How to prepare for a Triathlon

A week today is the Cardiff Triathlon and I am proud to say with the rest of the Victoria Park Clinic Team, I will be helping out at the event treating the competitors. Its an event I did last year and we offered free sport massages to every computer as well as collecting donations for Velindre Cancer Centre. So I thought it was only fitting to write a blog post on how to prepare of a triathlon according to the research you need about 3 months to train for a triathlon.

So first things first:

What is a Triathlon?

A Triathlon is a multi sport event that consists of a Swim, Bike and then a run. There are lots of different types of triathlons at different length as well as team and individual events. Often for events including the Cardiff Triathlon you will need to get insurance for the day unless you are a member of the British Triathlon Federation.


The swim can be taken place in a swimming pool or in open water such as a lake, sea or bay. Often the shorter events will be based in a swimming pool rather than the open water. If you are doing an event in the open water you will need to wear a wetsuit and its recommended to have googles and a cap for all triathlons. If your swim is in open water it might be worth adding an additional 10% to how far you need to swim for the race when training in order to allow for the effects of the open water. For the start you will often be placed with people that are of a similar predicted time or age to you. In some events you will be given different coloured swim hats depending on which time group/age you are in. Also you do have the choice of strokes for the swim and can do either breaststroke or front crawl. If you can front crawl is preferable as it will be faster and more efficient in the water.

Top tips for the Swim:

  • View the course map, make sure you know where the turns and the buoys are going to be in the water. Also try and figure out where the sun will be and look out for landmarks so that you can judge where you are when your doing the swim. Try to stay as relaxed as possible, you don’t want your breathing to be all over the place before you even start!!
  • Don’t go off to fast; try to stick to your own pace. You will properly need to start off slower than you think in order to pace it right you want to feel calm and in control especially in the open water. The beginning of the race is often chaotic and it’s impossible not to clash with other swimmers. You want to try and find your own space as quick as possible to avoid feeling like your in a whirl pool of swimmers, if you have to stick to the sides. Also a good thing to bare in mind is just because there is a lot of splashing and movement from other competitors it doesn’t mean they are actually going faster than you. You want to get your own space but you also don’t want to use up too much energy as you still have 2 more events to go!!
  • If your race is in open water try to make sure you practice swimming in open water especially in your wetsuit. It will feel different swimming in a wetsuit compared to a normal swimming costume as the wetsuit will try to help with the buoyancy. However they can feel restrictive so its best to get used to them before you race. It may seem silly but practice getting the wetsuit on and off so you know the best way for you it will save you time and stress in the race.
  • Try and get some coaching in when you train even if you are a naturally a good swimmer. Technique is everything when it comes to swimming and a good technique will make a much more enjoyable experience especially if the race is in open water. If the water is rough you may need to lift your arms higher as a result. It may feel like your going slower when your focus on your technique but if you have good form you won’t need as many strokes to go the same distance.  You want to make the swim feel as smooth as possible with the best efficiency.

Triathlon Part 2- The Bike:

Similar to many things safety first, it is compulsory to wear a helmet for all triathlons no matter who you are. You obviously need to have a bike and the rules state that as long as the bike is serviced and road worthy you can use it no matter the type. Most triathlons are on the road and therefore most people will have road bikes. Another frequently asked question is whether you need to have cleats or clip pedals. They will give your better power and speed during the cycle as less energy will be lost between pushing the pedal up and down. However it’s all about being confident and comfortable, its more important that you get the training in and you enjoy it rather than trying and use fancy gear.

Top tips for the Bike:

  • Ease into the ride slowly start in a lower gear and build it up gradually.
  • You will want to refuel while you are on the bike but wait at least 8-15 minutes from the transition before taking anything in. The reason to wait is, you want to get into a regular pattern with your breathing and heart rate before getting your body also to try to digest fuel at the same time. It seems best to take in fuel little but often rather than in one big go.
  • Get your bike fitted and serviced!! You don’t want to have any problems with the bike before you start. The same goes for the way it is fitted you want to make sure it set up best for you, you don’t want to be over reaching for the bars and you want your leg to be 80-90% extended.
  • If you feel comfortable to stand up on the bike try to do so on a flat stretch of road roughly 30 mins into your cycle. Obviously this may not always be possible but it should help stretch out your hip flexors especially your psoas that will start to tighten up as you ride.
  • The bike is all about the mileage as it is the largest proportion of the triathlon so make sure you put aside the most time in training for the cycle. Spin classes are also helpful to increase your fitness when you are pushed for time. Also try and find a group to cycle with as there will be lots of other cyclist in the race and it can feel very daunting if you only ever ridden on your own.

Triathlon Part 3-The Run:

The run will normally take place on the roads and there is often drink stations along the course for you to stop and refuel. Apart from trainers in terms of equipment the run is relatively straightforward in that respect.

Top Running Tips:

  • Ease into the run your legs will feel wobbly or even numb after the bike so don’t try and start off too fast. You want to focus on your form at the beginning especially on running tall as well as your stride pattern and knee lift.
  • The most difficult part of the run is the transition off the bike straight into running and therefore it is important in training to make sure you practice this. It won’t be a pleasant feel but unfortunately the only way to make it more comfortable is to practice it. This type of training is called a brick session when you combined the two different disciplines together in one session. There is research to show that you will use up more energy running after a cycle than if you just went for a run. This is due to the biomechanics strain that your body will face from not only fatigue but transitioning between off- weight baring to then suddenly running.
  • Remember to build up your mileage gradually and it would be a good idea to invest in a good pair of trainers.

Triathlons-The transitions:

It seems obvious but there are two transitions in the triathlon one between the swim and the bike and another between the bike and the run. You will be giving a race number for the bike and the run that you will need to have on your bike and running kit when you start off each section. In some triathlons you will also be given a timing chip which will record your times from start to finish.

In terms of equipment you will need a rack to hold your bike. Also you will need to prepare your kit for the different transitions, its best to lay out everything as organised as possible it will make your life much easier. You are not allowed to remove your bike from the rack until you have fastened up your helmet and it cant be removed till you have placed your bike back in the rack at the end of the ride.

What are the different types of Triathlons?

  1. Super Sprin: Swim:400m Cycle:10km Run:2.5km
  2. Sprint: Swim:750m Cycle:20km Run:5km
  3. Standard (Olympic): Swim:1.5km Cycle:40km Run:10km
  4. ITU Long: Swim: 3km Cycle:80km Run:20km
  5. Half (Iron man 70.3) Swim: 1.9km Cycle:90km Run:21km
  6. Full (Iron Man): Swim:3.8km Cycle:180km Run: 42km

Pre Triathlon race tips:

  • You want to practice each stage of your race individually as well as practicing different sections together such as the going for a run straight after a cycle.
  • In the week before the triathlon you want to taper and reduce your training by around 30% you don’t want to start doing any long or hard sessions.
  • Perfect your transition routine and make sure you have the organisation of all your kit perfected. Mentally think through where you will have everything and what order you need to pick up and put everything on. Therefore in the race it’s routine. Also you should look through the details of your individual race to see the layout of the transition for the individual race you have entered. You may want to get a bright flag or some kind of marker so you can clearly see you things in the transition area.
  • Get your bike serviced and check the last thing you want is for there to be a problem with the bike and your out of the race.
  • Make sure you have all your kit labelled as well as your details on it encase something were to get lost. Also check there isn’t anything that you need to replace or change last minute like inner tubes ect.
  • Don’t change anything!! Stick to your routine and how you have been training don’t suddenly change any of your gear, decide to loose a few pounds or change your diet in the last few weeks.
  • Make sure you check the course, see if there are any hills or sharp turns to be aware of before your race and try to inco-operate this into your training plan.
  • Get a good night sleep!! You don’t want to feel tired or fatigued for race day you want to be as relaxed and calm as possible.

The Night Before the triathlon:

  • Make sure you have everything sorted in terms of gear, clothing, food/drinks, extra clothes, numbers, everything and get it all sorted out so you have to think about anything on the morning of the race
  • Get a good night sleep, you will need all the rest and recovery you can get.
  • Try to eat normally and don’t introduce anything new just because you hear that there might be something more superior to what you normally eat. You want to have lots of carbohydrates with protein and limited fats before the event. It is recommended to eat your pre race dinner around 10 hours before you are planning to have your race day breakfast.

Triathlon Race Day:

  • Breakfast: You want to make sure that you have your breakfast about 2 1/2h – 3hrs before your race. Have something to eat that your body is used to having to avoid any stomach problems during the race. Research suggests your breakfast should be made up of 50% carbs, 25-30% protein and then 20% fat.
  • Fluids: You want to make sure you drink before the start of the race but like a lot of things little but often it better just keep taking little sips of water. You can also have a gel around 8 minutes before the race starts to get a last minute boost in.

Cardiff Triathlon: 26 June 2016

The Cardiff Triathlon will take place at the Millennium Center at Cardiff Bay. The course is relatively flat, with the swim taking place in the bay, the bike around Cardiff centre and run around the Cardiff Bay Barrage.

The start time for the first wave of competitors will be at 7am. You can register for the event at the Millennium Centre on either the Saturday (12pm-6pm) at the expo or on the Sunday (5:30am-6:30am).

There is three different routes for the Cardiff Tri, there is a Olympic, Sprint and super sprint. Bike Wales will be offering a free bike check for the event which will be available at the expo on the Saturday. I will be there as a part of the Victoria Park Clinic team offering sports massages to all competitors. There will also be lots of entertainment and a big screen showing the race as it happens. If the atmosphere last year was any indication there will be an incredible atmosphere around the Bay.


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