Experience the Difference

Triathlon is ONE sport

Over the years, I have seen so much written about triathlon and now, with the prevalence of the many different social media platforms available, it feels like you can’t turn around without reading something about the sport. I see on T-shirts and blogs about how tough triathlon is, so many of them saying “as if one sport isn’t hard enough!”
In my opinion, it is not three sports, triathlon is one sport and if you are not training with that thought in mind, then you are doing it all wrong.
Riding after a hard swim and running after a hard bike is tough to do well but if you want to be a good triathlete you NEED to find a way to be able to do that.
Like anything good in life, triathlon takes time and consistency to achieve.
Of the many thousands of triathlons around the world each year, only a very, very, small percentage of them are won by an athlete who is strong in only one of the legs.
You do not need to be the best swimmer, bike rider, or runner to do well in triathlon. What you need is consistency across the 3 disciplines.
I remember when triathlon started back in the 1970’s, we described triathletes as fair weather athletes. In those formative days of triathlon, many took up the sport because they wanted to be competitive at a sport, normally coming from a background in one of the three disciplines but they were not highly competitive at any one in particular.
They were described as fair weather athletes because it always seemed that once the cold and rain set in during the WA winter, these athletes put all of their equipment away and were not to be seen again until the sun re-appeared in September or October.
In those early days, the triathletes were being coached by swim coaches for the swim, cycle coaches for the bike, and track or distance running coaches for the run.
What a disaster that was, both then and even now. Exact specificity will still not be successful unless the program design is by one person/coach under the premise that triathlon is ONE sport.
Oh how things have changed… or at least by now, should have changed. I still see many triathletes being coached by individual coaches across the three disciplines, or, are self-coached. This means separate coaches for swim squad, group bike rides and run sessions.
So, what is wrong with that?
To me, that is a question that could take all day to answer. However, I will explain as best I can.
Managing training at the required intensity means coping well with the inevitable fatigue from the separate components of triathlon – this will determine just how far you will be able to go in the sport.
For example:
Swim: In a triathlon event, across every distance, the start is explosive (for at least 200m, and sometimes as much as 400m) with little to no opportunity for a pre-race swim warm-up.
Invariably, I see that many swim programs have a warm-up for the ‘main-set’ that is anything up to 2000m or 20-30min of swimming with some drills. Then, there always seems to be an ‘optimal’ kilometre quota put on athletes each week and if that amount of kilometres isn’t achieved, then that will be the reason the swim isn’t improving.
From my point of view, that is a totally illogical and flawed ‘theory’. For a start, it isn’t taking into account individual physiology and each individual response to the type and volume of training stimuli. It is usually aimed at the small percentage of athletes that do, in fact benefit greatly by swimming, say 40km, each week.
As with all coaching, specificity is key. Just because it works for one person is not reason enough to ASSUME it will work for the next person (unless that next person just happens to have the same parents as the first person, then it may well have a benefit).
Bike: The bike takes the longest amount of time to master but with consistency, it delivers the most consistent improvements over time. Swim and run speed can be improved over weeks and months with intricate program design but the bike improves consistently over months and years.
Social media is always full of theories about ideal cadence, ideal watts per kg, how to ride into the wind, how to ride with the wind, etc. Most of these theories seem to appear after the analysis of a particular elite athletes’ post-race data and whatever he or she did during a good race result ‘must be the ideal’ way to approach an event. If coaching were that simple, there would be a mass sprint finish to every race finish line because everyone would apply that principle and the same result would always be there. Correct? Nup.
That theory is only possible when applied to a machine but not one bit possible with the adaptive organism that is the human body.
What I do know is, in order to be able to run well off the bike, you need to be able to ride at a tempo that controls your race position (on a good day, even improve that position) in the race based on your swim, while still allowing good run speed and enough endurance to finish strongly.
Contrary to a lot of belief out there, I feel that in triathlon, a good bike leg won’t win you many races throughout your career, however a bad bike leg will certainly lose you plenty.
Understanding yourself and your personal capabilities on the bike is the key to putting together a good bike leg during a triathlon. Knowing exactly what your body will give you (based on your knowledge of yourself in previous races and training sessions) is something that takes time to fully understand.
I am still yet to see a triathlete who competes well in road ITT events be able to transfer that road time trialing speed and strength into a triathlon setting where a good swim and a strong run is required to maintain the consistency across all three disciplines.
Run: If you want to do well in triathlon, you will need to learn and practice pacing. If you can’t run efficiently off the hard bike leg, your results are, I expect, going to be a disappointment to you.
Running often and efficiently are key. Listen to your feet. The quieter your feet are, the more efficiently you are running. The quieter your feet are, the more forward momentum, less ground contact time, and vertical movement you are creating.
First thing to do is get rid of the headphones. You need to hear your feet and as you can’t use them during a race learn to train without them. So many people wait for a change of music tempo to change their run tempo. You don’t have the music to help you change tempo during your racing when you need it most so I suggest you practice without it in training.
Just so there is no confusion, I have talked about the swim, the bike, and the run separately which looks like it is in fact 3 sports that make up a TRIathlon. Yes there are three components to the sport, BUT everything needs to fit into each other. Just as power-lifting has 3 disciplines (IE: bench press, deadlift, and squat), someone that is only strong at one of or even two of the lifts will NOT win the event because the winner lifts the most total weight across the 3 lifts.
Consistency and repetition are key to being able to adhere to the tight progression plan that needs to be built into the program design. Without both of these, it would be expected that your outcome come race day will be, ‘I hope it goes well’ rather than knowing that it will go well.
What I am experiencing more and more is that athletes are expecting and almost ‘wanting’ triathlon training programs to be more complicated than I feel they need to be. From my personal coaching perspective, I have seen and continue to see and hear ‘frustrations’ from athletes that think that my philosophy is way too simple to be effective, and who continue to look for other (more complicated) ways to do the same training.
Of course there are many ways to achieve results from a coaching perspective, but my suggestion is to keep everything as simple as is possible. So long as you have your endurance for your chosen event at an appropriate level and you have the top end speed for your chosen event, then that is all you need.
No need to add anything else once everything is in place.
If something works for that particular individual, it will always work, over, and over, and over again.

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