I have wanted to do a triathlon forever. I have a little problem with dreaming big, which is ironic since I'm typically such a pessimist. Give me just a hint of an upcoming adventure though, and I immediately lose all impulse control and turn it into something massive. The most showy evidence of this propensity is in our 1,000+ mile road trips and a few short notice moves we've made. Josh doesn't always help matters much, if I mention "well yeah, we could sleep in a campground 10 feet from the car. OR.........we could hike 40 miles", he's pretty quick to jump in with both feet and start planning.
So back in 2006, we watched Josh's sister-in-law run her first marathon. I don't really know why, but it literally made me tear up. By the time she finished, the switch had flipped in my brain and I was in full on, "this is the most awesomest thing ever and I wanna do it too!!!" mode. Josh and I immediately made plans to run a half-marathon (we had never done so much as a 5K before, so 13.1 miles seemed more feasible than 26.2). We found a training program, bought a jogging stroller and started running. I kid you not, I could not make it to the end of the street--a whopping two-tenths of a mile--without taking a walking break. But the gears were already turning and it was only a week or two before the endorphins led me to blurt out, "I wanna do an Ironman!!!!"
For those who don't know, an Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run, all on the same day, back to back.
Josh managed a good middle ground here. He realized an ironman was, shall we say, ambitious. He suggested a sprint triathlon. He also built me a road bike though (he used to race...it's handy to have your own bike mechanic at home), and I discovered I had a lot to learn, but really liked cycling. I decided I definitely wanted to do a tri. We found out I was pregnant the week after we ran the half-marathon, so everything got put on the back burner for a little while.
Then in 2008, I planned to do a triathlon in Galveston, in October. Hurricane Ike blew through September 12/13 and caused massive damage to the island and, obviously, cancelled the race.
With kids, PhD graduation, moves and more kids, there just never seemed to be any time. When I created my 101 in 1001 goal list, I put a tri on there. Here we are, in the last few months before time is up on that list and I still haven't done one.
This summer, there is a local triathlon with the swimming portion taking place snake-style through the lanes of a competition pool. This was as good as it was going to get. I'm a weak swimmer, so avoiding open water for the first go around seems wise. Being local means there's no travel cost. And it happens before my deadline for my goal list.
So I signed up. It's a sprint tri 7 years in the making.
This race will be 400m swim, 12 mile bike, 3.1 mile run. I have a reasonable amount of experience running and biking, but I've never put them together before and while I can get from point a to point b in a pool, I have no racing experience at all and have never taken a single swim lesson.
So here are some things I've picked up so far that might help other people who are new to triathlon:
- trinewbies.com has some free training plans available that seem reasonable, as well as other information to help you get started. I'm following the 10 week sprint distance plan.
- If you wear glasses, buy prescription goggles. They're not much more than regular goggles and well worth having. I started out swimming blind (with plain goggles) while I waited for mine to ship and it wasn't fun. Being able to see made me feel more confident and was a heck of a lot more convenient. Prescription swim goggles will not correct for astigmatism, so they don't give you perfect vision, but it's close enough. I used the calculator on this site to determine which strength lenses to use (because I have a pretty bad astigmatism so just ordering based on my SPH number wouldn't work well for me), but I ordered my goggles from aquagoggles.com. I have been extremely happy with them. They work great, there is no leaking at all, they come in a sturdy case, and you're provided with 3 different nose pieces so you can make them fit you.
- Once it was time to actually swim, I was having a lot of trouble. I was completely exhausted after 25m and I felt like it was a huge struggle the whole time. I discovered Total Immersion Swimming's videos on you tube and their methods made a night and day difference. The "work less, swim better" series of videos were a good introduction, but the other videos are helpful too and I checked their book* out of the library so I would have a specific list of drills and workouts to follow. The first time back in the pool, I felt a drastic difference. I've only been doing this for about 2 weeks and I'm still quite slow, but I can do my 400m in about 12 minutes and I don't feel exhausted at the end. That's key, especially in a tri with such a short swimming section. Shaving a couple of minutes off your swim isn't going to make a big difference in your overall time, but if your heart rate is maxed out when you get out of the pool, you're gonna have a heck of a time jumping on a bike and riding well.
- I wasn't sure what I was going to wear because I didn't want to invest in a full tri-suit. I decided to go with tri shorts and a sports bra made out of swimsuit type material. I can easily use both of these for biking/running even if I never do a tri again. After the swim, I will throw on a shirt to avoid sunburn. The only brands of tri shorts I could find locally to try on were Zoot and Pearl Izumi. My regular bike shorts are Pearl Izumi, so I thought that's what I would want, but the leg hems were too tight and narrow, it felt like they were cutting into my legs. On the Zoot shorts, the hem is a wide section that is just tighter than the rest of the short rather than having a specific tight, grippy band. The Zoots were a lot more comfortable, so I bought them and they've worked well. Something I didn't realize until after I wore them a few times is they also have handy pockets built into the sides, which is perfect to hold the chapstick I always want with me. For the sports bra, I bought this one from Target. I have not swam in it yet, but it seems to stay in place well and has worked great for biking and running. It is the same material and molded cups you find in swimsuits, so it's a little more discreet than typical sports bras and should work well in the pool.
- Bricks. Bricks are workouts where you do two or more things on the same day. Typically a bike immediately followed by a run. This is important, because when you step off a bike and try to run, your legs are all, "you're joking, right?" My first brick was awful. It was over 90 degrees and sunny, so I was too hot. I took gatorade with me, but didn't adequately hydrate during the day before I went out. I didn't properly cool down at the end of the bike ride. I transitioned (from bike to run) too fast. So I learned from my mistakes. Just yesterday, I did my 2nd brick and it went much better and was actually enjoyable. It only took a few changes: I went an hour later in the evening so the sun was not so high in the sky; a purposely drank an extra liter of gatorade in the afternoon on top of what I usually drink; I paid attention to my heart rate during the last 5 minutes of the bike ride and switched to a lower (easier) gear so I could bring my heart rate down; I also took the time check my heart rate (just counted for 6 seconds, then multiply by 10) during my transition and didn't start running until it had come down to the low end of my exercise range (but not all the way to resting rate). Last, but not least, I got my ipod out again. I don't bike with music because I wouldn't be able to hear cars adequately, but I just run so much better with some upbeat tunes in my ear. So much of any endurance exercise is mental, and the right songs help my mindset.
Has anyone else out there done a tri? Do you have any tips for me? The transitions worry me. I'm not expecting to be fast, but I'm worried I'll get in the way of someone who is in a hurry.
*The book link above is an affiliate link. Aside from that, I have not been compensated in any way for writing about any of this, just sharing my own experience and opinion.