With the 2016 Olympics fixed in our feeds, it’s pretty victorious, clenching any sort of bling between your teeth. This race wasn’t in Rio, but it was 5,761 miles from the vibrant energy of Brazil. For the uninitiated, Triathlon was born in the 70s by the San Diego Track Club, to switch up the vigorous hardship of track training. Over the next decade, it gained recognition globally and the race was awarded full medal Olympic status in ‘94. The official distance for Olympic triathlon is a 1.5k swim, a 40k bike and a 10k run.
Unless you are Alistair Brownlee, strolling like a G across the finish line this shit is tough- no need to fake a pained expression. The distances alone, (for most) are not much of a feat. With an hour spare, you can train each category after work and either side of Netflix reruns. Buddying the trio together and racing them, is where the fire starts to burn. Unless you are comfy nailing a 10km run after a 90 minute spin class, preceded by a rapid sea swim, then you might feel a bit shortchanged. Twenty years ago, the ‘triathlete’ might have been limited to groups, polarized spaces, and seen as a hardcore outsider, even amongst fitness junkies. Today, Triathlon is huge. For the bonafide fidget and anyone who has a task to sit still, this is your next hype.
My first real life acquaintance of a Triathlon was a few years back, cheering a friend race in London. I exited thinking, fuck Laura is a badgirl, what a faff, all this kit?! No thanks. 2 years later I completed a Sprint tri, and here I am after completing the Olympic distance.
As a writer, I play out other people’s stories. But to really understand something you have to ride it yourself- so here goes…
The night before the race was spent procrastinating, schooling myself on how to convert kms to miles via the fibonacci sequence. I had packed concisely to the brief, rolled my clothes precisely, and had enough gels to spook NASA.
Race day was a furnace of a Summer afternoon. With the overground line down, 4 XL Uber’s later and I’m making headway on this journey. On route to London’s Excel Centre, we slowed for traffic by the tennis courts. I drifted out of my head, and off topic for a second, listening to the pop of the ball hitting the racquet, a sound tied solely to one sport. I had just one moment that morning without anxiety, then I came back to the pop of my own start gun. After racking my bike, laying down my life, minus the kitchen sink, and snappin’ my ‘Rack City Bitch, Rack Rack City Bitch’, I was rogue and ready to roll.
The swim was the gnarliest part of the race tbh. I took the mixed wave to give the London lads a run for their money, and feel the real buzz from all angles. Granted, many were ruthless, tidal wave creating, elbowing titans. At one point, I felt my leg grabbed and held down. I shook them off and shimmied on through unscathed. Exiting the ‘washing machine’ at the start of the race and into the calm was pretty testing. With two more stages of the race to complete it wasn’t worth wasting time wondering who did what, I just moved as fast as I could, got out of the water and did my best superhero kit change.
The bike was fierce. London whipped out it’s mystery mountains, and I attacked them with all of of me. In my head, the highway was me defeating my title, racing my brother in the front room on the scalextric track. Flying through red lights the elites passed me, kitted out like tiny spaceships. Tearing up the laps gave me time to breakaway and make up time for my chaotic swim and lax transition.
Running was the worst. I had derailed. I must have looked tipsy starting the run, ripping off a pair of cheap heels- feet all tied together, screaming for freedom. The heat was intense, my feet were cut up and burning from my rookie pink sock selection. 10k was 3 laps of the course. My body felt good but I lost all power, chewing shot blocks, trying to forget the remaining double lap arising. After a 3 month groin strain and a tedious recovery, I ran my first run 6 days before the tri. Every step was a battle. My instinct is always to stop. I had to learn to override it, and mentally fight me. Tilly from 3 years ago was surfacing minutely- the quitter. It took all of me to not stop. I did stop for a minute, collected myself and recited, ‘I got this. Dad didn’t raise a quitter’.
Women tearing up the triathlon scene is nothing new, look at our GB homegirl, Helen Jenkins, raising the bar. You never know how your body is going to react on race day but you can definitely prepare it well. I get the lowdown from Barbara Brunner, Energy Lab London founder, Triathlon coach, and 10 years in the game, racing and training athletes. Here’s Barbara Brunner’s, 5 go to principles to hit that peak performance on race day.
1. Focus on your weakest discipline = if you lack confidence in your swim, make sure you do 1x TECHNIQUE+ 1x SWIM FITNESS session/week. That is only HALF of the work done, next you should get as many Open Water swims in as possible, even if it’s just a lunch time swim in Hyde Park before you head back to work!
2. Do your INTERVALS: Build a good base for all, and in the last 3 months leading up to race day work on building a short + intense workout/discipline/week into your training routine. Start with very short ones, for example a set of 4-6x1min w/2min Recovery. the following week do 4-6x2min w/3min Recovery. Apply this idea to ALL. Doing the hard stuff in little + doable doses ensures that your overall stamina increases.
3. Rehearse Race Warm UP: A good 80% of amateur triathletes do not spend much or any time preparing the quality of their pre-race warm ups as well as T1 + T2. For most people the swim section of a tri is the most daunting. It is messy, it takes a while to find a swim rhythm, and it’s easy to get really out of breath within a few minutes. A THOROUGH Warm up is of immense value, just ask yourself this: “Would you start running 400’s without being warmed up?” Warm up. You will NOT waste key energy reserves for this, if anything you will feel confident quicker once the gun goes off!
4 .Spend time on your BIKE: I have met so many people who rock up on race day having almost entirely trained on indoor trainers. Neglecting your bike handling skills can be a huge disadvantage, not knowing how to cope with tight corners, descends, climbs + windy conditions well can lose you time + in the worst case cause accidents. Indoor training is great for the winter, but in the final months leading up to your race do ensure that you do your key speed or power sessions outside. A cheap bike computer will do the job + it’s an awesome tool to help ensure you’re doing your intervals hard enough. Check the bike race course of your race + try to find a similar course to practice on. A hilly course will require you do regular hill work at race pace or higher + you’re efficient in using your gears.
5 Make sure you have checked, re-checked + triple tested ALL your race gear. Try everything you want to use on race day in training. One of the best things you can use your months of training for is to figure out EXACTLY what works + what doesn’t work for you. A good checklist ranges from race breakfast to wetsuit + bike fit to goggles, trainers, tri suits + gels. Start early + try to simulate race pace in training in order to test your drink + gel + shotblock options. Things can test very different in race conditions. Borrow a 1-piece tri suit from a friend and see whether you like it or whether you feel more comfortable in a 2-piece. Jack up your trainers using race laces + use these for brick sessions. Fit some sticky tape on your handlebars so you have a good grip when pushing hard!
STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW BEST + you will kill it!
Still basking in the afterglow, I love the physicality and pace moving through each checkpoint. The mental focus that this sport pushes you to find is like no other, reconstructing yourself again and again, when the gas runs low. There will always be doubts, but now I choose not to react, to go beyond that. Make the call or don’t but understand that anything is within your grasp, and quitting is a choice. Tighten up that ponytail and get in the game.
Text by Tilly Stasiuk www.tillystasiuk.com @yougotthistils
Images by Holly Cooper www.holsnco.com
Coaching by Barbara Brunner www.energylab-bts.com @energylabb