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Friday 29 August 2014

Inspire2Tri: Triathlon Training

Enough was enough. I was sticking two fingers up at Plantar Fasciitis. I might not be able to run mile after mile after mile, but maybe I could swim a bit, cycle a bit, run a bit …?

Although apparently triathlon was a bit more complicated than that. There was something called transitions and all sorts of rules and traditions, some of which involved wee-ing inside wetsuits and not getting draughty. Or drafting. Or something. And it sounded as though could be disqualified for practically everything. I definitely needed some help with this.

So after some advice from Lozza owner of Le Bike and half-iron distance triathlete, I booked a Triathlon Training Half day at Inspire2Tri with Mary.

At least after this, I would know what I was getting disqualified FOR ...

After wrestling the bikes onto the car bike rack, we drove to Rutland Water where Mary has her smart studio and sat down next to two other nervous-looking people.

We filled out our health & safety forms and Mary gave us the schedules for the day … and promptly told us we weren't going to look at those – we were just going to throw ourselves into it. I liked her already. With a great sense of humour and a down to earth attitude, she made us all feel welcome despite our nerves.

There were 4 of us on the course from all different backgrounds. Andrianna was from a swimming background, Cara from mountain biking, The Mister from a bit of all 3 disciplines. And me. Injured runner.

We were to be engaged at all times, either as a participant or a critical observer and were there to help each other as well as ourselves. Apparently there was also no such thing as a 'stupid' question. I didn't want to accidentally prove Mary wrong at such an early stage so kept my mouth shut ... Can always disappoint later.

Endless Pool Technique Analysis

We started with the scariest part – the swimming and made our way to the endless pool. This sounds amazing … and is. It's basically a very small swimming pool with a motor at one end with creates a current against which you swim. As a result you stay in the same place in the pool – despite swimming – which helps with observations and means you can also be videoed. I was slightly concerned about being videoed and committing my 'shark attack' swimming style to film. Plus I couldn't remember if I'd shaved my legs. Fitness … it's all glamour.

Andrianna went first and made swimming look easy. She was smooth and easy in the pool and made swimming look very natural. Mary however made some small suggestions and soon her swimming improved even further – in just the short 30 minutes in the pool, her speed, breathing and stroke improved noticeably as did her speed. Mary videoed before-and-after clips for us which she later emailed. These were hugely helpful.

My turn next … I was more nervous about swimming than anything else in the training day and as Mary increased the motor speed, my windmilling arms and flailing increased as I thought the intention was to get me to swim quicker. Nope … Mary was just trying to move me into the correct position for the cameras. Note to self: Listen properly to instructions, Sarah!

My first learning point was that I had a 'pretty stroke'. It looked nice but didn't do much. My arms were too wide and shoulders tight and I wasn't reaching forward properly. However, Mary was brilliant at demonstrating how one small change could change a whole sequence of events.

I am wearing my 'Magic' swim hat...

I had several things to try:

Relax: Pretend I was lying on a block of polystyrene.
Narrow arms: Use my arms as though I was moving them down narrowing train tracks.
Reach out: Try and touch the motor at the front of the pool and engage whole body. I could pretend I was trying to push a big red button.

These small changes immediately made a big difference.

I had other things to tweak and practise:

  • When I took a breath turn my head as though I was aiming to get my chin above my forehead. This positioned my head in the right place. Lift of arm creates a bow wave so water lower there.
  • I needed to practise constantly blowing bubbles out while swimming. This was achieved by practising sitting on the bottom of the pool and breathing out like Kevin the teenager having a sulky moment.
  • I also wanted to practise my bilateral breathing which means breathing on both sides. I needed to practise taking 3 strokes and then breathe rather than just breathing on the left.
  • I needed to make my arm strokes slower and more powerful, rather than the windmilling I was currently doing.
  • Try and ensure middle finger first into the water not the thumb like it used to be taught as this had caused shoulder problems with people rotating their shoulders.
  • Mary also said that the body position dictates the breath not other way around. A lot of people breathe and then have a mad “oh shit” stroke where their am tries to catch up.
  • Your arms should be rotating in a teardrop shape.
  • A good trick she uses is to focus on breathing when your backwards arm is at it's position, this takes the focus off of your forward arm.

Wattbike Pedalling and Speed Skills

I was feeling more much cheerful at this point. The bit I’d been dreading – the swim – had been and gone, I’d been shown some techniques to improve which had been effective immediately and I had a lot to practise which was exciting.

Then we were shown the Wattbike. It looked smart, but no more scary than a bike in the gym. Then Mary told us it was a super-accurate one and the data would show on the screen as readings. I began to be a bit more impressed.

This isn't me. I have hair.

I was picked to go first, so I readied my rabbit-in-the-headlights face and climbed on. We had the option of cleats or cages. Thanks to Lozza, I’d borrowed her SPD shoes so I was clipped into the pedals on the bike.

We were told we should be working our legs, not moving our bodies from side to side and that the aim was to try and push and pull smoothly on the pedals. The big screen in front showed us the results visually and gave graphs of the power and how smoothly we were pedalling. We had to try and keep the shape on the screen like a big sausage. Food. Always an incentive to make me work a bit harder.

I was told to pedal at 90rpm which is the ideal speed for a sprint triathlon cycle as when we climb off the bike, we need our legs to be moving quickly and be getting ready for the run. I hadn’t done much cycling at all apart from a little bit in the last couple of weeks on the stationary bikes at the gym. I’d kept my rpm then between 65 – 70rpm so it was strange to have to keep a faster rhythm.

I had a warm up and then had to try and spin the pedals as quickly as possible with no resistance. This was training my mind not my legs. Mary also said it is good practise to try and spin with one leg with no resistance and avoiding the ‘clunk’ noise. It’s good brain training to get the legs spinning smoothly.

The important part of the session was the 3 minute aerobic test to give us accurate heart rate zones for training and other bits of interesting information such as power to weight ratio. to keep pedalling steadily at 90rpm for 3 minutes while Mary gradually added resistance. The aim was to keep it at 90rpm despite the feeling of cycling up a cliff.

MMP (watts)    247w
MHR (bpm)     170bpm
V02 Max          50.1 (ml/kg/min)
Power/Wt ratio 4.4 (W/kg)
MET                 14.3
Avg cad of test  5
L/R balance      50:50

Training zones

                     Heart Rate       Power
Recovery      <102                 <86
Basic 1            103-110            87-111
Basic 2            111-128            112-136
Intensive 3      129-139            137-161
Intensive 4      140-151            162-185
Max 5              152-160            186-210
Max 6              161-170             211-247
Supra-max            -                   >247  

Running Technique Session

The aim of this session was to show us how we should be running – practising our form and giving us some exercises to help us to do this. Mary showed us how our legs acted like a spring and how having a purely heel strike can stop this effect and make it all a bit harder work. The trick was a shorter stride length and quicker cadence. We were aiming for 180bpm and we were set an exercise to demonstrate.

Mary set a metronome track (which sounds like the tick of a clock) at 180bpm and we had to match the ‘tick’ to our feet hitting the floor. We then had to speed up while keeping the cadence the same. It was an interesting experiment and emphasised how easy it is to overstride normally.

Another exercise was to stand about a foot away from the wall and lean forward to demonstrate how far we could lean forward without falling. We don't need to be bent at the waists like crones to run, but a lean helps to make good use of gravity. We were told to run and to practise leaning slightly forward … Mary suddenly shouted “stop!”. How long we took to stop demonstrated how well we had been listening. If we stopped immediately we hadn't been leaning enough!

The next Section was a bit more complicated ... Triathlon Rules

Of which there seemed to be a huge amount. The first thing that became apparent was that you could be disqualified in triathlon for virtually everything. Mary gave us a basic list.

You could be disqualified for:
  • Touching your bike before you’d put your helmet on.
  • Cycling in the transition area.
  • Nudity (even accidental towel drops!)
  • Littering.
  • Clothes, helmet or kit outside your zone (the area around your bike).
  • Drafting (which is being too close to other riders usually behind them or beside them) 
  • Not using Highway Code (Mary admitted to being disqualified for going around the inside of a stopped car once!)

I find it hard enough to remember my race pace when running a 5k – how on earth was I going to remember this lot?

Also when you first came out of transition how do you find your bike? Especially when there were rows and rows of them? We were told to count the rows and steps to your bike when you rack it in the morning (or evening) before. Also if you have something easy to sight – for instance a big tree or something you can line up with.

Our first practical transition lesson was running with the bike. When you came out of the swim and were in your bike kit, you would want to get to the exit as soon as possible so you could start your ride. So we practised running with the bike, holding the saddle. There were several reasons for doing it this way rather than holding the handlebars.

  • So you didn’t get a pedal to the back of the calves (ouch!)
  • Because running hunched over can give you a stitch.
  • So you can run with it not walk.

We were also shown the quickest way to get your bike around the corners doing this; picking it up and swinging it round.

We practised dismounts. Using the brakes when mounting and dismounting. It sounds simple but when you’re in a rush it’s easy to forget and you don’t want the bike disappearing as it runs away. Or falling over on you. Note to self: unclip first. Mary told us to practise using a high and wide leg swing when mounting and dismounting and get into the habit of this. With tired legs it would be easy to kick bike accidentally and knock it over and tangle yourself up. Stop this being a problem by practising the wide leg swing.

A very important rule: Keep bike in easy gear so you can start the bike ride smoothly and pedal quickly. It might also be uphill out of transition!

When you go out of transition, don’t try and mount (or dismount) directly on the line. There will be plenty of other people doing this and it may be chaos. You won’t lose any time by going past a bit and getting on out of everyone’s way and you may avoid an accidental kick. You’ll probably save time staying away from that chaos.

But most of all … preparation and good luck!

Wow! Such a lot to remember … but what a brilliant day! I'd known that there were bits about triathlon that I didn't know … but what a lot of information. If you're thinking about having a go at triathlon, I can't recommend Mary's half day triathlon training enough. I'd paid £50 for a half days training but that had lasted from 9am to 3pm and it was worth 3 times the amount I'd paid in the sheer amount of information and things I'd learned.

For more information or if you want to have a go visit Inspire2Tri.


  1. That sounds great, so many useful tips, I'm definitely going to look into booking a session. Do you have a triathlon coming up soon?

  2. It was BRILLIANT! Can definitely recommend Mary - I expected the day to be good but didn't expect the huge amount of information and insider tips! I've since done Kimbolton Triathlon and the Tri Relays at Nottingham! I've DEFINITELY been bitten by the triathlon bug!! :)