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Early Season Errors.
See how to avoid the mistakes that can ruin your season.

By Tom Demerly.

As sure as flowers in the Spring, athletes make early season mistakes that can ruin an entire season. Like seeds in the soil, little mistakes made early in the year grow to problems that can ruin a key race, or an entire season.

Triathlons and Duathlons are a relatively young sport. They benefit, however, from the legacy of cycling, distance running and swimming. The lessons learned in these individual sports can help the multisport athlete avoid big problems.

Enthusiasm and procrastination are the catalyst for a vicious cycle of early season errors. Every athlete has made some of these opening day goofs. The lucky and durable have no problems, the rest of us pay with interest.

Here are the mistakes that can ruin a season now, and how to avoid them.

Not covering your legs.
It's the first sunny day of the season. 60 degrees feels like 80 and the wind is still. You head out on the bike for your first outdoor ride of the season and decide to catch a few rays also. You wear shorts. Huge mistake.

When I lived at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs we were not allowed to ride outside under 70 degrees with bare legs. It was mandatory to wear tights, leg warmers or knee warmers. We also used "hot cream" on our legs- an analgesic or warming lotion that improves circulation and keeps joints warm.

Riding under 70 degrees with bare legs predisposes you to a variety of problems including patellar tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, problems with other connective tissues (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL) and increased muscle soreness. You must keep your knees warm.

To understand why, place the open palm of your hand over your quadriceps muscle and leave it there for a moment. Notice it feels slightly warm- your muscles and body in general are warm. Now place your palm over your bony kneecap. Notice it is substantially cooler to the touch. There is minimal muscle tissue with its attendant warm blood supply over the patellar (kneecap) region. Your knee area is cooler than the surrounding area. On the bike there is a constant flow of cold air (even at 65 degrees Fahrenheit) surrounding the knee. This causes tendons (particularly the vulnerable patellar tendon surrounding the knee cap) to become stiff and prone to injury.

To avoid this keep your knees covered. When I moved to Europe to race bicycles for a Belgian team after leaving the Olympic Training Center the Belgian Director Sportif (Team Director) was even more strict. He told us we must never wear short pants off the bike, to always keep our legs covered off the bike. He told us, "You must protect your legs, they are your tools."

You may see European professional racers doing Spring Classic races such as Het Volk, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix with shorts on despite freezing, damp conditions. Why aren't their legs covered? They are, you just can't see it. Thick layers of hot cream covered by a protective film that dries to a hard layer. Several manufacturers sell a "weatherguard" balm that covers the legs and is layered over hot cream. This keeps the legs warm and free from wind while allowing freedom of movement. Using hot cream and weatherguard is an acceptable alternative during cold races, but not for training.

Bottom line: Below 70 degrees keep your legs covered. Wear tights, leg warmers or knee warmers. Use hot cream. Protect your knees.

On early season rides when it is cold in the morning but the day heats up wear knee or leg warmers and remove them as the temperature climbs over 70- that's what those pockets on the back of your jersey are for.

63 degrees and bare knees- big trouble. This athlete's season was ruined three months later by injuries.



Wear knee or leg warmers under 70 degrees and use hot cream. Bikesport owner Tom Demerly has a mostly artificial left knee but avoids knee problems as long as he keeps them warm.

Too Many Miles too Soon.
You've been riding the trainer three times week (OK, maybe a couple weeks in there only once, but mostly three…). The first warm day comes and you and your friends decide to make a ride out of it. You ride 40 miles it feels so good.
The next day you are convinced you need a new saddle and a new pedal system you are so sore. It takes three days to recover. Bringing your mileage up too fast can create numerous problems.

Athletes get "Spring Fever". The weather is nice and they are out the door and on the road for hours. Before you know it 50% of your mileage for the month has been done in the last three hours. No wonder you are sore.

It takes consistency and moderation to re-acclimate to long road miles. Ease back into long rides. Bring your mileage up over three weeks. Avoid long rides that exceed your average daily mileage for the previous month by a factor of 2. If your average trainer ride is 10 miles, don't go more than 20 miles the first few rides outside. Your knees, crotch, back and neck will appreciate it. Increase your mileage gradually.

Keep fair weather enthusiam in check: Early rides should be short and easy- cover those knees! Andre and Ken breakin' the rules.

No Bike Maintenance.
The bike has been on the trainer for eight weeks. You've been sweating over it, riding hard and getting ready for the season. Today it's sunny and 65. Now it's time to ride.

During your first ride your bike squeaks and creaks. You drop your chain three times and get a flat. When you get home you try to raise your handlebars but they're stuck. Your bike is a wreck.

Before any bike hits the pavement during the season it needs preventive maintenance. Even if it has been hung up all winter or on the trainer it needs to be washed. Following a wash it needs to be thoroughly inspected, including checking all bolts. If you are using a quill stem it should be removed and lubed. The seatpost should be removed and lubed to prevent it from seizing in the frame. Cables should be inspected and replaced as needed. Your rear brake cable is particularly susceptible to problems since perspiration tends to run down it and corrode. This can lead to sudden brake failure and almost always causes brakes to feel sluggish.

Your chain needs to be cleaned and lubed. Tires should be inspected. If you have been on a trainer all winter you can move the (worn) rear tire to the front and put the front on the rear to get some extra mileage from your rubber. If the rear is particularly "flat spotted" it needs replacement.

Waiting Too Long to Buy a Bike.
It's June and you're breathing fire. You thought you might do two triathlons this year but now you're having so much fun you are doing four and thinking about how you could train for a half Ironman. The road bike you are using for triathlons is uncomfortable and unsafe with aero bars and is making triathlons less comfortable and less safe for you. If you buy a bike now you just might have it in time for that big race…

If it is inevitable that you are going to buy a bike for this racing season, buy it in March, April or May. Industry inventory levels are up and prices are reasonable. Shops are busy but not swamped with pre-Ironman work. The bike fitters have time to work with you and time to do a precise, meticulous assembly. Once the bike is done they can fit you to the bike, and teach you how to operate it properly including avoiding crossover gears, using your quick releases, how to use your pedals, etc.

Buying a triathlon bike is not like buying a passenger car. You don't just drop in and pick one out. At over $1000 for a triathlon bike (the automotive equivalent of a $100,000 car) the bike should be individually configured to you with the correct stem length, crank length, aerobar size, base bar width, proper gearing for your training and events, your correct saddle and pedal system. Your shoes should be set up correctly and everything should be tested. Proper fit is what you are really paying for. This doesn't happen over night. You wouldn't want it to happen overnight. Buying a triathlon bike is like the process a Formula 1-racecar driver goes through at the beginning of the race season. The car is built for him and tested with him in it. This process is most critical for beginners. There needs to be time to get your new bike ready and for you to get used to it. You should not race on a new bike that was picked up two weeks ago. Buy your bike early. Get used to it now.

Good bikes are like good food: They take time. Bikesport's Mike O'Donnell builds a bike for the Olympic Triathlon in Sydney.





For beginners buying a triathlon bike is like getting a race car- not a Ford Focus. These cars and bikes are individually built for the end user.

Not Building an Aerobic Base.
Long, easy miles can be dull, especially on the trainer. It is these miles that give you the "bombproof" aerobic fuel system that is efficient and does not compromise your immune system. You need these miles. How many base miles depends on how experienced you are. After over 250 triathlons (I lost count), a bunch of adventure races, ultra distance races, bicycle races, running events and high altitude mountaineering I have a good life long aerobic base. As a result, I don't need eight weeks of aerobic work, but I do need at least three.

If you do intervals, speed work or race too soon after your training starts you expose yourself to overtraining injuries and a compromised immune system. This can wreck a season early.

Take the time to build an aerobic base. Athletes who continually get sick, have joint problems, are fragile and suffer setbacks are almost always the ones with no aerobic base. Usually they are gifted athletes from another field, such as college swimmers or cross country runners and marathon runners. For some reason they forget the basic training principle of periodization. Too much intensity too early gets them in trouble.

Put in the long easy miles to build an aerobic base before you do speed workouts. Keep your knees covered!




Not Resting Enough.
The adaptation from training does not happen without rest- real rest. Few people understand how to rest properly. Not training is not necessarily resting. Resting involves being in a stress free environment that promotes recovery. Adequate sleep, food and water and a restful, relaxed setting facilitate recovery. In the early season most people are focused on "ramping up" their mileage. Without adequate and quality rest and relaxation they are beginning a dangerous and self-destructive cycle. By August they will be "burned out" since they don't know how to rest.

Good endurance athletes are never "burned out". They rest after difficult training periods, eat adequately and maintain good hydration. Additionally, they arrange their lives in such a way that stress is dealt with quickly and effectively. Looming and persistent problems have a degenerative mental and emotional effect, spilling into every aspect of your life. Late in the season when you are in the middle of your first Ironman marathon all those problems come back to haunt you.

Some athletes learn that Yoga is an excellent technique to focus on relaxation and regeneration. It is also critical to practice passive relaxation. One of the most difficult things an athlete can do is concentrate on thinking about nothing at all for even 60 seconds. Try it some time.

Learn to schedule quality rest in the early season. Without rest, your training does not work.



© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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