MF takes on the London Dextro Energy Triathlon

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On 24th July 2010, MF's Nick Hutchings completed his first Olympic-distance triathlon (1.6km swim, 40km bike, 10km run) at the London Dextro Energy Triathlon in Hyde Park. Here's how he got on as well as some tips from Maxifuel triathlete and former double European Junior Triathlon champion Olly Freeman on what he could have done better.

If, like Hutchings, you're taking on the London Triathlon on 8th August (or indeed any other upcoming Olympic-distance triathlon) and don't have a lot of triathlon experience, you should find this pretty useful.

Hutchings - I turned up about an hour before the event started and although I'd studied my race info pack, as soon as I got to the transition area I felt a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of it all. I stumbled around for ten minutes trying to work out what I should do first. Eventually I located my bike berth, attached my right cycling shoe to my pedal because I'd had trouble getting it to clip on during training cycles and was worried it would slow me down during the race, laid my other kit out in front of my bike and ran to the toilet for a pre-race wee. When I got to the cubicles there was a massive queue. This meant that not only did I put my bladder under massive strain, but also by the time I'd finally gone, then put on my wetsuit and got to the starting line for the swim, it was only a couple of minutes until the starting klaxon was blown. It was all a bit too rushed, but on the flipside I didn't have a great deal of time to stand around before the race getting nervous.
Freeman This sounds like me before every race! Leaving yourself enough time to set up transition is paramount, and if you have a set routine with built-in time allowances for loo queues then you can reduce your pre-race stress. It’s also useful to remember that getting in a wetsuit can take more time than usual (at least five minutes) before a race as you may be a bit sweaty from the warm-up which causes the wetsuit to cling to your skin.
The swim
Hutchings - I'd been warned that there was normally a lot of argy-bargy at the start of a tri swim, but fortunately it never materialised. I started out pretty slow and quickly found myself towards the back of the pack. My triceps were aching pretty badly for the first 400m but by the time I’d reached the 750m point I felt strong and began to pick up the pace. I was sighting after every second stroke – I tried to do it every fourth for a bit but I started to swim off-course, so I went back to doing it more often. I had listened intently to the marshal who described the route before the start, but I was worried I'd swim the wrong way around the S-bend at the end of the course and get disqualified. It was fine though – I just kept my eye on the group ahead of me rather than using the buoys to navigate the S-bend. I finished the swim in 30min 40sec.
Freeman - The most argy-bargy takes places in the middle of the pack, so if you are confident about your swim, you can try to start fast to get ahead of the worst of it, or if you are a beginner you can hang back to avoid it… though once you are behind it, it’s very difficult to get through it to the front. If I’m at the front I will sight once every three to four strokes by combining a sight with a breath, but if I’m swimming in a pack I will rarely sight at all. I just maintain my bearing relative to the pack – you can generally feel the movement of the pack around you, so it’s more efficient to get on with your own swimming and trust that the pack is going in the right direction.

The swim-bike transition
Hutchings - I felt dizzy and disorientated when I got out the water but quickly overcame it during the short run to my bike berth. I pulled my wetsuit down to my waist as soon as I got out the water, then stood on the arms and scrambled out of it in front of my bike. Wheeling my bike, I ran barefoot down to the start of the bike leg, I put on my left shoe, stuck my foot in the right one (which was already attached to my pedal) and pedalled off, jamming my left foot into my pedal as fast as I could. The transition had taken me four minutes.
Freeman - Transitions are difficult at the best of time, but with a disorientated, oxygen-starved brain it can be a nightmare. However, practice makes perfect – as shown by my T1 time in the same race, which was 33 seconds. Removing the top half of the wetsuit while running to transition saves time, and having both your bike shoes already attached to your pedal means you can strap your feet into your shoes when you have already built up speed on the bike. I also use baby oil underneath my wetsuit to make pulling it off that much easier. Don’t use Vaseline because it can wear down the lining of the wetsuit.

The bike
Hutchings - The bike was the section I was most worried about. I'd done a fair amount of swim training in open water and a lot of running, but the only bike training I'd done until a week before the race was on an exercise bike. And although I'd done several 40km sessions I was worried it wouldn't translate to a road bike. I got my road bike the week before the tri so I'd squeezed in three rides of 20-30km but my backside was killing me after each one and I knew I was going to suffer worse during the race. I started the bike leg not far off as fast as I could go but I began to gasp about half way around and was a lot slower for the second 20km. I also had to freewheel a bit to take some of the weight off my backside, which felt like it was on fire. I took several swigs of a refuelling carbohydrate drink during the bike leg. I would have taken on more but the one I had tasted like shit. I also tried to swallow an energy gel but I ended up pouring most of it over my hands. To make matters worse, every time I reached for my water bottle I ended up almost stopping to avoid falling off my bike. I finished the five laps in 1hr 14min 26sec.
Freeman - Try to practise many of these things in training – getting most of the gel in your mouth, getting your drinks bottle without losing speed and just generally acquainting your backside with the rigours of road cycling. Also, you need to find an energy drink that you like the taste of so that you’re not discouraged from drinking it. You should drink it during training sessions, to get used to it, as well as in races. My favourite is orange flavour Maxifuel Viper Active.

The bike-run transition
Hutchings - Even though I’m a triathlon novice, I knew I'd done badly here. I got off my bike and tried to run to my berth in my cycling shoes. I felt like I was going to pull something so I stopped and took my shoes off. When I reached my berth, I dumped my bike and had to waste time putting a plaster on each foot because I'd got two bad blisters during a training run a couple of weeks before. I eventually completed the transition in 3min 34sec.
Freeman - I can’t say much more than ‘practice makes perfect’ again. It’s best to take your feet out of the bike shoes while you are still on your bike, leaving them attached to the pedals. Then when you jump off you can run barefoot to your running shoes and put them on with minimal time wasted. Also, blisters can be avoided by putting a little Vaseline inside your shoes before the race, specifically on the points where you know you are likely to rub and blister. Even so, I often end races with blood-soaked shoes, but it’s a small sacrifice for a slightly quicker T2.
The run
Hutchings - I felt relieved that I'd got through the bike without a puncture or doing something that got me disqualified. What's more, I've run loads of 10Ks so barring an injury I felt sure I would definitely finish the race. I ran the first two 2.5km laps as hard as I could. Then I went slower during the third to save a bit of energy for the last one, which I ran pretty much flat-out. I didn't carry any water with me, but took it from the race marshals every time it was offered. I'd take a swig, then pour the rest over my head to keep me cool. I crossed the line in 44min 9sec.
My overall time was 2hr 36min 47sec and I feel I could definitely knock some time off it. I'd like to complete London in under 2hr 30min but I don't know how realistic that is. I'll give it my best shot though!
Freeman - The 10K run is all about pacing. You have to resist the temptation to go off too hard so you don’t fade towards the end, but equally you don’t want to cross the finishing line feeling like you could have gone faster. You’re correct in not trying to drink too much water on the run – it’s just not worth it because your body will struggle to absorb it and it will just slosh around in your stomach. For the run, experience and common sense should lead the way.

If you're looking for a triathlon to enter but are more of a mountain biker than a road racer, sign up for our off-road triathlon Tough Tracks. For more information about endurance-boosting sports nutrition from Maxifuel, check out their website.

Nick Hutchings worked for Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Nick worked as digital editor from 2008 to 2011, head of content until 2014, and finally editor-in-chief until 2015.