How to take on the AJ Bell London Triathlon
The London Triathlon is of the most iconic triathlons in the world and the largest in the country with over 13,000 participants each year. Large events like this attract athletes of all abilities from beginners right up to professionals, it’s very popular with first timers, with nearly 50 % of the field made up from people who’ve never before completed a triathlon. So, when you start to get nervous remember, there’s a lot of people feeling the same way!
Racing in a city landscape is something quite rare in the triathlon world and it’s an amazing opportunity to ride on closed roads and see some of the sights of London. Don’t spend too long looking however, you’ve got a race to do!
We’ve put together some tips to help you have the best race experience possible, from logistics in getting there and setting up, to how to execute your perfect race.
Pre-race preparation and getting there
Because of the scale of the event, spread over two days with start times ranging from early morning to late afternoon, you need to plan how you’re going to get to the event. Check out road closures that might affect your getting there. Also check on limitations on public transport if travelling with your bike. While most of the racking up will take place on the same day, a few of the Sunday waves will be required to rack up on the Saturday afternoon. This is to ease congestion in the transition area on the Sunday, since people will be racing while others are setting up. More information on this can be found in your race pack.
To save time on race day, prep as much of your kit as you can the day before. You should have received you race pack in the post prior to the event containing your race numbers, wrist band and details on your start time as well as the information booklet. Make sure your bike is ready to go; tyres pumped, in the right gear to start, bottles/nutrition on the bike. If you get the stickers on your bike and helmet as well as your wrist band on, before you arrive at the Excel centre you’ll have one less thing to do when you get there.
When to arrive
We recommend aiming to get to the race venue around 2 hours before your wave start time. This may sound like a long time, however the Excel centre is a very large building and navigating from the car park or entrance to where you need to be can take a while, plus there’s a lot to do when you get there.
First thing you need to do on arrival is head to collect your timing chip. Once you’ve done this head straight to transition and rack up.
Once you’ve racked up take time to do a recon of the route you’ll need to take in and out of transition. You’ve a lot of distance to cover, so knowing where you’re going is key. Your row will usually be designated with a letter, but you can also use ‘landmarks’ to help you find your way to your bike. Permanent signs, banners, doors etc are all useful sights to use to help you navigate to your bike. Unless you’re a very early wave, there may well be people racing as you race up. So, watch them come in and do their transitions, see where they go and their routes in and out. This will help you visualise what you need to do.
Note: If you have someone spectating you can leave your bag with them, otherwise you may have to factor in a trip back to your car. Keep with you only what you need for your swim start; wetsuit, goggles and your timing chip. You’ll receive a hat as you enter the swim assembly area.
Plan in time to use the loo, there may be queues, and go through any warm up or stretching routine you normally do. If you have time you can head to the swim viewing area and have a look at some of the waves ahead of you setting off. This will help you see what it’s like and plan where you are going to position yourself at the start.
It’s a long way to the first turn buoy, which allows plenty of time for competitors in your wave to spread out a little before you go around the first turn. When positioning yourself on the start line, if you’re a confident swimmer, you can target an inside line and a more direct route to the first turn. You’ll likely find other swimmers of the same ability to pace yourself or draft. If you’re a little more nervous about the start, then position yourself away from the inside of the course. You’ll add on a little more distance, but you’ll have a lot more enjoyable swim with less bumping into others. As your swimming the first leg, the buoy can be hard to spot since it’s so far away. However, look for objects behind the buoy that you might be able to use to sight, for example along the bridge across the docks, there’s a small control tower that often lines up with the first turn. It’s not exact, but it’ll get you close enough. On the way back, look for any tall buildings that you can use to sight off on the return leg.
This is one of the longest transitions you’ll encounter, so while it’s important to keep moving, make sure you pace yourself. At the London Triathlon you must remove your wetsuit and place it into a bag shortly after the water exit. This means the quicker you can get your suit off the better, so spend some time practicing this over the next week, as well as after any open water sessions you have.
The route changes slightly depending on the day your racing, but generally the routes are very similar in terms of the types of road surface you’ll be on. Shortly after you exit transition on the bike there’s a narrow ramp you must go down to join the main course, you also come back up this ramp on your way into transition, so remember a lower gear on your way back in.
There’s minimal undulation on the course other than where the road goes over a flyover or under the lime house link tunnel (which is great fun, howling through a tunnel on closed roads). The corners are all fairly easy too, with either roundabouts or a dead turn at each end.
Plan most of your nutritional intake for the bike, since you can carry and take on more here than on the run. Depending on the weather you may only need one bottle, but taking two on hotter days will be a safe bet to avoid running out and overheating. Take in what you need and have a good gulp just before you come into transition to keep you going until the first aid station.
As you come into T2 and up the ramp make sure you’re off you bike well before the dismount line. Try to keep moving and head straight to your transition area. As you run out of transition, take it easy and allow your legs to come to you first before you settle into a hard pace. You’ll come to a down ramp as you head out onto the course that you’ll have to come up at the end of every lap. So remember this in the final couple of kilometres.
The run course is a mostly flat affair on a lapped course that will allow you to pace yourself. There’s a couple of turns and a short section on temporary flooring, so watch your footing. Other than that it’s a fairly straight forward run. The advantage of the lapped, out-and-back course like this is that it allows you to pace yourself and any friends and family supporting you will get to cheer you on more regularly, which may provide a much needed boost towards the end of the day.
As you come in to the Excel centre for the last time, you have just one short dog-leg to do then cross that line. Push hard and enjoy the moment and smile for the camera. It’s a fantastic event and you should feel amazing to have taken part in it.