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Ironman pro Phil Graves gets you up to speed with marginal gains at minimum expense.

If there was a phrase that summed up 2012 from a sporting performance standpoint it would have to be marginal gains.

It’s all Dave Brailsford talks about. These marginal gains have helped Bradley Wiggins win the Tour de France and helped the British track team dominate in the Olympic velodrome. But what are these marginal gains that add up to make such a big difference? Is it a combination of using very specific equipment or just simply a whole lifestyle choice where every little part of every athlete’s life is scrutinised and picked apart?

It is often thought that every bit of kit you use can make a huge difference. We can look at all the new shiny bikes and equipment and drool to our heart’s content but in reality is any of this stuff really going to make us faster?

If you look at marginal gains from a racing point of view, you have to think, “I want to get from the swim start to the run finish as quickly as possible to gain the best time and position.” So once you have that idea in your head you can go through your event beforehand, mentally highlighting the parts of the race where you can save time: becoming efficient at taking off your wetsuit, putting on your bike and run shoes, doing up your helmet, working out the times in the race you can take on nutrition and lose the least amount of time.

Even by making your bike race-ready, taking off that spare bottle cage you’ll never use, pumping up the tyres and ensuring the groupset is as clean as the day you took delivery so all your power can go to the rear wheel and not into the muck and grime that builds up on the chain and cassette, can make a difference.

Even before you have bought any new kit you can already make so many marginal gains. It seems a waste spending £500 on a new set of wheels to save one minute at the local Olympic -distance race, when you can spend nothing and improve your time just by having good race skills and having prepared effectively. Even at a professional level, there are things I can improve on and always think before a race how I can get though transition the most effectively.

So, once you have looked at all these free marginal gains, what next? Firstly I would advise you look at recovery and the amount you sleep; that extra hour in bed can make a huge difference. We all know we adapt in the recovery phase, therefore this would be the next thing I would urge you to look at so that you can train harder the next day, not feel as tired and as a result become fitter. There is a common cyclists’ saying that I like to live by which sums this up: “If you’re standing up and can sit down, sit down. If you’re sitting down and can lie down, lie down.” Now if that isn’t a mantra to live by then I don’t know what is.

So when you finally have all these free marginal gains sorted you can start to think about coughing up the cash for new kit. But think carefully about your purchases. If you’re doing Ironman but get huge saddle sores and the last 50 miles of the bike becomes very uncomfortable, then why buy a new set of wheels that will give you a 10-minute advantage when you could find a saddle that is comfortable that gives you 15 minutes because you’re not having to freewheel every mile in total agony? It’s the small things that can make the biggest of differences and you don’t have to go searching for those very round wheels just to get to where you want to be.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

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