Get your triathlon season off to a strong start with our 50 tips for getting your first race of the year right, in the new issue of Triathlon Plus (out now). Here are a few to get you started.

After a long dark winter of turbos, tantrums and too much food, spring is here and your first race of the triathlon season is just a few weeks away. Don’t let it take you by surprise: show your rivals how much work you’ve put in over the winter, get your season off to the best possible start and you’ll be confident for the rest of the season. Sit down, take a deep breath and plan your final few pre-season weeks carefully, and your first results will be right on target and not a write-off.

Get a coach
It’s never too late to get some valuable professional advice. When your winter training has been erratic or you just feel the urge to play catch-up, sometimes a lack of personal objectivity can cause disaster as things ramp up. If you haven’t been keeping a training diary, make some notes before you meet your coach so you can give them a more honest appraisal of how winter’s gone. They’ll be able to straighten you out, give you last-minute first-race tweaks and help you set achievable goals for the rest of the season.

Plan your season
Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down your aims and objectives for the year. If your goals don’t excite you, tear the plan up and start again.

Evaluate, retest & reset your goals
Sometimes you may have set personal bests in one of the disciplines over the winter; sometimes you may have found you’re a long way off. Either way, keep your goals measurable and objective and update them as you go. Former javelin Olympian Steve Backley has said that “if you create a goal and achieve it, the first thing you do is create another goal. Do that six times on the trot and you get a real sense of achievement”.

Evaluate, retest & reset your ability
Just as your mind needs to be aware of what it is likely to be doing, so does your body. Get your training zones updated by retesting yourself at the end of your winter base period so your training remains defined and in the right place. This can be as simple as running a regular route at a pace you consider ‘easy’ (or using a heart-rate monitor to determine effort) and seeing if you’re faster.

Rank your races
Consider the races you want to do this season and mark them A, B or C to rank their importance. Train through minor races, rest slightly before notable races and taper before the big races. Often the first race of the season is entered on a whim; you might have done it last year, or your friends are doing it, or you just see a local race you fancy. But to avoid that ‘what next?’ feeling, go with an aim in mind, even if it’s as simple as scoring yourself in each discipline and transition to work out where to go for the rest of the year.  

Recce your race
Recce your triathlon race a month before (rather than the day before) if you can; even if you’ve done it before. Remind yourself of the bits you found tough, or find the scariest spikes on the bike course profile if you’ve never done it before so you know exactly what you’re facing. Decide beforehand how you will cope with it: for example, if it’s a steep spot on the bike, you might just tell yourself you’ll practise the descent once or twice so you know you can make some time up.

Fix your niggles
If you’ve got an ache or pain that you’ve been carrying, don’t carry it into the race season. Get a massage, see a physio or another practitioner to get yourself straight and bulletproof. Or as triathlon commentator Steve Trew says, “treat every minor injury like it is a major one”. You haven’t come this far in sport without learning the difference between achey muscles from training, and a specific pain that needs dealing with; so be honest with yourself now and save yourself a lot of wasted effort later.

Get inspired
There’s nothing like watching a bit of sport to get in the competitive mood. The sport TV season is starting plus you can always grab a classic DVD or surf YouTube. The ‘Ironwar’ clash between Mark Allen and Dave Scott at the 1989 Hawaii Ironman, the crawling finale of the ladies race at the 1997 event, or just bite-size chunks of footage from last year’s ITU World Championships Series (all on should do the trick.

Recent studies and reviews of evidence (the latest in from the American College of Sports Medicine last year) have raised doubts as to stretching’s effectiveness in injury prevention prior to exercise but there is still plenty of support that flexibility training is helpful, and a good range of motion is good for speed so if you haven’t added stretching to your routine yet, now’s the time.

Use the extra daylight
Now the clocks have changed, you’ll start to gain extra daylight to train with. This is especially useful for doing cycling during the week so make the most of the extra time available. Extra daylight should also help your sleep patterns settle down and give you more energy, so even if you don’t train later it’ll help with your race season.

Work through your gears
As you approach your peak events, your training and paces should get increasingly specific to your races. Get out of the winter ‘getting the miles in’ mentality and bridge up to race pace training.

Get off the turbo
Turbo trainers are good for building bike fitness when you’re limited in terms of either time or light but they eat away at your handling skills. Many race courses have bends, hills and corners and valuable time can be saved by doing them right. Get the bike outdoors and practise good technique.

Clean your race bike
As trivial as it sounds, a clean bike is a fast bike. A dirty chain has been reported to potentially cost 5 watts of power and that could be 15-20 seconds over the course of an hour. Finishing positions at your local sprint race will be decided by less.

Sprint training While triathlon is predominantly an aerobic sport, don’t underestimate the ability to sprint. This could be racing to get a clean run out of the water, sprinting through a line of riders or going head to head on the run leg. As you get closer to races, practise a few surges to get your body use to it. You can’t keep this kind of training up all summer as it’s hard on your legs, but at this time of year it gives fast results before your real peak speed training has kicked in, giving you a nice confidence boost early on. Plyometric drills have also been shown to improve running economy and 5K speed so don’t leave them for the 100m runners.
Research in 2007 at the University of New South Wales, Australia, showed that lots of short, very fast sprints can also reduce body fat by releasing stress hormones, so adding eight to 10 very short (10-second) bursts into a run or ride could help you get off your winter plateau and down to race weight.

Pro spring tip “I gradually chop off about a third of my bike training volume in spring. Add a time trial into your training week – a distance that takes 20mins at first, not quite at 40km race pace.”
Emma Snowsill, Australia

[Words: Bryce Dyer]

This is an extract from an article that originally appeared in issue 27 of Triathlon Plus magazine. Subscribe today from just £6 for your first six months!