‘Living on the edge?..only because it’s too hectic in the middle!’

Training and equipment… quality, quantity, carbon wheels, periodisation,intervals, junk miles, miles in the bank, over-distance, hill reps, stretching, injuries, nutrition, cadence rate, neutral footplant, over pronation, compression tights, training zones, rest, over-training, tapering, body fat levels, fartlek, heart rate monitors, gps…where on earth do we begin to make sense of it all?

Triathlon and multisport is now big business having evolved into a equipment and knowledge ..both extremely heavily marketed…dependant sport. And why not..have a look around any transition site at any local race and there is plenty of evidence how much disposable income is around, and hey..this is their hobby so that’s where their cash goes…but the decisions to be made as to who gets the cash , wow, there is soooo much of the stuff, way too confusing  and distracting.

The gear available now to joe public is nothing short of phenomenal, five or six years ago all this was the sole preserve of world class level athletes…the bikes and kit WE can buy now was used in the Tour De France…the swim wear only available to Olympians..and the technical progression in footwear and clothing is amazing- and it is all there at the swipe of a card.

I feel we need to step back a bit tho…look at all these advances and remind ourselves where and why they originated from.For example, bike frame design..a continually evolving process..so lets be a pro rider for a moment supported by a global manufacturer with unlimited resources. Everyone working for you to push design and fit to enable you to be the fastest possible; and when some bright spark has a brainstorm for some subtle modification, it happens, and you get another frame to speed you up and on…you are always riding the best possible for your ultimate performance. All that has gone before now filters down…via the marketing depts….and is now there for us to purchase..but the pro had it easy here, he just rode the best ..there was no choice and he had no need to make one, we have a real difficult job here.Presented with literally hundreds of aero framed machines to choose from, what can possibly be our basis for preferring one to another?

The same can be applied to wetsuits, tri-bars..( I know, I know..he always goes on about tri-bars..well to be honest they fascinate me immensely. The best ever bars I have used are Syntace C2’s..and they cost around 60 quid..and I’m currently trying to source another set..but I find it frankly astounding that there appear so many options out there costing well in excess of 2-300 pounds, it’s just bloody incredible, stupid even..aaarrrghhh!!! Save your money folks…just train harder! Loose some fat…these will make you fitter and faster! ).. running shoes etc. This is one part of triathlon training we need to be slowing down, the head in the sand consumerism. Lets simplify matters.

Put down your copy of 220, forget what you’ve just read- after all it’s exactly the same as last year just with different ‘photo’s- and take a trip to your local specialist running shop. Give ‘em a run down of what you’re after and let them do their job…I guarantee you will leave with the shoe that suits you(sir). And whilst you are there, invest in two pairs the same, and swap them about. Midsoles collapse in time..this way they recover more between runs..last longer…if you run in the rain or snow , you will always have a dry pair for next day..and best of all , never having to go through that mid-season hunt for a new pair …excellent!

Now a reality check…does your bike actually fit you? Was it a ‘good purchase’ because it was reduced, tho maybe a size too large…but you’ll make do with a bit of adjusting?  The right size, but do you always moan about the lower back pain..(did you ever actually bother to look up and do those back strengthening exercises?  Some times a bit of effort is needed, rather than cash….)..how’s the neck after 200 miles on the tri-bars? And the tri-bars..(here we go again…), too low…too radical but they looked good in the photo of thingy at kona, maybe they just plain come loose all the time..( learn how to care for your bike…turn the telly off, get a maintenance book, basic tools and have a go …it’s real rewarding to know your bike inside out and all is well…).

If it’s the cash that’s loose, invest in a bike fit session..many retailers are now offering these invaluable services, but if you don’t live near one, some are also on-line…send ‘em your measurements and details and your ideal position comes flying back right at yer.It will pay dividends in a way a bank never could…or is ever likely to in this climate!

Whoa…stop emptying the kid’s piggy bank now, no need to stoop to such measures…stooping causes back pain anyhow, and we don’t need that. Many articles exist on the internet to help set your bike up..all you need is a bit of patience, a turbo trainer, spirit level and tape measure…because the basics are , well…basic.

Ideally go for a smaller frame than you may be used to; I used to ride a 54cm ..i’m about 5’9’’..and my tri bike is a 50cm…but then it is so much easier to get every thing else to adjust and fit accurately, you don’t have to compromise when starting off with a smaller base….hey, less drag as well! The three main areas? Saddle height and distance to the bars, correct frame size for the purpose, and..yep..comfortable tri-bars.If these three things are good to go and your bike is well maintained …well, pretty much sorted then.

Technical advances in wetsuits have really slowed down the last couple of years..esp. any that are going to have any impact for us….look at the swim times in an ultra ..they are pretty slow, so the wetsuit for most is to keep us warm and for the poorer swimmers provide some much needed buoyancy, these are your factors when purchasing, not speed.And don’t forget the size!..if buying now, end of season bargain..are you planning on bulking up or shifting some fat by next season..think ahead when sizing up your purchase!

Ok, where have we got to so far.

  • Found an ultra to do?……..check
  • Time to train?…..check
  • Fit and well?……check
  • Got the gear?……check…hey, cool, fantastic..off you go then and train, good luck!

Er…hmmmm…how exactly are we going to go about this? Flicking through some old..and not so old..tri mags, it’s actually quite confusing—and to put all you read into practise would  require a bunch of full time coaches, a pad in the Pyrenees, the lucky box on Deal or no Deal, and the lifestyle of a pro athlete..face it, it ‘aint gonna happen. Ironically, as the level of knowledge increases..so does the size of the athletes…some should be told, do not wear lycra! People are not getting any faster, quicker or stronger..they are getting fatter, slower..and just like climbing everest has become, they are buying their way to the finish line with all the hi tech gear and nutrition (..in the vain hope that six power bars and two full bottles of electrolyte will get them through the next 400mswim..20k bike and 5k run and make up for the last six months of eating shit) they can get their hands on.

Ok…major generalisation , but I have been racing this sport since the early ‘80s, and it is true…people liketo read about training but not so many are actually willing to do the work. Many multisport publications are really lifestyle quick-fix mags, no real meaning for grass roots ultra athletes, they left us behind years ago along with the fun race reports, the piss-taking profiles of our good athletes, articles that had some relavence to joe public who actually bought the things..oh, and a bit of training thrown in. Now its oh so serious , but looks good on the coffee table .Ten, fifteen years ago Triathlon-the-sport was a lot fitter and healthier than it is today.

So I’m glad Ultra races are around and attract the type of athletes they do, for they bring us back down to earth not with a bump but a bloody great thump, and a reminder that (ultra) triathlon is about us- the athletes- what we are capable of, what is in our hearts and how far can we truly push ourselves.

I love the international Ultra distance community..some of their gear is ancient, they may not swim very fast, and running would not be an accurate description of the third discipline at a triple ironman for most…but they can do it, and they love it and their fellow competitors. The same names pop up all over the globe ..for most it is a lifestyle; doubles, triples, x5’s, deca’s…for all it is a journey of personal discovery that begins each time they stand on one of those start lines.

Somedays on the way into work, I pass an old guy out running, shuffling really—but I have seen him also many , many miles away from home—the weather just is, he always wears a grey vest and black shorts, and for want of a better word, pumps! Old school black pumps, no camelback, no ‘energy belt’,nothing..never seen him carrying anything. Reckon he must be 60-70 tears old, and I always wonder if he can swim and bike because he would be awesome at an ultra. I can sense that moving, out in the open, is a joy for him.No training method, no structure, he’s just there, or here so obviously at one with himself and his running and happy with life. For me, this guy sums up the spirit behind ultra distance racing, even tho he has nothing to do with it.

Don’t worry how you are going to get there, fit enough for an ultra. Don’t worry so much about what equipment you may or may not have. Work with what you have. If you can swim, cycle, and run…then keep it up, a bit further…bit more, maybe a touch faster…definitely a lot further…but keep going, always keep going and you will always get there, just remember to enjoy the journey.

Ooooops…..will focus on the actual physical side of things next, honest!
Stay healthy everyone, there’s a lot of nasty bugs about right now….ride safe, jules.