How to improve your weakest discipline
Strengthening each area of the triathlon
The best case scenario for a triathlete is that you're perfectly rounded across the board. This means you're a fast swimmer, technically sound, are strong on the bike and a fast runner - and in the top level races this certainly rings true.
Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion. He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.
You really can't be inferior in any of the disciplines because if you're slow in the water then you're not in the race straight away and you’ll have to play catch up from the gun. You’ll have to ride your heart out to even get back in the race, while your competitors are riding together feeding off each other which in itself is an advantage. If you're super strong you might get off the bike with an advantage but if you're a bad runner then you won’t be able to hold off the chasers and if they catch you, there’s nothing you can do about it!
By working on your weakness you can make yourself into a multi-dimensional athlete with various options you can race with. In most cases your weakness is also the sport that you enjoy the least so half of the battle is actually staying motivated enough to make the improvements. I'd advise that once you identify what you want to work on, make a plan and have short term goals.
Identify where you realistically think you can be at the end of blocks of work and be satisfied with the small improvements. Most importantly do keep that momentum going indefinitely. Prioritise that sport over all the others and if you miss anything, make sure it's something you're already going well at. At the same time, don't take away too much from your strength. If you've had success before then it's probably because of your number one sport so you always want to have that as your ace card. It will always be easier with good people around you so find a group of athletes who are faster than you to help push you on. Try to find a club in the local area specific to that sport and somewhere that has a coach who can give you their view.
It's important to remember there are no short cuts in triathlon. To make a difference you have to train hard for a prolonged period of time. Focus on your technique and put in the extra mileage to get stronger and this will also help you get much more of a feel for the sport.
The swim is largely about technique because once you’ve got that right you can pile the mileage and hard sessions on top. Probably the most important sessions in triathlon are those where you're working hard but only have a very short amount of rest. I'd say the easiest place to get help would be at a swimming club, ideally a masters’ programme or a triathlon club. Usually there will be a coach poolside to help which you need, because I think swimming is definitely the hardest to figure out. It's time consuming and the gains only seem marginal but if you can swim further up the field, you put yourself in the race and if you have more energy while you do that, then you'll be much better off on the results list!
The bike is so much about how much time you have to invest in it. If you ride heaps you will get strong that's for sure. If you have little time available then you need to ride hard! Position is also invaluable. There is no point in being super strong on the bike if you're sat bolt upright like a postman. Do your efforts on the road justice by working out the best possible position for you to maximise your speed. If you're strong on the bike that will also mean you have fresher legs to run faster. You may think you're only improving your biking here, but the likelihood is you have less chance to blow up on the run.
Running is the nice one to work with. It's time efficient and you can do it anywhere so no excuses. If you can handle higher mileage that will go a long way to making you faster but never neglect the hard sessions like tempo runs, hill reps and short fast track sessions. These are the sessions that will really move you on. Technique is important in running and shouldn't be overlooked but watch out for injuries because they're more commonplace when you’re trying to work on your running. Like everything here, if you have a group to run with then you'll always find it easier to improve your level.