Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Slipstream for race success

Each week Rachel Grunwell tries a new sport to bring you the lowdown.

Rachel Grunwell tries some of Kate McIlroy's tips under Kate's supervision at Victoria Park, Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Rachel Grunwell tries some of Kate McIlroy's tips under Kate's supervision at Victoria Park, Auckland. Photo / Getty Images


I usually try quirky and cool fitness challenges for this weekly column then tell readers the nuts and bolts on how to do (or survive) them.

For a change, in the wake of the buzz around the Barfoot and Thompson World Triathlon series in Auckland last weekend, I hung out instead with Olympic triathlete Kate McIlroy, ranked 10th in the world, to ask her for tips on conquering triathlons.

This way, I manage to slip out of doing a triathlon, and learn about slipstreams instead, ha! But I don't completely escape exercise. I went for a short trot with McIlroy while she divulged tips. I made sure she was good and tired first - we caught up the day after the Auckland event. I'm blonde, not silly!

Anyway, if you missed last weekend's results, McIlroy came fourth out of the women, just tailing three international athletes. German Anne Haug was the first woman, while Spaniard Javier Gomez won the men's event.

Below are McIlroy's tips

• Suss your "weakness" then master it. McIlroy's background is running. She's a former Commonwealth Games steeplechaser, so this was her forte when she first dived into triathlons four years ago. She knew she had to work on swimming and cycling to lift her overall time.

• With swimming, "get on someone's feet or hip and you can draft off them", says McIlroy. What she means by drafting, or slipstreaming, is if you get close to a group you can be swept along in their current, reducing the effect of drag. You'll probably touch their toes occasionally - that's okay.

• Watch out. Obviously, there's no black line on the bottom of the sea to follow so to avoid going off course, glance up every 20 strokes to check.

• Be consistent with training; no slacking. McIlroy says if she trains right then "I know I'm going to perform well".

• Avoid injuries. McIlroy advises: "Know when it's right to push your body, or if the muscles are tight or something is not quite right, then probably back off and let things settle down."

• Do the hard work, the miles - you get the picture. For McIlroy this includes running 80km weekly, cycling 400-500km weekly and swimming 30km weekly - that's around 30 hours of weekly training. She works on things like endurance, sprints to improve leg speed and knowing her tempo and race pace. If you have the base, you can lift it a gear on race day.

• Mix up training to keep it interesting.

• Keep things simple. A general rule of thumb is run hard one day, easier the next.

• Have recovery time. However, McIlroy's idea of this is still an easy jog or swim (she trains 16-18 times weekly over the three disciplines).

• Find someone to cycle, and chat, with. It's fun. McIlroy goes bunch riding every Sunday for training and enjoyment and practises drafting. "You conserve 30 per cent (energy) if you're sitting behind someone."

• Get your bike fitted right for you. Adjusting the handlebars or seat height could be the difference between getting a sore back, or not; going faster or sluggish; and getting maximum enjoyment.

• Nutrition-wise, carbs are not the nasty things celebrity skinnies make them out to be. Carbs mixed with protein help recovery; they repair muscles and make you stronger. Carbs replace glycogen stores that your body uses to race. For breakfast, McIlroy usually eats a bowl of muesli with banana and yoghurt, two bits of toast with raspberry jam and drinks a coffee with blue-top milk. So the gal eats. Just avoid too much junk food and things that take a while to digest before a race so they don't upset your stomach.

• Next is "mindset". Believe in yourself - you've done the training."Enjoy it," says McIlroy.

Do your bit

• McIlroy is supporting the Breast Cancer Foundation's Pink Ribbon Breakfast month in May. The foundation wants women to host a breakfast and raise money to support its work. McIlroy will attend a breakfast.

• She is also representing the foundation for the adidas Auckland Marathon on November 3, providing training tips and nutritional advice to anyone who registers the foundation as their charity.

• See nzbcf.org.nz or aucklandmarathon.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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