Saturday, June 13, 2009

Philly Insurance Triathlon Coaching Tips - Part 2: Swim Tips and Bike Handling

Swimming Strategy and Tips
By Holden Comeau

Holden is a triathlon coach at Cadence Cycling and Multisport in Philadelphia and can be reached at He is the swim course record holder for the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon with a time of 17:18 set in 2005. He was an NCAA Division I All-American and captain of the Penn State University swim team in 2000, and is now a professional triathlete.

  1. Get there early! The most unique feature of the Philadelphia Insurance Olympic Triathlon has to do with the logistics of the start. You will ride a school bus from the transition area to the swim start. There are plenty of busses, but the process takes about 15 minutes, and you don't want to rush. Get your transition set up quickly, and catch an early ride to the start!

  2. Bring only the essentials to the start. Get yourself "lubed and wetsuited" PRIOR to boarding the bus. Wearing your wetsuit just up to your waist will keep you from overheating on the ride the start. All you'll need to bring is you cap, goggles, and timing chip. Some disposable sandals are also a good idea, and personal nutrition is always smart. Race organizers provide water and sports drink at the swim start should you need it, and there are plenty of portable restrooms too!

  3. Plan for a swim warm up. Entering the Schuylkill River from St. Joe's Boathouse (swim start) couldn't be easier for a good warm up. Just walk down the boat launch ramp and get swimming up-river. The race course progresses straight down-river, so your warm up will not interrupt the race.

  4. Know the course. The swim course is fairly straight forward. You will progress downstream along the left bank until the final turn buoy, around which you will make a right turn and cross the river to the swim exit -- which is a clearly marked sand beach. Along the way you will pass under a railroad bridge and will have two options for which "tunnel" to swim through. Pick the left-most tunnel closest to the riverbank.

  5. Pay attention to your equipment. The water temperature typically allows for a wetsuit swim for amateur athletes. Wetsuit technology has come a LONG way in the past few years. If you've been thinking about a new suit, and are thinking about a swim PR (or making a run for my record!!), this is the swim course to do it! Straight and Fast! Be prepared also in the case of a non-wetsuit swim. A "swim skin" is a necessity to wear over your traditional triathlon uniform. You won't want to swim down the river in a loose jersey.

  6. Check your goggles. You'll want lightly shaded or clear goggles to navigate the murky water and low sunlight on race morning.

  7. Keep your arms moving! One of the most significant factors that influence a swimmers pace is arm-stroke turnover rate. As you fatigue, the first thing you might lose is the quickness with which you had been moving you arms. In open water swimming -- especially while wearing a wetsuit -- arm speed is extremely important. Just keep your arms spinning!

  8. Watch where you're going. Though the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon swim course is fairly easy to navigate, there is still plenty of room to swim too far should you not look where you're going. Buoys mark the right side of the swim channel every 300-400meters, and swimming buoy-to-buoy is always a good strategy. Plus, should there be any down-river current on race morning, it will be strongest the further you swim away from the riverbank. Look up quickly to catch a glimpse of where you're going, and do it with frequency!

  9. Be cautious at swim exit. The exit is abruptly steep, and fairly narrow. The volunteers are always extremely helpful here, and the race organizers ship in lots of sand that creates a soft embankment. Regardless, the bank is steep and the river is deep until you get very close to edge. Keep swimming until you touch the bottom of the river lightly with your hand, and navigate the exit like an athlete!

  10. As always, have fun! Swimming in the Schuylkill River is beautiful. The water is very clean and refreshing, and the course is really like no other. It's a great start to a great race!

Cycling: Bike Handling and Cornering
by Brian Walton
Bike Handling and cornering are very important aspects for the bike leg of the triathlon not only from the obvious safety standpoint but also from an overall physical efficiency standpoint. Being able to stay relaxed and conserving energy around turns and transitioning into hills will help you decrease your overall time and allow you to save energy for the run.

EYES and HEAD: "Keep your head up and look to where you are going." What we mean by this is keep the eyes focused not down at the road 10 feet in front of you but well past the turn. You'll be amazed at how relaxed you'll be. Just do a quick check every down and again for debris on the road.

BODY: "Keep your body over the bottom bracket." The bottom bracket is the heart of the bike where the cranks are attached to the frame. Don't lean into the direction of the turn. Almost stay upright and lean "away" from the turn.

ARMS and HANDS: Keep your elbows bent and relaxed and hands on the drops of the handlebars for a lower center of gravity. I suggest keeping your hands on the brakes and use the right (rear brake) and left (front) to slow yourself down by feathering the brakes. Always go into the turn in control and at a speed you feel comfortable. The race will not be won in any turn. Only lost...

LEGS: Inside leg should always be up going around a turn. For example if turning 90 degrees to the right, the right leg should be up. Don't drop the knee thinking you are a motorbike racer. All this does is take your body weight further away from bike and the potential for sliding out is increased. The outside leg should have pressure applied to it (weighted). For you skiers, you know what I'm talking about, carve that outside edge!


Take care and next week we will continue to focus on the bike and add running into the mix.

Safe and happy training,


  1. I just started training for my first triathlon and I'm looking for all the help I can find. Thank you for your tips and advice. It is very apparent that you know your stuff. I look forwards to reading more:)

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