September 27th 2020 I completed my first olympic distance triathlon in the time of 2:23:18 finishing top 10 in my age category. I did this as a challenge and trained around 16 weeks for it. I have a background in swimming so it was a matter of getting my running and cycling up to scratch. The run ended up being my strongest leg of the 3. I finished the race feeling fulfilled having reached my goal of getting my target time and finishing the race.
I've reflected back on my accomplishment, what went well and what I could of done better. I've written some tips below in order to help anyone else who is about to give an olympic triathlon a good crack. I hope you find some value and take at least one thing from this :)
Get some open water experience - My background is swimming and it's my strongest component of the three. However I would say it was the hardest of the three when looking back on the race. I found it very disorientating when swimming in the open water as there was no line to follow on the sea floor. With so many bodies splashing around you it's hard to see the buoys when sighting. I would highly recommend getting at least a few sessions in open water before the big day.
Stretch daily (Rom Wod) - A tight muscle is a weak muscle. I stretched 20-40mins per day following an app called RomWod. I don't enjoy stretching but this was a key aspect in order for me to train almost everyday. The app held me accountable and was one less thing I had to think about programming.
Get your bike looked over and look after it - I found I spent a lot of time on my bike training as this is the longest leg. I made sure my tires where pumped, chain was lubricated and bike was fully functioning at the beginning of each week. If you're a novice to riding you'll be surprised how much harder you have to work if your tires are not pumped up properly.
Have a program and a plan - I followed a 12 week program that I found online and tailored it to my needs in order to work on my weaker components. I find programs hold you accountable so I recommend asking around or finding a reputable triathlon club to design one for you and stick to it!
Include strength training - I performed 3 full body strength sessions per week. I also tailored my strength training to work on areas that will help certain components. I needed more power on my bike so I worked on plyometrics for the legs including, box jumps, jump squats, jumping lunges. I also added in power training using heavy loads on big movements such as squats and deadlifts. If it's more endurance that you need to work on, then higher rep ranges would work (15+). Without going into too much detail, you would generally start around 15+ reps to increase muscular endurance at the start of the program and then decrease the reps and increase the load to around 4-6 in the last month of training. This would be a whole other blog post.
Seek out expert advice (especially for weaker components) - My weakest component was the cycling leg. I found an indoor cycling club that had indoor trainers which were hooked up to computers; and I was put through some gruelling workouts. This showed all the data in my cycling sessions. I used this data to see what I needed to improve on and whether I was improving. This was something I did once a week and it definitely improved my confidence and strength on my weakest leg. Youtube was also a great tool. I found plenty of great teachers on there.
Dial in your nutrition - Food is energy. In order to train with this much volume you need food to fuel it. Carbohydrates are our body's preferred source of energy and I found eating a good amount of starchy carbs and fibrous veg before every meal helped me get through each training session. I would also complement each meal with a sufficient amount of protein to help me recover and build muscle.
Make sure you've got decent kit - I invested in a decent training kit including bike pants, running shoes, swimming jammers (bottoms) and goggles. This made training a more enjoyable experience. There is nothing worse than bike chafing or goggles that leak. The last thing I wanted was having a kit that was stopping or affecting my training. I also recommend not buying anything new or unfamiliar for race day. I made sure I had tested and trained in the gear that I was wearing for the event. Wet suits may also be optional depending on what race you're doing. I was one of the only people not wearing one but apparently this helps with buoyancy, helping you reserve energy during the swim.
Perform brick sessions and mini triathlons - A brick session is a bike into a run. Your legs literally feel like bricks for the first few minutes when you get into the run. Having a program that has brick sessions will help with this transition and will also increase your confidence come race day.
Invest in a smart watch - I used a Garmin Fenix 5s and this was a massive help. I tracked my paces every training session in order to make sure I was on target to reach the time I set out to achieve. Having the watch held me accountable and motivated during my training sessions. I also used it to track my heart rate, which was a guide for how intense I was working and how fatigued I was when resting. If my HR was higher than normal at rest I would take the session a little lighter or have a rest day.
Have a race plan and know your pacing - I already knew the time I wanted to achieve. So when I broke down each component I knew exactly what pace I needed to run to reach my target time. In training however it was important that I could go faster than the target pace so that on race day it was easier. I found myself go out too fast in the run on the race and because I knew what I could hold in training, I pulled it back to save myself from blowing out and not reaching my goal.
Check out the course - I checked out the course map online, I also went on google maps to check out the course landscape. I didn't want anything to throw me off on race day and wanted to be well prepared. This increased my confidence in going into the race.
Get to the event the day before (if possible) - I arrived the day before and stayed over in an air bnb close by. I also checked in my bike and got familiar with the transition area. By doing this I was able to focus on getting a good nights sleep, good food and a good warm up on race morning. I reduced any risk and fear such as being late for the start or trouble checking in. I just wanted to focus on one thing and that was the race and to enjoy the moment.
Have fun - Believe it or not, even though I was hurting at some points, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I put the hours in training and this prepared me well enough to be fully in the moment and stick to my race plan.