As the London Marathon disappears into the distance and summer fast approaches many of you will be looking for something to fill the athletic gap between now and the Great North Run. You might be after something to provide a more varied challenge than simply running, some of you may have achieved your single sport goals and be considering a little swimming and cycling.
Winter bike rides in the freezing cold, and ploughing up and down an over populated swimming pool might not be your idea of fun, but as the sun straps on his hat it’s time to get outside and play. Cycling round the countryside on a scorching summer’s day or swimming across a beautiful lake wrapped up snug and warm in a wetsuit really does change the training game.
Triathlon reaches the parts that other sports simply don’t, swimming is fantastic for loosening stiff joints and taking the load off your weary legs, cycling on the other hand makes your legs super strong without any of the annoying impact of running. You really can train more but get injured less! Stick swim, bike, and run together and you’ve got yourself an amazing sport that will challenge you mentally as much as physically and whip you into the shape of your life. For those of you embarking on (or thinking of) your first summer of triathlon I thought I’d jot down my top five tips for multi-sport success…
- It’s all in the head… anyone can do it! Perhaps the biggest myth about triathlon is that you need to be some kind of super athlete. The truth is quite the opposite, the only thing you need is a positive mind-set. If you don’t believe me check out Episode 68 of Marathon Talk where we interviewed Sister Madonna Buder, the inspirational 81 year old Roman Catholic nun who took up running in her forties and triathlon in her fifties… this year’s Ironman Canada (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run) will be her 45th Ironman!
- Learn to swim! Swimming lessons aren’t simply for non swimmers… although I could already swim front crawl, the first thing I did when I entered my first triathlon was sign up for a block of lessons. Practice only helps when you’re practicing the right thing. Most triathlon clubs have coached sessions that cater for all abilities, even if you can’t swim a single stroke there will be someone worse than you… and loads of people who can point you in the right direction.
- It’s all about the bike. In most triathlons you’ll spend more time cycling than swimming & running combined, on top of which if you get off your bike exhausted then the last thing on your mind will be running… standing up straight will be hard enough! So, when planning your training allow for 60% of your time to be dedicated to the two wheeled discipline.
- One brick at a time. Assuming you’ve spent plenty of your training time budget on cycling, it still won’t matter if you’re in the best run shape of you life if you haven’t practiced running immediately after a bike ride. Now’s the time. At least once a week stick a 20 minute run immediately (keep the gap between bike and run to under three minutes) after your longest ride. It will be super hard at first but after just a few sessions your body will know what to expect and will kick into action the second you strap your trainers on.
- Free your mind. Perhaps the greatest opportunity that triathlon offers over running alone is to challenge you mentally as well as physically. Perfecting your swim stroke, planning your transitions, pacing your bike, and performing on the run, all take a certain level of mental practice and agility. A healthy mind = a healthy body and all that ;)
Having run for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research since 1999, Tom Williams has completed 13 marathons and seven Iron distance triathlons, has two degrees in exercise science, coaches athletes in endurance sport, and co-produces the UK’s number one running podcast Marathon Talk. He’s currently training for the South African 56 mile ultra marathon ‘Comrades’ at the end of May. You can tune in to Marathon Talk for free at www.marathontalk.com or by searching on iTunes.