Triathlete and triathlon coach Helen Murray has six top tips on how to improve at triathlon and nail a personal best.
Get a coach
When I first got into the sport, I was totally clueless about training. I trained at one intensity only. That approach won’t help you get faster, but it will lead to burn out and injury as you end up doing volume and not getting any fitter. If you want to improve your performance, then working with a coach is one of the best investments you can make. They take away the guesswork, set you specific sessions, offer guidance and make sure you get to the start line in one piece. Over three years, I slashed my half Ironman time from 6.28 to 4.53 and qualified for the 70.3 World Championships.
Ditch the gadgets
While power meters and running watches have their place, it’s also important to be able to go on feel. If you only ever train with data, then you can get really down about yourself on the days when you do not hit your target efforts. Conversely, on those magic days when you feel invincible, sticking to your numbers can hold you back. Some of my favourite runs are those when I leave my watch at home, I’m more aware of my surroundings and I usually finish with a big grin. They remind me why I fell in love with triathlon in the first place which is really important when training is grinding you down.
Don’t skip recovery days
More is not always better and ‘just going for a gentle swim’ or deciding to ‘make the most of the sunny weather’ on a recovery day is not wise! Rest days are a key part of triathlon training, to keep you motivated and allow your body to recover from all of the stress you put it under. When I was training for my first Ironman, I tried to ignore my body which was telling me it needed an extra rest day. Unfortunately, I ended up having to take a break for a week, rather than a day or two.
Have a checklist and plan ahead
Race day nerves have a magic tendency to turn laid-back, organised people into faffing, forgetful ones. I have a friend who drove 150 miles to a race, only to find he had forgotten to pack one of his wheels. I became a lot calmer ahead of races once I bought a big plastic box and created a pre-race checklist. I store all of the items I might need on race day in the box, like a spare pair of goggles, a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of baby oil and a whistle for supporters and I keep the checklist at the top. It makes packing my transition bag in race week so much easier!
Know how to mend a puncture
At some point, there is a good chance you will get a puncture during a race, so visualise how you will react, carry a spare inner tube and a pump or gas canister and most importantly, know to use them. When I first had a puncture in a race, I went into total panic mode and wasted half an hour. However, if you have rehearsed how to deal with a flat tyre, both mentally and physically, you can stay calm and be back on your bike within minutes. A flat tyre doesn’t necessarily mean your race is over either, Chrissie Wellington went on to win her second Ironman World Championship, despite a puncture.
Practice the little skills
My bike handling skills used to be so poor that I was too scared to grab drinks bottles at aid stations, which resulted in a very miserable, energy depleted run. If you want to shave minutes off your time, then it’s vital to work on your technical skills so you feel confident cornering, descending and eating and drinking on the go. Don’t neglect your transition skills either as you may end up picking up someone else’s transition bag, putting your helmet on back to front, or even losing your bike. Yes, I have done all of the above!