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How To Conquer A Triathlon - as told by a double Olympian

posted on Friday, 9th May 2014 | find under Tamara, Fitness, Nutrition
On Wednesday 7th May, two-time Olympian and former European Triathlon Champion Michelle Dillon hosted our most recent Guest Instructor Event, revealing her top pointers for training and race day with a group of women soon to be taking on a triathlon. 

Within the walls of our Soho boutique, Michelle covered everything from nutrition advice and transition tips to what to pack on race day and how to choose the best kit.

We thought it a little unfair for aspiring triathletes to miss out on such fantastic advice, so we thought we'd share it with you on a blog... You can thank us later.

Meet Michelle...
A hugely successful British triathlete with gold medals gained from prestigious competitions from the London Triathlon to the World Duathlon, Michelle was forced to retire from professional athleticism in 2008 due to a reoccurring back injury. She quickly turned her attention to coaching, founding Team Dillon later that year where she continues to help top athletes reach their potential. In 2010, Michelle won the 220 Triathlon Coach of the Year Award; securing her status as an absolute authority on triathlons. 

Michelle's 5 Tri Tips...

1. Time Management

Finding an effective way to balance work, social life and training is always a challenge - even more so when you add in the three different events that you have to train for as part of a triathlon.

Michelle's advice? Define your goals.

- Decide which triathlon distance you are going to undertake, and then how many hours of training per week will be required, building up to (and exceeding!) the distances you'll take on on race day. Setting these goals will provide extra motivation for your training, and will give you more confidence. However, it's important to be realistic - work out a training schedule that suits your lifestyle.
- Identify which event is your forte, and which is your weakest; allowing more time in your training schedule to focus on improving your weakness.
- Sign up to take part in other races ahead of your goal triathlon. Think of the triathlon you're focused on as your 'A' race, then enter a few 'B' races beforehand, where your focus is purely on getting used to the environment and adding an extra boost to your training. These 'B' races are the stepping stones to achieving a great time at your 'A' race.  

2. Conquer The Transitions

The transition stage between swim and bike, bike and run, is where you will lose a lot of time, particularly when taking your wetsuit off and putting your helmet on. 

Michelle's advice? Practice practice practice.

- Don't just train for each leg of the triathlon individually - make sure you practice all three at once. It's important to get used to cycling and running with fatigue, and mastering getting your kit on and off quickly.
- Many people save their new tri kit for race day - this is a big mistake! Practice in all of the kit you plan to wear for the race at least a couple of weeks beforehand - particularly your wetsuit, as they can sometimes restrict movement which will increase fatigue, thereby heeding your performance. 

TOP TIP: Many people lose a lot of time while struggling to get their wetsuit off after the swim. To help get your wetsuit off quickly, rub olive oil or baby oil all over your arms and legs before putting on your wetsuit. This means it will slide off with ease post-swim and get you onto the bike quicker than before.

3. Maximise Each Swim Session

Everyone is nervous about the swim. Even for an accomplished athlete, an open water swim is much more daunting than in a pool.

Michelle's Advice? Leave the pool, and try open water.

- Reduce the race-day worry by taking your training out of the pool and into an open water situation whenever you can. Practice looking up for the buoys as you will do on race day to ensure you're staying on course.
- Find your own space in the water as it can feel claustrophobic. 
- Remember your wetsuit provides buoyancy in the water. Practice ahead of time to make sure you are used to the feel of it when swimming.

TOP TIP: Having the perfect wetsuit will really improve your swim. Make sure you are happy with its fit and flexibility as this affects the buoyancy. It should be tight on the arms, with flexibility in the shoulder areas, and fitted at the back - if the velcro is loose, water will come in and create drag which will slow you down. Also take note of how easy it is to get in and out of as this will be the make-or-break during transition.

4. Prepare With The Right Equipmen

Buying new kit for a triathlon is great, but don't leave it until race day to try it out.

Michelle's Advice? Look for the top materials as they provide the most functionality, and practice with them beforehand.

- You need to feel comfortable and supported in all your kit. Look for pieces that feel like a second skin and do not restrict movement - this is the only way to perform at your best.
- Always always always practice running and cycling in new footwear ahead of time. Blisters will seriously impair your race! 
- Elastic laces are great for helping you get your shoes off at speed during transitions. Grab the tongue of the shoe and pull. Putting talcum powder in your shoes will also prevent them sticking to your feet if you are not planning to wear socks. 

TOP TIP: On race day, hang your helmet on your bike ready for the transition. Putting it on the floor next to your bike means you run the risk of people kicking it over in their rush to their bike. Hang it over the brake lever and you'll have a smooth transition.

5. Transition Bag

Frantic, last minute searches through a big holdall for your spare pair of goggles or protein bar will make you panic - this is the last thing you need just before the race.

Michelle's Advice? Pack a transition bag.

- Keep your towel, wallet and main pair of goggles in a holdall, and have a separate 'transition' bag that is easy to find smaller bits such as spare swim caps, alan keys, number belt, safety pins and gels.
- It might sound extreme, but having a spare race suit in your bag is also a good tip. You just never know!

You asked, Michelle answered. View the Tri Guide for more triathlon advice & top tips.

Win A One-On-One Training Session With Michelle Dillon

The prize: Two hours of tailored training with Michelle, dedicated to triathlons. PLUS the winner will also receive an outfit from the Sweaty Betty triathlon range, worth up to £120!

How to enter: Simply tell us why you've decided to tackle a triathlon - it's that easy! There are three ways to enter the competition - look for the relevant Facebook or Instagram posts, Tweet us using @sweatybetty and #TriTalk, or comment on the blog! Full competition details can be viewed here
By Emma - 14th May 2014
A close friend passed away earlier in the year. This made me appreciate many, many things about my own life. Each day when I wake up I have a choice. My choice one day was to raise money for the hospice my friend spent her last few days and at the same time push my body to do some good! We don't appreciate our health enough, we take it for granted. I don't want to do that anymore and I want to push my body to see what I can do.
To Show What Is Possible ...
By Ian McLaverty - 14th May 2014
I decided 6-9 months ago that I needed to get fit, I was overweight and with two young daughters I wasn't the best example! I wanted to live an active life so they are brought up thinking and understanding that training hard and being fit was normal and my only hope is that they take this on board. My eldest daughter has already done a few short runs and asked me last week if we could go out on our bikes and maybe go for a run straight afterwards, a young Triathlete in the making! That's what makes all the training worth while, the bonus is I'm lighter and fitter than I've ever been.
New Challenge
By Karen Clark - 13th May 2014
My friends and I set ourselves a new challenge every year. From doing 10K to half marathons to coast to coast cycle rides. The next ultimate challenge was a mini triathlon. If it wasn't for my husband I wouldn't have the confidence. Loved the training and excited for race day.
To Become A Fitter Fit
By Katie - 10th May 2014
I realised that there were many aspects of being physical fit. While I was great at HIIT training, & considered myself quite strong & fit, I couldn't run 10km without stopping for a breather. So I thought a triathlon would be a great way to train for 3 different disciplines to help to improve my overall fitness.
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