2021’s Top Member Articles
Check out a free sampling of the top ten stories our members loved and read in 2021.
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By putting a huge focus on our premium membership content this year, our writers and editors dug deeper than ever into the sport—and our members loved it! Our contributors researched races around the world to find the fastest, slowest, most scenic, and best that triathlon has to offer. We decoded the many supershoe offerings; we learned how the fastest swimmers, runners, and triathletes got that way; we lifted the lid on fad diets.
Below are ten of our most popular and well-read membership stories, compiled so you can catch up on what you might have missed (or so you can take a second look). At the very bottom, Triathlete’s editors each picked one of their favorite membership stories that might have slipped under the radar.
Fun fact: Did you know that USA Triathlon members already have free access to the membership stories below (and much more)? All you need to do is activate your free membership here. Not a USAT or Triathlete member? Sign up now for in-depth, original reporting like below, our insider’s members-only newsletter (with exclusive content you won’t even find on our site), free race photos, gear discounts, and way more.
#10: Race In This, Train In That: Triathlete’s Guide to Similar Supershoes and Trainers
Love them or hate them, supershoes are here to stay. Some are carbon soled, others use plastic; some are squishy and bouncy, others are super responsive like catapults. But most of them are (quite) different. Without forking out $200-plus to try a pair, it’s hard to know what’ll work for you. Tougher yet, is there a pair of training shoes that you should be using during the majority of your miles that’s similar to your perfect supershoes?
Author Adam Chase decodes the supershoe riddle with expert recommendations like: “If you want to race in the super-popular Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, you should train in Nike’s Air Zoom Pegasus 37 or you might also like Hoka’s Rocket X.”
#9: Your Good Diet Could Be Ruining Your Life
Rob Sturridge thought he was doing everything right, yet was feeling nothing but wrong. He had qualified for Kona multiple times, was performing well in training, and didn’t seem to have trouble maintaining a lean frame into his 30s. “I should have been feeling great, but something was just ‘off.’”
After spending some time with a therapist, he was shocked when she suggested he see a nutritionist. Although Sturridge had been convinced that his incredibly controlled diet was responsible for his success, it turned out that it was the cause of both his altered mood and low testosterone levels. “It wasn’t easy to admit that my idea of a perfect athlete’s diet was actually wrecking me.”
#8: The 8 Most Scenic Triathlons
Do you want to see breathtaking red rock vistas as you grind away in the aerobars at your next tri? Or maybe you want to swim in lake water “so clean you can drink it?” Maybe an old-school European village would move the dial on your family’s willingness to travel so you can tri.
We asked some of the most well-traveled pros to give us their picks for the eight most scenic tris in the world, and the resulting list is a mix of vistas, leaf-filled tunnels, and views of volcanoes that line the landscape. If you’re looking to plan your next tri-cation—or you’d just like to indulge in some midwinter multisport dreaming, this list has it all.
See also: Editors’ Choice: The Best Triathlons in the U.S.
#7: How Fast Can the Fastest Pros Run in Ironman?
Katrina Matthews knew she was having a very good run at Ironman Tulsa earlier this year, but in hindsight she thinks she could have gone faster. She completed the 26.34-mile run in 2:49:49 and finished in 8:45:34, just five minutes behind world champion Daniela Ryf.
In just her third Ironman, Matthews entered rarefied company with her sub-2:50 run split. While Kristin Moller’s 2:41:57 effort at IM UK in 2011 is widely considered the fastest women’s Ironman run split on record, only Chrissie Wellington and Mirinda Carfrae have run faster than Matthews did that day in Tulsa.
On the men’s pro side, marathon times have also been dropping like flies—but why? Brian Metzler digs into the recent trend, why we’re seeing it, and what it means for the future.
#6: How Does Katie Ledecky Swim So Fast? + How Mere Tri Mortals Can Run Like Eliud Kipchoge
Sure, it’s fun to watch superhuman feats of endurance like we saw at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, but what do they mean for the rest of us? Susan Lacke took a look at two of this year’s most incredible swim and run performances—Katie Ledecky’s 1500m gold-medal swim and Eliud Kipchoge’s Olympic-winning marathon—and asked experts to tease out what makes them so fast, and how we can learn from the way they move.
Ledecky’s success revolved around her loping stroke, her pull, her kick, her body position, her strength, and—most importantly—her focus. Kipchoge was all about his form, strength, cadence, training, lifestyle, and strategy. Check out both stories for advice on how to apply that list to your own training and racing.
#5: Is An Ironman In Your Future? It Will Consume Your Life
To help decide whether an iron-distance race is in your future, this piece explores the benefits and costs of training for and trying to complete those mythical 140.6 miles of swim, bike, and run. Dr. Jim Taylor lists out 16 “commandments” on how Ironman will consume your life.
Whether you’re contemplating your first Ironman or are an iron-expert, Dr. Taylor’s quasi-humorous take on various multisport obsessions and “afflictions” holds up an insightful mirror to our sport.
#4: Expert Analysis of Flora Duffy’s Olympic-Winning Bike File
While the men’s Olympic event was a nail-biter until the final miles, there were no surprises in the women’s individual race in Tokyo. Bermuda’s Flora Duffy basically put on a master’s class in draft-legal tri, flying through each of the legs to inevitably take gold.
Duffy’s picture-perfect race earned her our “2021 Female Performance of the Year,” and we asked exercise physiologist and triathlon coach Alan Couzens to analyze her bike power file. The results (and takeaways) might surprise you.
See also: An Expert Look Inside Blummenfelt’s Gold-Medal Winning Bike File
#3: The Science Behind Low-Carb, High-Fat Diets for Tri
At the end of the 2016 Ironman World Championship, Swiss professional Jan Van Berkel knew he needed a change. Just a couple of weeks before the big race, he had crashed on his bike, and on race day, he wasn’t fully recovered. He had to drop out.
But Van Berkel felt there was also something in his fueling and nutritional structure that wasn’t working. And that’s why he got in touch with coach and exercise physiologist Dan Plews, who was known for using a Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) approach for long-distance triathlons. Two years later, Plews himself would go on to set the Kona age-group record with a time of 8:24.36.
#2: The Training Secrets Behind the Norwegians’ Phenomenal Ironman Debuts
We reached out to exercise physiologist, data analyst, and coach Alan Couzens again to help us look at what it took from a training and physiology standpoint for Blummenfelt to nail a 7:21 debut Ironman and Iden a 2:34 debut Ironman marathon at Ironman Cozumel in November.
The data the looked at came from their Strava files and training logs. We also asked Blummenfelt’s coach for some additional insight. Spoiler alert: Setting aside their phenomenal talent, the answers—from a training and physiology point of view—are far more simple than you might think…
#1: The Top 7 Easiest Ironman & 70.3 Courses
Sure, there’s something to be said for an epic day of racing on a super-tough (and maybe super scenic) iron- or 70.3-distance event. But sometimes you just want to go fast. Maybe you’re looking to finish your first long-course event on a course that won’t punish you (more than you’ll already be punished); maybe you’re looking to qualify for 70.3 or Ironman World Championships; maybe you just want a new PR.
Whatever your reasons, we did the legwork to find the easiest Ironman and 70.3 courses in the world. Our writer looked at factors like weather conditions, historic times, and even course profiles to track down the fastest courses for your (potentially) best finish. All you have to do is train and race fast!
The Editors’ Favorite Membership Stories in 2021
Commentary: The Men’s Olympic Race Was a Beautiful Disaster
The Olympic men’s race was hard to believe even as it was happening. It was, as our executive editor put it in this piece, “a beautiful disaster.” But what I really appreciated about Chris’ commentary on the race was how he related the same craziness we all go through at our local triathlons, the same stereotypes, the same mistakes, to the best in the world. Weirdness is the rule.
– Editor-in Chief, Kelly O’Mara
The Marathon Doesn’t Care If You Did an Ironman
For all triathletes (myself included), the reasoning stands as such: If I can run X in the marathon during an Ironman, I must be able to run X-minus-Y in a standalone marathon. The reality isn’t so simple. Ironman is complicated, the marathon is also complicated, but the transitive property doesn’t apply here.
This piece begins by evoking a powerful image of iron-legend Mark Allen naively believing he could run a sub-2:20 marathon because he had run 2:40 off the bike at Ironman World Championship back in 1989. Like many of us do, he failed. Epically. The author goes on to dissect why this happens, even to the best of us, and how we can save ourselves from ourselves when we try to tackle a standalone marathon.
– Executive Editor, Chris Foster
The Unusual Story (and Unusual Coach) Behind Taylor Knibb’s Overnight Success
This interview with Taylor Knibb’s coach serves as a powerful reminder that even though triathlon is an individual sport, no one is really doing this alone. Coach Ian O’Brien (and his powerful belief in his athletes) is someone everyone should have on their team—may we all be so lucky to have this kind of support in our corner, whether from a coach, a training buddy, spouse or even a spectator on the sidelines who knows just what to say.
– Digital Editor, Susan Lacke