The final days before the race…

You’ve planned and prepared for the Spirit of Belron Challenge and now the day has arrived.

With over 1400 people participating, it’s a great chance to enjoy meeting up with fellow competitors, colleagues and friends. And you’re all there with a common purpose. You are taking part in an event that is making a huge difference to Afrika Tikkun.  

Nerves are normal

It’s quite normal to feel nervous over the next few days as you pack and travel. They might really hit when you’re eating breakfast on Sunday morning. I remember thinking all food tasted like cardboard on a day of a race, but it is food. It’s important to eat early, especially with the possible effect of time differences if you’ve travelled far.

I’ve experienced waking up and just not feeling great on race day, and I work with athletes who say the same. We all react to nerves in different ways and at different times. Some like to talk and others like to be quiet. Recognising this and supporting each other is a great way of working together as a team.

The effect of deep breathing is well proven for relaxing the brain. When nervous, a mindful approach and a good deep breath, creates a slower pace and control which allows you to relax.

Stick to your plan and don’t rush

Remember you have a plan so stick to it. If you’re travelling to and from the hotel by coach, you may be waiting around before, and/or after your race. Take it slowly in the morning. Check your race time so you don’t have to rush or worry about being late when you arrive.

Don’t make any changes to your training routine

The message I keep repeating is not to make any changes in the two weeks before the event. There is nothing that you can do now to train any further. That is positive. Your body is prepared. You won’t lose any fitness between now and the race. A general principle is that you start to lose fitness after two weeks of not training, so that won’t be a problem now.

Supporting your fellow participants

I have always considered triathlon and running very sociable sports, even when competing as an individual. The bike and the run elements of the races go right to the bottom of Dorney Lake, which is at the opposite end to the transition and boat house. It can be lonely on your own at that end of the lake. Be sociable. If you have time, why not get a group of you together and use the land train to take you further down the course so you can cheer on your fellow competitors in the same way that you would like to be cheered on.

Some practical things to consider…

  • Do the final checks against your plan.
  • You may have heard the phrase “control the controllable” used in a sporting context. Your packing list and your processes fit into this category of control.
  • Now is the time plans and lists become your comfort. Before you travel refer to the list that you created and make sure that everything is packed. Don’t allow anything to chance.
  • Contact any team members if you’re doing a relay and make sure you all know which parts you’re doing and what you’re contributing to the team. Do you have a team “chant” or “song”?
  • It is a good time to reread the blogs looking to see if there are any quick reminders and easy tips for racing e.g. wetsuit removal.

The weather forecast – be prepared

The one thing that is always out of control in the UK is the weather, so I generally suggest that you don’t check the weather forecast too frequently. It doesn’t really help…

It is a good idea to think about what you will wear after the event, in all weather conditions. You will get hot competing and it is very easy to get cold when you’re standing around having conversations, drinking coffee and eating cake. Extra clothing layers are a good idea, including gloves and hats. The range of woolly hats you see in triathlon is extensive, even in the summer.

Finally keep smiling. There are cameras everywhere and everyone wants to look good in the highlights video.

It’s been great connecting with you during the last few weeks and I hope that there are some useful tips that carry you through and ensure that you have an enjoyable day. I will be with you in spirit, cheering you on. I’m sure some of you will get the triathlon passion, and next year be able to push yourself even further.

I look forward to hearing feedback about how the race has been for you and all the goals you’ve achieved.


The last leg

I was looking back at my first blog which included some ideas about training – I hope these have helped you build up to the distance you’ve signed up to. Whether you’re running for the triathlon, duathlon, half or team marathon, or 5km, I’ve included some technique tips in this blog that will work for everyone.

With just 10 days until the event, you should now be running regularly and feeling comfortable with the distance that you will be doing. If you are still building up to the distance, that’s fine too. The easiest way to complete the full distance is to run and walk, and reduce the walking little by little.

Split training

Last week I talked about negative split training during your cycle to help you run after. You will have time and energy left, to do a good run after completing the bike leg, if you pace yourself carefully. There will be a lot of people around the transition area cheering you on and it’s very easy to get excited coming into this last leg. Maintain your own pace and the plan that works for you.

Get outdoors

If you’ve been training on a treadmill, as with indoor cycling, it is important to get out on the road as it will feel different. Running on a treadmill is like stepping up and down while the surface moves underneath you. On a road, there is a push phase of the run movement as you drive forward. This requires more effort.

Staying focused in transition

The second transition (T2) is the last change before the end of the race. It’s important to stay focused. It’s easy to forget your plan here so here are my tips:

  1. Rack your bike, and then take your helmet off. I’ve seen people set off on the run with their helmets on and have to come back…
  2. If you’re wearing bike shoes with cleats, now’s the time to change them. If you can get some elasticated laces for your running shoes, they are much easier to put on. If you are tying your laces and you start to fumble, take one or two deep breaths, take control and slow down.
  3. Any changes of clothing, such as swapping a cycle jersey for a t-shirt, need to be practised in advance of the race. You still have plenty of time to practise.
  4. Remember where the run exit it is. You checked this when preparing before the start of the race. You can now run through transition towards the exit. It gets busy in transition so be aware of other people moving around at speed.
  5. If you’re handing over to a relay buddy, this is your chance to cheer them on, another moment of encouragement.

Running after a cycle and general running tips

Have you tried running after riding yet? It feels odd as the muscles switch from cycling to running. This will soon pass, and you will find your rhythm.

Here are some tips on running comfortably:

  1. Run tall with a slight lean forward, as if just off balance at all times, and look to the horizon.
  2. Imagine a piece of string with a balloon tied to your hair pulling upwards to the sky.
  3. Relax your shoulders and arms with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, swinging gently from the shoulders.
  4. Keep your hands relaxed.
  5. Lift your knees up and forward before landing your foot on the ground directly under your hips.
  6. Land on the ground with the midsole of your foot rather than the heel. If you stride too far in front and land with your heel, there is a tendency to create a braking effect and possible injury.
  7. As you drive forward lift your heels clear off the ground, flicking up towards your bottom.

Don’t forget to hydrate

It’s very easy to forget to drink in a race. If there is water available, take it so you don’t become dehydrated. You lose a lot of fluid both in the lake and on the bike, even though you may not feel hot. This is also a chance to slow and control your pace before you head off for the rest of the run.

If you feel uncomfortable at any point, then slow down to a jog. This may feel odd because your body will have a natural rhythm and pace because of your training, but focus on your technique!

You will find a rhythm that works and once into it, the run will pass quickly.

Keep smiling!

As you come in towards the finish line remember that’s where the cameras are, so keep smiling. Enjoy the encouragement of the crowd and celebrate your race. If you’re in a relay team, celebrate your success with your teammates!

I’ll be back next week for my final blog before your event. If you have any questions, I can cover these, so please do get in touch below, or in the comments via Facebook or Twitter.

Jump on your bike!

This week I’m discussing the planning, preparation and training for the longest leg of the triathlon – the cycle.

Before I continue, with just a few weeks to go, now is a good time to check back and see what progress you are making and think about any changes you’d like to make – remember to record it in a training diary.

Are you and your bike ready?

The bike segment is the biggest part of the race. You’ll be on your bike for anything from 30 to 100 minutes depending on your chosen distance so you need to train and prepare accordingly.

If you’re using your own bike, now is a good time to get it serviced and/or cleaned. I’ve heard many bikes making strange noises. All the time this is happening, the bike’s getting damaged and you’re using up energy. There are many cycle shops offering great servicing by enthusiasts that you can chat with to ensure a smooth, noise-free ride. It’s a good investment. Those of you using hired bikes don’t need to worry as these will be set up for you. If you have any issues with your bike on the course, there are a few ‘mechanic stations’ for basic fixes. Pictured below is a course map showing you these points.

Sadly, we can’t control the weather on the day so you also need to think about what clothing you might need. If you’re doing a swim before you ride, it will be colder when you take your wetsuit off. Layers of clothing work well for riding. I find it useful to have a cycle jacket in addition to a shirt or tri-suit. I also like jackets with a full zipped front – these are easier to get on when you’re wet.

Additional layer suggestions that are easy to put on:

  • Gilet with a full zip
  • Gloves to keep warm and for safety
  • Arm warmers (like socks for your arms)

If you’re keen to make your transition time quick, it’s worth practising getting dressed. I have a colleague who goes through a full transition at home every week. He even gets wet beforehand!

Cleats or no cleats?

You may hear conversations about cleats and you would have been asked when you registered for your hired bike. For experienced riders, these are a key part of riding efficiently. They attach your shoes to the pedals, so you can lift your leg and push. A smooth pedal stroke is essential, and this technique is important to master. A suggested riding cadence of 90 RPM is optimum; watch some cycle racing to see examples of RPM.

Whatever your pedal, the key to achieving this smoothness is making sure you’re in the right gear for any undulations and corners. Dorney Lake is a flat course so you will be able to ride in a high gear (chain furthest from the bike) most of the time. Make sure you try it now and not at the last minute.

Bike training and preventing fatigue

Triathlon bike training is different to normal cycle training. Not only do you want to get faster on the bike, but you also want to minimise the impact on the run that follows – many people find they under-perform on the run because they are fatigued.

Get on the road

If you’ve been doing most of your training in the gym, I’d suggest getting outside. Riding on roads and using gears is an added dimension. Using brakes, is important to master and can only be done outside. Training outside also helps you to anticipate changes in direction or braking, looking ahead, and spotting safety compromises sooner.

If you’re using cleats, this is also how you learn to use them. If you have any questions about this, then please ask.

A running mount or dismount?

Those more experienced might also want to consider a running mount or dismount. These are very effective if you have the space and it’s safe. If you want to discuss this, again please ask.

Pacing yourself

I talked about training approaches in a previous blog. I want to add one more: ‘negative split’ training. This means riding the first half of your ride at a slightly easier pace, and speeding up for the second half. These rides will make it easier to get into the run.

I recommend doing the full distance at least once so that you have an idea of how long you need to be comfortable for. Then get off the bike, slip on some running shoes and run about 2km. This will prepare you for the ‘wobbly leg’ feeling all triathletes live with.

The race – a few final thoughts

If you prepare and train well the race becomes a process you already know. Here are a few of my recommendations for success:

  1. Pace the ride: don’t start too quickly, especially if you have a run to follow. Remember the ‘negative split’ training.
  2. Aim to ride smoothly: a consistent RPM will stop your legs getting so tired.
  3. Safety is key so communicate with others when riding: talk to each other and give warning when overtaking. “On your left/right” is useful for a rider to know what is happening when being overtaken, although be mindful of those that don’t speak English.
  4. Race practice is key: introduce the changes you’d like to make now, don’t leave them too close to the race.

And finally, don’t give up! You can always get better as a cyclist. Relax on the bike and learn how to pedal smoothly.

Have fun!

Transition – the fourth discipline

This week we’re talking about what’s often referred to as the fourth triathlon discipline – transition. Transition is important in both triathlon and duathlon and it’s the handover point for teams.

Firstly, it’s useful to understand the abbreviations and phrases that you might hear:

  • T1 – transition between the swim and bike in triathlon, or first run and bike in duathlon
  • T2 – transition between the bike and run
  • Swim in, bike out, bike in and run out – these refer to the entrance and exit to the transition area.

Preparation and set up

So you’re now ready to set up your space. I’d recommend doing this before putting your wet suit on.

If you’ve hired a bike for SoBC, it will be racked for you, according to your wave and bib number. If you’re bringing your bike, there will be a space allocated for you.  

I lay a small towel next to my bike and place my cycling and running kit on it. This includes my helmet (upside down with the front of the helmet pointing at my feet so I can put it on easily), sunglasses, gloves, top (if not wearing a tri-suit).  

I also find it useful to put any food or gels on the towel so I can grab them easily and put them into my pockets. If you try this, consider the order you’ll need items with the first items being nearest your feet as you arrive at your transition spot.

Make sure you have a good look around and check which rail your bike is on. Count the number of rails from a significant point and see if there is a reference point at the end of your rail. Make sure it’s something fixed, a tree, or the edge of a building, a bit like sighting in the swim as mentioned in last week’s blog. I’ve been known to carefully line my rail up with a bin only to find out it’s been moved by a marshal…

Plan your route

Once your transition space is set up, it’s a good time to get comfortable in your wet suit so put it on and find somebody to help do it up. Remember your goggles and hat for the swim start.

I mentioned above the various signs for the entrances and exits into transition. I find it useful to walk through transition and identify my routes for each discipline. Doing this in your wet suit will make it more comfortable, although it can get quite hot; it’s a chance to relax and get ready for the event.

A few rules

There are some key transition rules, mainly for the safety of others:

Make sure your helmet is on and done up when moving your bike. This includes when you return with the bike. Keep your helmet done up until you put your bike back on the rack.

Riding isn’t allowed in transition. You must push your bike until you get to a specific point. This is called the “mount line”. This line is also used as a “dismount line” when you come back from your bike. Marshals will help remind you.

Above all, enjoy

Overall there’s a lot of activity in transition and it’s an exciting place to be when an event is taking place. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, and be supportive of others too – cheering and encouragement is called for.

Most importantly, remember to stick to your goal and what you want to achieve and you’ll have a great time. Look out for next week’s blog where I’ll talk about the cycle.

Swimming – the first leg

It’s #TriathlonThursday and week 3 of our Spirit of Belron Blog. Today, I discuss how to have a relaxed and enjoyable open water swim.

Swimming in open water gives me a real feeling of freedom, but even those of us who swim regularly have moments of anxiety. If there’s a venue near you that organises open water swims, I’d recommend giving it a try. They’re very welcoming, and helpful. You can also hire a wetsuit to practise in.

Ready to take the plunge?

First things first, remember you will be taking your wetsuit off in public so make sure you wear something underneath! A swimsuit or tri-suit is ideal. Once you’re all zipped up (you may need help from your team mates with this), here are some tips to get you feeling relaxed in the water:

  1. Ease the wetsuit up higher on your body so your shoulders aren’t restricted. Wearing a wetsuit is a bit like doing ‘weight training’ for your chest against tight rubber. Your chest has to work a bit harder. This is normal.
  2. Now it’s time to get in the water. Take it slowly and allow the wetsuit to fill a little. This is the cold bit! Once you’re in the water up to your neck, pull the neck of the wetsuit forward and allow a SMALL ‘gulp’ of water into the suit. This will also be cold. As you move the water around inside the suit it will act as a lubricant and the water will warm up. The water in the suit is a layer between you and the wetsuit and will allow more movement under your arms and over your shoulders.  
  3. Now bend forward and put your face in the water (whilst standing). Blow bubbles a few times to relax your breathing. Lift your feet and you will realise that the wetsuit acts as a buoyancy aid. Try a few strokes. 

And relax….

Yes, that’s right, relax. Very often when we’re anxious, we start swimming too quickly so try to pace those first few strokes. Starting slow helps you find your rhythm. 

If at any point you feel in trouble or need a rest, roll onto your back, put your hand up, and float until assistance arrives.

How to swim in a straight line (don’t follow the person in front!)

I’ve found out on several occasions, that the person I’m following is not always swimming in a straight line. I advise looking where you’re going every fourth fifth or sixth stroke. 

Look for something on the land in the direction that you’re heading. This may be a tall tree, the edge of a building, or a flag in the transition area. These are much easier to see than anything that is at water level, especially if things are bobbing around on a windy day. 

Getting out of the water

As you do your last two strokes into standing up, open the neck of the wet suit and allow a ‘gulp’ of water into it. This will make it easier to get off.

Swim right to the edge and make the most of the assistance to help you out up the slope. You may feel a bit light-headed as you go from lying in the water to standing up but this is quite normal. 

Open water swimming can be so enjoyable and this often takes people by surprise. If you enjoy it too then please share your experiences and tips below. If not, why not give some of these tips a go on your next swim and let me know how you get on.

I’ll be back next week to explore some tips about transition and getting onto your bike. 

About the author:

Chris Roberts is a British Triathlon Federation High Performing Coach.

Photo: Chris Roberts

Chris joined Farnham Triathlon Club in 2000 and since then has become a self-confessed triathlete addict! He’s competed in all distances from sprint through to middle distance and now focuses on coaching. 

Chris is a qualified Level 3 coach with the British Triathlon Federation and is a British Triathlon and Sports Coach UK facilitator, assessor and mentor. He’s particularly interested in sports psychology and motivation, and loves seeing the excitement as people achieve more than they expected. 

Are you training hard enough?

So you’ve got a training plan in place – great stuff! – but are you training at the right level? Could you do more? There are three levers for managing your training:

  1. Frequency – how often do you do it?
  2. Duration – how long do you do it for?
  3. Intensity – how hard you do it?

Balancing these is important. Increases need to be done little by little, and not all three at once. You may choose to do an extra training session to increase frequency, or do the existing session a little faster, thereby increasing intensity.

Everyone can benefit from collecting and analysing their training. Why not record your activity against the three levers above and note how you feel; measuring feelings is useful so try not to get lost in all the statistics.

Take to the scales 

By this I don’t mean weighing yourself… The Borg Scale is a simple method of Rating Perceived Exertion (RPE) and used to gauge an athlete’s level of intensity in training and competition. There are a number of RPE scales but the most common are the 15 point scale (6-20), and the 10 point scale (1-10). Pick one that works best for you.

Borg, G, “Perceived Exertion as an indicator of somatic stress”, Scandinavian journal of Rehabilitation Medicine 1970, 2(2), 92-98

Whether you’re focusing on achieving the required distance as you build your training, or focusing on getting faster, here are some useful things to consider as you plan your training:

Mix it up and increase frequency

Mixing up your training can be achieved by increasing the frequency, and number of times you train in a certain discipline. You may do one bike ride per week to fit in a longer ride. This could be increased to two rides per week – one being a long one at RPE13 and the other, a shorter, faster ride at RPE16.

Mixing your training is important to achieve your goal. If you always run at the same speed, you will become a very good runner at that speed. Muscles and brains will learn to do this through repetition so challenge yourself by introducing changes.

Go the distance and increase duration

To increase duration, and therefore, distance, build up the periods of effort (between RPE13 and RPE15), with periods of recovery in between. The aim is to reduce the rest time needed. For example, in a swim session you can swim a series of 100 metre swims with 30 second rest between each, then at the next visit swim the same number of 100 metre swims with 20 second rests. Then repeat at the next visit with 10 second rest. Soon you will be swimming the distance needed with no rest.

Fast and furious to increase pace

To increase pace you will use increased intensity. For example, when running, try some fast intervals. This trains your body, muscle and brain, to adapt to faster running. Run at a hard effort for a short period (RPE16 to RPE18) and then follow this by recovery running (RPE11 to RPE14), then speed up again.

Why not give one or two of these tips a go at your next training session, and let me know how you get on using the comments option below.

It’s all about preparation

Welcome to the first of my #TriathlonThursday SoBC blogs. My aim, over the next few weeks, is to prepare you for the challenge you’re taking on at this year’s SoBC. It doesn’t matter if you’re participating in a single element in a relay team, a run, or a Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, or working on the ‘fourth discipline’ of a triathlon – transition. And whether you’re doing it for the first time or the 10th time, there are things that everyone needs to think about.

Your SOBC check list

Now is a good time to start planning for what’s going to happen on the day. Are you a list maker? If so, creating a list covering the things you need is valuable:

  • What clothing do I need before and after the event?
  • What clothing and equipment do I need for the event itself?
  • What time does the event start and what time is my event?
  • Any travel arrangements?

We will return to check lists in a later blog. However, if you start a list now, as you think of things while training or talking to teammates, it will give you an opportunity to cover everything.

In preparing for the event have a think about:

  • What are my strengths? How will these help?
  • What are the areas I need to put effort into to improve and be comfortable with the event?

Let’s talk about training ideas for each of the elements of the triathlon so that you can make the most of the time you have available.

Time to train 

If you can train regularly, the improvements will come – consistency is key.

Some of you will be working as a team so now is a good time to have a conversation about what you would like to achieve together. Remember you are all contributing to the overall outcome. You are doing a part of the race that suits you best and that others in the team may like less. This is the great thing about working together in a triathlon. Having and sharing a clear combined goal ensures you all keep focused to continue and work together.

Other considerations at this stage are:

  • Check your time over the actual distance so you know what you will achieve. Benchmark yourself. I have heard many people say “I am so slow” but do not know their time. It’s good to see where you fit in the team and with other teams.
  • Check what time you have available during your normal week to do some training. Then put the time you are allocating for training into the diary as an appointment so that it happens.
  • Train in and with the equipment you plan to use on the day. I have a rule of thumb – nothing new in the two weeks before the event. I have seen many people use something new on the day of the event and have problems they didn’t expect or plan for.

Join me next week for the next installment of #TriathlonThursday for more training tips and if you have any questions, please write them below and we’ll try to cover them over the coming weeks.

About our #TriathlonThursday SoBC blog

With just over six weeks to go until SOBC, we’re delighted to have Chris Roberts, British Triathlon Federation High Performing Coach blogging for us. Look out for his weekly blog #TriathlonThursday.

Photo: Chris Roberts

Chris joined Farnham Triathlon Club in 2000 and since then has become a self-confessed triathlete addict! He’s competed in all distances from sprint through to middle distance and now focuses on coaching. 

Chris is a qualified Level 3 coach with the British Triathlon Federation and is a British Triathlon and Sports Coach UK facilitator, assessor and mentor. He’s particularly interested in sports psychology and motivation, and loves seeing the excitement as people achieve more than they expected.

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