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How To Handle Common Triathlon Issues That Can Disrupt Your Race

Triathlon has three sports that need to be executed well to succeed in the race: swimming, cycling and running.

While each of these have unique issues that can disrupt your race, there are some commonalities as well, which this article will cover as well as how to handle them if they happen to you during your race.

For every triathlon event there will be athletes who overcome these problems and achieve success in their races while other athletes might struggle with these issues and not reach the finish line in the same time and with the same energy they started with at the beginning of the event.

  • Mechanical problems
  • Getting hit in the swim
  • Navigating the course
  • Blowing up
  • Cramps and stitches
  • Finding your bike in transition

Mechanical problems 

This is normally the most common problem athletes run into. When get into transition it’s amazing the number of people flapping around trying to fix their bikes in time for the start!

Before you start a race I’d always advise having your bike completely checked over by a professional. Are the tyres in great condition? Are your gears running smoothly? Has the chain been replaced semi-recently? Breaks not touching? Are bolts all tight enough?

There is no point in being in peak shape to end up standing on the side of the road holding your bike. If you don’t mind carrying them then it can be worth taking some spares, especially for longer events on dodgy road surfaces.

Getting hit in the swim

This is a problem that many beginners struggle with within the swim and it’s all part of the experience. When you have lots of athletes in an open water swim together with a turn after a few hundred metres then it’s going to get frantic!

The first thing I’ll say is that if you’re getting hit on the head then it means you’re in the mix so that should be celebrated! Some people don’t mind it and for them, I’d say get stuck in and hold your own.

“If you’re nervous about the swim then start on the outside of the field where it’s less densely packed and also take a slightly wider line around the first buoy.”

Don’t panic if you get hit over the head, it may shock you a bit but would rarely actually hurt you so relax and roll with it, give them a push away!

Be more concerned about following someone’s feet and getting kicked in the race, and for this, I’d say drop back and give the swimmer in front some room at the turns if you do get too close use your arm to block their feet and your face.

Navigating the course 

I’ve made this mistake a few times I hate to say, and even though they were big events and should probably have been cordoned off more effectively, it’s been my fault, as ultimately it’s up to me to know the course. The longer races are harder to marshal so it’s even more crucial to know where you’re going.

It helps to study the map at the very least, but even better to cycle the course or drive around. It’s amazing how much more you can also get from yourself if you’re familiar with what’s coming up around the corner.

Blowing up   

Nutrition is very crucial to triathlon performance, especially if the race is longer. If you’re competing for 1-2hrs then you can get away with a few gels and some isotonic drink, however, if you are racing longer, then you should make sure that you have an adequate nutrition strategy.

I’d usually advise 1 gel every 30mins and up to 750ml of isotonic an hour.* In the days before the race be careful what you eat. Avoid foods high in fibre as this is more likely to give you gastrointestinal issues mid-race. Instead, eat plain foods with few ingredients.

Carbo loading is helpful but you don’t have to go to the extremes that some people suggest.

The caveat here is everyone is different and you should practice your nutrition and hydration in training before your race.

Cramps and stitches


Cramps and stitches are more likely to give you problems in the latter portions of the race. To combat this perhaps take some sodium tablets or eat some sodium-rich foods in the lead-up to the race. With stitches, try to ignore it or massage it out; it should pass quite quickly.

Finding your bike in transition 

In the bigger races sometimes it can be a struggle to remember where your bike is. When you’re setting up your bike have a look around and try to find a landmark to navigate you to your bike for example, a flag or a tree.

When you come out the swim you can just aim for that point where your bike will be waiting for you. It also helps a lot if you have a practice jog through the transition area, so the second time around you’ll find your bike much easier to spot.

Stuart has competed in triathlons from Sprint to Ironman, even Ultra Triathlon distances. As a qualified Triathlon Australia, Australian Athletics Run Coach, and a certified Ironman coach, he is aware of the importance of balancing training with lifestyle, thus complementing other important aspects of an athlete’s life (family, work, study commitments, etc.).

Contact Stuart at



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