Welcome to Training Tuesday: Triathlon Time

Last summer, I went through a rough personal patch after moving here, and that motivated me to restart the exercise habits that had been so valuable when I was in Pensacola. Using Fitocracy regularly got me interested in lifting, which got me involved with the two coached programs I participated in (I’ve already written about them a bunch before, e.g. here). But I’d been thinking that I wanted to choose a goal race, so I decided to train for a sprint triathlon, as I mentioned in my 2014 goal list. As soon as registration opened, I signed up for the Huntsville Sprint, then signed up for the Fleet Feet TRI101 program. So far we’ve had the kickoff meeting; our first group class was cancelled because of severe weather, but I’ve started to work my way through the 16-week training plan. As I progress, I’ll be sharing more observations about the training and my progress, usually on Tuesdays (hence the “Training Tuesday” label).

First: I am super impressed by the Fleet Feet coaches and training program. I had heard that they were good, but I didn’t realize how good. They have been uniformly supportive, effective at motivating us, patient with questions, and generous with sharing knowledge. I don’t really know any of the people in my training group yet but there’s a great mix of ages, sizes, and prior experience levels; we’ve got some accomplished half marathoners and marathoners, some complete noobs, and lots of people in between. It’ll be fun getting to know my fellow future triathletes.

Second: I am a lousy swimmer. Yesterday I swam 400m freestyle in 16 minutes, 29 seconds. The current world record, set in 2012 by Yannick Agnel, is 3 min 32 seconds. So I’ve got some room to improve. However, I am improving. As our coaches like to point out, the only way to improve your swimming is to swim. You can’t buy gear to make you faster, and you can’t just bash your way through with increased effort. The TRI101 program includes four coached swims, where you show up at the pool and work with a coach; this has been really helpful so far but I may end up working on my own with a coach some as well. If I can keep my swim time around 15 minutes or less I’ll be happy; that seems like an approachable goal. My plan to get there is never to swim less than the 400m distance required for this first triathlon, and to go longer when I feel like it. We’ll see how that works out.

Third: there is a ton of gear that even a newbie triathlete needs that I didn’t have. Let’s start with a triathlon suit (which I still don’t have; I just got this racing swimsuit instead), which allows you to wear one suit in the water, on the bike, and on the road. Here’s one example. To prevent a reprise of my MEC appearance, though, I think I’ll be extra careful about posting photos of myself wearing the suit once I get it.

More prosaically, I needed a swim cap, which Fleet Feet provided as part of the class, and goggles. Since I didn’t have swim flip-flops, I bought a pair of those too. I already had a bike, with clipless pedals and appropriate shoes, but I needed a rack to carry it to and from riding locations, plus a reflective harness so I don’t get smashed by a truck. Even my trusty running shoes weren’t immune; I swapped to a pair of Lock Laces (motto: “Win, never tie”) to speed up transition times. Triathlons have two transition periods: T1 is when you move from the water to the bike, and T2 is when you move from the bike to the run. The transition areas have all sorts of rules to keep things more-or-less organized, and your T1 and T2 times are measured separately, so being able to jump out of the pool, run to your bike, walk it out (no riding in the transition area, of course), and then get on the road fast can make a big difference. I am thinking that my transition times are probably the least of my worries so I’m not planning on putting a whole lot of emphasis on buying stuff to shorten my times.

Fourth: this is not the same kind of bicycle riding I did as a kid. Riding in bike shorts feels like wearing a diaper, for one thing. Plus, maintaining a steady cadence takes practice and skill, because it involves shifting gears. Doing it while drinking from a water bottle is even harder. Throw in the fact that your feet are attached to the pedals and it can get tricky. Which reminds me, I should take my bike to have it fit— the seat, handlebar, and pedal positions on my bike can be adjusted to best fit my arm, leg, and torso lengths but I have no idea what the “right” settings are. Bike fits consist of getting on your bike on a trainer and riding it while the bike shop folks watch you, then they adjust a few things, then you ride some more; rinse and repeat. I like riding, and have even briefly entertained the idea that I might like riding a metric century, but I’m not quite to that point yet.

The current training schedule calls for 3 runs and 2 swims per week, with 2 off days; we’ll start working the bike into the schedule in a couple of weeks. Astute readers may note that I haven’t said anything about lifting so far; I plan to keep lifting on my two off days (or maybe on swim days) but will be sticking with the basic big lifts: deadlift (or variations), back squat, and bench press, with a few shoulder exercises thrown in for swimming. I intended Sundays to be brick days— a brick is the triathlon term for multiple-activity workouts, such as bike + run or swim + bike. I’ve gotten in one bike/run brick so far and plan to do them at least once a week, even before the schedule calls for them, but we’ll see how that goes.

Should be an exciting journey!

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