Clay Battin, of Craft Coaching, has raced multisport events for more than a decade, including several Ironmans. Battin is a USA Triathlon certified Level I coach and a certified Fit Institute Slowtwitch (FIST) bike fitter. He earned his master’s in athletics administration from East Carolina University. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
You were soccer player for a long time – how can people transition into triathlon from other sports?
If you have a running background – soccer, cross country, even basketball players – or you’re a swimmer, it’s fairly easy to get into triathlon. Typically there are two disciplines that come fairly easy, and there’s one that’s going to be the challenge. For those with running backgrounds, nine times out of 10, swimming will be the hard one. Coming from a sports background, you want to work on your weakest area. Get the fundamentals and your form down.
How do you feel about triathletes lifting weights?
It’s broken up into seasonal lifting. The off-season is where you really want to build strength. You kind of want to get out of that structured training. Increased strength training is a way to break up structured training. It’s functional strength, focused on the core. You want to do movements that help you in triathlon. Squats. Lunges. Lunges with a twist. It’s working a lot of primary muscles you need in the three disciplines, but also those secondary muscles. During the season, I don’t have my athletes do a lot heavy lifting. I love to see my athletes do yoga and pilates. That’s targeting the core, muscles that are stabilizers. It increases flexibility and really reduces the risk for injury.
What is the biggest fear you hear concerning someone’s first triathlon?
The water. I’ll never forget, I was racing TriRock Philadelphia. I was on the bus to the start. The guy next to me was a little jittery. I said, “Is this your first race?” He said, “I’ve never swam open water before.” I said, “When you jump in for the practice swim, completely submerge yourself so when you get in the race you’ve had your face in that dark water.” Around here, you can go up to Sandy Point. Grab a couple buddies, put on your wetsuit and try it out.
What’s the biggest nutrition mistake athletes make?
It’s the extremes: not fueling enough during a race and fueling entirely to much. That comes with not playing around with your nutrition during training. When you get into 70.3 and full Ironmans, you really have to figure out what your body can tolerate and at what efforts it can tolerate that. It’s not so critical for sprints and Olympic distances. Not having electrolytes from a sports drink, you’re really in a depleted state if you’re only using water. The other extreme is people taking two Gu gels at the start and four bars on the bike. They can’t figure out why their stomach is sloshing around on the run.
What advice for transitions do you give your athletes?
Practice it. I don’t care if you think you look stupid. Set your transition up in your backyard. Lay everything out in your living room. If your neighbors look at you and think you look ridiculous, don’t worry about it. They’re probably not racing Nation’s. Practice peeling off your wetsuit and goggles, grabbing your helmet. Strap it on. Run with your bike. Take your bike shoes off, put on your run gear. Never do anything – anything – on race day for the first time. That’s nutrition, wetsuit, transitions, bike cadence. Always practice. Practice everything.
Do you have any tips to prep for race day?
Nation’s in particular, I’ll throw in some things I’ve noticed. It’s a big race. You’re going to be in a pretty big swim wave. You want that experience of having swam around other people. Get in some group swims where you deliberately cram four or five people in a lane. You need to be used to that contact. On the bike course, make sure you’re comfortable riding with other cyclists. Know the rules of the road. There are a ton of group rides in this area.