Lessons from Long Course Triathlon: 3 Rookie Mistakes You’re Still Making

10 days ago we were in the beautiful town of Huskisson, about 3 hours south of Sydney, for the Husky Long Course Triathlon Festival.

A great event in a wonderful town; this was our 6th visit for this event. So it’s not only an annual pilgrimage I look forward to: it’s so familiar now, it feels  like coming home 🙂

Coaching gives me the opportunity to stand on the sidelines and watch (and learn). Oh, and drink coffee while everyone else is racing too 🙂

And it never fails me to surprise (and sometimes frustrate) me to see people make basic mistakes; so basic that if you’d asked what advice they’d give to a friend doing a triathlon for the first time, they’d probably list their very mistakes.

Lessons from the Husky Tri

Yet I know adrenaline, distractions from family members, friends and the crowd, excitement or disappointment can lead to clouded judgment in the heat of the moment.

So here are a few observations from Husky that might help you in your next race. While you already know these, it’s worth taking the time to refresh your memory ahead of your next race.

Swim all the way to the beach

In previous years, it’s been a sand bar.

This year, the location of the swim exit in conjunction with the tide gave people the impression that a rock shelf in the water not far from shore was an indication they’d finished the swim and could stand up. Apparently its presence was even mentioned in the race briefing.

Yet numerous people swum towards the beach, arrived at the rock shelf, stood up in waist (and in some cases, chest) deep water and then tried to wade all the way to shore.

Well, you can probably imagine what happened next.

When the rock shelf ended and the water suddenly became deep again, I lost count of the number of people who either landed face first in the water, had their legs buckle underneath them as they (unknowingly) stepped off the shelf and back into deeper water or fell onto their competitors who were swimming all the way to shore.

At one stage, the majority of competitors in a wave were doing it. The crowd was laughing; it felt like we were watching a slap-stick comedy!

It might not seem that important.

But triathlon – and long course in particular – is about energy conservation. And wading in deep water, exhausting your legs and spiking your heart rate even before you’ve hit dry land is the fastest way to waste it – very early in what could be a long day,

Always look for the possibility

Last year at the Western Sydney 70.3, a number of Spartans were stepping up to the long course distance for the first time so I asked a few of the more experienced team members to share their advice.

One of the best pieces of advice was ~

Compete. What you tell yourself on race day matters.

Convince yourself that you’re there to race and you’ll love racing / chasing / passing / losing to whoever is around you and you’ll be at the finish before you know it with a great story to tell.

Tell yourself that you’re only there to finish and you’ll spend all day surviving and reminding yourself how much you hurt.

Done both – wish I hadn’t.

Thanks Tubstar 🙂

And it applies especially when things go wrong on race day.

My other go-to favourite I personally use is to always look for the possibility.

There is possibility and opportunity everywhere you look in any endurance sport.

Whether it’s taking the racing line around the corners, or just focusing on running to the next light pole or chasing the person in front of you when you really really want to stop and walk. There is possibility and a game – a hunt – everywhere.

So if your day has gone to pot, or your legs don’t want to work and you’re feeling terrible out there, don’t give up mentally. Don’t hate the entire experience. Look for the possibility; turn it into a game. Get yourself back into the right headspace so you can enjoy the day. Race day should be a celebration of all your hard work and sacrifice over the weeks, months and even years so don’t waste it by switching off mentally.

Beautiful Husky

I told you it was beautiful !

Don’t put your eggs in one basket

This advice applies to most things in life.

Adopt this approach and it could end your day prematurely, putting months of planning and training at risk.

I watched one man, get out of the water, unzip his wetsuit and, in the process, send 4 gels flying across the sand – and then keep on running towards T1.

He had ear plugs on and couldn’t hear the crowd shouting to get his attention.

He’d obviously tucked 4 gels – possibly all of his nutrition for the bike (and maybe even the run) – into his tri suit under his wetsuit thinking they’d stay in place. But unfortunately they didn’t.

I don’t know what became of his race.

Maybe he was able to rely on the aid stations without too much drama.

But imagine the headspace you’d be in the moment you discovered all your gels were gone? Probably frustrated, angry, flustered and rather than being able to concentrate on your first lap of the bike, you’d be scrambling to work out what nutrition you still had left and how you were going to manage.

You work too hard for too long preparing for your race. Don’t jeopardise it by putting all your eggs (including your nutrition) in the one basket.

And *this* is how you transition…

We’re used to seeing impossibly quick transitions in the ITU circuit but not always in long course racing.

But here’s a lesson in a fast but smooth and controlled transition from pro triathlete Sam Appleton who entered T1 in 3rd position and quickly afterwards left T1 for the bike leg in 1st place.

(Video via 3D Bike Fit)

Notice how smooth it was; no fumbling, messing around with straps, picking up and putting down his gear – and, more importantly, no energy (physical or mental) being wasted.

The swim-to-bike transition is probably the least practised part of the race but it’s importance can’t be underestimated.

A smooth transition is stress free; it doesn’t spike your heart rate, adrenaline or stress levels.

And a quick transition is free speed; it gets you out of transition and up the road (and ultimately across the finish line) quicker.

So spend some time this season – and especially during your off-season – working on the basics like transitions. It doesn’t take much time in training but it can pay huge dividends over the course of the season.

Share your experience.

Leave a comment below and answer these questions ~

* What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in a race?

* What advice would you give to someone who was stepping up to compete in a long course tri for the first time?