Over the years I've learned a few hard-fought lessons about achieving a personal best race time. As we get closer to tri season, here are my best hard-earned racing secrets. Whether you're a newbie or an experienced racer, I hope these tips will serve you well this year.
10. Find a comfortable race outfit and wear it for the entire race.
I recall one of my first Olympic-distance races. I came flying out of the pool (this was a pool swim) heading outside toward transition only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a bare-butt sighting. And this one happened to belong to a rather curvaceous triathlete.
There's nothing wrong with a bare butt at the right time and place, but this was certainly not the right time nor the place for this...nor was it for changing into bike shorts.
Transitions are free time, so don't waste them putting on your favorite biking shorts and shirts. I've raced in my triathlon race gear up to a half-Iron distance race. Most manufacturers do a great job in designing racing clothes that you can wear swimming, biking and running. You too can race like the pros by investing in race gear.
Once a year I race a local sprint triathlon and use it as a baseline measurement of my fitness. One year I improved my time by about 10 minutes. Five of those minutes came from a faster transition time. I understand that five minutes may not seem like a lot, but try lowering your 5K time by five minutes. I bet that's gonna cost a lot more in time and effort than a new race outfit.
9. Aero bars.
I started my triathlon career on a mountain bike. Over the years, I've continued to upgrade my bike until last year I spent a big chunk of change on a new carbon ride. But the biggest difference to my bike times came when I started using aero bars.
This could be because aero bars put you in a more aerodynamic position, but I suspect that it has more to do with feeling like a real triathlete. Almost nothing says "triathlete" more than aero bars (OK, shaving your legs as a guy also screams triathlete...among a number of other non-tri things). I really believe that the more you look and feel like a pro triathlete, the more you'll race like one.
8. Get a coach or training plan.
You don't have to want to compete in Kona to need a coach or training plan. There's so much (from just a technical point of view) to the sport of triathlon. It's much more than just the sum of three sports.
For instance, you may be the best cyclist on your biking team, but when is the last time you raced a 27-mile time trial after swimming and before running? Or for that matter, when is the last time you raced a 27-mile time trial? Most bike racers stay in a pack and draft. They don't race alone until the end of the race. This is worlds away from how you need to train for a triathlon.
How about the newbies out there, what's your training plan? I'm sure most of you have done some running, but how do you combine it with swimming and cycling? How do you combine training for all three sports in such a way that you actually get stronger and fitter without injuring yourself?
7. Put your swim goggle strap under your swim cap.
This is just a quirky tip: When you race, put the goggle strap under your cap like the pros do. That way, if somebody happens to kick or hit you in the face and knock off your goggles, they'll stay around your head. And yes, people may kick you in the face in an open-water swim.
6. Figure out your nutritional plan.
The longer the race, the more important your nutrition. This is a simple two-part strategy: 1) Figure out what works best for you, and 2) Train like you race. And always remember to bring your own food. There's a good chance that the race won't have your preferred gel or drink and this can be a complete disaster.
Last summer I raced a half marathon. I always have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before my race. Not this time. I didn't have peanut butter so I switched to cereal. The swishing mixture of milk and Gatorade as I ran proved to be an explosive combo at about mile seven.
I stole my best secret race supplement from my 8-year-old son. I love to eat Smuckers peanut butter and jelly Uncrustables during my race. These little sandwiches come individually prepackaged so they don't make a mess. I like to freeze them the night before so that they're ready to eat on the bike. Best of all they're about 300 calories each. For me this is the perfect amount of fuel for a strong run time. Find what works best for you.