There are many things we do in order to be faster at our next race. It may be purchasing a lighter or more aerodynamic part. Training longer, or training more intensely to improve your fitness might work. We may even change our diet to include special foods or supplements. All of these potentially have huge expense in either time or money. The return on investment however may be very miniscule, but even miniscule gains may be necessary.

There are so many ways to save time in a triathlon that require very little investment. Practicing specific skills can make a big change in your overall race time without challenging your financial or time budgets. Even one second can make a difference. Sometimes this is obvious, but often it is not in triathlon where there are wave starts. I lost to a friendly rival by 1 second at Ironman California 70.3 without realizing it until I saw the final results. “Where could I have made up that 1 second” has run through my head many times.

Med Fit Racing has been practicing some drills to improve efficiency, technical skills and to overall become better triathletes. Drills can be the primary focus of a workout, or just a component mixed into the workout or warm up. This last week we practiced the “circle of death”. Sounds ominous, but it is merely trying to go as fast as possible through two opposing U-turns. The distance between our U-turns was just long enough to get up to high speed before entering the turn. Another version would be to keep the turns closer, and just focus on higher overall speed since there is not as much opportunity to accelerate out of the turn.

Although this was called the “circle of death”, obviously you don’t want to get hurt while doing this. Falling and injuring yourself is definitely not going to make for a faster race.

Getting through U-turns quickly is a super important skill to have if you want to do a fast triathlon. Event organizers go through painstaking detail to make course lengths very accurate. Many athletes have GPS tracking, so they know if the course distance is off. Out and back U-turns are pretty common in triathlon to help make the distance close to the advertised distance. Some races have a lot of them, and most have at least one. Hopefully the U-turn was designed well, in that the exit of the turn is as wide as the entrance. If you are going into a turn at a fast pace, take a quick glance at the exit. If it is narrower than the entrance, you are at risk of sweeping too wide, which could bring you into a dangerous area such as a car or pedestrian zone.

To take the turn quickly, follow the steps below. Note that many of them are happening simultaneously.

  • Stay wide going into the turn. This will helps you maintain momentum through the turn.
  • Slow going into the turn just enough using both brakes. Of course your hands should be on the bullhorns, not in aero!
  • Keep the bike upright as much as possible. By keeping the bike upright you will have better control if you hit gravel, trash or other debris. If you do start to slide, let go of the brakes for a split second.
  • Keep your weight on your outside pedal which should be at the 6 O’clock position.
  • Bring your face down as close to your turn-side hand as possible while looking through the apex of the turn at where you want to go. This will drive your turn.
  • Accelerate out of the turn. You want to reestablish your momentum so that you can get back to business in the aero position.

Nathan.Bike.IMCdA2015 Nathan Duncan at IMCdA 2015

Practice to gain confidence and to refine your skills. Practice with others as during triathlons there is usually a bottle-neck effect at these U-turns. If somebody is trying to pass you during a turn, focus on your own turn. If you try to think about what the rider behind you is doing you’ll end up sacrificing a lot of speed and probably some safety as well. Having the confidence and skills to execute U-turns quickly in a race can give you a huge advantage over your competitors.

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Besides U-turns, where do you feel you are losing ground during your races?