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!

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