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Achieve a PR on Your Next Triathlon

By Sergio Borges

finish linePeak performances are always satisfying, but they don’t happen by accident. They occur after months of hard work, structured and consistent training and, most importantly, planning every aspect of your racing.

Fast racing is not about taking that special nutritional supplement, getting a new bike/equipment or buying a pair of running shoes that claim to make you run efficiently; it's actually much simpler and cheaper than that!

However, simply trying to race faster over an entire triathlon is too vague a goal. If you’re looking to set a PR (personal record), you need to consider the elements that can affect you. 

For example, let's talk about the swim in triathlon - few athletes know (or realize) that a poor swim fitness will lead you to a poor race performance, especially on the run. If you're not getting out of the water "fresh", the accumulated fatigue, will be noticed on the second half of the run, if not earlier. So no matter how good of a runner you are, if you're already fatigued from the swim and/or bike, you will not perform as well as you think. Don't blame your running fitness; blame instead, your swim fitness!

For a great performance, you’ll be looking to maximize the benefits of all the things you can control and minimize the dangers from the things you can’t. This not only means consistent, progressive training, but also taking the time to analyze yourself (weaknesses) and your target race (finding a course that suits your strengths). By doing so, you can prepare a plan to ensure you get the best out of yourself and all other triathlon elements when it matters most.

In other words, you’re stacking together all the factors of a stellar performance so they drop into place perfectly on race day and carry you to a new PR!

How to do it
Most improvements, especially the biggest improvements, can be made in areas of weakness. For instance, getting to the pool regularly to work on your technique, developing strength on the bike or shedding some excess weight to improve your running ability will all improve your overall time. It’s just common sense!

Eating right and fueling up well will also make a big difference. If you’re currently just surviving on junk or convenience food, this one is for you. Many athletes don't pay necessary attention to nutrition during workouts. Fueling properly during workouts will also benefit your recovery.

What you’re looking for is relevant improvements in the areas you might struggle with most. Instead of adding an extra 30-45 minute aerobic run to your weekly training regimen, focus on improving mobility, strength and elasticity! The extra endurance workout may give you a marginal gain of 1-2 percent, but by increasing your strength, you can boost your performance as much as 10 percent!

Work on the foundation and not much on endurance! What we lack the most is what we lose as we get older—Mobility, Speed, Strength/power and Elasticity. As you age you're not getting slower due to lack of endurance. Endurance training starts when you're born with the first beats of your heart, so the older you are the more endurance you have!

Talking percentages
You might be wondering: how much difference can an improvement of one percent actually make? Over the course of a race lasting two or more hours, it can get you across the finish line a lot sooner than you might expect. For example:

  • A 1-percent improvement in a 2:30-hour Olympic-distance triathlon equates to over a minute quicker.
  • A 1-percent improvement in a 5:15-hour half-Ironman equates to over five minutes quicker.
  • A 1-percent improvement in a 13:30-hour Ironman race equates to an improvement of just over eight minutes.

Now think of how much time you’ll improve if you can make a 1-percent gain in more than one area. Keep one thing in mind – the amount of improvement depends upon where you started.

If you’re a beginner, you could see your speed improve by 10 percent or more over each training session in a month. Conversely, a seasoned racer may find it takes a winter’s worth of training to make a 3-percent gain.

Technology-wise, a good bike fitting that helps you feel more comfortable, more powerful and more aerodynamic could save you over a minute in a 25 mile bike leg. That’s just one element of your PR. If you combine that with more confidence on the swim, perfect nutrition and hydration, losing 4lbs of fat, you could save up to 7 minutes.

The gains are there to be had by all. They just require a little planning and a realistic appraisal of your abilities and goals. Look towards the areas where you know you can improve. Work hard on these and make small advances in each and when added together you’ll shave minutes off your time. Remember Triathlon is swimbikerun and not Swim + Bike + Run. All 3 disciplines need to complement each other, when training what you do on the swim, will affect your bike and run and vice versa.

Train smart, race faster !

Sergio Borges is a certified Level III USA Triathlon coach and Level II USA Cycling coach. He coached the U.S. Elite, Junior Elite and U-23 team at Duathlon Worlds in Switzerland in 2003 and the U-23 tri national team in 2004. Sergio has worked with USAT at various camps and clinics, and founded the JCC Triathlon Master Program and the Kids XTeam Triathlon Club. He is known for thinking outside of the box when it comes to triathlon training, developing his own method Inverted Training Periodization in 2004 and since perfecting it to shape Ironman champion and land athletes on the podium at races across the country. Sergio combines his vast experience coaching athletes of all ages and abilities with a fundamental belief in the need for an individualized and realistic training plan for each athlete achieve his or her goal -- from staying healthy to becoming a champion!