Pull buoys and other toys

When I had signed up to my first triathlon I was facing a dilemma. At the time I was living in London and owned a single speed bike which I used for commuting and a mountain bike which I used to tear up the hundreds of off road tracks South West London has to offer (well, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park). While I could get a fairly decent velocity on the single speed bike I knew that it probably wouldn't quite be quick enough on the flat course and the only way of attaching a water bottle would be through the use of an A-Team engineering montage. My mountain bike had the necessary gears and water bottle cage but I knew I would have to spend money on buying thinner tyres to maximise my speed.

The obvious solution was to spend a small fortune on another bike. Mrs Trihard wasn't quite on board with this considering the fact that space was a premium in our two bedroom flat and that money spent on a new bike would be better allocated to something the whole family could enjoy. Like a new house. I therefore did the sensible thing - I bought a second hand racing bike, lied about how much it had cost and then reluctantly sold my single speed bike. Oh how we are going to laugh about this when she reads the blog today.

Anyway, I was extremely pleased with my time on the bike section (you probably can't appreciate the immense speed I was going from this picture), felt it was money well spent and thought that it was unlikely that I'd be spending too much money on my new hobby in the future other than the occasional upgrade of trainers. However that hasn't quite turned out to be the case.

Let's just look at swimming. All you need is your trunks (as the judge informed me after one ill fated trip to the municipal pools) and a pair of goggles right? Wrong. You know that ponce that turns up to the swimming pool with a large string bag with paddles, floats and a rubber duck? The one that you want to shout "Just do some freaking lengths rather than playing with all your silly toys!" at? Well that's now me. Once you have joined a club you learn that there is actually bit more to swimming than just splashing up and down as hard and fast as you can and the toys go a long way in improving your form.

Exhibit A are hand paddles. According to our friend Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete's Training Bible, paddles help to improve upper-body strength by increasing the resistance that your hand, arm and upper body most overcome to move you through the water. They also help to refine your hand and arm position so that your economy (the least effort required for the best result, in this case distance and speed per swim stroke) as well as your strength improves.

The next weapon in the triathlete's arsenal is the pull buoy which is placed between the legs to provide support to the body without kicking. Again this helps to develop both endurance and upper body strength but also helps to correct body position in the water.

The final piece of kit are fins, being modelled here by toddler Trihard. Don't let the picture confuse you, they are best put to use in the swimming pool. They enable you to build up the strength of your kick (ie swimming without using your arms) without sinking to the bottom of the pool. There are several members of the tri club that can comfortably kick without fins for several lengths but I am not one of them! You can probably see that they are quite short and stubby, they are not the same as diving fins.

While all these toys do help to improve your swimming technique Mr Friel warns that you should only use them when refining technique and not for every set in every session. At the triathlon club there is certainly more emphasis on their use at the start of the training cycle. As we get nearer the summer they are mainly used for warm ups rather than in the main set of a swimming session.

Individually these various pieces of kit aren't expensive but it can be costly if you leave your kit bag somewhere and you have to get it all replaced (as one of my fellow club members can testify!). As I've said before it's best to have a good shop around to see where you can get the bargain.


The greatest hits...