Key elements of preparing for a long distance Triathlon! (With learnings from Vichy 70.3)

There are six elements to master for completing a long distance triathlon strongly in my view

  1. Technique
  2. Technique
  3. Technique
  4. Equipment
  5. Endurance
  6. Nutrition

Technique – Extremely important and often ignored or not given as much importance

Equipment – Very important to invest in the right equipment especially for the bike part. Makes a huge difference. 

Endurance – We all know this one quite well. Ironman is brutal and if you have not done enough endurance in practise, guess what…it will show and everyone will know. Because they are tracking!

Nutrition – A lot has been said about this.  How to top up before the race, how to continue giving your body what it needs during the race, what if its too hot, etc.


Vichy 70.3 Learnings

  1. Swimming technique – which is the bane of almost all triathletes all over the world because its learnt as an afterthought. Oh i am already good in cycling and running so let me learn swim so that I am good enough to cross the line! Saw too many triathletes do ‘kushti’ in the lake in Vichy instead of swimming. They not only lost a lot of time in the process but also lost valuable energy that they needed for rest of the day.
  2. I completed the swim course in 35 minutes – It was not my best time. I should have done atleast two to three minutes better than this but since its not possible to swim exactly 1.9 kms (its usually a little more because you cant swim close to the lane) plus i got a side stitch early on so I slowed down a little bit. Plus since it was not a wave start, i was already 4 minutes behind the top guy so there was no motivation to pull hard. Overall my slowing down actually helped me for rest of the day.
  3. 44 out of 2200 after swimming – I have been swimming for 30 years and of which 10 years competitively in school, district, state and at the national level. What that means is my technique is already good enough and my endurance too because i have put in a lot of hours (2 to 3 hours a day for 6 days a week for about 10-15 years). 1_swimming
  4. 6 minutes in Transition one – I picked up the bike bag, ran to the transition tent, quickly ate a banana, drank a little coke. put on my biking gear. Handed over the biking bag to volunteers. Ran towards the bike which had the helmet. Pulled the bike out and then realized that i have to wear the helmet too. Did that once i let a guy cross me who was close. And in the process earned a stop and go penalty. He started speaking in french and then english. Do you know why I stopped you? I said no. Because you pulled the bike first and not the helmet. I said I will be more careful in future. He said have a good race. Off I went.
  5. Biking Technique and equipment – From my standard, I did ok in bike time. 3 hours 20 minutes. Although I had done 3 hours 15 in practise and I was pushing much harder. Besides developing cycling endurance and practising on a course that has the same elevation profile as your race helps, these are very important to get right.
    • Aerobars – I did not have aerobars which meant throughout the 90 minute course wind was having a field day with me! I was not in an aero dynamic position while biking. My biking technique sucked.
    • Cleats and shoes – I did not have cleats. One guy at 70 km mark looked at me like I was a cave man!
    • Tyres – I have 25cc tyres and since then I have been told that 23cc are going to be smaller and better for speed.
    • Sealed bearings  – I have normal bearings in my bike which are no where in smoothness compared to sealed bearings in front and back.
    • Crank –  My bike has a crank in the front that has 50 teeth. I can go upto 54! It would have been better.
    • Air pressure – 7.5 bars because the range in my tube was from 6 to 8 bars. it worked in my favour
    • Wind resistant helmet and Wheels – The pros had both of these and they do help. 7_cycling
    • As you can see this cyclist who is in a more aero dynamic position compared to me, guess who got ahead! If your position is not right for 90 kms, you will not only loose time, you will loose a lot of energy too!
    • 1100 triathletes crossed me in the biking part – I a told that 1100 people crossed my by those who were tracking me online. Lesson learnt – Invest in proper bike gear and get in the right position for biking. it will help.
    • Nutrition during biking – This is one area where I am really proud. It worked wonderfully for me. My garmin is configured to buzz every 5 kms. And i was trying to do 30 kmph (failing but still trying). So every other time it buzzed, it meant 20 minutes had passed so I just took on Gu Gel Rocktane (it has carbs, electrolytes etc) with a couple of sips of water. And every third time, I had one cardbury (small one) with water. I continued this for three hours and sometimes took coke instead of water as well towards the end. I had no problems recovering at the end. 
  6. Transition 2 –  6 minutes in transition 2. Again gulped a banana and some water. Actually my water intake had been less by a litre during the bike course. I had planned about 2.5 litres to 3 litres and so in the transition i had a full 300 ml bottle before i headed out.
  7. Running endurance – Before the race, I focussed so much on my biking because it was worse, that i did not focus enough on running endurance especially during off hours. We start running at around 11 AM during a 70.3 if we are lucky! And finish around 1 PM!!!!  I simply should have put in more miles in running. in practise. It showed after about 12 kms. 
  8. Temperature soared to 36 degrees but thankfully each volunteering station had a hose which helped quite a bit. The course was sometimes tree lined and sometimes was through the city center which was shaded. It helped.
  9. Stomach full but still felt thirsty – Did not know what to do because stomach was full with water, other stuff but felt very thirsty. Somehow survived by sucking on cut oranges, one or two salt tabs etc. It was uncomfortable after 15 kms .
  10. 30 to 32 kms running in practise in odd hours (11 am to 4 pm e.g) will help finish strongly(for a 70.3), is what I feel now. Mind you that there is a time difference of 3 and a half hours between Europe and India which is also playing a role here.
  11. 24_running

Other miscellaneous learnings

  1. Pre and post event logistics are also very tiring. Plan how you will get to the event, how many days in advance so that you can adjust properly. Anuj helped plan a lot of it which I simply had to follow but you may not be that lucky. Give it a lot of thought. Arrive early. Spend a few days in the destination city. Take the bike out for a spin on the same route as the race route.
  2. Food especially pre event – You will not get the same food as you are used to at home. Plus there is a time difference which is going to impact your bowel movement timings. If you are going to europe, its gong to work in your favor because its 3 hours 30 minutes behind us. If you go to Australia or Thailand, it may not work that well.
  3. Bike course elevation – This should be a critical factor in your choosing your event. Vichy course had an elevation of 650 metres which is typical of a 70.3 course. Same as Zurich. Kalmar has even less. It matters a lot. 
  4. Travel bags – Having a proper bag to carry your bike and a backpack to carry remaining stuff is very important. At times, we were riding the bike to go from one place to another with the 12 kg backpack on our backs. It was tiring but doable because we did not have suitcases!!!!
  5. Wetsuit – Its mandatory to wear wetsuits if the water temperature is less than 16 degrees and not allowed if its more than 24 degrees. Between that its optional. Vichy water temperature was 25 degrees. It worked in my favour because i was not used to swimming with a wetsuit but it screwed up others because they were used to swimming with wetsuits only which has neoprene in them which basically makes the body almost float in water. One of the participants i knew could not complete the swim course under the time limit of 1 hour 10 minutes and was not allowed to move further.
  6. Tri suit – I managed without one but most people have one. Its good to have one.
  7. Cutoff times – VERY VERY IMPORTANT – Different triathlons have different cutoff times for each segment and overall course as well due to course difficulty. Vichy had 1 hour 10 minutes for the swim part, 4 hours 45 minutes for swim plus bike and 7 hours 30 minutes overall. Many people get caught up in this. In practise you should be comfortably within the cutoff. Things will go wrong on race day so you need some time in your hand for contingency. Eg the bike course in Vichy was rough. Although I was pushing hard, I could not do better than 3 hours 20. Since I had saved 35 minutes during swimming, i was well withing the cutoff time of 4:45. (I was at 4:04 after T2). 
  8. Puncture – Both Anuj and I had spare tubes, and CO2 cylinders and we had practised replacing tubes within 5-6 minutes. Thank god nothing happened to our tubes, but I saw many on the road replacing their tubes. And its hard when you are already tired.
  9. Penalty Boxes are a real thing – I got a stop and go only and I was lucky. I saw about 20 cyclists in the penalty box in the bike course for Drafting. Drafting is not allowed. It attracts a 5 minute penalty.

Overall its an awesome experience and quite a challenging one which will completely engross you for months.

One must Tri


2 comments on “Key elements of preparing for a long distance Triathlon! (With learnings from Vichy 70.3)

Leave a Reply