How much we can push our body?

Loading strategies and tell-tale signs Leading into a Triathletes Top 3 progressive challenges
by Jonathan Watkins, Rehab Physio Leadenhall Clinic 16th April 2019

If you are on a journey to complete your first triathlon… congratulations and stick with it. If you are a seasoned ‘pro’ then well done for the commitment.

Triathlons are a great way to keep your body fitting fit in a multitude of ways; from having the capacity to cover long distances on your bike, to being slick and effortless in the water. They are also a launch-pad to aim for longer and bigger events and boost  your interest to become an Iron man or women.

The human body is capable of some amazing feats of endurance and this isn’t just reserved for elite level athletes! Just people with the determination and drive to aim for the next big step or achievement. With enough fuel, training and mental grit you’ll be able to just keep motoring on and on. So, if growth and development make up who you are, if you’re wondering where to set the next limits and get your next kick then this information will be right up your street.

Break up the disciplines to boost your training…

Training all three disciplines takes time and establishing a good routine is vital. A good way to mark your progress, add distance into your training and get miles under your belt prior is to enter some single discipline events. The running season starts two months prior to the Tri season, giving ample opportunity to pick up some distance events before your Tri calendar is looming.

Check out the bottom of this article for some of our favourite single discipline distance events!

Listen to your body…

Regardless of the discipline, your body is the greatest guide of how your training is going. Remember it takes time to build muscle (4 weeks), but longer for your bones, ligaments and tendons to adapt (3 months). If you think of muscles as the fast winger on a rugby pitch, you give them the ball and they’ll sprint away with it; well bones and tendons are the slower front row, who despite having the ball, will make their way slowly across the pitch, getting there eventually but with hurdles along the way.

With this in mind training plans need to encompass gradual increases of load over time (hint… over three months) so all your tissue can adapt and get more resilient. Without forgetting the importance of factoring in rest periods and sleep, so that tissue doesn’t get too fatigued and fail. Sleep has been proven to be the best thing for recovery, so clocking 8 hours regularly will help keep you fresh and performing well.

Heavy weightlifting sessions, running sprints or long endurance cycles need recovery time afterwards. Over training syndrome is the most common cause of injuries us Physios see, and they start to happen if the training level is too high for too long, past the point at which the body can cope. Take note, the injury will only manifest 3-6 weeks after an over training error has occurred!

Physical AND mental elements…

Besides the more serious injuries such as bone stress fractures and muscle strains, that will cease your training immediately, other symptoms of over-training can flag up in physical and mental forms:

Excess fatigue, increased/decreased heart rate, weight loss, awaking un-refreshed or feeling overly heavy, sore and stiff muscles and strength losses. It can also manifest as depression, loss of motivation or appetite, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, decreased mental concentration and anxiety.

These are all things to watch out for, even if you’ve been doing events for years does not exempt you from injury. To avoid these pitfalls, I recommend that you follow a training plan that builds your fitness over time and keep a training log. Also, be realistic, if your normal level of activity amounted to sitting on the sofa and walking to the training station for your commute, then exercising five times from week one would put you at risk of some of the physical and mental symptoms above and increase your risk of injury!

An easy way to keep track is to measure physiologic markers, such as body weight, morning urine colour, morning heart rate, and maximal heart rate. Keeping an eye on overall training times and seeing if distances and time to complete specific runs or cycles are feeling harder or more taxing. Regular testing of a 10k run or cycle allow you to see if your training is paying off and improving your fitness levels or if there is nothing left in the tank showing your need to factor in more rest periods. Psychological markers such as happiness and wellness scales can also be key to your readiness.

Slow and steady wins the race…

Bearing all this in mind then it’s clear that taking your time training and preparing prior to your event is key for success. The body and it’s tissues take time to adapt, but can achieve amazing things when put to it, most of the time the body can exceed more than we give it credit for!

Examples of the level you could strive towards and achieve look no further than the UK’s Fell running champion and winner of the 268 mile Montane spine race, Jasmin Paris. She clocked a pace just above the average walking pace, albeit for 83 hours with only 7 hours sleep, and she arrived 15 hours ahead of all other competitors to the finish line.

Likewise, Courtney Dewalter won a 238 mile running race in 57 hours, 10 hours faster than second place. Plus Mark Beaumont cycled around the world in 79 days, at an average of 15 MPH, 16 hours a day for 240 miles per day!

There are plenty of real life heroes out there leading the way for people to aim bigger, better, harder and further… so, after finishing your next challenge, why not set your sights on something to compliment your triathlons. This could be the pinnacle of all triathlons, an Iron man, or a single discipline event.

Here are some of our top single discipline events…


1) Castle 10k marathon swim

2) River dart 10k swim

3) Lake Windermere – Great North Swim


1) Cotswold Way Challenge

2) Cadair Idris Mountain race

3) Race to the Stones – Oxfordshire to Avebury


1) Devon coast to coast

2) Ride London

3) London to Brighton

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