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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Suffering

I’ve lately begun to openly discuss my desire (probably) to compete in Ironman Boulder in 2015. I’ve even gone so far as to volunteer at this year’s race and get a higher priority registration slot.

My mention of this usually draws a reaction of either you’re crazy (or something to that effect) or merely the question of “Why?”

It’s not an easy question to answer but a quote from the book Iron War probably sums up why I want to complete the 140.6 distance in particular and why do triathlons in general:

“…it can be better to feel anything—even pain—than to feel nothing. Sometimes pleasure and pain are derived from the same source. There is no pleasure in doing triathlon, but it metes out a kind of suffering that is satisfying in the context of our soporific modern existence with its all infernal conveniences.”

Until recently reading that book, I’ve had a hard time articulating why I do what I do. Before I started training for triathlons, soporific was probably as good an adjective as any to describe my life. I had run and trained, but it had fallen off and I was more or less sedentary.

Of course, while suffering has its utility, it can also be destructive. Indeed, for most people, using the term positively probably seems odd if not completely masochistic.

My own recent training experiences have helped me find a way to suffer, but to manage it in a way analogous to the way one manages their intake of hydration and nutrition during a race.

About a month ago my coach “bumped” (his word) both the volume and intensity of my weekly training. Two weekly swims have become three, 20 miles running have become over 25 and cycling has been based on power zones. In a non-recovery week, training hours are around 12. That eases back to 8 every third week when I get to recover. In short, I’ve had ample opportunity to suffer.

Last week, I was assigned a series of interval workouts in which the distance descended and the pace ascended. The last interval in each of the two sets was 200 meters at a more or less all out speed (or what I could manage by that point). A day later, I was riding my bike up a hill for over a mile to push my heart rate into Z5. I had to do that five more times before getting to warm down.

Like anyone who has committed to train, I’ve accepted a certain level of suffering as part of the price to be ready come race day. Each of us has variation on the mantra “It’s worth it” that helps us get through the tough workouts.

What seemed different about these most recent efforts, however, was my ability to keep the suffering of my body separate from the suffering of my mind. While I knew I was hurting, my brain was really showing no more emotion about it than the needles on a dashboard that tell you your engine is getting too hot or that you’re running low on fuel. That’s not to say that I didn't feel mentally miserable at times as well, just not all the time.

When I did my first multi-sport event (a triathlon turned duathlon) the most significant memory I took away was how miserable I was as I moved from bike to run. Leaving the transition area, I felt almost overwhelmed by my high heart rate and shortness of breath. This despite multiple bricks in practice. That feeling crept in a few times during my track and bike workouts, but it never really took hold.

Have I discovered a secret to training and racing even when my body feels terrible? Probably not. More likely it’s one more tool in the belt.

More to come on training and the specific steps I’m taking to prepare for the first race of the season.

In the meantime, have a great week and thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Arizona

 While I’m based in the Denver area, my boss and several colleagues are in Phoenix which means I go down there at least once a year. In 2014, I’ve actually made two trips to the desert with a third coming up in May.

In year’s past, I usually got a single run in around the posh homes in the neighborhood adjacent to the Arizona Biltmore hotel. Of course, this year, I’m under a formally coached plan so that meant multiple workouts including the challenge of finding a 4% grade hill.

Last Wednesday the first order was the bike which was a fairly easy 45 minute, high spin, low resistance event. Much as I would have liked to get on a bike that actually measured and captured my performance, no such options were available at the resort fitness center. No matter, I was able to watch RPM and track my heart rate (though I forgot to pack my monitor –doh!)

During my ride, I asked the fitness center manager which of the various pools on property would be best for lap swimming and he referred me to one used by Biltmore club members just on the corner. Sure enough, there was a nice, straight 25 yard-ish pool that had the look of a place not likely to be of use early in the morning.


Should you ever find yourself at the Arizona Biltmore and looking for the pool, here’s a shot from Google maps:


I know, it’s a stunning visual.

Pre-dawn I was there swimming my 3100 multi-set workout and despite being down at lower altitude, suffering a little bit. Not sure what it was exactly, but it was one of the more difficult swims I had. Fortunately, swims have the benefit of affording a quick recovery and I felt fine by the time I left the hotel for work.

Of course, my day was not over. That afternoon, I was assigned five 1 kilometer hill repeats on a grade of 4% - 5%. The thing about Phoenix is that most of it is pretty flat. The exception being the mountains located right in the middle of the city. These, of course are much steeper than 5%.

After some online research, I determined the best place to do the run is on the road that leads to the Piestewa Peak trail head. It worked out to around 4.2% and while I knew there would be some traffic, I also knew it would be slow moving.

A fairly easy but warm 20 minute warm-up run had me at the start of the hill and I headed up for the first. No natural hill is perfectly even all the way up so while there were a couple of short sections that were flat over even slightly down, most of it was a steep climb and I was pushed all the way up into my Z5 heart rate.


I took it easy going back down and recovered pretty well but by the time I finished the fifth repeat, I was more than a little happy to be done with the workout. It was also starting to get dark.




As always, thanks for reading and have a great upcoming weekend!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A New Approach to Training – Part 3: The Run

This is the final installment in my series on the new approach I’ve taken to training under the direction of a USAT certified coach. In past posts, I discussed the swim and bike so naturally, today is the run.

Running is the area where I’ve done the most interval work, though not very much last year.  I think I talked myself into thinking that intensity work would not do me much good for long-course events like the two 70.3 races I did last year. I’ve come to believe that, in fact, intervals are good for all kinds of distances.

Fundamental Changes

A lot of my own philosophy about running had to go out the door when I hired a coach. Some fundamental rules I had just were not going to work with what he had in mind me.

My first rule, never to run on back-to-back days had to go. That’s not to say that I do long, exhausting runs on consecutive days. However, I may be on both feet at different distances.

The second rule was that anything less than 3 miles (and that was a bare minimum) was not worth it. Many of my bike rides are followed by a 15 to 40 minute run that is intended to get me used to running off the bike. These are not really what I would call brick workouts (since the run is often at very moderate paces) but they’re close.

The third rule (more of an assumption on my part) was that long runs are always beneficial. My coach suggested that some of those long miles are “junk” miles meaning they don’t do much to prepare your for race-level performance. Instead, long runs are better when they include a variety of drills.

On a typical long-run under his program, I’m doing a warm-up followed by some time-based interval at a specific heart rate. In general, the longer the interval, the lower the heart rate zone. Twelve minute intervals usually happen in mid Z3 while four minute intervals would be more upper Z4. Each interval is followed by a rest where I just run slowly and recover back down to lower Z2 before the next one start up.

Running this way has multiple advantages. Of course, intervals are designed to make you run faster for longer periods of time (i.e.: increase your stamina) but they also have a psychological effect. Given the way my Garmin is set up, I typically only see two fields: the time remaining in that interval and where my heart rate or pace is. No data on speed or overall distance is included. I can get that easily enough by changing the screen, but I choose not to. As a result, I find myself having gone longer distances than I might have imagined without really noticing. Last Saturday, my 2:15 run turned out to be 14.6 miles. I really had no idea how far I’d gone.

The other benefit from this approach is it is teaching me to take my workout in smaller chunks. I tried to apply this strategy last year at Austin so that I would not feel so overwhelmed by the run. It helped but now I think I’ll be even more practiced. In fact, I may approach the run stage of my long-course races as just another interval workout (with faster recovery times).

Equipment

A nice thing about running is that changes in training don’t really call for any new equipment. I’m still running on the latest iteration of Brooks Addiction and still timing myself with a Garmin 910XT combined with the same foot pod and HR strap I’ve been using for the last few years.

The on change I am considering is changing to an optical-based HR monitor when new models from 4iiii’s and Mio come out this spring. In the cool dry climate of Colorado, static electricity too often skews the data on my monitor and I’m growing weary of having bad information. That’s probably still a month or two off, however.

Net Improvement

Much like the bike, this is a difficult year-over-year comparison due to being injured at this time in 2013. Looking back to 2012, I’m at similar pace per mile speeds which are typically in the low nine-minute zone. However, my mileage is considerably higher now.  Since the first of the year, I’m putting in about 19.5 miles a week and during the last four weeks (since I cam back from vacation in Jamaica), that average is actually 24.11 miles. That’s nearly three times what I was doing at this time in 2012 and I’m doing it without any real problems.

All of this has me anxious to find out how I might do in the run portion of a race like SOST. I felt pretty good about the 8:08 pace per mile I did there two years ago and I have to believe I’m better trained and prepared for this year’s event. Assuming I stay healthy and weather or other external factors don’t prove to be a problem, it could be a good year to hit a PR. I also get to race in an age group with guys that are closer to 50 than 40. Most of them are still really good, just not quite as fast as the next group down. No complaints from me in that regard.

Other Changes

My coach also put me on a daily stretching routine in the interest of preventing injury. I go through a series of upper and lower body exercises right before bed and I generally have been waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the next day’s activity. That’s not always the case, but it is more often than not.

I’ve lacked some strength training which I do miss a little bit. It’s hard to say that I really need to be doing free-weights, but I could probably stand to be doing some core work. Given how hard my workouts are, I just usually don’t want to follow them up with sit-ups or side planks, but I expect I’ll have to find a way over that motivational hump and get it done. A strong core really does make for better performance in all three disciplines.

With nearly three months training done, I’m getting anxious to put all of it to the test by racing and while that is still a little ways off, it’s actually less time than I’ve been doing all of this.

While these updates were here to provide an overview of the approach, I’ll plan on doing some future posts with the results.


Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A New Approach to Training – Part 2: The Bike

Continuing the series started with this post, today I’m going to talk about how I’m training differently on the bike since having started a coached training program.

Like all of my workouts since the first of the year, rides are characterized by bursts of intensity and then recovery. This is true at both the micro and macro level. By that, I mean that there will be intense periods within a workout followed by recoveries intervals as well as full recovery weeks. Given how hard some of these workouts are, I think the recovery periods have been a key factor in staying healthy—i.e.: not injured.

Fundamental Changes

A couple of years ago, I actually invested some time in bike intervals doing multiple repeats out on the bone-jarring roads at Cherry Creek Reservoir. While I didn't much enjoy riding on the bumpy surface, I did get the benefit of improving my speed. When I ran the 2012 Greeley Triathlon I was second in my age group off the bike having been beaten only by the guy who one the division by a comfortable margin. It was a course well suited to sprinting being only 10 miles long and mostly flat.

Unfortunately, I did not stay with that effort figuring that it made more sense to just go for long rides as I prepared to do my first 70.3 race. Until I got back into it this year, I had not done anymore purposeful intervals. Hills on a long ride create a natural interval, of course, but on the trainer, I just got on and rode.

When my coach and I started working together this year, he gave me my workouts with some specific intervals and sections. Like all my workouts, they begin with a warm-up which is usually just some easy spinning and no specific heart rate target. Main sets consist of either a strength building series of repetitions or a set marked by high cadence. Both typically come with a set goal for both RPM and HR. So far, we have not used power, but I think that will be more likely when I start doing more and more outdoor rides.

I’ve gotten through all of the rides okay and they are starting to increase in time each week. All but one have been indoors which is testimony to what a lousy winter it has been here in Colorado. No, we’re not in the middle of the polar vortex, but even weekends (especially weekends) have been particularly nasty. The good news is that I can do a lot to control the terrain I’m riding in and more specifically meet the targets assigned to me by my coach.

Equipment

Three years ago I started using my first Trainer. It was a Schwinn branded (yes, Schwinn) magnetic trainer that was pretty basic. I used gearing to change my resistance and while not ideal, it gave me a place to ride when it was cold and dark outside.

Back in November, I bought a Wahoo KICKR trainer which has proven to be more useful than I could have imagined. I figured its greatest use would be in its ability to simulate real world courses through one of the services out there. So far, I have not subscribed to a service, but I have adjusted hill grade and wind speed to create resistance as needed. It also has a built-in power meter which is affording me power metrics for the first time ever.

I suppose it’s true that once you start using power, it’s hard to go without. Considering the desirability of having a metric that can be consistent despite wind and hills, I’ve decided to go with a Stages model mounted to a SRAM Rival OCT crankset. They are back-ordered on the model so I’ll have to wait a few more weeks and then take to the LBS for installation, but well ahead of my first race, I should have power data both inside and outside.

Net Improvement

This is a tough one to measure. I doubt my average speed is anywhere near where it was last year at this time, but I’m just as sure that my average power output is considerably higher. Since I wasn't measuring power last year, there’s no way to say for sure. But I know I never had a workout where I would have to mash my pedals at a low 65-75 rpm and drive my HR into upper Zone 3/lower Zone 4. I also was riding at much lower cadences on my normal rides whereas now I’m something like 10 to 15 rpm higher.

Of course the real test will be race day, about two months from now. I am hopeful that all of this training will propel me two or three miles per hour faster than in past years at the SOST. Time will tell.

The run is probably one of the more interesting aspects of my training and clearly an area where I’m making great strides—literally!


As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A New Approach to Training – Part 1: The Swim

Any regular reader of this blog will know that a few months ago I hired a triathlon coach in the hopes that I could improve my times—particularly at long course events where I’ve often struggled.

I did okay with my own training and I still view 2012 as something of a watershed year given my strong performances at both the Boulder Peak and Rattlesnake Olympic distance events. I struggled in between at HITS 70.3 but that was also my first attempt at that distance and (as you can see in my race report) there were several factors making it a more challenging race.

Due to injuries, bad motivation, poor diet, over-racing and inadequate training, most of my 2013 was not a particularly good year for me. I did manage to turn things around in my last two races, but I also knew that I wanted to make significant strides at the half-iron distance.

Until January, how that would happen with a coach was something of a mystery to me. I noted in this post that the intensity of the workouts I was being assigned was far higher than anything I had previously done. No more just getting in the pool and swimming for 1500 to 2000 yards. Even the “easy” workouts are characterized by higher intensities than I’ve ever had in a practice and even most of my races.

Fundamental Changes

Since I started swimming regularly back in 2010 when I decided I wanted to be a triathlete, I’ve never done much kicking in the water. I think sometimes my feet would twitch a little bit, but there was no concerted effort to kick. One of the things about my coach is that he is not only a triathlon coach but also a swim coach. As a result, I’ve had to get used to using my legs both as part of the swim as well as on kick sets with a board.

Since a test in early February, most of my swimming is built around a set of numbers specific to my ability. This was done after having me swim two specific distances after a long warm up and with only a one minute rest in between. Now I get a set of distances with my targeted speed being somewhere along the scale. Each yardage amount has a value so the speed for 100 yard intervals is much higher than it would be for say 600 yards.

Equipment

Previously, I never saw much value in items like paddles and fins. It seemed to me that they just made the swim easier. Turns out, I was pretty wrong about that. Paddles actually create more resistance during the pull thus making you work a little harder. They also slow down the overall stroke and force you to work on form.

Likewise, proper swim fins (not the really big ones you use on snorkel trips) have a similar effect on the kick. I’m using either or both multiple times a week and though it’s too early to tell if they have made a difference, I think they will.

Rest Intervals

During my training, I almost always went out and swam my targeted distance without stopping. If that meant 45 minutes, I kept going until I was done. That’s not an altogether bad thing, but keep in mind, all of my training now is based on targeted intensity rather than just long steady-state work.

In practice, this means that a really hard interval (like 200 at near maximum pace) will include both a rest between then intervals and then a longer rest once the set is done. These rest intervals are not particularly long—they can be anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds with up to 60 seconds after a set—they do serve the purpose of allowing me just enough recovery to go hit it hard on my next set.

Net Improvement

This is another case of it being just a little too early to tell if the effort is creating any improvement, but I am swimming much further than in the past. At this point a year ago, my weekly average was less than 1500 yards a week. This year it’s over 4700 and I’m in the water twice a week. I am reasonably confident that if I were to do an open water competition today, I’d turn in one of my better performances.

Fortunately, it’s still only March and my first event, the Summer Open Sprint, is still more than two months off. That means there will be several thousand more yards of swimming between now and when I swim off the beach of Union Reservoir.

So that’s the short and sweet of the aquatic portion of my coached training. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss the bike (all on my trainer so far) and the run. Both have their own intensity characteristics and I’m pleased to see that I’m getting better at both.


Until then, thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Special Runs

Okay, I probably could come up with a better adjective but then again, I expect most people have a fond memory of a run that was especially memorable.

One of the aspects of these kind of workouts is that they are often unexpected. Such was the case last Thursday night in Phoenix.

People who know me know that I have no particular affinity for the city that was my home for three years in the mid and late nineties. It's ridiculously hot in the summer, air pollution is often so high as to necessitate public warnings, crime is high and traffic is worse than terrible. But the town is not entirely without virtue.

One of those virtues is especially nice weather this time of year. It was a very pleasant and dry 75* or so just before 7:00 after I had checked into my hotel and headed out for a schedule 1:15 run with a mix of speed intervals. My own calculations suggested that the distance was going to be a little over 8.5 miles so with some help from MapMyRun.com, I found a route that combined some familiar territory (the Biltmore Circle) with some a new route--specifically the trail that runs along side the Arizona Canal

For those of you not familiar with Phoenix, one of the reasons such a large city can thrive in the middle of a desert is that some 60 years ago, a massive project brought water into the city from the mountains to the north. The result of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) is a series of canals that provide water to the entire area. An ancillary benefit is that trails consisting mostly of packed dirt line these canals and create a nice lace for running
It was dark when I left but I had plenty of light to see well enough as I ran through the neighborhood consisting of one of the largest concentrations if high-end real estate in the country. It's really unbelievable how nice some of these homes are.

As I reached the north end if the circle, near the Biltmore Hotel, I stepped onto the path with no real idea what to expect. This is generally a nice area so I did not expect to have to hurdle vagrants or avert my eyes from drug deals going on, but in Phoenix, a nice neighborhood can turn into a lousy one in the space of a block. Fortunately, that did not happen. In fact, I probably came across half a dozen other people doing the same thing as me.

The stretch was really something. There was no moon, but the lights of the city created enough reflection over the clouds to provide just enough ambient light to see. My views were of Camelback Mountain (a rocky hill that looks remarkably like a kneeling camel) on the way out and of Piestewa Peak on the way back.

As for the run itself, I felt pretty good the whole way. My higher heart rate on certain sets was noticeable, but getting through the sets was not a problem and I felt a definite sense of satisfaction once the run was complete.



I'm headed back to Phoenix in a few weeks and I look forward to revisiting that trail. It will probably be in the daylight hours so maybe I can get some pictures for an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, here's the map from Garmin Connect:

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jamaica!

You would think that vacation would offer plenty of downtime to get a blog post or two completed, but truthfully, this is the first time all week that I've had a few minute to spare.

There's lots of catching up to do, but I'll postpone that for another time.

So, what have I been doing?

Well, while Colorado has not been subject to the worst of the Polar Vortex, we've still had, in my opinion, a much colder winter. More than once, my run workout has been pushed inside to the treadmill because it was dangerously cold outdoors. Whether in or or out (or just making the trek from the Rec Center pool to my car in subzero temps) I've savored the fact that I had this trip to look forward to.

Despite being on vacation, there is still training going on, albeit much easier than anything I was dealing with last week.

Understanding that I am on vacation and not likely to want to spend hours and hours swimming, biking or running, my coach gave me a lighter week with just some easy runs and, since I'm here, open water swimming. The latter is not the traditional mile route around some buoys. There is a large section roped off for swimming that probably takes me three minutes or so to swim the length. It's kind of like an uber-pool considering that I am basically swimming lengths. But it is still and outside swim, something I won't experience back home for another 3 months.

And there have been a couple of runs along the property including some time on the beach. Funny thing about beach running: it sounds good when you are out in the freezing cold, but once you start doing it, it is a little bit of a pain:


There's no biking on the schedule this week and that's fine. Road biking is not advisable because being off the resort property is not entirely safe from both a crime and traffic safety standpoint. On-property, that would mean using the exercycle and I pretty much do that at home any time a ride is on the workout schedule.

I have a couple more days to enjoy here in paradise--Jamaica is really a remarkable place and the local people her are nothing short of fantastic--and then it's back home for a couple of days before a work trip to Phoenix where I'm hoping to get in more outdoor runs.

More to come on my training under a USAT certified coach and the difference that has made in my preparations for the upcoming season.

In the mean time, all I can say about where I am and what I'm doing is "No problem, mon!" and as always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

You HAVE to!

One of my big Christmas presents to myself this year was a juicer. I bought it mainly so I could make my own beet juice (mixed with apples, pears and things that, unlike beets, actually taste good) and avoid the cost of buying large quantities of a commercial product.

It got me to thinking about how fanatical some of the people around our sport are. Brett Blankner recently addressed this in his own podcast about a running Twitter argument he was having with some one on the proper way to train for an ultra-marathon as if there were only one.

On another podcast (not naming names) the host went off on a semi-tirade when her guest mentioned chocolate milk in passing. Her ire was not directed at him per se, but you could hear that fanatical anger in her voice that how dare anyone suggest that there might be something beneficial to dairy! Yeah, how dare he!

So the purpose of this post, I suppose, is to affirm to my readers that while I may offer advice and suggestions, none of it is to ever presuppose anything. Part of why I've become so immersed in this sport is the personal journey it has represented to me. Of course, like anyone, I asked for the occasional direction and feedback, but it was always my journey, not the path someone else mapped out for me.

In coming posts I'll talk about some of the benefits I'm getting from a more focused, more intense training plan. If that helps, than I'm glad I could help you on your journey, but I'll never think it's my role to take anyone by the hand and walk them to triathlon success.

Thanks for reading and here's hoping that each of us finds success and fulfillment in our own way!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

No, You’re Actually Not That Tough

I’m currently in my fourth season as a triathlete. Without question, the training I have done since taking this sport up in the late fall of 2010 has been some of the most demanding and disciplined I’ve ever faced. I have always prided myself on scheduling and completing challenging work outs. That’s included bike and run intervals, swim-run two-a-days, bricks, hills, long swims and so on. I knew there were other elite age groupers and pros that had harder workouts, but for a self-coached athlete, I thought I always put myself through the paces pretty well.

Nevertheless, I also knew that my results were not where I wanted them to be. Some of that was poor training, but even when I trained a lot it was clear that I needed to improve the quality of my training. That led to my decision to hire a coach. I interviewed three and the one I hired impressed me with his philosophy of shorter, more intense workouts. That was something I had not done.

I signed the paperwork back in late November but things did not really start until the last week in December/first week in January. Then I learned how easy I had actually been on myself.

The first workout I had was a swim. In fairness to my coach and the company he contracts with, I’m not going to divulge full details here. However, the highlights include increasing speed over set distances and then following that with a longer distance at max effort. By I reached that last part of the main set, I was more exhausted than I’ve ever been in the pool. Subsequent workouts left my arms feeling tired the way they do after a tough session of lifting free weights.

That was the swim. Then I got bike workouts that included things like increasing the resistance to the point that I could only crank out 50-60 rpm but still had to hit my upper heart rates. This went on for minutes per set with three minutes of high spin recovery. When I read it, 50-60 rpm still seemed like a lot. It’s not. I basically was riding up a 4.5% grade hill in the middle of my gear range. And just to make things interesting, the bike is followed by a fifteen minute run.

Ironically, it’s the running that I’ve handled the best. That’s not to say that the running workouts are easy. Maybe it’s because I’m just used to feeling the pain when I run. Nevertheless, I still manage to get through them and feel pretty good. In fact, that only real issue I’ve had with running so far has been the cold, but then again, it is January.

Two weeks in and I’m feeling pretty good. I got some tough workouts, but I’m doing them all and doing them completely. I tell myself I can handle this.

Then Sunday night rolls around and my coach sends me an e-mail that begins “here we go” and he proceeds to congratulate me on a successful recovery week. That’s right, the first two weeks, the same ones I found to be harder than anything else I had ever done in January were just the easy part.
Now I’m looking at over 8 hours of training over five of seven days during the week. That includes some weight lifting designed to improve swimming. There are also additional tough bike rides which are also always followed by fifteen minutes of running. I expect to be pretty thoroughly exhausted by the time Sunday rolls around. Then I start the second hard week.

So is it worth it? Absolutely. No way would I have ever pushed myself this hard on my own. The real proof will be when I do my first race, but I’m guessing I’ll be more than ready for it. Between now and then, time to slug it out.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Advice for the New Triathlete - 2014 Edition


Just as I did last year, I’m offering the following advice to anyone who has made a New Year’s Resolution to become a triathlete and do their first race. With a name like First Timer Triathlete, I do tend to attract beginners just by a Google search. In fact, I’m proud to say that a recent search of “First Timer Triathlete Blog” brought my humble site up as #10 and on the first page. Woot!

Let me begin by saying welcome. Unfortunately, not everyone who is already a triathlete will say the same, but most folks are friendly and see the growth of our sport as a positive thing. If you stay with it, you are entering a world that will change your life for the better. In a year or less, you’ll be asking yourself why you didn’t take this step sooner. With that said, here’s this year’s top 10:


#10 Don’t believe the angry hype. Any large group has its share of jerks, douche bags, a-holes and otherwise unpleasant people. That’s more of a statement about human nature than anyone sport. You’re likely to stumble across this idiot as well. Read that, but use it for entertainment purposes. I personally think he wrote it just to get a rise out of people. You’ll also hear about how cyclists hate triathletes and vice versa. It’s mostly just hype from people who want to stir up trouble.




#9 Take your swim prep seriously. Even if you come from a pool-swimming background, this one cannot be stressed enough. Regrettably, a very small minority of people drown each year in their swim event. Sometimes this is due to an undiscovered cardiac condition, but often, it’s because the athlete was not prepared to swim in a crowd of dozens of other flapping and kicking competitors. Add to that a general weakness in the discipline and the results can be tragic. When I spoke to the owner of the coaching service I use earlier this year, he told me folks were signing up for Ironman Boulder next year and the coming to him and telling him they could not swim very well. During the colder months, get to the pool often (preferably twice a week) and take advantage of some great online resources. I especially like http://swimsmooth.com/. You can learn a lot about good swimming form from them.



#8 Do your part to be a considerate and conscientious athlete. It does not take very many self-absorbed people to start ruining the experience for everyone else. This is true of the self important jerk who thinks the whole world needs to move aside because he is the fourth fastest in his age group as well as the clueless newbie who has not taken the time to learn the do’s and don’ts. For example, when you set up your transition area, take the minimum amount of space possible. When stopping to get water or nutrition from an aid station, move out of the way as quickly as possible. Unless you are doing a flying mount (i.e.: you are in motion) don’t set stop and mount your bike directly in front of someone else attempting to do the same. Listen to and follow the directions of the race director. If they tell you your wave is wearing the lime green swim caps they gave you, wear it!

Don't have a transition area like this
Do have a transition area like this



#7 When it comes to racing, sometimes less is more. I share this one due to my personal experience of registering for too many races last year. Much as I love the atmosphere around a race, I started dreading it when I had a race coming up. Pick a few you really want to do and build your season around them.

#6 Educate yourself. If you’re just starting out, you probably have a ton of questions. I know I did. There are a lot of great resources out there. Off the top of my head I can recommend these websites:


Of course, a web search will also yield some good results.

The point is; you should learn as much about the sport as possible before you ever do your first race.

#5 Steel yourself against the temptation to quit. Most of this is quite fun when you start out. If you are coming from a single-sport background, there is something energizing about getting to mix it up during the week. However, eventually, that day will roll around when you don’t want to do a work-out. That then turns into two days and then three and soon this is just another broken New Year’s Resolution. Better to think about how you’re going to stay motivated now. It could be that something as simple as getting to record the completed workout in your log. It could be more involved such as going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant after completing a single week of training. Whatever the trigger, make sure you have your motivators in place for those times when you just want to stay inside and do nothing.

#4 Believe in yourself. This is similar to #5. There are, unfortunately, a lot of self-appointed experts who will be anxious to tell you why you cannot or should not pursue your goal of becoming a triathlete. You’ll mess up your knees/ankles/hips/feet. You could drown in the swim. You’ll get hit on your bike. You’ll have a heart attack. The best thing I can tell you is consider the source. If advice about the condition of your body is coming from your physician, you had probably better heed it. But, more likely, it’s coming from someone who once read an article and decided they now know more than you about physical exercise. Most people offering this advice are trying to avoid being left behind by healthier, more highly motivated people. Consider why they are trying to talk you out it.

#3 Train, train train, and then train some more. If you stick with your training plan (the sites above can help you find a free one) and been true to what you know you need to do to be ready, race day will be an enjoyable experience. It’s ultimately about how you feel on the race course and at the finish line. It’s not about how you look or what other people think of you. Training is the work, racing and succeeding are the rewards.

#2 Listen to your body. While it’s important to stay motivated and get your workouts complete, even when you don’t want to, it’s foolish to try and train through injury and illness. If something hurts, rest it and treat it. If you’re sick, take a break until you are better. In most of the colder climates, triathlon racing season is only four or five months long. But triathlon training season is virtually all year. It won’t destroy your season to take time to get better. Rest is also a key component of injury prevention. Make sure you’re plan has days off and recovery weeks.

#1 Have fun! This is the same top item as last year. If you’re not having fun doing this, you’re doing something wrong. Triathlon can quickly move from being a hobby to being a lifestyle…and that’s a good thing!


Thanks for reading!