Beginner triathletes: Top tips from Michelle Dillon

Back in 2014 when I was an aspiring triathlete, I attended a talk hosted by two-time Olympian and former European Triathlon Champion Michelle Dillon. The…

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Beginner triathletes: top tips from Michelle Dillon

Back in 2014 when I was an aspiring triathlete, I attended a talk hosted by two-time Olympian and former European Triathlon Champion Michelle Dillon. The event was aimed at beginner triathletes and covered the highs and lows of triathlon, race day advice and getting to the finish line in the best shape possible.

Michelle’s tips were invaluable for a complete beginner like myself. I learned so much from her talk, that I still revisit these tips 7 years later. Although, I’m still not sure about her tip about cutting the legs off your wetsuit!

Time Management for beginner triathletes

  • Most aspiring triathletes have to slot training in around a full-time job, family commitments and a social life- fitting it all in is not easy!
  • Time management is key and it is important to define your goals- which races are you aiming to do? How many hours per week can you allocate for training? What you are strengths and weakness in the triathlon disciplines? 
  • Work out a training programme which fits in with your lifestyle, goals and commitments- it is important to be realistic. 
  • Identify which area is your strongest (ie: running) and your weakest (ie: cycling) and allow more time in your training schedule to focus on improving your weaknesses. 
  • Maximise your time by utilising weekends for endurance work and Brick sessions.

Motivation

  • Having a goal race and always keeping this in mind will drive you out of bed in the morning to train.
  • Plan an ‘A’ race (the main race you are targeting for the season), but sign up for a few ‘B’ and ‘C’ races leading up to the big event. These are to be used as practice runs to get used to the triathlon environment.
Tips for beginner triathletes- Michelle Dillon

Equipment for beginner triathletes

  • It is important to practice race-day kit, particularly your wetsuit well in advance of race day to get used to the fit, buoyancy etc.
  • The wetsuit should feel comfortable- the arms should be tight but it should not restrict movement in the shoulder area. Ensure your wetsuit is not loose around the neckline as water will come straight in and create drag. 
  • Apply baby oil or olive oil to your legs/arms before putting on your wetsuit as it will make it much easier to take off after the swim and could save up to a minute in transition.
  • Cut the legs of the wetsuit off at mid-shin to make a larger circumference at the opening- this will make it easier to pull off over your feet, again saving time in transition.
  • When buying a bike, it is worth looking at the sales- cycle companies will sell-off last year’s models at a reduced price so you could find a bargain. 
  • Michelle recommends starting with a cheaper bike and working your way up as you progress in triathlons. 
  • Elastic laces give a faster transition time, as it is easier to pull your shoes on at speed. Using talcum powder in your shoes helps to prevent blisters if you are not planning to wear socks. 

For more equipment tips, you might like:
How to choose the right swimming goggles
Choosing a cycling helmet
8 of the best women’s trisuits

Training for beginner triathletes

  • Brick sessions are really beneficial- a beginner to triathlon should aim to do a bike to run, or swim to bike session once every two weeks.
  • Practising bike to run transition will help get used to the heavy feeling in your legs after finishing the cycle. You can use a turbo trainer at home before heading out for a run. Or even a short run on the treadmill after finishing a spin class at the gym.
  • When training, try to exceed the distances you will be covering on race-day so that you are confident you achieve the distance, ie: for a 400m swim train up to 800m. 
  • Spin classes are worthwhile as you will be constantly training throughout the class, without the need to stop at traffic lights etc. However, it is important to get out on the roads to learn the skills and stability.

Transition

  • Michelle recommends packing a transition bag which will be kept separately from your main holdall. Your transition bag can contain smaller items like a spare swimming cap, spare goggles, safety pins, gels, race belt, protein bars and Allen keys. This prevents frantic last-minute searching through a large holdall bag. 
  • Hang your helmet strap over your bike’s brake lever, instead of placing it on the floor as it will be kicked away by others in the rush to get to their bikes. Pop your sunglasses inside your helmet. 
  • Use elastic bands around your bike frame to hold energy gels- this makes them easier to access while you are cycling. 

Swimming

  • Everyone is nervous about the swim, even experienced triathletes, so try not to panic.
  • Reduce race-day worries by taking your swim out of the pool and into open-water as often as possible. Practice sighting- glance up every 2-3 strokes to keep in line with the buoy. When swimming back to the shore, keep a landmark on the coast in your eyeline to ensure you stay on course.
  • Find your own space in the water and start slightly wide of the group, as it can get claustrophobic. Try not to follow other swimmers, as they may be heading off course, instead keep in line with the buoy.
  • Most people swim better in a wetsuit as it provides buoyancy and streamlining.

For more swimming tips, you might like:
How to overcome your fear of open-water swimming
8 Tips for learning to swim
How to cope with a non-wetsuit swim in a triathlon

Injury Prevention

  • Michelle recommends a Tiger Tail which is a rolling muscle massager for easing out tight quads, calves and IT band. Alternatively, you can use a rolling pin!
  • Compression garments after training can help recovery. 
  • For a sore back, use two tennis balls inside a sock and roll up and down your spine.
  • The most commonly injured area in triathletes is the IT band- usually as a result of not stabilising through the glutes. It is important to incorporate glute-strengthening exercises into your schedule- Michelle recommends ‘clamshell’ exercises using resistance bands, as well as yoga and pilates.
  • Michelle also recommends self-massage and foam-rollers as these can save a fortune compared to a professional sports massage.

Nutrition

  • A balanced diet and hydration is key for all triathletes. Ensure you have plenty of water before, during and after training. 
  • Within 20 minutes of finishing a training session, have something small to eat such as fruit, a protein shake or protein bar.
  • Michelle feels that caffeine can be beneficial to her training, making her more alert and focused. Experiment as an individual to see how you are affected by caffeine.
  • An energy drink such as Maxifuel Viper whilst cycling to provide hydration and fuel is Michelle’s recommendation. 
  • Michelle trains on an empty stomach to help burn body fat.

Do you have any more tips for beginner triathletes?

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