• ‘Three lessons from my first year as a rookie triathlete’

    Posted in triathlon on July 30, 2014

    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.

    DSC_1453a Luce with bicycle

    Lucy at the Hyde Park Tri

    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.


    The Hever Castle Evening Series- water acclimatisation is key!

    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.

  • Nick Compton, City professional – from novice to GB age group triathlete in 3 years! (Part 2)

    Posted in triathlon on October 1, 2013

    Nick Compton finished 22nd in his age group at the ITU World Championships in Auckland last year.

    Having shared the initial steps in his journey in Part 1, here we learn more about effective training, avoiding injury and taking your performance up a notch, as well as balancing that with work and other commitments.



    Happy, after finishing 22nd in Auckland!

    Happy after finishing 22nd in Auckland!


    1.       What’s the best piece of coaching advice you’ve received?

    From a physical training perspective, I’d probably say ‘listen to your body’ – if you’re not feeling great and working harder than you should, skip the session and pick up again in a day or two – it saves you getting ill or getting an injury.

    Mentally, the best tip I’ve been given is ‘remember what you love about triathlon and have fun’ – when training starts to feel like a chore, that’s when you begin to resent it and can quickly fall into a downhill spiral from there.  I do the sport because ultimately I love that feeling of crossing the line knowing I’ve competed really well, I had fun and the training was worthwhile – remembering that instantly makes me excited to take on the next session and want to do even better at my next race.


    2.       Is it right that you now get coaching online? How does that work? Does it feel like you are on your own a lot because your coach isn’t physically around when you train?

    Yes I do – my coach, Dave, actually lives in France.  At the outset, we had a skype call to discuss my goals, time I could commit to training etc and he produced my training plan – a spread sheet showing my overall plan and then specifics I need to do in each session.  I then send him what I’ve been doing each month with any notes, and we have a skype call occasionally to discuss challenges, changes needed etc.

    Given that a lot of triathlon training is more volume focused (i.e. running for 45 minutes or biking for 90 minutes with intervals), you don’t need someone watching over your technique.  In terms of swimming, I’ll work through the sessions in the pool, and for technique improvement will then work with a different coach, on a one to one basis who will give me pointers and drills to work on.


    3.       How do you manage training and a full time job. How do you get the balance right?

    I’m very lucky in that I don’t have to travel too much with my job, so can get into a pretty consistent routine.  I also work for a large firm that provides fantastic facilities such as secure cycle parking, showers and a great managed gym which really helps.  I’ve managed to fit as much training before or immediately after work as possible so it doesn’t eat too much into my time at home.  My typical week at the moment in preparation for the half ironman (work permitting of course) is:


    Monday – 1 hour swim before work and a 1 hour interval bike session in the eveningTuesday – An hours interval run before work

    Wednesday – A 2 hour interval bike before work and a 1 hour circuits set during the day

    Thursday – 1 hour swim before work and a 75 minute run in the evening

    Friday – rest day which is very important to take

    Saturday – swim in the morning and a 90 minute run in the afternoon

    Sunday – long ride (around 3-4 hours) in the morning


    I’ve found that the most important thing is keeping an element of flexibility – if I can’t fit it all in for work or personal reasons, I don’t beat myself up about it – it’s much more risky to try and catch up by overtraining as that’s how you’ll get injured.


    4.       What’s your advice for anyone looking to get into triathlon and/or looking to move their triathlon performance up a notch?

    For people looking to get into triathlon, the first thing I’d recommend is to find an event you like the look of (probably sprint distance in the first instance), book it and tell your friends and family about it.  That’ll then help you get motivated to train and quite literally take the plunge.

    If you’re new to the swimming side, definitely try and get a few pointers either from friends or actual lessons – it’ll definitely pay off.   Just like when training for a marathon or half marathon, aim to slowly build up your distance and speed over time.


    What an achievement!

    What an achievement!


    Finally, think about that amazing feeling you’ll have when you cross the line and can officially call yourself a triathlete – that’ll keep you smiling and motivated whilst training.

    For those looking to step up to the next level, I’d recommend getting a more structured training programme and sessions – there are lots available online and getting a coach will help you work with focusing on your longer term goals.

    The other key thing is developing consistency in training – it’s far better to do 6-7 hours of solid training week in, week out than 12 hours one week, and 2 the next etc.  You’ll really start to see the gains in your endurance and technique.

    Finally – for either those starting out or looking to pull on a GB tri-suit at the end of the year, don’t forget to enjoy it – it’s an amazing sport with camaraderie like no other (probably down to everyone secretly recognising how crazy it is to be bobbing up and down in a freezing cold lake or running through mud at 6am on a Sunday morning) – but that’s half the fun!

    If you’ve been inspired by Nick and are looking to find the right guidance and support to help you achieve your aims, take a look at upmysport.

  • Nick Compton, City professional – from novice to GB age group triathlete in 3 years! (Part 1)

    Posted in triathlon on September 5, 2013

    Nick Compton finished 22nd in his age group at the ITU World Championships in Auckland last year, after taking up the sport just a few years ago.

    As this year’s ITU World Championships Grand Final is about to take place in London, we spoke to him to find out more about what he loves about triathlon, coaching and training and how he balances that with a successful career in the City.

    Suited and booted Nick

    Suited and booted Nick


    1.       Congratulations on your performance at the world championships. Please tell us a bit more about your journey to competing for team GB triathlon.


    I’ve always been fairly sporty and have taken part in a few marathons and half marathons in recent years and was looking for a new challenge.


    By chance in August 2009, I went to support my friend Liz who was competing in the London Triathlon at Docklands. I knew instantly I had found my new sport – The challenge of combining the three very different disciplines and the thrill of it all (particularly seeing the hundreds of nervous but smiling faces bobbing up and down in the Docklands) instantly grabbed me.


    I set myself the target of completing the Olympic distance event at London in the following year, set about learning to swim front crawl, bought myself a bike to train on and enlisted a personal trainer to put a training plan together for me.


    Novice Triathlete Nick

    Novice Triathlete Nick


    2.       Was it difficult?


    I found it very challenging at the start, particularly with the swimming.  I quickly realised developing a good technique was key and would advise all those starting out to get some lessons – they’ll pay for themselves in no time.


    I also quickly found that I loved the variety of the training – unlike marathon training where I found myself pounding the pavement two to three times per week and quickly began to resent it.


    I was now training all three disciplines and some gym work during the week, and could very quickly see the improvements the training was making.  Thankfully, with help from my then PT, a friend who’s a mindset coach and helped me get over my initial fears  and swim coach (who taught me how to survive the open water), I competed in the 2010 London Triathlon and did much better than I expected.


    I decided that in the 2011 season I wanted to take it a bit more seriously, so stepped up my training levels and entered a few more events as well as bought myself a road bike.  I also decided I’d like to refer to myself as an ‘international triathlete’, so as an excuse for a short break with some friends and family, I competed in the Barcelona triathlon as the last event of the year and had a great race finishing in the top 5%.


    Towards the end of the season, I’d started to see the odd triathlete in Team GB kit and began to wonder if I could ever reach that level.  Always ready to take on a bigger challenge, I found out which races were the qualification events, entered them and then on the recommendation of an existing GB age grouper, found a triathlon specific coach who provided me with a much more specific training programme.


    After a strong winter of training consistently and keeping focused on my goal, I qualified and was then selected for the team in Auckland – it was the most amazing experience and definitely something I’ll never forget.


    International Triathlete Nick (in Auckland)

    International Triathlete Nick (in Auckland)


    I’m now taking on a new challenge and looking forward to competing in my first half-ironman in France in September.


    Tune in next month when Nick will be chatting more about training and coaching, balancing that with other work and life commitments, and advice for those starting out in triathlon or looking to take their performance up a notch.

    If you’ve been inspired by Nick and are looking to find the right guidance and support to help you achieve your aims, take a look at upmysport.

    Go here to find out more about the ITU World Championships Grand Final in Hyde Park, London, 11-15 September 2013.



  • Triathlon Swimming: How to make the rough like the smooth

    Posted in swimming on July 26, 2013

    Triathlon and strength and conditioning expert Roland Kemp talks us through what for many is the most intimidating part of triathlon –  the swim. And, even more intimidating than that, swimming in rough open water!



    We all hope for calm water, but you never know what conditions will be like. Open water swimming is challenging but racing in rough waters is even more so. Although I may not have the best swimming technique, I am able to keep my cool and so can you! Here are some tips that will help you out in the open water and make your experience a little nicer…

    1. Dive under the waves going out, not over them. Unless they are small waves, below your waist, pushing off the bottom and diving through the wave will prevent you from getting pushed backwards.
    2. Take the out side. The small amount of time you will save trying to swim inside with the pack before getting to the first buoy is not worth it. Taking the outside path will save you from getting punched, swallowing water, having your feet grabbed, etc. Some of this will happen at the crowded start anyway, but you can cut down on it by not going with the pack.
    3. Take wide turns around the buoys. While everyone else is trying to come as close to the buoy as possible around a turn, take the road less travelled and go wide. Again, cutting inside is not going to save you much time and you will have more clear water in the outside.
    4. Breathe only to one side to avoid swallowing water. If you can see the waves coming towards you on one side, breathe to the other side until you can get around the next buoy. I learned this the hard way and ended up with a few pints of salt water in my belly!
    5. Avoid too much sighting. It is tempting to lift your head up in rough conditions. However, you are still better off keeping your stroke long and your head down. Ideally, you will find someone to follow, and you will not have to lift your head up as much (unless they steer you in the wrong direction!).
    6. Before the race starts, pick out an obvious marker on the shore that you can swim towards to the finish (a flag, building,  a tall tree on land) this will stop the embarrassment of having to run up the beach/lake to the swim exit point!


    Of course, we would probably all like to have calm water that does not give us these challenges. However, if you come prepared, you can use rough water conditions to your advantage!

    Practicing swimming in a group and doing some race simulations will also help – much better to take a hit from a friend than on race day!

    I hope that’s helpful – good luck!

    You can find out more about Roland’s triathlon coaching here.

  • So you’re into your second or third season of triathlon and want to improve? Here’s how…

    Posted in triathlon on June 12, 2013

    John Fotheringham GB age group triathlete gives us his insights on how to get the most “bang for your buck” in terms of performance gain…


    Train smarter

    – Intervals will be the key in all three disciplines. Everybody hates them because they are so hard. That’s why they work.

    – Get a CTT (Cycle Time Trial) number and do some cycling time trials. Prepare to get a serious beating from wiry 60 year olds who are as hard as nails. The experience will be humiliating but your bike splits will improve.


    Master the Transitions

    – Practice your transitions weekly; you can improve by a minute simply by doing a few simple things. It could take you a season to run a minute faster:

    – Orientation, location, location is the key to transition. Walk through the entry from the swim and the bike and the exit on the bike and the run. Find identifying landmarks along the way. Remember them. You don’t want to be the Billy no mates running up and down in a panic looking for their spot.  Believe me there are half a dozen in every race including age group world champs.

    – Have a small bright coloured towel that is individual to you. In T1 most people use their bike as the final identifier. In T2 you are running with your bike so follow your landmarks and look for your towel

    – DON’T cover said towel with wetsuit when you take it off in T1!

    – Buy tri specific bike shoes that open outwards and have a heel loop and use elastic bands or clips to hold them on the bike. Much safer and faster to run barefoot than in road cleats exiting T1.

    – Practice your speedy wetsuit removal every time you go for an open water swim. Then practice it some more. Use baby oil on the lower legs or cut the wetsuit legs slightly up at the back if you are struggling. Then practice it again.


    – In terms of equipment upgrade you get the most bang for your buck with an aero helmet (even though you look like a d***) and a set of decent wheels.

    – However be careful of the really deep rim wheels racing here in the UK. They are only faster in a straight line and their maximum effect is above speeds of 25 miles an hour. This fact they DON’T tell you in the shop or in the mags.  So unless you are doing the few pan flat courses (there are in the UK you) are better off going for lightweight all purpose wheels or 50mm rimmed sections.

     – Don’t even think about tubular’s. If Tony Martin can win the World Time Trial championship on clinchers then they are good enough for you.

     I hope these are some useful tips, get out there and enjoy the sport.

  • Triathlon Training: A Brief Guide to the Three Disciplines

    Posted in triathlon on

    Personal trainer, triathlete and duathlete, Ralph Hydes talks us through the three disciplines of triathlon and some helpful tips to get you started and to guide your training.

    Training for the swim section

    This is generally considered to be the most daunting & tricky of the three disciplines.

    Try to build the distances you swim each week until you can manage the race distance in a continuous effort.  Once you’ve mastered that, aim to swim a further 500m more than the race distance. This is so that you are comfortable when you come out of the water and not totally exhausted.  Remember you have another 2 disciplines to follow so you need some energy when you finish the swim.

    If swimming is your weakest discipline then this where you should focus to build your strength and confidence. If you are really struggling with swimming, think about investing in a swim coach.  A few lessons can make a big difference to your technique and your enjoyment!

    Training for the Bike section 

    One of the best things you can do to improve your cycling is to get on your bike!  It sounds basic but the reality is that doing more miles will improve your cycling.  Try to keep the gearing low.  This is the basic mistake that most novices make – they try to push too hard a gear which leads to the muscles developing lactic acid which in turn leads to heavy legs and less efficiency.

    On your rides, spin in a medium gear keeping the cadence fast.  Try to keep most of your rides at a comfortable pace. Once a week you should do a hard session where you aim to go at your race pace over the distance you are doing in the race.

    You don’t need to have all the latest, most expensive gear and you can do most of your training indoors if you are worried about riding on busy roads.

    Training for the Run section 

    Running is often considered to be the easiest of the 3 disciplines as anyone can run, right?

    What people don’t do though is train properly for the run. They either do training runs at too slow a pace all the time or run too hard all the time!

    If you can only do one run session per week then you should run at a comfortable pace where you should be able to hold a conversation. Towards the end of the run do some short sprints.

    If you are able to do more than one run per week then one run should be a longer steady run and the other should be a shorter faster run.

    However, to get more out of your training using a heart rate monitor can really help to ensure that you are running at your optimum efficiency and coached sessions will also help you progress faster.

    Keen to find out more? Why not get in touch with Ralph for a training session here.


  • New to the world of triathlon? Don’t let it be an intimidating place…

    Posted in triathlon on

    John Fotheringham GB age group triathlete gives an honest account of his journey into triathlon and overcoming serious sporting injuries to become an expert in swim, bike, run!

    I was a late arrival in the sport of triathlon, following a lifetime of rowing, road running and rugby.

    That had proved to be lethal for my lower back and I was told by a surgeon in no uncertain terms to take up swimming and cycling.  He also suggested I lose 4 stone.

    The swimming and the cycling I enjoyed but I missed competition, the  excitement and fear the night before a marathon, the locker room banter of rugby and above all the joy of the race.

    As the weight came off and I was able to run a bit more, a friend suggested I take part in my local Olympic distance triathlon.

    John in action!

    To be honest, what I found was a brash young sport in love with itself and its gear (which many people seemed to just throw money at without much thought)..

    The socioeconomic realities of triathlon are decidedly middle class and the triathlon environment for the newcomer can be a lonely and highly intimidating place.

    Bike and wetsuit bling is everywhere and there’s a whole new vocabulary to learn. Words like brick session, T1 and T2 and nutrition strategy are bandied about and I found it best to keep my mouth shut and listen as much as I could.

    Having a sports science and medical background helped enormously because I knew how to train already and it was more about applying that knowledge to new disciplines.

    Some three years down the line and 15kgs lighter I am older and wiser and reasonably competitive at age group level.

    John racing ahead on the bike!

    What would I suggest to a newcomer in what is at times a complex and bewildering sport?

    – Don’t be intimidated by the gear, start simple with your normal trainers and an entry-level bike and wetsuit. Chances are you will shrink with triathlon; I dropped 2 wetsuit sizes in my first season alone.

    – Don’t buy into everything you read about triathlon. The biggest gains you will make in your first season will be in racing as often as you can. Start with sprint events and then do some standard distances.

    – Do open water swim as often as you can, there are many local groups around the country and they are generally very welcoming and friendly.

    – Do practice the swim start and have a plan. This organized water “scrum” is intimidating for everybody including the Brownlee’s. Remember that. Start at the side or the back at first and prepared for a few kicks or elbows. A wetsuit will keep you buoyant.

    – Do start working on transitions in terms of organizing what you need and in what order.

    Above all enjoy yourself, it’s a great sport and has a fantastic age group structure, which allows you to be competitive against your peers. 

  • An introduction to open water swimming with Dan Bullock from Swim For Tri

    Posted in swimming on November 2, 2012

    Dan Bullock has been coaching since 1990 and set up Swim For Tri in 2003. He has helped thousands to get fit and fast for adventures from their first novice triathlon to the Channel. Dan’s accolades include being National Masters Swim Champion (Pool & Openwater 2008-12), a British Age Group Record Holder (800m), European & World Masters Medallist and he has finished several Iron Man races. Recently, he wrote British Swimming’s first Open Water (OW) Continuing Professional Development module (CPD).

    We asked Dan a few questions about getting into open water, training and keeping motivated over the winter months.

    I enjoy pool swimming, but want to make the transition into open water. Where do I start?

    OW is a very different discipline to pool-based swimming. Some might describe OW racing as submerged cage fighting, in light of the group starts which can feel crowded and aggressive.

    Getting crowded heading out to the start of a race

    Like most activities the more you train and prepare, the more you will be able to cope with situations that might upset you. The fitter and more confident you become in OW, the more you will enjoy race day. I set up SFT to offer swim technique lessons to triathletes. We realised early on that unless we took our swimmers outdoors, they were missing a key part in their preparation.

    If your swimming is not strong then you need to build good technique first before focusing on stamina or endurance. The density of water punishes inaccurate movements, causing you to fatigue sooner. I have known 2hr 40 marathon runners feel unfit in the water in just a few lengths due to not using the correct muscle groups to create the correct propulsive movements. Swimming can be quite cruel in that hours of inaccurate practice will yield few benefits whereas going for any kind of run or bike ride will deliver some benefits.

    What equipment do I need?

    Depending on where and when you start, you will need at least: a swim hat, goggles, a pair of trunks or swim suit and a wetsuit. Due to the buoyancy afforded in the wetsuit, most races insist on them. They also offer tremendous warmth so effectively lengthen our race season.

    If you are racing early in the year (generally OW racing starts from May onwards) and need to start training early, a neoprene hat, boots and gloves can help with the cold. However, boots and gloves can also make your swimming feel clumsy. Outdoor (unheated) lidos can be a great place for early training in your wetsuit and to help you acclimatise.

    What’s the ideal front crawl (FC) technique for OW?

    This is a vast subject.  Here’s a clip to demonstrate and focuses on the ‘Catch’ element of the stroke.

    A major fault of adults improving their swimming later in life is how they push water down to the bottom of the pool with a straight arm. They don’t catch and hold any water. This happens especially when breathing, the straight arm push down acts to stabilise the head. Rather than pivot at the shoulder and push water straight down you should try to pivot at the elbow, point the fingertips downwards and use the hand and forearm to push water back towards the wall you are swimming away from.

    Racing season is over. It’s tempting to go into hibernation. Do you have tips on keeping motivated during the winter?

    Join a tri team or a masters club. Having a coach will mean you have a plan in the pool and the social aspect of club swimming will help with the winter drudgery that swimming alone can become.

    Set goals and get some races entered. As the winter weather and dark nights come in it is easy to get second thoughts, but a little ‘race looming’ pressure will help you get to the pool. Also contemplate some pool based races in the off season. They are no longer the preserve of masters swimmers. triathletes and OW swimmers are starting to appear in the start lists.

    Is there any cross training I can do that will benefit my swimming?

    There is no real replacement to just getting into the water, feeling the coordination of your arms and legs, body rotation and breathing. You might even have to overcome anxiety about putting your face in the water. High levels of general fitness from other sports will not help if the swim movements you perform are not helping you move economically and efficiently in the water.

    There is a pilates movement called ‘The Swimmer’ that will help you get a feel for a good FC leg kick. There’s also some specific swim equipment you can purchase, such as the VASA swim bench and Stretchcordz. But good swim technique needs to be in place before these can help your swim fitness.

    Dan coaching

    I have a really busy job, how many times a week do I need to train in order to make a real difference?

    Unfortunately a few lessons are not going to solve all the issues. Consider swimming like learning a language. The more you do, the better you become.

    I had a pilot almost scream at me that he learned to fly quicker than the rate of progress his swimming made. This did not surprise me. If you have been swimming incorrectly for many years, there can be a lot of unlearning to do, which can slow the process.

    The more frequently you train, the greater the improvement and the more you will enjoy and do it. Once a week, no matter how long the session, will, unfortunately, leave 6 days of unlearning from that one session and be difficult to build upon in the next session.

    How was your first OW race?

    My first OW swim was the London Tri back in the 90s and I was quite blasé regarding my preparation assuming I would ‘just swim it’.

    This seemed logical as I was an experienced swimmer, what could I possibly have to worry about? Keeping straight, sighting, the rugby scrum at the start, lack of clarity and the cooler temperature were just a few things! I wish I’d had the opportunity to practice in open water ahead of race day.