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 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!