Top tips for race day – IRONMAN

Option 4

By Richard Woolrich Biokineticist (BSc Med (Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics) UCT 2014 PT of the year
Twitter: @richardwcoach

With less than a week to go, here are some guidelines for the days leading up to and including the big day!

I never usually advise any of my athletes to have a complete rest day the day before an event. Instead it is better to rather have your rest day two days before the race. The session the day before should incorporate short, easy workouts with some bursts of high intensity in two to three of the disciplines. These short bursts are short enough not to cause any muscle damage and fatigue but instead will ensure optimal muscle firing and recruitment. These sessions can be performed on the race course to help with familiarisation, but make sure you abide by the rules stipulated in the Athlete Info Guide regarding where and when you are able to use the course. A cycle is also important to make sure your bike is in working order and ready for race day. Try to get your cycle in first thing in the morning so if there are any problems with your bike, you have enough time to sort it out.

Examples of high intensity efforts you can include in your session the day before the race:

  • Swim – include 5 x25m sprints at 80% intensity with 30s rest between
  • Cycle – include 4 x 1min pick-ups at 80% effort in a hard gear with 2mins easy cycling between
  • Run – include 4 x 15sec hill sprints at 80% effort with 1min walk recovery between

Before you leave for Port Elizabeth, pack your bag methodically so that you don’t forget anything and you know where everything is. Use the Athlete Info Guide as a checklist to make sure you have not forgotten anything.

On race day make sure you have a light breakfast consisting of something that you are used to and comfortable with about 1-2 hrs before the start of your race.

Ideally try to do a warm-up in the sea before you start. This will help you mentally and physically prepare your body for racing as well as for the temperature of the water, so that you can get into a rhythm more quickly. There is a designated warm-up area to the right of the swim start.

My top tips for each leg of the race:


  • Swim start – I would recommend trying to avoid starting in the middle of the pack, unless you are a fast swimmer and back yourself to have enough speed to get out of the masses. It is often better to start on the side with a more clear line to the first buoy. If you breathe to the right, I suggest starting on the far left (and vice versa) so that you can see the majority of the pack when you are swimming. This will help ensure you don’t swim off course. Some people may feel more comfortable starting at the back of the pack where they can avoid most of the chaos. This is often a better option so that you don’t get kicked, knocked around and swallow sea water which can lead to stomach cramping later in the race.
  • Follow the feet in front of you – Remember that swimming in the bubbles of the swimmer in front of you, will reduce your overall effort and help keep you on course without you having to lift your head as often.
  • Keep swimming until your hand touches the ground, then you will be able to stand up and exit the sea.


  • Nutrition – The bike is the easiest discipline during which the body is able to take in and absorb nutrients. It is thus important to start eating as soon as you get on the bike and consistently during the cycle leg. I usually advise my athletes to consume an energy gel during the final couple of kilometres of the bike leg to help fuel them for the first part of the run leg. Remember that you are not only fuelling yourself for the cycle but also for the marathon where it is more difficult to consume the same concentration of carbohydrates due to the impact of running.
  • Cadence – keeping a high cadence of about 90rpm is especially important if it is windy on race day.       Often athletes try to grind out a big gear into the wind which will fatigue your legs and negatively affect your run.


  • First few kilometres -Avoid getting caught up by the cheers of the crowd and starting too hard. Start slow and build up during the race. See if you can run the second half of the run leg faster than the first half.

Cadence – once again this important on the run as well. Keep focused on maintaining high cadence throughout the run, especially as fatigue sets in.

Good luck and have fun!

5 exercises you could be doing wrong

shutterstock_110867900Getting injured sucks. Just when you’re mastering a new workout routine and seeing the results, boom! Your lower back starts to ache. Or right in the middle of training for a big event like the Discovery World Triathlon Cape Town, you get a shooting pain in your left ankle. It’s the worst.

We’ve rounded up five exercises that, when done the wrong way, can wreak havoc. These moves are super beneficial, so we wanted to show you how to do them correctly right here.

Let’s talk technique

1. Lat Pulldown

Problem: Taking the bar behind your head can increase your risk of neck injury and doesn’t target the intended muscle group (lats).

Correction: Maintain a neutral spine, keep shoulders down. Pull the bar to just above the sternum. Be careful not to use the hips to provide momentum. This targets the lats better and provides additional shoulder stability, reducing the chance of injury.

2. Shoulder press

Problem: Taking the bar behind your head can increase your risk of shoulder injury and potential risk of neck injury.

Correction: Whether you’re using a barbell or dumbbell, your wrists should be slightly in front of your shoulders. An additional benefit is that it targets the trunk/core area. Shoulder stability reduces the chance of injury.

3. Sit ups

Problem: The wrong technique increases the risk of back injury and doesn’t target the intended muscle group (abs).

Correction: Sit ups in general aren’t great for the majority of people because of the increased risk for lower back pain. Those of you who are new to exercise can perform ab curl ups (keep your lower back on the mat and lift your shoulder blades off the mat). For the more experienced exercisers, try prone pikes or roll outs on the ball for a safer, challenging and ab-targeting exercise.

4. Dumbbell/kettlebell upright lifts

Problem: Lifting the elbow and upper arm above 90 degrees (above the level of your shoulders) increases the risk of shoulder injury.

Correction: Perform the upright row to 90 degrees (no more). Side raises should also not go above the 90 degree mark.

5. Straight leg deadlift

Problem: Deadlifts performed with straight legs place stress on the back. Hamstring muscles are often strained during the lift.

Correction: Perform the lift with your knees slightly bent. Keep your back in a flat position.

Remember to activate your core. When we hear the word ‘core’, we think of six-pack ab muscles. But the core actually includes a large number of muscles between the abdomen and the ribs. It’s made up of many different muscles that run the length of your torso and strengthen your spine and pelvis. These muscles create a base of support from which powerful movements can be generated and transferred out to the limbs. This is why it’s important to activate them.

Visit the exercise library on myvirginactive. We’ve uploaded videos showing you exactly how these moves are done correctly.

Eat like a champion

shutterstock_226384672One of the things about training, whether it’s to get fit or lose weight, or for a big event, like the Discovery World Triathlon Cape Town, is that you’re hungrier than usual. Ravenous actually. Which is understandable. But exercise doesn’t mean we can just eating whatever we want.

If you’re training for a triathlon, you have to fuel up the right way to get the most out of your workouts. If you’re training for specific goals like upping your fitness or losing weight, exercise is really just the cherry on top: food is the main thing. If you’re not eating right, you won’t see the results you want to see.

Carb up

Training for a triathlon or just to get fit. Either way, carbohydrates are necessary when you’re exercising. They are your body’s primary fuel source, playing a major role in recovery too. It is also the nutrient with the biggest impact on performance. We’re talking good carbs (wholegrains, legumes, and fruit and vegetables) though, so put that doughnut down.

Fill up your tank in the morning

For triathletes, breakfast should be carb-rich. Choose foods that you know your body loves. Oatmeal with fruit, yogurt with fruit or granola, or eggs with veggies and bread.

For all exercisers, having a satisfying breakfast is so important. If you’re an early exerciser and aren’t starving before your work out, wait until you’re done. But always, always fuel up in the morning.


  • Breakfast cereal with milk or yoghurt
  • Eggs
  • Fruit and yoghurt
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Sandwich with cottage cheese or meat and vegetable filling

What’s for dinner?

Triathletes should stick to foods that are familiar the night before race day. The last thing you want is digestion issues. Think low in fat and fibre, moderate in protein, and rich in carbs.

For the regular exerciser, sticking to a well-balanced diet is key. Think all food groups.


  • Stir-fry with rice or noodles
  • Baked potato or sweet potato
  • Fish and salad
  • Pasta with a tomato based sauce (tomato, vegetable, lean meat)
  • Liquid meal supplement

Post-race/post-workout snack time

If you can’t tolerate food right after a race or a workout, focus on rehydrating and getting in some electrolytes (for those training for a big event, try sipping a sports drink or coconut water).

Remember: It’s okay to treat yourself every once in a while. Enjoy the foods you love. Deprivation ain’t pretty. Just make sure you always go straight back to heart-healthy eating again.

We’ve all left an indoor cycling class feeling shaky and light headed because we haven’t fuelled up the right way. It happens. But it’s time to start prioritising the food part of your fitness routine. If you’re not mindful of what you eat, you won’t find the goal success you’re looking for.

The building blocks of a healthy body

shutterstock_167044400It’s pretty easy to know when we have an injury, because we can feel or see it. But what about damage to our cells that we can’t see? This damage, called oxidative damage, is caused by particles called free radicals and it happens when we breathe, during metabolism, when we’re exposed to sun and pollution, at points of inflammation and during exercise.

Don’t be too worried, a little bit of cell damage is normal and this is where antioxidants come in. What do they do? They neutralise the free radicals and so reduce the oxidative stress on our cells.

Well-known antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, but there are many more and, if we eat a well-balanced diet, we’ll be getting what we need to minimise cell damage.

Some tasty antioxidant-containing foods you can tuck into include blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, Rooibos tea, citrus fruits, red, green, orange and yellow peppers, green tea, carrots, plums, cherries and green leafy vegetables.

For your convenience – and speedy recovery – you can find them in a tasty range of items from KAUAI In Motion stores, including:

  • Yoga berry Smoothie made with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, banana and apple juice.
  • Freshly squeezed carrot juice.
  • C U Right Smoothie with strawberries, pineapple, honey, mango juice and 500mg vitamin C.
  • Go-Goji Berry Smoothie with goji berries, pomegranate juice, strawberries and banana.
  • Goji Berry Booster which you can add to any smoothie or juice.

From 1 April, you can also get your hands on two new shots at selected stores:

  • The Flu Shot made with ginger juice, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and honey is perfect to help ward off colds.
  • The Digestion Shot made with delicious orange juice, beetroot juice and omega-rich chia seeds.

Our bodies work hard for us. Let’s do the same for them. Choose healthy options as often as you can so that your day’s food intake is well-balanced and gives you all the nutrients your body needs to function optimally.

Written by Lesley Scott, Qualified Nutritionist (All Good Things blog)

how can we help?

shutterstock_214388539At Virgin Active, we’ve got you covered. Helpful staff. Check. Personal Trainers. Check. Self-help digital screens. Check. And online gym buddy, myvirginactive. Check. But what about other professional help you may need along the way?

First, let’s talk Personal Trainers.

The Personal Trainer

These professionals can help you through your entire exercise journey. Setting goals. Being a coach and a cheerleader. Making sure your technique is perfect. Showing you different moves. What to do to reach your specific goals. They’re your guides.

Find a personal trainer in your area.  

Outside professionals you may need

The Biokineticist

A Biokineticist is an exercise specialist. They can help you train for a specific goal. They can help with injury rehabilitation and prevention. And they can even help manage chronic diseases (like high blood pressure and diabetes).

Find a Biokineticist in your area.

The Physiotherapist

Physiotherapy can help speed up healing after injury or surgery, using massage, manipulation, exercises, stretching, Pilates and strapping. It can also help to strengthen, mobilise and loosen up tight or weak areas that could lead to pain and dysfunction later on.

Find a physiotherapist in your area.

The Dietitian

Dietitians are qualified health professionals who deal with many nutrition-related conditions. They give guidance and recommendations for medical conditions, different stages of the lifecycle (like pregnancy and childhood) and can help with food allergies, eating disorders, and more.

Find a Dietitian in your area.

5 ways to own The Grid

If you’re looking for a challenge (because plateaus are the worst) and you’re looking to change things up, we have just the thing. Virgin Active’s brand new functional fitness training class is exactly what you need to ramp up your routine. The Grid is our answer to functional fitness training. You’ll DEFINITELY feel the burn. In a good way. And just in case you’re a little intimidated, we’ve rounded up some tips to make sure you own it.

Tips to help you out in the session

  1. There are two ways to take part in The Grid. You can book on myvirginactive to secure your spot. Or, you can just show up and see if there’s space. Spots are limited so, to avoid missing out, we suggest booking.
  2. Make sure you have lots of water. You’ll definitely need a sweat towel. And make sure you’re all fuelled up. You’ll need the energy.
  3. Practice your technique. Form is super important to prevent injury. And to get the most out of the exercises you’re doing. You don’t get much time to practice form and technique during The Grid class. Things go pretty fast. So, why don’t you suss out the moves, watch a class or two, or ask one of our friendly staff members to show you how it’s done properly?
  4. Try high intensity interval training. It’s a lot like functional fitness training, so you’ll benefit from all that experience. Try a twentyfour class over lunch (24 minutes – you can totally make it).
  5. Your body is the best piece of gym equipment ever. But functional training props can be super fun too. Why not try some out to up your fitness level? Grab your gym buddy and get in on some battle rope action. Try the ViPR (it sounds scarier than it actually is). How about the good ol’ stability ball for some core work? We’re big fans of experimentation, so try it all.

new goal = be a triathlete

isehfhThe Discovery World Triathlon Cape Town is back for a 2nd year and Virgin Active South Africa is once again the official Health Club partner for the South African leg of the race – one of the 10 carefully-selected destinations in the World Triathlon Series. We’re excited!

Many people hear the word “triathlon” and immediately think “no way, I’m not fit enough!” or “I’m not a pro athlete”. Well, guess what? You don’t need to be. It can seem overwhelming. But the best way to go about it is to train hard and stay positive. You can do it. And we’ve totally got you covered in the training department.

Training plans on myvirginactive

myvirginactive, your exclusive digital fitness buddy, has everything you need. We’ve loaded up some awesome triathlon training plans plus you can track your progress from day one. Register or log in today and get started. Your journey starts right here.

Buddy up

Get your bestie to sweat with you. Training with somebody can push you and hold you accountable. But more importantly, it’s just more fun. Hitting the gym together. Going on long runs. Bike rides. Swims in the ocean. Hardly feels much like work when we put it like that, huh?

Discovery World Triathlon Cape Town – what you need to know

When: April 25 & 26 2015

Where: V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Sprint distance

Swim: 500m

Cycle: 20km

Run: 5km

Olympic distance

Swim: 1500m

Cycle: 40km

Run: 10km

Feeling inspired to take part? We say go for it! Entries will stay open until 14 April so you’ve still got time.

Nothing can prepare you for a triathlon quite like going out and doing one. Get all the info you need right here.

Oh and to make the deal a little sweeter, as a Virgin Active member, we’ve sourced you an exclusive accommodation deal, right in the heart of the action:

  • 4 nights’ stay at the 4-star Southern Sun Waterfront, Cape Town
  • Breakfast daily
  • 1 free dinner at Balducci’s, V&A Waterfront (Buy 1 get 1 free voucher)
  • Only R3 885 per person sharing a double/twin room.

To book this exclusive deal, send an email to and include your Virgin Active card number. Terms and conditions apply.

Join us

If you’re not taking part, and just want to join in on the action, we’ll be there, as usual, cheering on all participants as they make their way to the finish line. You can join our Active Angels and make a day of it. Bring the kids. Pack a picnic.