October 06 2020 – Neil Wood-Mitchell
Okay, so the outlook for triathlon racing isn't looking too rosey right now... In fact, it's probably never been worse - but hey, positivity and optimism is in our make up - it's part of how we stay motivated during the dark moments.
We all remember our first race. For most of us, it would've been wearing gear and completed on kit we wouldn't dream of using now. Each race therein provides an opportunity to learn and hone our craft a little further - enabling us to pass on (what we believe to be) sage advice to those starting out.
Someone who's experienced a great deal of success in her career as duathlete is Kathy Stringer. We asked her to provide us with her tips and techniques for those embarking on their first event. Over to Kathy:
When I first started out in duathlons, racing on a bike was alien to me. I was very confident with the running element of the race because I’d done it from a young age, but the cycling - I was clueless. How do I pace it? What if I accidentally draft and get disqualified? What if I mess up in the transition zone and lose a place? These were all very real and reasonable questions that were running through my head before the event and things that I couldn’t help but worry about.
However despite these worries, I cracked on as best I could and just tried to imitate what others around me were doing. Although I was a total beginner, I went on to win my first race and this led me down the path to where I am now, third in my age group at the World Championships! I wanted to share a few of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up on over the last few years, so if you’ve signed up to your first ever duathlon or triathlon, (or are thinking about it!), these will hopefully help to ease some of those early day concerns… On your marks, get set...
1. Don’t try to copy the professionals - If you’re like me and are going into this as a total cycling beginner, I’d recommend starting out in mountain bike cycling shoes (sounds bonkers, but bear with me!). The clip-in part of the shoe is embedded within the sole, so it doesn’t stick out at the bottom. This makes them much easier to run in meaning that you’re able to get in and out of the transition zones much faster and smoother. Despite feeling like an amateur compared to those who have their shoes already attached to their bikes for transition, I’ve found that on a local and national level I’m able to transition just as quickly as others by swapping my shoes over and then pacing it with my bike. Trying to do it the elite way with shoes already in the pedals with elastic bands etc takes years of practice and experience, and isn’t necessary for lower level competitions.
2. 1, 2, 3, 3? - Quite often in closed-circuit duathlons you’ll do multiple laps of a course. Even if you think you’ll be able to keep count of your laps, don’t risk it! You’ll either get disqualified for doing too little, or lose out on time by doing too many. For peace of mind, cut up little pieces of tape for the number of laps you need to do and each time you cross the finish line, take one off. If you don’t want to have to take your hands off the handlebars, you can also check your watch (or similar tracking device) to see what distance you’re at - just make sure that you have it in the right format (km/miles) so that you’re not working out the maths in your head whilst competing!
3. Preparation is key - Before the race begins, you’ll rack your bike and get your transition zone ready. This is your time to prep how you’d like your kit set up for when you run in, so make the most of it. I leave my cycling shoe straps undone so that I can run in and throw them on. I’ll also leave my helmet turned upside down on top of the shoes, again with the straps undone and left open. This means that I can run in, put my helmet on, swap my shoes and grab my bike. The last thing you want to be doing is faffing with any bags / boxes/ straps/ laces etc. Find out what works for you by practicing your transition in training.
4. Wear your hair in a low ponytail or plait. - Sounds like an odd one, but when you start a race running, you can often forget that you’re only a few km’s off putting a bike helmet on! To avoid changing your hair in transition, make sure you try your helmet over your hairstyle before you start the race. That way you know it will be the perfect fit.
5. You don’t need a TT bike - When you’re starting out in duathlons, there is a worry that you need to spend lots of money on a new TT bike, but this isn’t the case. Being comfortable and knowing your bike is much more important. If you do want to give being aero a go, I’d recommend buying a set of clip-on aero bars to put on your normal bike. This way you can get into a good position without having to spend lots of money! (Added note: I competed in the world champs with clip-on bars though I did make sure I went for a proper bike fit beforehand so that I knew I was in the most efficient position.)
6. Elastic laces - Swap your normal running shoe laces for elastic ones, simply to make your transition easier and faster! However after the event, be sure to swap them back - elastic laces give less support because they allow room for movement so training in them full time can cause discomfort.
7. Have fun! - Try not to worry too much and just go out there and enjoy it! There are always plenty of marshals and people there to support the athletes so if you’re unsure about anything, ask someone for help.
There are of course hundreds of tips, pointers and techniques that can help - and everyone has an opinion on how you should approach your first race. If you're starting out - hopefully Kathy's tips will give you food for thought....
Be great to hear how your first race went and what's your single best piece of advice for those facing their first race. Thanks to Kathy Stringer for her time. You can follow her journey @strngr_run
Photo credits to Rich Lewton and Dave James