Junior Elite Triathletes - What Equipment is Most Needed
By Coach Brendan Mackenzie
Junior Elite Triathlon is competitive! Most of our national team members are developed through our junior elite system now, and let me tell you these athletes are fast! With ages ranging from 16-19 years of age junior elite triathlon (like the Olympics) is draft legal on the bike over the sprint distance, which makes the races dynamic, quick, and competitive. Between school and homework, these athletes dedicate the majority of their spare time to becoming better triathletes. This dedication is unlike almost many other sports - to be a successful junior triathlete you must excel three sports. Junior Elites are usually some of the regions top swimmers, top cyclists and top runners. So how do they get there?
Like the pros, they may train swimming 5-7 times a week, cycling 2-4 times a week and running 3-5 times per week. Junior Elites will also supplement their swim, bike and run training with strength training, yoga and mental training practice.
Unlike pros, Junior Elite triathletes do not get paid for what they do and equipment and racing can be very expensive. Most of them cannot spend the same amount of money on their gear that many age group triathletes can. So when they are paying for technology these athletes can only buy something if it works. This article will discuss some of the key tools these athletes use to perform at their best.
The swim is critical for a junior athlete. If they lose the pack in the swim it is very unlikely they will catch up on the bike (and almost impossible if they are completely on their own). So I recommend my athletes have a couple of things.
1) A Competitive Wetsuit- These athletes will spend money on a good swimming wetsuit. It makes a difference. Most junior triathletes come from a competitive swim background and so their wetsuits need to allow them to move well so they can maintain their form. They need to have good mobility in the shoulders and torso, and not be too big and bulky. I also recommend bottom up zippers which are easy to unzip and make for faster transitions. Here is a great example of this style of wetsuit.
2) Snorkel - A snorkel is something that I have all my junior athletes swim with in practice. It’s a great tool for keeping an athletes head still while swimming and takes the awkwardness of breathing away. This allows the swimmer to practice good head position and improve balance and coordination in the water. It is great for drill sets as well as long aerobic sets that have you practice a still head when you are tired.
3) Anti-fog Spray - In junior racing if you can't see the buoys then it is tough to get there and if you can't see your competitors then it can be tough to stay with them. I have all of my athletes use anti-fog for their goggles to make sure they can see what is going on in and out of the water.
The cycling is very different in Junior Elite versus age group racing. It is more similar to road racing and their training and equipment reflects that. They ride road bikes rather than time trial bikes, and aero helmets are not worn by most. Most athletes will ride in packs and it is less common for someone to make a big breakaway on the bike. Because of this it is often cycling skills and fitness that are key and the aerodynamics of the bike becomes less important. The ability to make quick bursts and short durations of high outputs helps an athlete to stay with the pack and set the tempo in the race. This makes power training the preferred method by most coaches as unlike heart rate monitors power meters give instantaneous measures of performance and allows an athlete to train at the right intensities.
Powermeter- There are many different units out there to measure power and some are much more expensive than others. The real key for these athletes is to have power information during their indoor training as outdoor training is often a little more focused on skills and tactics. This allows us as coaches to aid in purchase power tools such as power wheels, or indoor trainers which can be used by all athletes. The key is that they are ant+compatible so that an athlete’s computer can display the power data. Our Junior Elite group in Saskatoon uses the Wahoo Kickrs for their indoor training and they can even display their outputs on a screen all at once for the coach to see (can also be done with Computrainers). This keeps our athletes motivated by the data as well as the opportunity to compete against their teammates in training.
Because cycling skills are so important in draft legal triathlon junior elites will also use rollers in the indoor season which help out immensely with bike pedalling skills as well as bike handling skills. If you have never seen or tried a set of rollers before let me tell you these are a real challenge just to stay upright. Most athletes learn by riding in a doorway so they can use the side walls to prevent a fall. With practice on rollers a cyclist can expect to have a smother more consistent pedal stroke as well as improved overall balance and co-ordination. The key is to be safe and smooth in the pack and use as little energy as possible. Rollers definitely help them to achieve this.
This is where the race is won or lost in Junior Elite triathlon. If you make it out of the swim ok and get in the right pack on the bike, the goal for the bike is often to stay in the pack and come out with the leaders off the bike. Then it all comes down to who can run the fastest for 5 km.
In the run the rule is less is more. It is rare that you will see these athletes wear visors or hats or carry water and snacks. The less they carry the better as these races often come down to a sprint finish. Their shoes are usually lightweight racing flats designed for speed and efficiency. They should be easy to put on, maybe have holes for drainage and you will never see a Junior Elite triathlete without speed laces and a soft seam free upper. Here is a good example
I will also add that because the run is so important and the race can come down to a sprint finish, a little body glide or Vaseline is used inside the shoe to reduce friction and help athletes get their shoes on faster.
The Junior Elite's primary tool to get faster is training with their coach and teammates often. The opportunity to have a coach programming training and delivering feedback based on their performance is paramount in their development. It doesn't happen overnight and there is no piece of equipment that can replace hard work and determination.
LifeSport coach Brendan McKenzie is not only a NCCP certified coach but a strength and exercise specialist who has coached many triathletes to World Championships, ITU worlds and personal bests. Brendan can help you uncover your greatest limits and transform them into strengths. Contact Brendan to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance. Find more great training tips by joining us on Visit us Twitter | Facebook | Instagram