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
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.
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
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
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
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
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'
|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
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
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