12 tips to make sure you’re training to race

March 15th 2019

By Linda Hill
Categories: Triathlon Training

12 tips to make sure you’re training to race

“Training to race”, that’s what most triathletes do, right? But are they / you training specifically to benefit the upcoming races, or just going through the motions and exercising?

It’s 3 months into 2019 and we know you are all busy preparing for your season ahead. To help you get the best out of your training, we have put together 4 tips for each discipline for you to think about and incorporate.

The following 12 training to race tips are tactical in nature, specific to the sport you are planning to race – triathlon. These tips will help your body and mind train to race – getting you used to the scenarios your face in a race.

Apply them while sticking to your training routine to keep the consistency; remember, to reach the top, and the very top, it takes years of deliberate, uninterrupted training.

Without putting it off any longer, here are our training to race tips


Training to race - swim

  1. To drink or not to drink

Our athletes do not take drinks onto poolside for their swim session; drink before and drink after, but not during. Stopping to replenish hydration is fine in isolation, but you will be teaching your body to expect hydration – something you don´t get in a race!

Training to race – drink before the swim and when you finish, or when you would be in T1 or on the bike.

  1. Breathing pattern

Find out what your “best” or favoured breathing pattern is and then use it in training, ALWAYS. This does not need to be bilateral breathing, and often is NOT.

Think about your last race – how did you breathe? In 95% or more cases, everyone defaults to a single sided pattern – including elite and pro triathletes (and many swimmers). This is perfectly acceptable and correct.

What was your default breathing side in your past races (or harder swim sets)? Start using this side all the time in training – find a pattern that works for you: 2-strokes, breathe. 4-strokes breathe. Or even 4 and the 2.

This may be an ongoing debate amongst many age group triathletes and coaches, but just look at any elite triathlete when racing – they ALL breathe to one side (and even on the opposite side to turn buoys or “into” incoming waves!)

  1. Stroke

Train to have a relaxed recovery – don´t worry what people say you look like, keep it relaxed. Often this means a straighter arm (but not locked or stiff). Very often it also means being asymmetrical too – just like every swimmer is individual, our shoulders should be treated as individuals.

Have a look at all swimmers – pool based, open water based, amateur through to elite – and you will see varied strokes and symmetries – just find a way to relax your recovery so you can work the underwater phase.

Last small insight: how much energy are you going to use bending your arm against the neoprene (wetsuit)?! Lots more than you would without!

  1. PUSH

Develop strength by focussing on the ONLY propulsive part of your stroke by PUSHING FULLY BACK. Using paddles will help you become connected to the water (the water will push the paddle into your hand – giving you awareness) and build strength.

Together, a strong push and a relaxed recovery pay dividends in being able to swim effectively, especially in choppy, congested open water races.


Training to race - bike

  1. The aerobic developer

Bike sessions should be the main training session where you develop your aerobic system and this will carry over for the swim, bike and run! You can, and should, do almost all your training aerobically to “build a big engine”.

Aerobic fitness can be borrowed – your body can use aerobic fitness from any sport! You just have to “remind” your body of the movements (swim and run) to keep the body aware of the demands. Running should primarily be about reminding the muscles of the movement patterns, not used to build fitness – its too taxing and can ruin your development.

  1. Build strength AEROBICALLY

You can also build a lot of strength whilst working on your aerobic system by doing hill repeats or turbo sessions to gain bike specific strength. Strength reps need to be short but HARD work – on your skeletal muscles – and be interspersed with adequate rest.

If your work load, repetition duration and rest period are planned correctly, your heart rate will stay low (aerobic) while your skeletal muscles take on the burden.

  1. Use your race bike for all training

Don’t save your race bike for race day or sunny weather! Get it on your turbo and use it all year.

Saving your race bike for racing is a big mistake, especially if you have a good aerodynamic position and expect to hold it for the race! You need to give your body chance to adapt to the position – how many times do you see age group triathletes sitting up after an hour or so on their expensive TT bikes!

Get use to it by using it!

  1. Hydrate and Fuel

The physical aspect of training to race is important, just don’t forget to practice your planned race hydration and fuelling strategy too. Find out what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t work!

When it comes to selecting a brand, use one you know or the brand that is provided at your major race. Either way, get used to your choice!


Training to race - run

  1. Neuromuscular developer

Most of your runs should be completed at your aerobic levels – even the speed and strength sessions. Use run sessions to re-enforce your neuromuscular movement patterns and build leg strength. NOT to run to exhaustion and “build” aerobic fitness levels.

Your body can borrow aerobic fitness from the swim and bike!

  1. Run upright

Think about body posture– being upright (even feeling like you have a backward lean). Keep your chin up, chest proud and arms relaxed.

Your head is heavy, if it leans forwards of your centre of mass your neck and torso muscles have to work hard to keep it up. Later in races these muscles will tire, and that’s why you see triathletes (and long-distance runners) hunched forwards.

  1. Training shoes are racing shoes

Use the make and model of run shoe you plan to race in, so you are, again, training to race! Use one pair of shoes all season or buy a duplicate pair you can alternate during training.

Many people suffer from race day injuries because they have “race” shoes and “training” shoes. You feet (body) become accustomed to your “training” shoes and its a shock when you swap.

  1. Cadence, not length

Shorter faster strides are more efficient and sustainable, especially after swimming and cycling.

Develop your running cadence – increasing it – in training. Hill reps and track style speed sessions are great for teaching the legs how to move at higher cadences.

As you get faster and maintain the cadence, you can look to increase stride length. But always work on foot cadence before stride length.