It’s not often two brothers share the same Olympic podium. When Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee took gold and bronze medals respectively at the 2012 Olympics, they cemented their place as one of Britain’s great sporting dynasties. For all of you fancying a go at the three-sport discipline here are their words of advice…
1. PRE RACE FOOD Use your training to discover how long you need before a race to digest your food, recommends Alistair.
“I can eat two hours before a race but some people need longer to digest – maybe three or even four hours. You should have tried out what’s best for your body well before race day. Don’t eat anything too complicated. Pasta, a sandwich… any kind of food you digest easily. When it comes to hydration, drink a product you’ve used before. Don’t try anything new on race day. People say it’s good to drink a Coke after a training swim because it kills any bacteria. But don’t drink it when you’re actually racing.”
2. WETSUIT Jonathan stresses the importance of a proper wetsuit fitting.
“I’d always go for buoyancy. But the fit is the most important thing. Go to a shop and get fitted correctly. When you put your wetsuit on before the race, grab it from behind and stretch it over your shoulders so it sits correctly and lets you make your strokes correctly. Take care to zip it up right. I lube my legs before I put my suit on, but not the rest of my body. After the swim I find the rest of the wetsuit comes off easily – the lube is just for the legs. Most types of lube work. I’ve used all sorts. I’ve even tried baby oil.”
3. GOGGLES There are certain precautions you can take to avoid your goggles fogging up, says Alistair.
“We use new goggles for every race because it’s the only way to make sure they’re totally fog-free. But we get free goggles from our sponsor. If your own goggles are new, just rinse them before you put them on. If they’re a bit older, you can spit in them (but don’t rinse them in water afterwards) or use de fogging spray. If you’re ever in doubt, leave a tiny bit of water in the goggles when you put them on – then if they do fog up, you can simply move your head a little bit to clear them. It’s crucial you buy goggles that fit your eyes properly, otherwise you’ll hurt your eyes.”
4. SWIM STARTING POSITION Alistair says don’t worry about starting at the front.
“If it’s one of your first races and you’re not so confident, don’t feel you need to start right in the middle. Instead start at the side or the back, where there are fewer people, until you get the confidence of being right in the middle of it. In any case, the time difference between the front and the back isn’t that great.”
5. DRAFTING Drafting in swimming isn’t something beginners should worry about, says Alistair.
“You have to be swimming quite fast to make drafting worthwhile. If you’re a beginner, and starting at the back, don’t worry too much about drafting. However, if you’re at the sharp end of the field, it definitely has an effect. Draft directly behind another swimmer to keep things simple. Drafting on the hip of a swimmer is quite difficult.”
6. THE WASHING MACHINE Jonathan says you mustn’t panic when the swim section turns into a washing machine:
“The swim section can be pretty chaotic. Remind yourself that when you’re in a wetsuit you’re absolutely fine. Don’t worry. There’s nothing that can go wrong; you’re not going to drown because the buoyancy of the suit keeps you on top of the water. Practice swimming in your wetsuit in swimming pools before the race. Get your friends to beat you up a bit in the swimming pool so that you’re used to the washing machine! If you find yourself in a bit of a fight during the race – and someone is swimming over the top of you – just kick your legs as hard as you can. The worst thing you can do is stop swimming because then other triathletes will start to swim over the top of you. Don’t stop; keep moving forwards.”
7. SIGHTING It’s crucial to keep sighting during the swim so you don’t stray off course, says Alistair.
“In amateur racing people can end up swimming miles off course. So it’s really important to look up quite frequently to check where you’re headed – every five or six strokes. Make sure you swim the course beforehand to get used to it. It’s often quite difficult to see a buoy in the distance while you’re swimming but if you know there’s a large landmark on the shore behind the buoy, it’s much easier to sight off that. The landmark can be a building, or a tree, or a flag post. Of course if you’re swimming behind someone you’re confident in, then you don’t need to sight as often.”
8. WETSUIT REMOVAL First the top half, later the legs, says Jonathan.
“As soon as I exit the water, I pull off the top half of my wetsuit. The wetter it is, the easier it is to remove. Then, when I get to my bike, I take the legs off.”
9. SOCKS Go sock free, says Alistair.
“Once you’ve removed your wetsuit, put your bare feet straight into your bike shoes. Unless it’s a really long-distance triathlon, like an Ironman, I don’t think it’s worth putting socks on.”
10. RACE NUTRITION Eat on the bike section only, says Jonathan.
“On an Olympic triathlon you only need to eat on the ride. I take an energy gel after 20km and 35km of the bike section. Sip an energy drink all the way through the bike section too. Then you’ll be fine for the run.”
11. PEDALS Go clipless, says Alistair.
“We use Look pedal systems. I would always recommend using clipless pedals for triathlon. It means you can clip your shoes into your bike pedals before the race, and you can pedal a lot faster uphill.”
12. BIKE DISMOUNTING Beware of tripping up, says Alistair.
“When you dismount, and you bring one leg over the crossbar, make sure you don’t cross your legs, otherwise you risk tripping over. Also, remember that you’ve got to put your bike on the rack before you unclip your helmet. Don’t even touch your helmet before you’ve racked your bike, or you risk a penalty.”
13. TRI-BARS Alistair says it’s crucial to be properly fitted for tri-bars.
“If you have tri-bars and you’ve practiced with them, they are massively beneficial. But you’ve got to know you’re comfortable in that position. Get them fitted properly by a bike fitter. They are anatomically different for everyone. Different people prefer different angles. And during the race, make sure you don’t use them on the tricky, corner sections of the bike ride. You’ll save yourself a lot of time if you know how to use them right.”
14. CHOICE OF BIKE Be sure you enjoy the sport before buying a pricey bike, says Jonathan.
“Train and do your first race before you buy an expensive one. See if you enjoy the sport. You can always adapt your existing bike – even if it’s a mountain bike with slicks on it. If you really enjoy it then you can buy a faster bike.”
15. FEEDING STATIONS No need to stop while running, says Alistair.
“If you’re doing Olympic distance, don’t feel you have to stop at feeding stations during the run. If it’s hot you might just grab some water, sip it or pour it over your head.”
16. JELLY LEGS Jelly legs are inevitable, says Jonathan.
“Accept that you’re going to have jelly legs for the first few minutes of the run. It will feel a bit weird but don’t worry, it will pass. You can practice in training for this situation by going straight into a run after a bike ride.”
17. COMBINING ALL THREE DISCIPLINES Jonathan explains it’s not necessary to combine all three disciplines in training.
“This isn’t important at all. I don’t think I’ve ever combined all three disciplines in my training. However, it’s good to practice bike to running several times, a few weeks before the race. But I don’t think you have to practice swim to bike at all. It’s really impractical to do all three disciplines in one session, especially when it’s cold. Train to be as good as you can be at all three individually and then put it all together on race day.”
18. FAMILY SUPPORT This is essential, says Jonathan.
“They can pick up your kit and help you before the race – if it’s cold while you’re waiting at the start, you’ll be wearing a towel or jumper. And you need to have someone cheering you on when things start to hurt later on.”
WORDS Dominic Bliss
The Brownlee Brothers were speaking at the Triathlon Show London, driven by SEAT, which took place from February 12-15, triathlonshowlondon.co.uk