Archive for Triathlon

Triathlon: I Did It!

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

After a year of training, and pushing myself, before I knew it, the race had arrived. Check that - it’s more like RACE DAY IS HERE! My emotions were running high, and the entire week before I was so adrenalized I couldn’t hardly sleep.

In college, I was constantly told that the best way to deal with finals is to make them irrelevant. They’re made irrelevant by putting in the work during the semester, and triathlons are basically the same. Though the race will likely be the first time you’ve put all three disciplines together, it’ll seem easy because you’re prepared!

If you follow what I’ve outlined in previous posts, on your own timeline, you’ll be good to go.

That being said, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure your race experience is smooth and enjoyable, like a strawberry parfait. Check out these tips:

- Pre-race: HYDRATE! Most races start early (around 8am), and you’ll want to be there at least 90 minutes before to set up your transition area and get your wetsuit on. Drink water the entire time; you’ll need it as you hit the run and your body begins hunting for moisture to replace what you’ve sweated out. And yes, you’ll probably need to urinate early on...which is one of the reasons triathlons start in the water. Hey, EVERYONE does it, so there’s no shame in letting it flow, right?!

- Transition area: Making sure your transition area (or the space you return to in between disciplines to swap out gear/change clothes) is organized properly. Think in progressions: you’ll have you swim gear on to begin, so your biking gear (shoes, shirt, helmet, gloves) needs to be set out where you can easily access it. Underneath/behind the bike gear is your run gear. If your bike jersey/running shorts has pockets, then be sure to place your energy boosters in them, which conveniently leads to...

- Performance Enhancing Stuff: You’re not going to be on steroids like baseball players, but you can have some performance enhancers on hand to help you get through the race. I went to my local outdoor retailer and bought a pack of energy chews and a tube of electrolyte tablets. I gobbled an energy chew before the swim to kick my energy into hyperdrive since I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, then dissolved one of the electrolyte tablets in my water bottle for the biking portion. During the bike, I focused on keeping a moderate pace, while making sure I emptied my electrolyte-fueled water bottle. This hydration is what helped me finish the run in less than 28 minutes, while many of my peers cramped up and started walking.

- Swim tips: As I mentioned, my race was a river triathlon, with a current flowing around six MPH. I merely needed to stay afloat to finish...yet I struggled. My rhythm was thrown off from the outset, as I jostled with the other random limbs trying to get going in the water. I switched between a number of different strokes to get through it, which worked well. For instance, I found the breaststroke useful because I could catch my breath quickly, despite a heavier toll on my upper body. The bottom line: starting lines are chaotic, and swims are generally hard. Learn multiple swimming techniques so you can still finish and not wreck your body for the work to come.

- Bike tips: Before you even get on the bike, you’ll have to get out of your wetsuit. There isn’t much I can offer here, other than wiggling helps. You should wear your bike bib underneath, and have a jersey or shirt ready to go before you climb on. Once on the bike, sustain a moderate pace and drink your water. Don’t get caught up in chasing other bikers, instead focus on your own pace and don’t destroy your legs. You’ll need them for the run. Speaking of...

Before I started running, I ate another energy chew. As I mentioned in a previous post, my legs felt a bit numb from the bike, so my initial pace was slower until I felt comfortable (about 30 seconds.) From that point, I pushed as hard I could, knowing the finish line was coming. Most races will have water stations at each mile point, and I like to slow down, grab a water to drink, then walk about 10 feet. It’s brief, but it helps quite a bit.

That’s it. After all the buildup and months of work, I saw the finish line. I saw my wife and kids cheering me on. I was exhausted and sore, but I’ve never felt better. Everything was totally worth it.

Final tip: keep going! My new goal is to do an Olympic-length triathlon. It’s the same events, obviously, just longer distances. It’s taking me a bit more time, but I have the basics in place. I know how to run, how to bike, and how to swim. Beyond that, I want to make a triathlon a yearly goal.

I’ll get there, but the most important thing is I’ve developed abilities that I can rely on for years to come,without any kind.

And I really, truly think you can do the same.

One final note of encouragement: most triathlons will write your age on your leg, along with your number and which distance you’re running. I’m 32, and was passed by lots of people twice my age and more. I was definitely one of the youngest participants.

I saw old folks, teens, skinny people, obese people, people with limps and even a person without an arm. Anyone can do it, and so can you.

Are you considering pursuing a triathlon or another athletic goal? Let me know in the comments, and best of luck!

Triathlon? Reality Sets In

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

One thing about signing up and paying for an event: it makes things feel very real. It’s no longer just a fantasy or a daydream. It’s a reality, and a bit scary because you never know if you’re ready for it until you’ve done it.

My race was three months away.

It was time to start combining elements of the race in pairs, or “bricks” as they’re known. Besides taking your fitness to a higher level, bricks are important because you learn how your body reacts to different disciplines. You don’t want any surprises on race day!

I set out to do one brick every three weeks, or about four before the race started. Twice I swam a mile in the lap pool, then hopped onto my bike outside. Twice I biked the full 12 miles, then hopped off and ran for three.

The pool-to-bike bricks were pretty doable, so long as I focused on sustaining a comfortable pace in each. I focused on using just my arms in the swim, pulling myself along with them, versus propelling with my legs. With my leg energy saved up, the bike was fairly simple. Any fatigue I felt in my legs was relaxed by coasting along for a few seconds. All in all, it took me a little over an hour to do each brick, which was perfect for a Saturday morning.

The bike-to-run bricks were tough. The first time, again on a Saturday morning, I wasn’t nearly as hydrated as I should’ve been. I hopped off the bike rearing to go, only to have my quadriceps cramp up a quarter mile in. I hobbled around like Red Sanford for a bit until they loosened up, but the lesson was learned: while biking, drink lots of water, and mix some electrolytes in.

Another thing to be aware of: it takes a bit to get your feet under you when you get off the bike. Before I looked like Red Sanford from the cramps, I looked like I was trying to learn how to walk in heels. You want to get running as quickly as you can, but your feet may be a bit numb from the bike, and you can tumble. Use caution.

The second bike-run brick went much better, thanks to more water and a $2 canister of electrolyte tablets. During the ride I made sure to drink the entire contents of my water bottle, because I knew I would need it in the hot sun during the run.

The next weekend a friend with creaky knees invited me to join him in a relay triathlon. He would manage the swim and bike, then let me do the run. It was maybe one of the best things I could’ve done, because it allowed me to linger as the race began, and see how people set up their transition areas. I saw how people moved from the swim to their bikes, how they efficiently slid off their wetsuits and popped on their jerseys. 

The transition area - or the designated space for racers to switch from swim to bike to run - can be a bit complicated. It helps to observe it with your own eyes before your own race, so go and be a spectator at an area tri. Or, check out YouTube.

After the relay experience, I felt ready. Nervous, but ready.

I was three weeks away from the race, so it was time to ease into a more comfortable, sustaining routine. Every other day I tried to do a light run, slow bike or quick swim, just to keep my blood flowing and muscles loose. I wanted to be rested and fresh for race day.

Next, we’ll wrap up this series with race day and what I learned about surviving when the swim doesn’t go as planned. Feel free to share your brick training tips in the comments!

Triathlon? Picking The Race

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

If you’ve been reading along with this series, you know a few things: I’m cheap, I don’t like things that are difficult, and I’ll go out of my way to find the easiest path to accomplish something. So it was that within the course of a year or so I had mastered (this is used rather lightly) the three disciplines of triathlons: swimming, biking and running. I had invested less than a thousand dollars, and kept my workouts down to 30 minutes or so a day.

All of these workouts had served me well. I had lost a good chunk of weight, was in the best cardiovascular shape of my life, and the wiring in my brain had somehow been refreshed, making me a happier person.

In truth, you could pick any of the three elements to focus on, and see similar results.You don’t have to be a triathlete, but it helps a lot to have that goal. A personal preference, but I also like the variety of exercises.

So it was that i arrived at the next step: picking my race.

First, the race. Not all triathlons are the same. There are varying distances and courses. The typical distance of a “sprint” tri are ½ mile swim, 12 mile bike, and 3 mile run, and “olympic” distances are twice that of the sprint. Sprints are suggested for first timers, and that’s the path I went down.

Most offer open water swims in lakes or reservoirs, but there are a few triathlons where the swim is in a river, downstream. If you’re like me, and not a great swimmer, this is the kind of race for you.

If you really want a controlled environment, check your local rec center or gym for an indoor tri. These involve laps in a pool, spins on a stationary bike, and running on a treadmill or indoor track. They’re not much for scenery, but you may prefer the familiarity of the equipment.

Whatever distance, or type of tri, you really can’t go wrong. You’re doing it, and that’s all that matters!

The race I picked was a river triathlon in central Utah with a one-mile swim (downrivers tend to have longer distances since the swim is easier.) They claimed the water typically  flowed 4-6 miles per hour, which meant I would finish in half an hour or less if I could just stay afloat (which was pretty doable in a wetsuit.) Just as well, their bike and run courses were rather flat, and the run was on a golf course (great for the achy joints, versus pavement.)

It couldn’t have been more perfect for a first tri.

Being the cheap fool I am, I even found a coupon for $10 off registration, so my charge was just $65 to enter. Most will cost between $50 and $100, but you do get some swag (like t-shirts, swim caps, energy gels, etc.)

Hit sites like Active.com for lists of events, and try searching for your state + triathlon for more ideas. If you know of other methods, or races you recommend, leave them in the comments!

Triathlon? Swimming

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

Swimming is tons of fun. When I was a kid, growing up in the Northeastern Oklahoma farmlands, we’d take a boat out to the middle of a lake, hop out, and swim for hours. Snakes, turtles, spiky fish, whatever. We had endless energy, and the natural buoyancy of adolescence.

Flash forward to 2012. I’m a grown man and get exhausted in two laps in a pool. My wife, a former lifeguard, describes my swimming style as a “short fistfight with the water, and you always lose.”

Most triathlons take place in open water, and sprint distances are at least half a mile. If I was really going to do this, I needed to get better. I needed lessons.

Remember: I’m cheap. Private swim lessons can cost hundreds of dollars. I’m also prideful, and didn’t want to get into a class with a bunch of five year olds. I knew they’d outswim me anyway.

After digging around online, I found a local rec center offering adult swim lessons. One hour a week, four lessons a month, for $32. Great success!

The lessons were exactly what I needed. The class rebuilt my form as if I were a kid, and once the instructor discovered my triathlon intentions, she showed me the backstroke, side stroke, and other “survival” tactics. She was obviously impressed by my swimming ability.

Regardless, after four lessons, I was able to comfortably swim continuously without stopping. It helped that I had a floaty between my legs to help simulate triathlon conditions, where I knew I would be wearing a wet suit (which is quite buoyant) and trying to avoid using your legs (which is why the floaty is placed between your thighs.)

I signed up for a second month of lessons, and tried to swim for 30-45 minutes at least once between lessons. I quickly got to the point where I could swim a mile or more. I wasn’t fast, but I didn’t care. I could do all three events of the triathlon!*

My next step was to start pairing exercises together, back to back, what triathletes call a “brick.” I also started to scout out races in my area. Much to my own disbelief, I was just about there. I was under 200 pounds for the first time since high school, my confidence was back along with my energy, and my wife and kids could tell the difference.

All it cost me to this point was less than $1000, and about five hours a week.

In my next post, I’ll explain what a river triathlon is and why picked one for my first, as well as how I started putting together bricks.

*-slowly and mediocrely, which was just fine

Triathlon? Biking

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The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.

So I took nine weeks (the length of the Couch to 5K program) and learned to run, and kept at it for several more months. At this point it was summer, I was dropping weight and loving the warm weather. For the most part, it took me just 30 minutes a day, a few days a week, and the only cost was $90 for a pair of shoes and $13 for compression shorts (also very, very much worth it.)

With such a small time commitment to maintain my run, I decided it was time to move to the next athletic feat (going in reverse order of most triathlons): cycling. I’ve done well at catching up on certain activities of my youth: I’m good at video games, pretty good at dancing, and I still remember all the lyrics to “Bust a Move.” You know how the saying goes, “it’s like riding a bike.” I’d find out, because I hadn’t been on one in 15 years, at least.

Due to those 15 years, I was terrified of reacquainting myself with a bike. Especially in a place like Salt Lake City, where half the population seems to own a $1000 rig and one of those fancy racks on their cars. They dart in and out of traffic and plow through massive hills.

I had my wife’s 15 year-old sparkly purple bike with cracked tires, and the bed of my small pickup to tote it around in. I found a local park with long, straight paved paths, and to my surprise, the old saying is true. After a few awkward moments, and no shortage of glances at my sparkles, I got the hang of riding again and started to pick up speed.

If you have a bike, and can ride comfortably on it for an hour or so at a time, then it’ll work for your triathlon. I knew my wife’s bike wouldn’t suffice, but it did give me confidence that I could indeed ride one again.

As if you couldn’t tell by my trick for shoe buying, I’m cheap. In my mind, if you can acquire something of value for a lesser price, you go for it. You can purchase a good, light road bike for $1000 dollars, but you can also find good deals on used bikes. I checked secondhand sporting goods shops, online auction sites, and others until I found one on a local classifieds site. For $500, I bought a high-quality racing bike that was a few years old but well maintained. New it probably ran about $1700.

After riding it once, I also bought a bib with padding in the sensitive region. It’s $45 or more, but so, so worth it. You don’t want to mess with the monkey butt.

I rode a couple times a week, for about half an hour. Then one Friday afternoon or Saturday morning a month, I would go for an hour. This allowed me to cover 12 miles - conveniently the distance in a sprint triathlon.

Another word of warning: get a helmet. Never get on your bike without it. I know - one saved my life.

Racing tires are thin, and you have to be very careful for cracks and uneven portions in the pavement. My tire got wedged in such a crack, and before I could get my feet out of the stirrups to bail out, I tumbled. I don’t remember hitting the street, just waking up and dragging my gear out of the road I was riding on. I had been concussed, but my helmet absorbed most of the fall and  was nearly snapped in half. Without that helmet, I could’ve had serious damage to my brain.

I took a couple weeks off, bought a new helmet, and haven’t had any problems since. Spend the $17 on that helmet. It’s worth it.

So there I was, still fat but getting thinner, with two aspects of a triathlon mastered, with rarely more than 30 minutes a day invested. With my confidence higher than Snoop Dogg in Jamaica, I started to look for a race to run, and considered how to approach my old nemesis the swim.

Triathlon? Running

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In my last post, I wrote about how my life was breaking down as I approached 30. I was woefully out of shape and getting bigger and more depressed in equal proportions. A chance dinner with a 40something triathlete friend, and a reflective period back to my fitter days led me to settle on the goal of running a triathlon.

Hear me now: deciding to do something and getting amped for it is one thing. Actually getting off your rear (which is a great thing to do, as we’ve posted before on this blog) and putting in the work is something else altogether.

I wanted to find a sustainable way of getting in shape. I had seen a lot of friends enjoy great success with Crossfit and P90X, but once they got out of those programs their weight came back. I get into habits far too easily, so I sought ways to make fitness a habit I could sustain for years and years to come. And that’s the beauty of the triathlon: running, biking, and swimming are all things I can do for years and years to come.

Before I did anything, I actually did what the commercials suggest and met with my doctor. He reaffirmed my decision to go the triathlon route, as well as a need for me to drop 20 or so pounds.

I knew if I wanted to tri that I would need to conquer my biggest beast, running, so I selected it as a starting point. I threw on a pair of shorts and my sneakers, and immediately sprinted a solid five mile run!

No, it didn’t really happen like that at all.

I made it about a block before my legs began to wobble and my lungs burned. You see, me and running have a long history. Like many American kids, I grew up playing sports that required sprinting. Football, baseball, basketball all require brief, intense periods of sprinting followed by periods of resting.

A coworker heard my plight and turned me on to a program that changed everything: Couch to 5K.C25K is a free, nine week program designed to take you from no running to being able to comfortably cover three miles in 30 minutes. It's only three runs a week, most of which are around 20 minutes. Which is perfect for a pre-work or lunchtime exercise. You can print out their schedule from their website, or if you have a smartphone, download any number of apps that will verbally talk you through the program.

Here's the basic gist: in the beginning, the program has you walk quite a bit, and run a little, over the course of 20 minutes. Over the next few weeks your walk periods increase, as do your runs. Then, as you hit the second half of the course, your walks begin to decline as your runs continue to increase.

I didn’t realize it, but this program was training me to breathe normally during exertion, while gaining confidence with each distance. I remember being intimidated before five-minute runs, then shocked at how easy they seemed.

I recommend using an app that will allow you to listen to music while you receive the verbal cues. There are plenty of free apps, but I recommend shelling out $2.99 for the Ease into 5K app.

One great thing about Couch to 5K is most triathlons offer a “sprint” distance, which is great for first-timers. In a sprint, the run distance is a 5k, which means you'll be right on target with this program.

C25K introduced me to the art of distance running, and now I can run for hours at a time. Running has become therapeutic for me, even. I can listen to music I'm into or sometimes an informative podcast, break a sweat, watch the world pass by, and let the troubles of the daily grind disappear for a bit.

I found out pretty quickly that a decent pair of shoes was worth investing in. I’ve got old football knees and an ankle that I sprained 15 times in one season. I needed good shoes, but I didn’t want to fork out $150 for them. I went into a running store and tried on dozens of pairs. They even watched me on the treadmill and told me what kind I needed based on how I ran.

Once I found THE pair for me, I took note of the model and went home to search for them online.

I found a better price being offered online, and took that price into the store, who was happy to match it. With just an hour of work, I had saved $30 off a pair of $120 shoes.

I ran for a solid six months before picking up the other aspects of the triathlon, because I wanted my lungs to be in great shape for the swim and bike. This also gave me the chance to pick up a few running mates, who like me, were once large-gutted mouth breathers as I had been.

I dropped 15 pounds and felt my energy shoot up. Just three miles gave me a buzz for the rest of the day.

Thanks to C25K, I had my running conquered in just 30 minutes or so a day, and was already feeling great. Would it keep up with swimming and biking? Keep reading to find out!

Triathlon? Are You Kidding Me?

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Approximately ten years ago I was fresh out of college, and fresh out of whatever physique I had developed during four years of multiple sports in high school. After getting married, settling down into a desk job and two kids, I saw my weight balloon to over 220 pounds. I lost my breath walking up small flights of stairs and couldn't keep up with my precocious children. I noticed changes in my attitude (depressed), motivation (non-existent), and libido (also depressed.)

I joined a gym and worked out often, but usually just wound up doing easy exercises before retiring to the steam room. More than I care to admit, I would stop at the fast food joint across the street on my way home. I was a pretty sad guy, to say the least. 

One night, my wife and I visited a friend, a woman in her mid-40s who, despite having birthed four kids (including triplets), was in great physical condition. She talked about her motivation to stay fit and setting reachable goals, focusing on a triathlon as the pinnacle.

In my mind a triathlon wasn't anything reachable at all. I remembered watching YouTube videos of people finishing races, crawling across the finish line, some with soiled underoos. I had crawled out of Chinese buffets that way, but that's something else entirely. 

No, triathlons were for the elites, just like marathons, Ironman races, and anything else that appeared difficult. Good for them, but not for me. I'll watch them on TV.

With what little exercise I had, and what muscle was left over from high school, I thought I was still in decent shape. Then I saw a photo of my wife and I, from our senior year of high school when we first started dating. She still looked as good as she had back then. I looked like I had eaten 18 year old me. 

It triggered a lot of soul searching. I thought a lot about my kids, and how I wanted to be around to see them grow up. No cheeseburger was worth missing out on that.

Kids always imagine they'll grow up to be professional athletes, or sexy celebrities, even firemen. No one daydreams about passing out on the recliner while still balancing a beer on their gut. 

Damnit, I was going to do something while I was still young and capable. I had been aiming low for years, so it was time to aim high. I resolved to not just do a triathlon, but I wanted to do it in a way that would change my life. I wanted to develop habits I could sustain for 50 years. 

Join me over my next few posts, and I'll take you through my story, which I think you might find useful for yourself.