I swam this morning. I swim 2-3 days a week now. Compared to last year or even a few months ago, I feel much stronger. Unfortunately, I’m not getting any faster.
I should probably preface the remainder of this blog by saying that I’m writing as a novice/intermediate triathlete and not as a PT. As much as I try, my thoughts and opinions as an athlete often don’t coincide with the PT in me.
I haven’t taken a lesson recently, but I read and watch videos about technique on a regular basis. I also speak to a lot of swimmers, which is always interesting. Some tell me to lengthen my stroke, others say to shorten my stroke. Some say breathe however you’re comfortable, others say force yourself to breath on alternating sides or every 4th or 6th stroke. Some say the kick is the key, others say save your legs for the bike and run.
So, since it’s only February, I’m experimenting. I’m trying different techniques to see how I can be most comfortable and maybe cut off some time. I realize there’s always going to be a learning curve, so it may take time to find what works best for me.
I may suck it up and take a few lessons at some point or enroll in class. A little professional feedback may be extremely helpful.
The good news is that I really enjoy swimming for exercise and I’m going to keep at it, even if I’m the slowest dude in the pool.
Swim. Bike. Run. Repeat. Most people would think that's all you need to do to train for a triathlon. You wouldn't be completely wrong if you did 2 sessions of each discipline every week for 3 months leading up to a race, but there is much more involved if you want to perform closer to your potential.
It all starts in the off-season. Before you begin ramping up to the mileage of a triathlon, whether it be a Sprint, Olympic, 1/2 Ironman, or Ironman, you need to have a base to launch from. The distances of an Olympic triathlon are a 0.9-mile swim, 24-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. If you are striving to simply complete the 3-discipline race, you should be able to do at least 1/2 of each distance, and possibly have 1 of the 3 that you can confidently complete before serious training begins. More competitive racers should easily be able to get through all 3 distances seperately. Training will focus on bringing it all together and getting faster through the entire program.
Prior to specific training, a solid strengthening program will prepare the triathlete for all the challenges they'll face during the actual season. Key areas to train are the legs, upper back/shoulders, and of course the core. This doesn't leave much out and that's because triathlons are a true test of full-body fitness. Strengthening should focus on building a support system that will last through the rigors of training sessions, races, and a long season of both. The intensity and degree of off-season training depends on the athlete's goals and expectations for the upcoming season.
Some training programs that are extremely effective for triathlon training are:
- Calisthenics - push-ups, pull-ups, squats
Once the season begins, continue your strengthening program, but to a lesser degree. The goal should be to maintain your strength and reinforce the work you've done in the off-season. If you're not sure where to begin, join an off-season training program or work with a personal trainer with the specific objective of preparing to train for a triathlon or triathlon season.
August 7th was the 2011 NYC Triathlon. It's an Olympic distance race - 0.9-mile swim, 24-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. This is currently the most popular distance in triathlons. It's challenging, but doable for most endurance athletes. A decent benchmark is 3-hours for this distance. The pros finish in about 1-hour 46-minutes.
This is the 10th year that "over 3,000 athletes brave the waters of the mighty Hudson River before biking along Manhattan's West Side highway. Finally, athletes put on their running shoes for a run through New York's famed Central Park." It's a tour of NYC like none other.
Preparing for an Olympic-length triathlon requires determination, commitment, strength, and endurance. Training begins in the off-season, building a base in order to be able to intensely train in the 3 disciplines for 8-12 weeks leading up to the race.
Most athletes do the bulk of their swim training in a pool and a few practice swims in open-water to get accustomed to the river swim. On race day, many of the racers wear a wetsuit for warmth and also for buoyancy and speed. It's a good idea to wear the wetsuit for a few of the training swims if you're going to wear it in the race. As with many other aspects of a triathlon, do things in practice the way you will do them in the race and in the same respect, it's best not to try anything new on race day. Practice with the wetsuit, use those new goggles, shoes, or sunglasses and don't try out some new drink potion on the day of the race you've been preparing for over the past 6-months.
Once you exit the Hudson, you'll walk or run to your bike, which you racked thenight before. An experienced triathlete will prepare their transition area to minimize the time they spend going from 1 discipline to the next. You can gain or lose significant time depending on your ability to change your clothes. To me, transitions feel like a gameshow contest, but it is a part of the sport that can't be overlooked. The bike is a time to settle in, have a beverage, and start hammerring. Up and down hills, not too many turns and no drafting. Triathlon bikes are designed to be aerodynamic and not super-agile. Go straight fast and conserve energy for the run at the same time. The bike is the longest leg of the race, so a great deal of time can be gained or lost. Committed triathletes ride triathlon-specific bikes that maximize speed with aerodynamics and efficiency. A road bike can do the trick, but anything less geared towards long distance road biking is not recommended.
After grinding it out for 24-miles, it's a quick change into running shoes and off you go up the hill onto 79th Street and across the West Side into Central Park. The course runs clockwise up and down the park's northern hills and a finish on 72nd Street. This is a challenging 10K run, but crowds line the park roads to motivate runners to a strong finish.
Overall, the NYC Tri is an awesome NYC event. It's fun, unique, inclusive, and competitive. I recommend for all New Yorkers and for all triathletes looking for great races to do.
You've trained for the past 6-months to get in shape to train for a triathlon.
You're strong, fit, and motivated. So what's the plan?
The key to success in a triathlon is efficiency and the road to efficient performance is paved with excellent technique. Swimming, biking, and running each may seem natural and second-nature to anyone who's exercised before, but to do well in a triathlon with the least amount of effort is the real challenge. So, do what it takes to learn proper technique. There's information online, in books and from professional instructors and coaches.
If you're going to train on your own, here's some advice that will help guide your journey. It's by no means a thorough program, but it can be used as a general guideline. Firstly, assess your ability and your skill level. If you're running 7-minute miles and can barely swim 10-lengths of a pool, then you will need to spend significantly more time in the water than at the track.
- Practice each discipline - weigh more heavily on your weakest 1
- Start slowly and be sure you complete the distance
- Work speed and interval training into each of your programs
- Once a week do a brick session - at least 2 of the 3 disciplines in 1 training session
- Use the equipment you'll be using on race day
- Fine tune your technique and your equipment
- Focus on nutrition - daily and on training/race days
- Go to sleep early - you'll need the extra rest and waking early is the best way to get the most effective workouts
- Be familiar with the course you'll be racing - you have to know it perfectly, but have an idea of what you're getting into
- Stretch - regular stretching is extremely helpful and yoga can be very beneficial to triathletes
- Continue to gently strength train through your triathlon season to maintain strength and endurance
- Rest - allow your body to recover by taking occassional days off
- Have fun - by challenging yourself, you'll see that you are capable of feats beyond your previous beliefs, bringing you great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction
Follow these general guidelines and you'll be well on your way to participating in and succeeding in the exciting world of triathlons.
When I was 16 my family went skiing in the Alps. At Mont Blanc in Chamonix we took a gondola over a chasm that must have been over 300 feet below. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I was a little scared, uncomfortable. My mother, on the other hand, was horrified. She was hyperventilating, crying, unable to control her emotions. There really was very little to fear. The situation was very controlled, but those thoughts were the furthest from her mind. Fear had taken over. My brother and I laughed at her and she laughed a little too, then she took a few deep breaths and she was able to convince herself that all would be OK.
A few years ago a friend of mine was participating in local triathlons with his father and brother. He repeatedly asked me to get involved. “You would love them. They’re so much fun. You’d be great at triathlons.” At the time I was just running. I could barely swim and I didn’t own a bike. It all sounded like a lot of fun, but i was horrified of the idea of swimming more than the length of a pool. The thought made me uncomfortable and I’d just block it from my mind. I wasn’t doing a triathlon – not possible. As I neared 40 years old, my body had broken down some. Injuries had taken their toll. Competitive soccer became too risky and I’d lost a couple of steps from my not-so-fleet feet. Running marathons, particularly training, was a brutal endeavor, wearing on my joints; the same ones repeatedly. I needed a new challenge.
Another friend of mine tried to coax me into triathlons 2 years ago, but once again that fear of the water reared it’s ugly head. I attempted to register for the 2009 NYC Tri, but didn’t exactly give it my all. I took my time with the forms and ended up getting shut out. It took another year for me to get motivated, but in 2010 I made sure I got my paperwork in and I was entered in the 2010 NYC Tri. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I knew I would.
I was confident in my cycling and running, but I knew swimming would be my bugaboo. Now fear is a powerful force, perhaps stronger than any other of our emotions. It makes us do irrational things, things we would never consider otherwise. I had this idea that I was going to just wing it and complete the swim without any training. Instead of facing my fear head-on, I was shying away from it, perhaps hoping it would go away. My brother in-law questioned me on my thinking and suggested that I would regret ruining my entire event if I wasn’t prepared for the swim and he actually had no idea how pitiful my swimming was.
He was right, though, and when I first got in the pool, I could barely do 50 meters. My swimming, and my survival techniques gradually improved in the last 2 months leading up to NYC. I could manage about 1000 meters in the pool with a combination of freestyle, breaststroke, and backstroke. That barely prepared me for the big dance. On July 18, 2010 I got into the Hudson River at 100th Street with about 100 men in my age group and I steadily fell behind the pack. I looked up, completely breathless after 100 meters. I was alone in the river. No swimmers around me, a 25 foot wall to my left, and about a mile of river between me and New Jersey to the right. All of my fears were now my reality. I was frozen in place with no escape. I couldn’t scale the retaining wall, I couldn’t go back – the next pack of swimmers was already descending on me, and I couldn’t see the end of the swim. It could have been 25 miles away. New Jersey might have been closer. I did the only sensible thing – I panicked.
Just like we had laughed at my mother, I laughed at myself. That calmed me a bit and then I took a few deep breaths and talked myself off the ledge. When I looked around again, I realized I was floating down the river without any effort. There was a significant current pulling me downstream. I did a little breaststroke with my head out of the water and struggled like that down to the pier at 80th Street. I never resumed a normal freestyle stroke and never actually got comfortable in the water that day. I did survive, despite having 1 of the slowest times in the field.
I emerged from the Hudson coated in a layer of black silt and completely exhausted. It took me 10 minutes to catch my breath, but I recovered fairly well and performed respectably in the bike and run segments. Overall, I consider my first triathlon a success. I overcame 1 of my biggest fears, I completed 1 of the toughest athletic events my home town has to offer, and I set the stage for my triathlon career. Despite my anxiety, I had a lot of fun that day and I will be back in 2011.