly ask yourself if you can do that then consider what it would honestly take (training, recovery, nutrition, lifestyle) to do that.

2. Testing is an honest look at where you are at; you need confidence & guts to accept & do this so you know how to pace yourself. If you fear testing, you are not being honest with yourself.

3. To achieve your goal you must be able to meet the demands of the competition & be honest with yourself. If you incorrectly pace yourself, you have not honestly assessed or accepted your abilities (strengths & weaknesses).

4. It is better to be 50% undertrained than .5% overtrained. If it sounds like too much, it is too much.

5. The first step in creating a champion athlete is consistency in training. Without consistency, you will not make progress. What deters consistency? Injury, illness, underrecovery, altering the training plan (don’t add 30 minutes to a bike ride because it’s nice out, you feel like it, you felt good).

6. The best athletes address that training has a mental, physical, emotional & spiritual component. To get the most out of your training, consider each of those factors.

7. Address all peripheral components always; core strength, recovery, nutrition, hydration. Without these, you will not integrate training & make progress.

8. It’s not the training that makes the athlete, it’s the spaces in between the training. Recovery, nutrition, rest, mental aptitude/attitude – these are the things that make champion athletes.

9. If you perform better in a test than a race, your biggest obstacle is mental. If an athlete performs as well in a test as they do in a race, they have the confidence & mental skills to perform to their potential (& they are much easier to coach).

10. The best ITU triathletes in the world are running 60 – 75 miles per week. The best 10K runners in the world are running 125 miles per week. The best runners in the world are running 150 miles per week.

11. Why do short course athletes do long runs (90 – 120 minutes)? Because triathlon is an endurance event. Avoid looking at triathlon like 3 separate races, instead it’s 1 endurance event. Even at the sprint level, most athletes are out there for 90 minutes – an endurance event! Long runs build the physiological pathways for improved aerobic endurance & connective tissue required to handle the demands of race specific work for triathlon.

12. Many elite athletes typically have power to weight ratios over 4.25 watts/kg (& many are over 5 watts/kg). Numbers-wise, they have the ability to perform & recover from short pops over 100 watts above threshold for up to 40 times during a 40K draft-legal bike, ability to hit over 600 watts in max power output, ability to sustain over 240 watts for long periods of time. And that is just for the females 🙂

13. A 5K run test does not test your strength, only your speed. Since triathlon is a sport of strength (& not speed), at times an 8K or 10K is a more appropriate test. Raw speed doesn’t have much to do with triathlon.

14. Frequency of swimming & running is important for neuromuscular adaptation; 3 sessions a week to maintain, 4 to make progress, 5 to reach 95% of your full potential.

15. To improve your run, do low duration/high frequency; shorter periods of time are easier for integrating better run mechanics.

16. 2/3 of training is to train your engine; 1/3 is for race specifics. Resist the urge to go fast all the time. That will not help your engine.

17. If a female did not start swimming before age 19, she will most likely not be able to develop the attachments in her shoulder to reach full potential in swimming. Males can do this. Females cannot.

18. You learn good run mechanics when you are fresh; you should evaluate your run mechanics when you’re fatigued (or breaking down) like in a race.

19. Racing or training at altitude slows your times by about 3.5%.

20. To receive the benefits of altitude training, stay for 10 days. The effects should last 2 – 3 weeks.

21. Athletes who live at altitude are generally better when the course is more challenging or pace is slower since they cannot train up to their full speed potential at altitude (& therefore do not have the neuromuscular ability to hold those faster speeds).

22. If you are going from sea level to race at altitude, go as late as possible, race then go home so your body does not have time to register the difference.

23. The best run race is run with even splits; surging costs too much & negative splitting does not give an accurate snapshot at your body’s true potential.

24. If you are a strong runner off the bike, you should be able to complete the Ironman marathon within 20 minutes of your open marathon time. If not, work on your biking (not your running).

25. Many triathletes are not good swimmers, so they emerge from the swim overworked. Then they think they are good bikers so they override the bike. Then they get off the bike & cannot run. If this is you, improve your swim technique (more than your speed; form precedes speed), work on your energy management throughout the race (pacing) & strengthen your cycling.

26. Every action you make is preceded by a thought. There is no such thing in a race as “it just wasn’t my day” or “it was a bad day at the office”. The responses you made to the “bad” factors were your choice (& required forethought).

27. If you didn’t have your day, at some point you likely consciously or unconsciously sabotaged yourself with your inner dialogue. Pay attention to your inner dialogue in training to find out how you will respond during racing.

28. Ask yourself “what would be a good internal dialogue”, always have a replacement strategy if you find yourself with negative dialogue, thoughts or phrases.

29. Visualization before a race should be always framed as successful, always detailed & always aiming high.

30. To make something a habit you must recognize it needs to be changed, assess why it happened, replace it with something positive & habituate through frequent practice.

31. The athlete with the highest run stride rate will win; but first you must learn to coordinate this rate with your other run biomechanics & be able to maintain it.

32. You will not increase your turnover/cadence in running until you effectively lean forward. Forget the metronome, learn how to lean! Often tight hip flexors prevent us from leaning forward. How do they tighten? Desk jobs, too aerodynamic on the bike, too much kick in your swim.

33. Forward lean + power application in each step (think elasticity without vertical oscillation) = turnover/stride rate.

34. It is much quicker & easier to make a biomechanical improvement than a physiological improvement. You can work all year at running faster at the same HR but it might only take a few days to change your form (which usually equates to better speed). Send your coach videotape or meet with your coach to assess your form; it’s the easiest (& cheapest!) way to make progress.

35. Better run biomechanics means you will recover quicker from training & can handle more training overall.

36. Factors that limit your running; too much upper body mass from swimming, overexertion in the swim, too much kick in the swim, too much body weight, too low a cadence on the bike, improper fueling on the bike, too aerodynamic on the bike, tight hip flexors.

37. It takes 10 to 12 years & 10,000 hours of training (25/week) to create a junior into a world class athlete. Most world class athletes did not start out as exceptional athletes. They just stuck with it & worked hard over a significant period of time. Bottom line: athletic succes does not happen overnight, progress takes time.

38. We need to identify & develop more junior triathletes. Other countries have an advantage in that their athletes start young as triathletes. In our country, the children start as a swimmer or runner then become triathletes. While the other countries are not the fastest runners or swimmers in the sport, they are the fastest triathletes because the kids were developed specifically as triathletes.

39. 90% of success is mental aptitude, the other 10% includes training/recovery, an unwavering belief in your coach, a coach who understands the end product & how to achieve it.

40. Often, do a reality check with yourself. Check in & ask if your goals are realistic. If not, adjust. Honestly evaulate your training. In general, you will not do in racing what you haven’t done in training. Racing does not magically add 2 mph to your bike splits or take off 1 minute per mile from your run. You should go into a race knowing exactly how you will do based on training data & stats. Very few athletes (only 1%) have the ability to transcend & outperform themselves on race day.

41. Natural ability doesn’t mean much at the upper level of the sport (age group or elite). Everyone is naturally talented. It’s the little things that make the difference (strength, recovery, nutrition, mental). Always look for “free” ways to improve your speed by giving more attention to those peripheral factors.

42. An athlete is only as good as they recover.

43. To achieve as an elite pro, you must do the hard work – have the ability to do it & the ability to handle it (recovery). In general, short course elites are training 27 – 33 hours/week.

44. If you win all of the races you do or always achieve your goal, you will never learn anything (your weaknesses will never be exposed).

45. Don’t work your weakness until it becomes your strength. Work your strengths to make them stronger & work your weakness without giving up on your strengths.

46. The term “pro” in our country does not mean world class athlete. It simply means the ability to chase after money.

47. The best long course athletes come from short course backgrounds. Speed & technique before endurance. Why? It is much easier to make the neuromuscular changes required for good biomechanics/form when you are working on shorter distances. The more you can hold form over longer distances, the more efficient you will be, the faster you can go. Want to stay at the same slow speed? Shuffle a marathon year after year.

48. If you use a low cadence during your cycling test the results are inaccurate; low cadence (below 85) does not permit you to get your HR up to true threshold level. Low cadence does not tax your aerobic system.

49. Using a lower cadence (under 85 rpms) requires much more leg strength & lower carb consumption, if you do not have the leg strength required to push this low of a cadence but you do so anyways, you will not run well off the bike (because of muscular fatigue & probably some GI issues because your body was not consuming calories as quickly as you were putting them in).

50. From time to time, you should do your run test off a (nearly) race specific bike; triathlon is about running well of the bike. Off the bike run splits should be within 4 – 7% of your open run time. If not, you need to work on your cycling (not your running).

51. Eat to train, don’t train to eat. Think about this. How many of you reward yourself with training by eating something “forbidden”? We need to fix our broken relationship with food. You should not look at it like you can eat whatever you want because you train a lot. High qualify fuel leads to high quality performance. Garbage in = garbage out.

52. Always look at the timing, quality & quantity of what you eat. Ask yourself why am I eating this. Eat with a purpose – performance or recovery.

53. If you are trying to lose weight, do not monitor the numbers on the scale. Your power output on the bike & run economy is more important than weight or body fat. In other words, if you can increase your bike power & run faster at the same weight, you are making progress.

54. Some athletes gain weight over time as they get more involved in the sport because of muscle mass gains. However, they appear leaner, make power progress & run faster. Let go of the scale & look at your performance instead.

55. If you want to lose weight, ask yourself why, how will it impact your health, performance, how will it impact you mentally/emotionally.

56. Learn to develop more instinctual eating. Just because it’s lunchtime doesn’t mean you have to eat. Learn to listen to your body’s cues, eat when you are hungry & take enough time to eat (20 minutes at least) to hear when your body is full.

57. Fluctuations in blood sugar & lack of blood sugar control leads to cravings. This is a protective mechanism of your brain as you seek out quick energy from sugar for survival. To eliminate cravings, aim to eat every 3 to 4 hours to have more stable blood sugar.

58. Avoid doing high quality training in the morning; you will not have the energetic ability to perform well because you will be low on calories & wake up dehydrated from sleep. If you must train in the morning, try fluid calories (smoothie, sports drink) prior to the workout.

59. Avoid sports nutrition when you do not “need” it; when not training, for snacks, in the off season. Don’t replace real food with bars (a bar is not a meal!).

60. In training, you must do race simulation eating; this is practicing your fuel plan at the intensity you plan to race at. If you go into a race & go harder than in training, your fuel plan may not work & GI distress may result.

61. Be sure to eat carbohydrate, protein & fat at all meals & snacks to promote satiety. Satiety controls hunger.

62. Metabolic efficiency is important for Ironman success; teach your body to utilize fat by training in the appropriate heart rate zones & eating properly. Avoid relying on high sugar/carbohydrate foods throughout the day. This interferes with your body’s ability to utilize fat for fuel. Since fat provides fuel for low intensity/long-lasting events, it is important for Ironman success. A diet high in processed foods or too low of body fat will negatively impact your long course racing.

63. Your carbohydrate stores are very limited; males have about 1900 calories & females have 1200. When you burn through that, you bonk. This is why you need to learn to draw from fat for fuel & why you need to feed yourself during training.

64. Endurance athletes eat diets too high in carbohydrates; this leads to an increased need for supplemental carbs (sports food) but also introduces a higher risk of GI distress during racing (because your body shunts blood to the muscles to work & cannot digest food in the gut).

65. Often athletes say “I lack speed” or “I need more speedwork”. Speed is not a limiting factor in triathlon. Triathlon is a sport of strength & speed endurance, not raw speed. Get stronger/more efficient & you will get faster.

66. You can have bad run form & run fast. Chances are you have a good aerobic engine. If you improve your run biomechanics, you will get that much faster.

67. If an athlete is good in open water & bad in the pool, chances are they have poor “back end” swimming (follow through, kick). This athlete will also gain little benefit from drafting since you cannot catch water when it is turbulent from someone else kicking.

68. Lactate threshold is a more determining performance factor than V02max.

69. Your lactate threshold is around your 10K run pace.

70. Once you go above LT, you cannot get that time back. Pacing is imperative. Once you blow up, you’re done.

71. Elite marathoners may spend nearly 2 hours near LT because they trained that way & have the genetic ability to do so. Ability to work close to LT often predicts 10K & marathon performance.

72. The swim may be the shortest leg of triathlon but the most important. The swim sets you up for a good race. If you emerge from the swim having overexerted yourself, you will not bike or run well. The goal is to be as efficient as possible with as little energy consumption as possible in the swim.

73. If you are chasing a fast swim split, you have to ask yourself “at what expense?” Remember, once you go above your threshold you cannot get that time back (& you set yourself up for GI complications).

74. Pro/elites often swim 25,000 to 27,000 meters per week; the majority of that work at slower than threshold pace.

75. There should be no difference between your pool & open water stroke. The only exception is moving/turbulent water or big swim packs (which requires taking shorter strokes until you get to cleaner water). Learning to apply your pool stroke to open water is a matter of focus & mindfully not changing your stroke.