Upgrading Your Equipment
Once you decide you're into triathlons for the long haul, your next step is to review your gear, starting at the top. No need to break the bank here, but you can make some modest changes that will improve the triathlon experience and provide the potential for better results. It's still up to you and how well you train, but all things being equal, better gear can take minutes off your triathlon time.
Start by making an assessment of the bicycle you used in your race. First, does the bike belong to you? It's not uncommon for a first-time triathlete to borrow a bicycle to avoid the expense of buying one for an event that might not be repeated. If the bike you rode is yours, ask yourself some questions. Does it fit you well? Is it comfortable when you ride? Is it in good mechanical shape? If the answer to these questions is yes, turn your attention to the wheels.
Your bike frame might not be as sleek as the frames of some of the riders you have seen, but unless it's a pure clunker, you can make a major upgrade to your bike with better wheels. Regular training wheels are heavy and have lots of wind-resistant spokes. They are sturdy but not very aerodynamic.
Head for the bike store and let the experts help you select a set of racing wheels for your machine. Plan to spend $700 to $1,100 for the new wheels. That might sound like a lot, but it's considerably less expensive than a whole new bicycle (that's your story for the spouse, anyway, and you should stick to it). Because the wheels can make such a dramatic difference, you usually get more bang for the buck by simply investing in race wheels rather than a new machine.
Don't throw away the old bicycle wheels after buying a set of racing wheels. Keep training with the heavier wheels, saving wear and tear on the expensive new set. On race day, your new wheels will feel extra light after all the training on the heavy ones.
Racing wheels are lighter and more aerodynamic with better bearings for easier spin. Some racing wheels are solid, called discs, and offer virtually no wind resistance straight on. These solid wheels are used only on the rear. Discs are sometimes banned in races where high crosswinds could blow bikers over and greatly increase the risk of accidents.
Your bike shop will have lots of options when it comes to race wheels. You'll see titanium, carbon fiber, and wheels with thick rims (called “deep dish”). Let the experts match the wheels with your bicycle frame and your objectives in upgrading.
If you decide that you need a new bicycle after all, keep the issue of wheels in mind. In general, you will be better off early in your triathlon career to opt for a modest frame, dressing it up with better wheels and gears.
Before you start shopping, in person or online, set a price range and stick with it. The local triathlon club might know someone looking to sell a bicycle that would be a significant upgrade to yours. You could make a major move up without spending a fortune.
Remember, the fit of your bicycle and the wheels are the most important considerations. Get your money's worth out of the bicycle you own before you move up.
Ultimately, you and your effort in training will have the greatest influence on how well you do on race day, but there are a few training aids that can help you get better. There are many electronic devices that help you keep track of your workouts. Some are capable of downloading data directly to your computer. Devices connected to global positioning system (GPS) satellites are discussed in Chapter 10. Look for the ones that can be used for running and biking.
Heart rate monitors (also discussed in Chapter 10) are very useful in helping you avoid overtraining. Most are very easy to use.
Light on Your Feet
Lastly, consider an upgrade in your running shoes. If you have no biome-chanical issues, consider a pair of racing flats. They are very light, weighing as little as 7.5 ounces per shoe, compared to regular training shoes that typically hit 11 or 12 ounces or more. You might not think a difference measured in ounces could be very significant, but at the end of a hard race, your 12-ounce shoes can feel like a pair of bricks compared to a set of racing flats.
Bear in mind that racing flats typically do not have a lot of support or stability and generally are best for short races (5K and 10K) and lightweight runners. If you're at 180 pounds or more, stick to your regular shoes.