Actually I should have titled this, "Can You Get Faster at this time of the season?" The answer is yes. With a whole season of racing under your belt and being injury free (and fatigue free) a PR at the Olympic distance in late September or Early October is possible. Here are some tips on being more super in the fall than the spring:
The quip about being fatigue free is key to many of the things we'll discuss here. If your mind is saying to you, "It's time for Golf!" then most likely its time for Golf and not hammering out repeats on your bike at 5:30 AM. Pay attention here as fatigue (along with illness) is a key indicator the great bird of injury is about to take a dump on you.
Swim: Everyone is better at the end of the season on the swim and this one is almost a gift. Nothing I'm about to recommend will make as marked a difference as a full season of swimming. Unless the swim is through the North Atlantic you will be faster in your next Olympic. If you want more:
- Kick like a Motherf#$%er - Yes, we're always saying ease off on your kick during your races as the main purpose of the kick is to keep your hips level and high and your wetsuit does the job anyway. But when you hit the pool intermix every 200 yards with 50 yards of kick board and you'll see a difference when you hit the open water. Kick right through the last turn buoy then give it a rest. Remember gaining time during the swim really does come at the expense of the ride and run but hey the season is over so WTF.
- Screw the sighting - Nothing screws up your speed like sticking your head out to see if you're on course. Take a risk and just go for it (knowing that your body tends toward one direction.) This is risky as you may be that person who the kayaker has to chase down before you get into a shipping lane but damn the torpedoes!
- Position yourself closer to the front - OK, so you're going to get run over and maybe even have your wetsuit ripped off but damn you're in the wake for a change and the current is with you. Being in the current of the lead swimming pack can take some time off for you. And talk about motivation to just churn.
Cycle: OK, here's where it you can really take off minutes. With a caveat. You'll need to assess which is your stronger suit: cycling or running. Taking off 10 minutes on the cycle can mean you'll be dragging butt during the run so you'll have to make that call. Well, whatever - the season is almost done:
- Level Ground Stand Ups. Never mind getting in an aero position - get off your ass on the straight aways and put some weight/power into your stroke. Depending on the course this can pay off immensely. If its a hilly course well then maybe not. But if its a relatively flat course then have your body weight pitch in and the price you pay is your quads will scream tomorrow. But as Scarlett once said, "Tomorrow is another day."
- Draft. Legally. Two bike lengths buddy! But two bike lengths can give you some of the bennies of drafting. The problem is that you have to be smart about it. Do you have the discipline and strength to keep two bike lengths from some poor sap you're using to speed you along? Most people will either try to pass or fall off. The key is to stay legally within distance at strategic points/distances so you can rest and hammer when you need to (so another guy can legally draft off you.) The bike is about the long haul and the strategy in a 25 mile race is to coast at your max speed with lower power output. God gave us three things to do this: a tail wind, a downhill, and that dude in the sweet kit and Cervelo P5 who doesn't know you're on his 6.
- Get fitted one last time. Watching you guys bike as the season progresses reveals two things: 1) your tri-shorts are wearing thinner than should be allowed legally and 2) your form has changed...a lot. Getting re-fitted for your new positioning can deliver significantly on the road. For this tip we can thank that most useless of hopeless of athletes: the 140.6 athlete. By the time their race comes around not only do they need to have their bikes go through a race level tune-up (they take out the wires! Christ, they take off your gears, brakes, rear cassette, rent money!) but they also may need a refit as they're different cyclists than when they stupidly signed up for the race. Go get a re-fit that doesn't require new bike fittings (that's where the cost is) and you'll see that you and old faithful really did need relationship counseling.
- Slowdown the gear changes - Race on your big wheel and keep the gearing high. Not much to explain here except that you're going to kiss the injury curve and maybe blow out a knee. Hey that's what the off-season is all about. But hey you're an Olympic God!
Run: OK, now we're entering fantasy land. I write a training letter for marathoners and there's much I would share here but let's be honest by the time you get to the run you look like a triathlete. I mean by the time you get to the run you look like how you feel. So what advice to give on speeding up that run when you were just told to speed up the swim and cycle? Here goes:
- Mail in the swim: Wow! Sounds awful doesn't it!? If there's one portion that's not going to make anyone prettier its taking 60 seconds off the swim so you can barely get your butt on the bike where 60 seconds means next to nothing or the run where if you don't stop to say hello to the kids on the course you're up 60 seconds. Think about it.
- Run-Walk: The run-walk strategy is pretty old now but its proven to not only sustain fatigued athletes but increase their performance. Planned run-walk of say 4 minute run - 30 second walk could make those running miles mean something to the tune of seconds off your average race pace. Remember its not simply fatigue that's slowing you down but muscle inflammation which walk can help reduce or stave off. But you have to practice this and folks let me tell you that in your next race someone will be using the "Galloway" method and they will beat you...by a lot.
- It's not a 6 mile run. It's a 32 mile run. You're doing a marathon and you've got the conditioning to do it. What you may not have had is the fueling strategy for this type of approach which requires you fuel and hydrate even more during the ride - think about it: the cycle will take you along the depletion curve but not in the same manner as running. Additionally because the swim and ride do not have pounding you will "feel" less inclined to address your bodies needs. If you think about it as a 32 mile run you'll fuel the same way a marathoner does: every 7 - 10 minutes alternating liquids and high quality carb-protein. Approaching speed and power from the perspective of fueling is an oft made gap for experienced triathletes who view it only as a sustaining function.
OK, so if you have a race coming up give a few of these a try. Or wait till next season! But do remember that these are tips for people who've had a full season under their belts and are still carrying that level of conditioning and experience.