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Steve Trew gives us the low-down on how to achieve our triathlon dreams in 2013.

Steve Trew Blog: Break It Down

Illustration by Peter Greenwood

This is the time of year it usually happens. It’s during the dark days of winter – post-ITU World Champs, post-Hawaii – that we find ourselves sitting down and dreaming about next season. More specifically, dreaming about what we want to achieve: break 30 minutes for the swim, qualify for the worlds (it has to be this year, they’re in Hyde Park), maybe do an Ironman, or perhaps qualify for Kona. Why not? Dreams and aspirations should be big.

And so we start to imagine the training – the sessions, the improvements we want to see, the progress we want to make – and reality takes a back seat for a moment while we wonder what it would be like if those dreams came true. But soon enough reality hits back and brings us back down to earth.


A big drop

The crash landing comes with the realisation of exactly what’s required to bring those times down. And that realisation can be huge. Suppose you want to drop two minutes on the swim, three minutes on the bike and another two on the run. That’s seven minutes in all. You want to go seven minutes faster over an Olympic-distance race. A drop like that sounds pretty immense.

It’s not impossible though. It can be done. It’s just that sometimes when you look at something in its entirety it’s overwhelming, but broken down into smaller parts, it starts to look a little less daunting.

So let’s make those dreams of going seven minutes faster come true, starting with the swim. A two-minute drop over 1,500m still sounds like a lot. So let’s work out how much time we’d need to save over each 100m to get that two-minute saving. That’s just eight seconds, which seems more manageable.

Right, the next step: how long have we got? Well, the ITU World Age Group Championships are in September, so let’s say 30 weeks. That means for every week of training between now and then you need to swim just four tenths of a second faster. An improvement of four tenths of a second – now that doesn’t sound like much at all. And how many metres do you cover in each session? Two thousand? More?

You see where this is going, right? Breaking big things down into smaller parts makes them a lot less daunting. Now all we have to do is go through the same process for the improvements you want to make on the bike and run. I’m not about to do the maths for you but it’s exactly the same as what we’ve just done above for the swim. And it’s the same principle that propelled Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins to such success – the accumulation of lots of tiny, marginal gains, leads to a significant overall improvement.

Lots of little pieces

And the good news is there are all sorts of places we can look to make these kinds of gains. Think about it – how few athletes do you know that get an expert to look at their position on the bike? We’re willing to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds for fancy carbon components but then we baulk at making an investment that could save massive amounts of time by making us more efficient. And not just on the bike, either: a good, efficient bike position means we take far less fatigue onto the run.

We always think of swimming when we talk about technique, and I would definitely recommend getting a good swim coach, because poor swim technique will actually work against you the harder you try. Ask around, ask your fellow athletes what coaches they’ve seen – personal recommendation is everything.

But when talk turns to technique it’s rarely in relation to running. If it is mentioned the response is often something along the lines of: “Running technique? What’s the point of working on that? Everyone can run, can’t they?” Well, yes. But everyone who races triathlon can swim too and we don’t doubt the importance of good technique in that discipline.

One international-level runner I was working with improved her 10k time by a massive 60 seconds by changing her technique, so think what good technique could do for you. Especially as, unlike my runner who ran fresh, you’ll be running having just come off the bike.

But whatever training you plan to do, make sure it’s tailored to the course of the priority race you’re targeting. If the race has got hilly bike and run courses, then train for that type of terrain. Whatever your goals may be, if you’re training for something, make sure you train smart – you know it makes sense!