Triathlon: A Beginner's Guide

By Tom Le Sueur

Roll back to last weekend when the winds were wild and the waterfront was buzzing with excitement of the Super League Triathlon event.  If you can’t remember the black and yellow branding all over the marina or the Force 9 winds you must’ve been hiding under a rock. This is my journey to my first ever Triathlon.

 

At a boozy BBQ with my family over the summer, I spontaneously made a bet with Luke and Sam (my brother and sister) that I would complete a Triathlon this year, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and represent the Le Sueur fam alongside my siblings.  After being educated on what triathlons Jersey’s event calendar offered I quickly decided on doing the Superleague Sprint Race- which is exactly what it sounds like, a shorter version of a triathlon which you complete as quickly as possible.  

 

So first of all I asked google for some help – here’s what I asked:

 

What is a Triathlon?

A triathlon is a multisport race with three continuous and sequential endurance races.  While variations of the sport exist, the most common form includes swimming, cycling, and running over various distances.

 

What is Super League Triathlon?

Super League Triathlon (SLT) is the pinnacle of the sport on the world’s stage.  SLT make game-changing race formats – mixing up long and short course athletes – in a series of fast-paced events with unpredictable outcomes that culminate in the crowning of the best and most versatile male and female triathletes in the world.

 

Alongside the pro events, there are opportunities for the general public to do the same or adapted versions of the course that the top athletes compete.  Jersey happens to be the host nation of one of these races in the series.

 

The sprint race I signed up for comprised of a 750m swim, 20km cycle and a 5k.  Sounds easy right?

 

My next question was what do I need to do to prepare for a triathlon?  This is when I realised I was a little out of my depth, and reality kicked in!  I needed to consider equipment, training and nutrition all on a tight budget, and it turns out cycling ain’t cheap.

 

I decided to delve a little deeper into each of the disciplines and what I needed for each.

 

The Swim

Tom smiling with goggles on

Having a decent background in swimming from my days at Jersey Swimming Club I thought I would be okay in the water.  I was invited to train with some friends who were taking part in the Breca Swim Run which is a race around the islands coast where competitors swim in the 40ft tides, scramble across the rocks and run around the 50km of shoreline.  These guys were seasoned warriors, so I was literally jumping in headfirst at the deep end.  

 

I arrived at St. Catherine’s breakwater with my leaky goggs and bright purple swimming shorts looking like I’d emerged from a Benidorm hotel pool, all I was missing was a cheap Pina Colada with an umbrella in it!  My friends were in full wetsuits with futuristic goggles, branded swimming caps and even illuminous pink floats so they could be seen out at sea. The phrase a fish out of water comes to mind!  

 

I didn’t let my amateur appearance hold me back on this cold gloomy evening.  I dived straight in and started swimming with the pod of pros along the coastline.  I was so cold I just kept going with the team, luckily they were swimming at a leisurely pace so I could keep up, but my shoulders started burning from about 100m!  This is when I realised I needed to train, so I got myself a membership from Aquasplash and started perfecting my technique with the few weeks I had before race day.

 

Turns out I’ve fallen back in love with swimming, especially in the open water.  What better way to destress then hit the stunning Jersey beaches just glide through the ocean.  I had a few magical moments where I felt very at peace during some of my solo sea swims. This is something I will definitely continue to do.  I’ve even invested in a full length wetsuit so I can train with my watery tribe all through the winter.

 

As well as a wetsuit I invested in some other swimming essentials, this is what you need for the swim discipline:

 

Wetsuit – These aren’t essential especially for sprint distances but when swimming longer races wetsuits can help with buoyancy and keeping you warm.  For this sprint triathlon I bought myself a Tri Suit as I didn’t feel the need for a full wetsuit.

 

Tri Suit – A tri-suit is a one-piece garment specifically engineered for triathlon, usually including quick-drying features, padding at the rear and zippers to provide you with a do-it-all suit that you won’t have to change out of while swimming, cycling and running.

 

Goggles – For triathlons and open water swimming having a wider angled goggle helps with your peripheral vision so you can keep an eye on other competitors and hazards.

 

Swim Cap – I really didn’t think there was that much to think about when getting a swim cap!  They are made from different materials and ones that are better for pools or cold open water swims.  I opted for a neoprene one to keep me warm in the cold seas.

 

The Cycle

Tom holding up bike in triathlon suit

I hadn’t cycled for years, and the last time I owned a bike was when I used to tear up the estate on my BMX.  So I looked into getting a tri bike for the race and quickly realised that these bikes are worth a small fortune event for an entry level bike.  I was offered some sound advice from Hector from The Cog and Sprocket Bike Shop, who explained what I needed to look for in a tri bike and all the different parts and pricing points.  

 

My sister Sam kindly lent me her bike which I jumped at.  We went for a ride but realised I didn’t own cycle shoes to clip into the pedals that were on the bike.  So I was hungover, gasping to keep up on a small bike without being clipped in. I quickly realised I need to sort out my set up and get some more cycle miles in the bank.

 

So I went back to Hector at The Cog and Sprocket where I booked in a service and had my pedals changed over.  After having the bike back from service and deciding to use regular pedals (instead of cleats) I started cycling with my squad.

 

My brother Luke and a few of his mates started a social cycle club aptly named ‘Gears n’ Beers’, who welcomed me into their wild pack of social cyclists.  I used to hate those big groups of cyclists getting in the way on the road, and now I’ve become one of them! Cycling in a group is really fun and even better when followed by a tasty carb heavy meal and a cold beer.

 

Tom and friends on bikes

I’ve caught the bug for cycling and I’m already working out how I can buy a nice shiny new bike to fly around the Island.

 

For the triathlon your bike needs to meet basic regulations and there’s lots of equipment to consider.  Here’s what I needed for my race, and some other bits I’ll probably get:

 

Bike Helmet– No helmet, no race.  You don’t need one of those space-age aero helmets.  Whatever one you have in your closet will do as long as it is safety approved.  Beginners don’t need anything fancy.

 

Bike – Yes, you will need a bike.  No, it does not need to be expensive and you can borrow one like I did.  We see people do triathlons on their old mountain bikes, hybrids, or other slower bikes — and especially with a service and some modifications these bikes can do very well.  If you can, try to use road bike, even if you simply borrow one from a friend. The better gearing and smooth tyres will help you do better in the race. If you can’t, no big deal.  Just be sure the bike fits you correctly, and that your shoes will be compatible with the pedals. If you are borrowing, fit is way more important than features.

 

Cycling Shoes – If you ride a road or tri bike, you will definitely want the cycling shoes that match the pedals on most of those bikes.  The big benefit here is that you will get more power and speed from each stroke. I opted out for this as the cycle was short and I could save time on transition and I saved dollar on not needing to buy more equipment.

 

Sunglasses –  More of an added safety feature.  It is less about the sun than about keeping debris and bugs from getting in your eyes on the bike ride.  I didn’t get any but they are worth thinking about for long rides.

 

The Run

Tom in triathlon suit

Uh Oh!  I bloody hate running.  Despite loving all sports and having to run in some way or another to take part in most all of them, I am really not a fan of running.  I feel like T-Rex chasing shadows when I run, and time just seems to go so slowly. For me, a treadmill minute seems like an hour.

 

So as you can probably tell running was the one I was dreading the most.  I was going to avoid running training and rely on my footy training, 3 times a week, with St. Lawrence Football Club as my running prep.  Basically, the game plan was to smash the swim, get through the cycle and drag myself step by step through the run.

 

A few weeks before the race I was diagnosed with sciatica in my left glute and leg.  So this put all football and running on complete hold. I basically did zero running before the big day, I think I clocked about 4km in total distance in the 6 weeks building up to the race. But I wasn’t going to let this stop me.

 

So what did I need for the dreaded run:

 

Trainers – As I was on a budget and didn’t train for the run I just chose to use the comfiest running shoes I had, Adi Boosts for any Sneakerheads reading this.  However, if you are thinking of getting some, best thing to do first is to work out your gait alignment (how you move) and then choose trainers to complement or correct your movement pattern. Obviously comfort is key for them long distances.

 

Lock Laces – Thanks to my man Dan for recommending these.  They make the transition to run so easy! Best £2.50 I spent.

 

The Budget

Thanks to some sound advice from the Jersey Triathlon crew, I found some great places online to buy affordable gear.  My favourite by far has to be Wiggle, it has everything you need for endurance racing.  Here’s the full budget of things I bought for the race:

 

Item Supplier Cost
Fuji Bike My Sister n/a
Bike Helmet My Sister n/a
Castelli Tri Suit Wiggle.com £53.00
Arena Goggles Wiggle.com £11.00
Zoggs Swim Cap Wiggle.com £5.00
DHB Lock Laces Wiggle.com £2.50
Adidas Boost Trainers Already had them n/a
Race Entry Fee and other registration fees Superleague £65.00
Supps (powergels etc.) Wiggle.com £5.00
Bike Pedals Big Maggys  £15.00
Bike Service Cog and Sprocket 53.00
TOTAL £209.50

 

My Top Tri Tips

tom stretching on floor

Garmin – Get a Garmin watch!  These watches are unbelievable, they track your heart rate, sleep patterns, steps, calories and workouts.  They also GPS track your swims, runs and cycles and give you great analytics. You can use this data to make improvements in the right areas and see your strengths and weaknesses.

 

Strava – If you love a bit of competition then this app is a must have for any triathletes.  Strava is a social fitness network, that is primarily used to track cycling and running exercises, using GPS data although alternative types are available. You can get PBs, race friends and even win medals for different segments of routes.  Strava allows you to connect to your smartwatch or fitness tracker and keeps a log of all your training and races, all within a free app without any annoying advertising. If you really want to dig deep into your analytics you can upgrade to Strava Summit which is like having a performance coach in your pocket.  Be warned though, this can get addictive when you start checking to see if anyone can beat your time on a certain segment!

 

Recover – Recovery is just as important as training.  Make sure you sleep, hydrate and nourish your body.  Thanks to our office Yogi Mike Canas who helped stretch out all those tight muscles at our morning Yoga classes.

 

Nutrition – Don’t be scared to up your calories and eat more carbs.  Being a regular gym goer on a high protein diet I was afraid to increase my calories.  However, doing all this extra cardio is going to burn more calories which you need to replenish.  Thanks to my brother and my coach Luke Le Sueur, who helped tweak my diet to suit training and advise me on pre race day nutrition.  Luke also was the most motivating and supportive person in my training process. His knowledge and advice was paramount to my experience.

 

Community – Jersey has the most incredible community of athletes and weekend warriors.  Everyone is so helpful, inclusive and knowledgeable. Get involved in the local clubs and just ask other competitors for help, it’s amazing how kind and willing people can be.  Massive thanks to everyone who helped me along the way, you know who you are.

 

Enjoy it! – Trying new things don’t always go as planned, without failing you can’t learn and improve.  So just get out there and have a go, if it doesn’t go perfectly, laugh it off and improve for next time.

 

Race Day

The countdown to race to was quite weird!  The weather forecast was looking pretty grim with Force 9 winds on the cards.  So there were many rumours flying around that it was going to be cancelled. So in the week building up I was constantly checking my emails for updates from the Superleague organisers.  

 

I felt very unprepared, was nursing an injury and wasn’t feeling confident about the race.  I knew I could complete it, but thought I would be slow and might aggravate my injury further. I put that to the back of my mind and prepared the best I could in the final days building up.

 

The day before the race we still didn’t know if we were going to do it.  So I kept focussed and planned as if it was still going ahead. I spent the whole day watching the pro’s qualifying rounds and exploring the event site.  I went to the gym to stretch and ate some good fuel foods with Luke and Jess (my friend who also signed up as a complete newbie). Watching the pros really got me excited about racing.  These athletes are incredible and so fast. The day came to an end and we were told a decision on our race would be made at 5:30am. So I had a team dinner with the Gears n’ Beers crew then went home to prep all my kit and set my alarm clock.

 

I didn’t get to sleep until after 1am with all the excitement.  As soon as the alarm clock rang I reached for my phone and opened the email.  CANCELLED! A feeling of disappointment and relief ran through me before snoozing back to sleep.  I kept waking up and checking my phone thinking I’d dreamt the email. I must’ve done this 4 or 5 times before rising.  I then started receiving texts from my triathlon squad suggesting meeting for drinks and to watch the pro’s race in the finals.

 

selfie at triathlon

 

We all met up and made the best plan B yet.  We trained together then stocked up on food and beer.  We watched the race from our friends balcony looking over the Marina (thanks Renata).  We had the best view in the house. We also made friends with the guys that make all the Superleague merch, Jason and Miguel.  These guys were legends and they kindly agreed to help us make some branded gear for our social club, so keep an eye out on the roads for the best dressed cycle team!  The day escalated into one of my best this year, watching international athletes in my home nation with amazing company. So although I didn’t race, I made the most of a bad situation.

 

 

What Next…?

 I’m going to continue to swim in the sea through the winter and cycle with my new found social club.  I may even go on a few runs! I obviously need to still complete my first Triathlon, and I’m even eyeing up some Iron Man events!  An Iron Man is basically a Triathlon which consists of a 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride and a marathon of 42.20 km. But one step at a time, I still have plenty to learn and an injury to overcome.

 

If your thinking about doing an endurance event and haven’t before, please feel free to contact me or use my links to the businesses and people I’ve mentioned in this blog.  I’m sure they’d be happy to help. Also if you’ve got any tips for me (as I’ve still not completed a triathlon after all) please share your knowledge.

 

Tom (CEO)

tom@snap.je