This year, former World Duathlon Champion Helen Russell took part in, and won her first quadrathlon. Here she shares the tips she learnt on her journey from novice to champion.
What is a quadrathlon?
After competing in triathlon for almost ten years, this year I felt that I needed a new challenge. I still loved triathlon but needed something new to motivate and push me. A few years ago I read a feature in a triathlon magazine about quadrathlon, which is similar to a triathlon but has the added discipline of kayaking.
After reading the article I had always had in the back of my mind that one day I would like to give it a try and this year, after moving to a town on a river, I finally got around to it! As with triathlons, quads vary in format from sprint to longer distance races.
They also vary in terrain with races having either sea, lake, canal or river kayak sections and sometimes off-road bike and run sections. It’s a fairly new sport with the first race taking place in Ibiza in 1987, which included a brutal 5k swim, 20k kayak, 100k bike and 21.1k run.
The sport hasn’t grown as fast as triathlon, probably because it is harder to do four disciplines than three and kayaking isn’t accessible to as many people but there is a growing interest in the sport, especially in mainland Europe.
How to get started
Lots of people come to quadrathlon from a triathlon background so the first thing to do it to learn how to kayak!
The best way to do this is to get in touch with a local canoe/kayak club who often run taster sessions. You can then decide whether you want to commit to training for a quad. I went along to Worcester Canoe Club, who were very welcoming and offered coaching for beginners.
The benefit of joining a club is that they usually have a stock of kayaks for you to use rather than having to buy your own. As you improve you will move to kayaks with a greater ‘wobble factor’, which are lighter and more streamlined and therefore move through the water faster. It is therefore not a good idea to buy a kayak as a beginner as you don’t know how proficient you will become and therefore what level of kayak you will be able to paddle. Clubs will have a range of kayaks that you will be able to move through the more confident you become.
Training for a quadrathlon
Obviously you need to get out on the water. If you train with a club they will run a variety of sessions including skills development, interval and endurance sessions.
Kayaking is about much more than just staying afloat-having a good technique will mean you will be faster. Beginners often make the mistake of only using their arms to paddle but most of the power comes from your core and legs.
Triathlon races can be won and lost in transition and the same is the case for quadrathlons. It is a good idea to practice getting in and out of your kayak before your first race. In kayaking this is called ‘portage’.
Due to the British weather it can be difficult to get out on the water in the winter but some clubs have indoor kayak machines, which look similar to rowing machines. These machines are great for improving technique and form and keeping fit over the winter months. It is actually a good idea to use one of these before even getting on the water to learn the correct paddle stroke as this will reduce the risk of you capsizing! As with rowing machines kayak machines are great for doing interval sessions.
The skills involved in kayaking vary to some extent on the type of water you will be paddling on-sea kayaking is very different to river kayaking. If possible, train on the type of water you will be racing on. The type of kayak you would use on sea and river kayaking will also be different as you’ll need a more stable kayak on choppier waters!
There are a number of quadrathlons in the UK but it is also an internationally recognised sport, with many international championship races.
In the UK the best quadrathletes challenge to take the title of British Champion at the annual one-off championship race and also for the British Quadrathlon Association (BQA) National Trophy Race Series title, which is won by gaining points over three series races.
Like with triathlon, there is an overall title as well as age category titles up for grabs. There are also European and World Championship races, which have been held a few times in the UK, as well as a World Cup points series races. To challenge for a championship title you will need to be a member of the BQA, which costs just £15 for the year.
A great race for novices is the Shrewsbury Quadrathlon, which is a sprint race involving a 500m river swim, 4.2k river kayak, 20k road bike and 5k run. It’s held in September each year, which gives beginners the whole of the spring and summer to practice staying upright on the kayak!
Obviously you will need the same equipment as in a triathlon (I have detailed this in an earlier blog) with a few extras.
It goes without saying that you will need a kayak! As I have mentioned if you are a member of a club you should be able to borrow one but there is often the option of hiring one at the race venue. Any type of kayak is acceptable as long as it is serviceable.
You will also need paddles and a buoyancy aid, which as a beginner you will have to put on in transition. It is best to have one with a zip up front, rather than one you have to put on over your head, as these can be put on quicker and save you valuable seconds!
For comfort you may want to put on surf shoes or thick socks and if you feel the cold maybe an extra layer of upper body clothing over your tri-suit. The more experienced racers don’t put on any of these though, as for them every second counts!
In order to transport your kayak to the race you will need a car roof rack and V bars-these are bars in the shape of a V, which the kayak slides into. A lot of canoe clubs will have V bars that you can borrow and show you how to use them.
So if I have whet your appetite for quadrathlon then find out more at the British Quadrathlon Association website www.britishquadrathlon.org.uk or to find a canoe club near you go to www.britishcanoeing.org.uk
Helen is a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. Last year Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of this year’s Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. Next year Helen will be challenging for the British Quadrathlon National Trophy Race Series title. You can follow her progress on Twitter via @helengoth