How to train for a triathlon: Tips from an Ironman World Championship Competitor

On the 15th July, Bex Rimmington took on the 2018 Ironman triathlon in Bolton, one of the toughest races in the world, and finished at the top of her group. After a gruelling 2.4-mile open-water swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon, Bex took the title as the top female amateur athlete at the event.

Photo: Riding For Love Photography

Before taking on the Ironman, Bex competed in sporting events at a high level, particularly in cycling. In 2009, she piloted Lora Turnham to a bronze medal at the Tandem Road Race at the 2009 UCI World Para-cycling Road Cup in Italy. She works for top UK cycling gear retailer Merlin Cycles and has recently been selected as one of just four athletes around the world for the 2018 Specialized Zwift Academy Triathlon Team.

From Lancashire to Hawaii

As Bex looks ahead to the Ironman world championship in Hawaii on the 13th October, she tells all about how to train for a triathlon, talking about her training schedule, her favourite gear and why it takes a community of athletes to get you to the finish line.

Q: How do you know when you’re ready for a triathlon?

Bex: Trying to figure out whether or not you’re ready to take part in your first triathlon can be a little daunting, but there’s a fairly straightforward way to figure it out. If you’re thinking of running a sprint or Olympic-distance triathlon, try first to complete each individual distance on its own. Once you can do that, you can piece the three together come race day. Just make sure you include some brick sessions into your training; running off the bike is very different from starting fresh.

Q: What does a good triathlon training schedule look like?

Bex: I think a good schedule looks different for everyone, depending on their availability and the goals they want to hit. A typical training week for me would start with a rest day on a Monday, which gives my body a chance to recover from last week’s work before continuing. Training starts bright and early on Tuesday morning with an hour’s swim at the local pool, which I’ll do each day for the rest of the week before heading into work. My evening normally involves either a run or bike session, depending on what the coach has planned. As it gets colder, I find myself using Zwift more and more: this allows me to train with others online which is a lot more fun than simply staring at a blank wall. The weekends are normally saved for my long bike rides and brick sessions. I can also simulate the nutrition plans that I have for race day and experience in part the range of emotions that I might have during the Ironman race itself. The duration and intensity will vary depending on what phase of training I am in, so it is important to work with a coach who will be able to get you ready for your “A” race.

Q: What’s the best way to work on your weakest discipline?

Bex: Join a club – you can guarantee there will be experts who can help you in the field that you are looking to improve on. However, if you’re struggling to make the days and times of sessions then the internet can be a really valuable resource. There are YouTube channels and online articles that can help you apply a lot of pro methods to your own training.

Q: How can you train to improve your transition time?

Bex: Mentally rehearsing your transition can definitely help. Visualise where everything is in your area – go through what you do when you reach your equipment and the order you will do things in. You should also practice the route that you will take to get to your area. Walk through it once and then go through it at race speed; things can look very different when hundreds of other bikes and bags are laid out.

Q: How can you get a good head start in the swim?

Bex: Pick a good starting position if you are in the open water. Look where the buoys are and pick landmarks in the distance to sight. If you are doing a pool-based swim, aim to be consistent – the swim is the shortest discipline of the three so you should account for that when weighing up how much effort you want to put in.

Q: When should you begin tapering before a triathlon?

Bex: Like your training schedule. tapering is very much a personal thing. A good coach can plan a season to ensure that you hit your race in peak form, but if you don’t have a coach, listen to your body. Sometimes, you do need to train tired, but in the run-up to the event, it’s more important to let your body absorb all of the work that you have been doing and keep things short and sharp.

Q: What does your training diet look like?

Bex: Training for an Ironman means that you need to get your nutrition right for both training and racing, I try to keep all my food as natural as possible: all my meals are balanced with protein, fats and carbohydrates. I take fish oils in the morning, too: some good studies show that it helps with athletic performance. I try not to be a slave to calorie targets, but equally I know that if I have got my nutrition wrong then I will pay for it the day after, so it has taken a few years of trial and error to get the number of calories I need to complete right so I can complete the workload.

Q: Are there any apps you use to help you with your training?

Bex: I use TrainingPeaks to keep a record of my training, but I also have Zwift on my phone so that I can interact during my turbo and online training sessions.

Q: How can you prepare yourself mentally for a triathlon?

Bex: Set yourself goals along the way. You’ll want to set goals around your training and goals for race day, too – if you can tick off the boxes then you know that come race day you have done everything possible, and that’s what matters.

Q: Which products do you recommend, both for training and for the big day?

Bex: There are a few key pieces of gear that I’d recommend that will come in handy whether you’re training or taking on the actual race:

 

  • Body Glide Anti-chafe Balm – This is a great product to prevent any rubbing or chafing during training or racing. I always use the anti-chafing cream on the back of my neck to prevent any wetsuit rub, and also on the inside of my shoes to reduce the risk of blisters.
  • Elite Crono CX Aero Bottle and Cage Kit – Staying hydrated on the bike is important to ensure that you can get through the event. This aerodynamic bottle can be used on TT bikes or give you an advantage on a road bike, especially if it’s particularly hot on the day of the race.
  • Fabric Tri Bike Saddle – When you’re using tri-bars or you’re sat in a race position, the rotation of your hips can place pressure on different parts of the saddle region. Using a triathlon-specific saddle reduces that pressure and makes the bike segment of the course a lot more comfortable.
  • Sidi T-4 Air Carbon Triathlon Shoes – Triathlon bike shoes are designed to make transitions much easier and faster so you can shave vital seconds off your time. They feature a heel loop which will allow you to slip the shoes on more easily in transition, and they also have a wider opening so that when you’re under pressure, you can get your feet in and out of your shoes as quickly as possible.
  • Clif Bar Energy Bars and Chews – Having a nutrition plan for training and racing is incredibly important if you want to ensure you’ve got the right fuel to get you through the day and help you recover the day after. The Clif bars are a great choice for long days out; the shot blocks simply melt in your mouth making it a great training or race food.

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