By Aaron Hersh—Inspired by Joe Friel’s article “Six Common Mistakes Triathletes Make,” here is a checklist of triathlon gear errors that could derail your next race.
Never training in your race shoes
If you’ve ever experimented with minimalist shoes, you know the toll they take on calf muscles. Even a short workout in a pair of Vibrams can thrash your legs. The biggest reason these shoes are so much harder on the calf muscles than typical trainers is the drop from the heel to the toe. Typical cushioned training shoes have a fairly substantial ramp that lets the forefoot sit lower than the heel, taking strain off the calf muscles and Achilles tendon. Minimalist shoes have a tiny (or zero) drop from the heel to the toe and leveling the shoe lifts your forefoot, putting tension back on the calf muscles.
Like minimalist shoes, many racing flats have a small drop from the heel to the toe. Robust cushioned trainers typically have an 8-12mm lift, and many racing flats have only 4mm of rise.
Just as it takes time to acclimate to minimalist shoes, acclimating to racing flats doesn’t happen overnight. Wearing them just on race day will cause your lower legs to fatigue quickly. Instead of leaving your racing shoes in the closet until race day, slowly work them in to your weekly run training.
Because of their construction, racing shoes are typically best saved for days you run fast instead of slow recovery workouts. Start to acclimate to your racing shoes by swapping them in for your trainers during your weekly tempo or interval workout. As you get stronger, you can use them for an entire workout once or even twice a week.
Different course, same gears
Several studies (like this one and this one) have shown that riding with an abnormally slow cadence impairs running out of T2. If you’re doing a hilly late-season race such as Ironman Wisconsin or Ironman 70.3 Austin, make sure your bike has an easy climbing gear that will allow you to spin your preferred cadence up steep climbs instead of forcing you to grind against a gear that is too big.
Count the number of teeth on the largest gear in your cassette. If it is 25 or fewer, consider swapping your cassette for a version with 27 or 28 teeth. For about $100, you’ll buy yourself a more comfortable bike ride. Using a cassette with an easy climbing gear is especially important if you ride a standard crank (it will say “53” somewhere on the big ring) instead of a compact (which will say “50”).
Suffering even one ride without a fit
By now you’ve no doubt heard the importance of triathlon bike fit, and it really can’t be overstated. All the aero gear in the world is worthless if you have to get out of the aerobars to stay comfortable. If you can’t sit still in the aero position for a long, hard ride, find a local bike fitter specializing in triathlon and get help.
Over-packing for race day
It takes enough crap just to swim, bike, run and transition; don’t bog yourself down with unnecessary extras. Leave your standard cycling stuff at home and use your aero and race gear to warm up and to ride the day before if you’re traveling to a race. Bring the necessities such as electrical tape, a multi-tool, something to sip on before the race, maybe a little food and a warm set of clothing. Leave the extras at home.
Turning your bike into a buffet
Whether you’re racing long course or short, there is no excuse for taping 2,000 calories to your frame. There are aid stations for a reason. Instead of messing up the aerodynamics of your finely tuned bike, train with the drink offered on race day. That way you will always have the calories, electrolytes and fluids you need should anything fall off your rolling schmorgesborg.
Ignoring your housing
Derailleurs get all the glory, but they are really a secondary contributor to shift performance. The shifters themselves are the key component, and they can only actuate the derailleurs properly if the connection between the two—the cables and housing—is functioning smoothly.
Road gunk gradually accumulates inside the housing and gums up the cables. Once that happens, no component group in the world no matter how expensive can shift crisply.
It isn’t a sexy upgrade, but regularly swapping old cables and housing for a new set is one of the best investments you can make to improve your component function. Swap housing about once a year, and replace the cables twice.
Keeping your wetsuit dry
Throw a wetsuit on and you’re going to swim faster, even without training in it. But no matter how flexible or form-fitting a suit may be, every wetsuit still creates arm resistance. Whether you have access to an open water swimming spot or not, make sure to do several swims in your wetsuit before race day. Your shoulders and triceps will thank you. Even just logging 500 yards at the beginning of a pool workout once a week makes a big difference.
RELATED: How To Efficiently Put Your Wetsuit On And Take It Off
Aaron Hersh is the Senior Tech Editor of Triathlete magazine.