From Cyclist to Triathlete
Cycling is possibly the hardest of the three disciplines from which to move into tri. But the different kinds of cycling will all bring their strengths with them, so the type you’ve been involved in can make a difference
Time-trialling creates great mental strength. The ability to maintain focus while pushing hard and hurting on your own is one to keep. Although characterised by mass starts, age-group triathlon is essentially an individual sport and the longer the distance the more likely it is that focus will have to be maintained when the crowd support is low and the competitors few and far between. If you’re a time-triallist who has practised this skill for years, then you’ll thrive.
Those of you with a mountain biking background will be grateful for your bike handling skills that, when faced with a smoother flatter surface on the road, will bring confidence and relative calmness. Cyclo-cross brings the skills required for a quick transition, so with the ability to jump on and off a bike quickly transition becomes something to look forward to.
Longer rides and sportives have a good place in a training background; building up a good quality endurance capability creates the impression that a shorter race will not be as much of a challenge. The familiarity of riding for three, four or five or more hours means that a sprint or standard distance race is easily doable. Finally, it’s worth remembering that as cycling is the largest proportion of a triathlon, the longer the race the more of it you will be strong for.
On the downside; years of cycling may mean disproportionately large legs (imagine the typical caricature of a cyclist – a spindly, slightly hunched upper-body over large thighs and calves). When in the pool this can result in a difficulty to obtain a streamlined position in the water and a tendency for legs to sink without trace. To work around this, it’s worth practising drills in the pool to develop an elevated and horizontal body position, learning to activate the core, lower back and glutes. Focus on pressing the sternum down onto the water and thinking about the head position. A good dry-land strength and conditioning programme will also help with this, especially if it includes simple exercises like wall angels and the plank.
As a cyclist, there may also be the need to check your training and racing nutrition. Solid foods may be easy to digest when riding, but eat too close to the end of the bike ride and gastro-intestinal distress is likely to develop on the run. Also, while it’s possible to eat and start a training ride soon after eating, swimming just after consuming solid food often results in an uncomfortable feeling (or worse, which the pool lifeguards will not thank you for!). To avoid potential discomfort, plan meals in advance and work out which types of food it’s possible to eat before training. Practise the plan, refining as appropriate as you go along.
As a cyclist, your cardiovascular strength will transfer easily to running but your well-developed legs may result in greater muscle damage from the loading that occurs within the muscles when impacting footfall. Impact is a new phenomenon to cyclists and it needs to be dealt with carefully – this means good recovery will be needed between each session in order to help prevent injury.