15 triathlon performance tips for beginners

Training for your first triathlon? Nuffield Health Physiologist and experienced triathlete, Heather Taylor shares her tips to get the most out of your performance.

Completing a triathlon can be a rewarding experience, but with so many elements to the race, even the thought of competing can be overwhelming. Learning how to save crucial time during the race is key to a good performance. 

Here's some tips I learnt during my first triathlon:

Triathlon swimming tips

1. Practice open water swimming
Swimming in a wetsuit can feel restrictive and swimming in the outdoors is a very different experience so practice open water swimming in your wetsuit as much as possible before the event.

2. Dunk in before the race
If you have time, acclimatise in the water before the race so it doesn't come as a shock and put you off during the race. You can do this by dunking your head under water and trying to breathe out underwater.

3. Consider starting at the back
If you're not a confident swimmer, place yourself towards the back of the start group to avoid people swimming over you. It can be off-putting and confusing when this happens, so it's better to start at the back. 

4. Place your goggles correctly
Wear goggles under your swim hat - not over. This stops other competitors knocking them off in the scrabble. 

5. Defog your goggles
Spit in, or use a goggle defogger in your goggles before racing as this stops them fogging up.

6. Get slippy
Apply Bodyglide or Vaseline on your inner wrists, ankles and neck to stop your wetsuit rubbing and causing irritation that might slow you down. If you also apply this to the outside of your wetsuit from your ankles to knees and wrists to elbows, it will help the suit easily slide off.

Triathlon cycling tips 

7. Practice your transition
You can save crucial minutes on a smooth transition, so make sure to practice your transitioning as much as the swimming, cycling and running. 

8. Open the neck of your wetsuit
When you transition from swim to bike you'll want to take your wetsuit off. As you exit the water from the swim, open the neck of your wetsuit to let the water gush out. This makes it easier to take the top half off.

9. Safety first
Always make sure you have your helmet on before touching the bike. Crashes are more inevitable than ever during a race and once you're on that bike you'll want to speed off. Don't be hasty, safety first. 

10. Remember your rack
Look for signs or a marker to memorise where you rack your bike and remember the row number. Take a bright towel to place your trainers on so you can spot it. This will help when you return with your bike.

11. Look after your feet
In a short triathlon, don't dry your feet or bother wearing socks when getting on your bike - your feet will dry on the bike which saves a lot of time. However, for longer distances comfort is more important, so take the time to put dry socks on if needed.

Triathlon running tips 

12. Avoid laces
Use elastic laces in your shoes. When your adrenaline is high and you've leapt off the bike, tying laces is not only difficult, but also loses you valuable time. 

13. Stay hydrated

Take an energy drink, electrolyte or water on the bike (depending on the distance), and keep drinking. This may seem simple, but dehydration will not only be detrimental for your run - it will also slow down your recovery time after the race.

14. Practice what you eat
Set out your nutrition, including breakfast and in-race nutrition in advance, trying it on training days to avoid any stomach issues on the day. In longer races, you need to consume 60-90g of carbs per hour. This could be in the form of sweets, gels, energy drinks, bananas, flapjacks, sandwiches; everyone is different, so try out the different options to see what works for you. 

15. Hold back a little
You don't want to run out of energy half way, save some energy for a sprint finish at the end. You’ve done all the hard work training, so remember to enjoy it. 

Last updated Tuesday 9 April 2019

First published on Monday 8 April 2019