Following on from England’s amazing triathlon success at this year’s Commonwealth Games (men’s gold, women’s gold and relay gold!) we caught up with Lucy Fry, an extremely sporty journalist who has kindly shared three lessons from her first year of triathlon.
I’ve spent nearly a year trying to immerse myself in the fierce and fabulous world of Triathlon. During that time, I’ve done five Triathlons – three so-called sprint events (though they take me around 90 minutes, so the word ‘sprint’ doesn’t really cover it), and two longer, Olympic distance ones. I started out as a fairly fit 31-year-old, and I’m now a fully-fledged 32-year-old triathlete. It doesn’t take much after all, and triathletes are a notoriously welcoming bunch; you don’t need to run to glory like Jodie Stimpson to be called a triathlete (though that was pretty awesome, huh?); you just need to do one event and smile and you’ll be welcomed into the fold.
Here are three things I learnt as a rookie triathlete in their first season.
1) Open water acclimatisation - yes, this really does matter. Every time I’ve seen a swimmer on the start line of a triathlon who hasn’t yet dipped their feet into open water, I’ve discovered later that they struggled a lot, during the swim. That’s because open water, wonderful though it is, is a completely different experience to pool swimming and requires just a little bit of practice. Don’t assume you can get by on lengths alone; you’ll need to practice sighting drills (lakes don’t have lanes to keep you on track), wetsuits (ouch! An ill-fitting one will slow you down, a lot, during a race) and long, uninterrupted sections of swimming. So get yourself an instructor – I used Swim Lab’s Salim Ahmed – and do an open water session or two. It could make the difference between an awful first race experience and a fantastic one.
2) Cycle more than I did. In my wisdom, I felt that a regular 60-90 minute cycle session on a stationery cycle bike would be enough to sustain me in the cycle part of a triathlon. That and the odd 100km long ride, I’ll admit, but those were few and far between. When it came to the triathlons, I couldn’t understand why I was constantly being overtaken by women who neither looked a whole lot stronger than me nor had better kit for me to blame their prowess on. Riding to and from work on a daily basis will make a difference to your cycle time in a Tri – it’s hours in the saddle, along with those hard interval sessions, that’ll make you a better rider. I was lazy about biking and I regretted it in the end!
3) Practice your transitions. If I had a pound for every time my friend, the exceptionally-experienced triathlon coach, Rob Popper, told me to practice my transitions, I’d be able to afford a better wetsuit. It is boring and might seem pointless, but practising the process of taking your wetsuit off under time pressure and when you’re wet, and slipping into cycle shoes, helmet on, ready for the ride… Those things actually make a difference come race day. Time taken off your Transitions is also virtually ‘free’ in energy terms – much easier to gain a minute back by making friends with your wetsuit than it is to make it up on the final run.
Lucy Fry is a freelance writer and author (www.lucyfry.co.uk). Her narrative non-fiction book on women in triathlon is to be published by Faber & Faber next year. If you fancy a lesson with Swim Lab’s Salim Ahmed then check out his listings here.