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The Tri Guide: Your Triathlon Questions Answered

posted on Monday, 12th May 2014 | find under Tamara, Fitness, Nutrition
This is your go-to guide for conquering a triathlon. 

Sweaty Betty teamed up with double Olympian and former Triathlon champion Michelle Dillon to host a TAKE ON THE TRIATHLON event and tri Q&A in our Soho store, as well a follow-up Twitter Takeover where you Tweeted us your top triathlon questions to be answered by Michelle. 

Missed both events? No problem - we took note of the questions and answers, and have written them all down in a blog, just for you. From tri-suits to supplements to which bike tyres to choose, we've rounded up the must-know info to help you conquer the race - swim, bike, run.
Q: In the past, I have only competed in team sports. Do you have any advice for how to transition from a team sport to finding my individual motivation?
A: Set yourself some goals in terms of your goal finish time and your training - these will help motivate you. Having a coach or mentor will also be a big help as they act like a behind-the-scenes team. And of course, having your friends and family waiting at the finish line!

Q: I have signed up to do two triathlons, three weeks apart. How would you recommend I train in between?
A: Immediately after the first tri, have a protein shake. This will mean your body will begin the recovery phrase instantly, helping you get back in shape to train for the next race. Wearing kit made of Compression fabric will also help as it's designed to improve circulation and aid muscle recovery even during the race, as well as afterwards. You will feel tired in the few days after the first race, but you need to keep moving. Spend the few days immediately after the first tri going for light swims, then take your training back onto the bike over the next few days, and then finally when your muscles have completely recovered, ease back into the run stage so that you are completely race-day ready for the second triathlon.

Q: Is your run style meant to change from when you begin running, to later on in the run leg? 
A: Yes, this happens automatically as your muscles ease out of the cycle stance and into the runner's stride. Take care not to run with high knees (as if you are still on the bike) as this will strain your muscles unnecessarily and cause fatigue. When you first get off the bike, focus on taking smaller strides, landing right beneath your mid-foot and pushing off with the glutes. This is the most effective way to power your run. If you land on your heel, the impact is felt in the calf which can lead to injury. Try to land on the same part of the foot as where you can feel the cleat when you're on the bike.

Q: The bike is by far my weakest event, is spinning enough training?
A: Spinning is a great workout as you are constantly moving. Ensure you are spinning with high resistance, and then hit the treadmill immediately after class to get used to the feeling of running with post-bike fatigue. However, it is important to practice on the road so that you get used to being on a moving bike and experience cycling at speed with other cyclists around you. There is more to concentrate on in terms of surroundings when cycling (rather than spinning), and you need to be prepared for that.

Q: Do I need to wear socks when I cycle and run?
A: It is completely up to you. Many athletes choose not to wear socks during the bike and run legs as it adds time during the transition to put them on and take them off, but if you can master this quickly, some people feel more comfortable wearing socks. If you would like to try it without, putting talcum powder on your feet and/or in your trainers will prevent them rubbing. Whichever you choose, make sure you try it out before race day.

Q: How do I know when my trainers need replacing?
A: Keep an eye on the cushioning - when the bounce has gone, they need replacing. It is generally thought that you should replace your shoes approximately every 500 miles, but this depends on the environment that you're training in. Sun and sweat will dry them out quicker, and if you are pronating, your trainers may wear more on one side than the other. 

Q: I find cycling shoes uncomfortable - will cycling in running shoes slow me down?
A: Yes, you will lose power in the pull-up. Try cycling with cleats, and give a few different styles of cycling shoe a try before resorting to your run shoes. Ensuring your cleats are in the right position can make a big difference too - don't lock your feet in too tight, allow them a small amount of movement. It's important to note however that if you are a triathlon beginner, wearing run shoes to cycle will not make a huge difference. 

Q: How do you recommend re-fuelling during the cycle leg?
A: Drinks and gels are the easiest and most effective thing to consume while cycling. Look for drinks that provide carbs as well as protein (Viper is a good one) for maximum energy and recovery. If you, like me, choose gels, then a good tip is to tie an elastic band around the gel and then tie it to your handlebars. This way, you can get into your stride on the bike without having to worry about searching for your gel - it is easily accessible, just pull and refuel! 

Q: Do you recommend training for longer distances than you will complete in the race?
A: Definitely, ideally up to 2-3x further for each leg of swim, bike and run. As the swim is often the athlete's weakest event, I recommend mixing up your swim training sessions with different types of resistance as well as distance. If you know you can swim 5K with ankle weights, for example, you'll feel so much more confident on race day when you come to swim weight-free!

Q: Do you have any nutrition advice for what to have post-training?
A: Iron supplements are a big help as you lose so much iron in your sweat, as are electrolyte tablets for replenishing lost salt and minerals. Hydration is also key - don't let yourself get distracted when you come in from training as dehydration will significantly hinder your recovery. Try to eat within 20 minutes of training too - a small piece of fruit if it's been a light workout, and a protein shake or protein bar after a hard session. I also find coffee (caffeine) a help in making me more alert for both training and the race, but this will vary from person to person. Try different things and see what works best for you.

Q: I am concerned about getting injured during training, can you advise me on how best to prevent injury?
A: I actually suffered a back injury myself which meant I had to retire professionally from the sport, so this is a key area for me when coaching. The most common type of injury is ITB tightness in the back of thigh and glute which is caused by not stabilising through the glutes. This can also lead to knee misalignment. A good tip for preventing this form of injury is to firmly roll a rolling pin (or foam roller) on the back of the thigh and glute post-training to release tension. This kind of at-home massage can also be used on the calves. Strengthen your glutes by doing side clams (opening and closing) and squats pre-training to fire them up, or use resistance bands tied to the outside of your ankles. Many people also suffer with a sore back and neck which will inhibit your swim if you can't stretch out - put two tennis balls into a sock and roll these down the back of the neck and vertebrate to keep the muscles loose. Most injuries are caused by a weakness in an area of the body different to that which is in pain, so make sure to stretch the entire body before and after training. Yoga is also great for realigning the body, taking care not to push it too hard. 

Q: I struggle to sight during the swim, do you have any tips for how best to stay on-course?
A: Try to look up every 2-3 strokes, glancing up as you inhale to check your direction and ensure you're swimming in line. When on your way out, check your location against the buoys, and then when heading back to the shore, look for a landmark and keep it directly in front of you. This will help you focus and prevent you getting distracted by people around you and the direction they are swimming - remember, they might be accidentally swimming off-course so never follow someone else! 

THE TRI GUIDE CONTINUES with more race-day advice and exclusive training tips from Michelle Dillon. Click here.

WIN A ONE-ON-ONE TRAINING SESSION with double Olympian and former Triathlon Champion Michelle Dillon, PLUS a triathlon outfit from Sweaty Betty worth up to £120! Find all the details of our competition by clicking here, and scrolling to the bottom of the page. 
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