This is a follow-up post to: Why do I Tri?
The popularity of triathlons grows by leaps and bounds every year, especially shorter Sprint or Olympic distance races. According to a recent NY Times article the fastest growing age segment is Men in their 40's. While I'm not there yet I do have some of the same aspirations quoted in that article, such as weight loss and "trying to stay as young as I can for as long as I can."
Don't think you're ready?
Don't think you have what it takes? Maybe you have a physical disability that says otherwise? Think again...
I am amazed by some of the people that I see racing even in the small local events that I frequent here in Washington state: old (88 and barefoot!), young (11 and riding a BMX bike), and everything in between. I do it to maintain/lose weight and, most importantly, to have fun. Yes, you can have fun while training and enduring physical pain. I do it by singing Christmas songs during the race and watching people's reaction as we pass (usually they are passing me, rarely the other way around).
If you need some more inspiration check out the Ironman Championship replays on NBC/Universal Sports. My kids LOVE to watch it. Look it up on your local cable/satellite provider, you won't be disappointed. On each one they profile the pros and several other inspirational athletes. Watching Chrissie win her first race was incredible but her second win was even more exciting.
What is my current fitness level?
The best place to begin is to look at your current level of fitness and activity. Many people already exercise more than enough to enter a casual race and at least finish it. When I did my first triathlon (the 2007 Issaquah Triathlon) I was jogging 5K 3x per week and commuting by bike 1-3x per week (20 miles round trip). All I had to do was add in the swim and I was set (more or less).
Ask yourself these questions. If you answer "yes" to more than 2 then you are just about ready to race!
- Do you exercise 2-5x per week?
- Can you do 60-90 minutes of constant aerobic activity?
- Can you ride at least 10 miles?
- Can you jog at least 3 miles?
- Can you swim at least 400 meters (1/4 mile)?
How far can you swim/bike/run today, even as a single activity? Does that already map to typical triathlon race distances?
Sprint - Swim: 400-800m, bike: 12-15 miles, run: 5-7km
Olympic - Swim: 1500m, bike: 24 miles, run: 10km
Half-Iron (70.3) - Swim: 1.2 miles, bike: 56 miles, run: 13.1 miles
Ironman (140.6) - Swim: 2.4 miles, bike: 112 miles, run: 26.2 miles
Matching your current activity level to the race distances above will give you a much better entry point for your triathlon career. Start small and work your way up.
Where do I start?
Health: The first place to start is your doctor's office. Get a full physical exam by your primary care physician. Do you have a physical condition that may limit your physical exertion (i.e. heart condition, diabetes, MS, the list goes on...)? If you already have a known health condition there may be special considerations that will need to be factored into your training plans. Your exercise patterns may also affect your treatment plans for chronic conditions for better or worse.
Goal Setting: Start with a goal. Look for a goal that will stretch you, something that appears beyond your reach right now. For me, back in 2007, that was a simple "flat as a pancake" Sprint Tri. For others it may be a more challenging Sprint or even an Olympic Distance Tri. Setting your goal low in the beginning may make it easy to reach but make sure you have another goal set out beyond that initial goal, something to look forward to after you finish that first race. And, yes, with some preparation you will indeed finish that first race. It took a lot of bike commuting, training runs, and practice swims to be able to finish that first race.
Training Plan: Putting together a plan is the best way to accomplish your goal. You can start with simple things like balancing your workout during the week. Will you do each activity (swim/bike/run) multiple times each week? Do you need to focus extra time on a very weak skill? (i.e. swimming, as in my case)
I found the idea of training plans several years after I started and wow, do they make a difference. I used the "20-week, run focused" plan from BeginnerTriathlete.com last year when I did my first Olympic. The plans are basic and can be tailored to your need. The main thing is to look for a plan that matches your goals and time horizon (don't start a 20-week program with 10 weeks to go before race day).
Coaches/Trainers: I used a personal trainer several years ago when I was in a weight loss program and it worked really well. She was able to tailor a training plan that fit my goals and specific body needs. Many people find coaches and trainers to be invaluable but they can be quite expensive. If you are on a budget a good way to start is with many of the free plans found online and if that doesn't work then find a coach or trainer that can help you develop a plan that works. It may take a lot of trial and error but in the end it is vital that you find a way that helps you accomplish your goals.
As with any race, there is a start and a finish. Once you start you can finish: all it takes is one stroke after another, then one pedal after another, then one foot in front of the other, and eventually you make it to the end. Once you do make it, chances are you'll be hooked and want to Tri again. This will be a great learning experience and the start of something amazing in your life. It certainly has been for me.
Even my son is into it now. He started at age 7...
This was my 4th time finishing the Issaquah Xterra...
…I mean Issaquah Tri.
It sure felt like an Exterra or Cyclocross event. I have never seen Lake Sammamish State Park with so much water in the grassy areas. The mud was ankle deep in some of the transition areas. The deeper puddles (i.e. small lakes) were roped off and nearly knee deep. The usual run course was completely re-routed onto more solid surfaces both inside and outside the park.
The water temp really slowed me down on both the swim and bike. At the end of the race I recovered much faster than I anticipated which usually means I left a lot of fuel in the tank (i.e. I could have gone faster on the course).
My son was constantly checking the Lake Sammamish water temperature leading up to the race. The temps started out around 60F the weekend before and then dropped down to 56F the night before race day thanks to a very cold and heavy rain storm.
I walked down to the water to warm up about 30 minutes before my start time. BRRRR! Did I mention the water was cold? I think I saw some ice float by...
Biggest surprise: the number of people who didn’t have wetsuits. This was my first race in a wetsuit. I usually count the number of people without suits: the number is usually 3-5 for the entire race but this time it was 3-8 per age group. While I was setting up my transition area I met a guy doing his first race in an old pastel-colored O’Neil waterskiing wetsuit. Well, to each his own.
Swim: 12:10 748/839
As the horn sounded first wave of men started off a bald eagle was started out of a nearby tree, flew a circle around the swim area, and returned to his perch, most likely to sleep off his headache from the air horn. A few minutes later I was shivering in the water waiting for my heat to begin. When my heat finally began my body went into shock. The water was incredibly cold away from shore and seriously prevented me from getting into any kind of freestyle rhythm: I ended up doing the breast stroke for more than half the course. After what seemed like an eternity I staggered out of the water and into T1 nearly 2 minutes slower than last year. The cold water really threw me for a loop and negatively impacted me for the rest of the race.
The run into transition was easier than I thought. The muddy ground was quite soft and squishy between the toes. I took the extra time with a water bottle to rinse my feet a bit before putting into my socks which turned out to be unnecessary. As I exited transition in my bike shoes they filled with water and mud.
Bike 48:22 391/839
The bike is typically where I shine, thanks to my bike commute schedule, but not this year. My legs took a VERY long time to warm up from that cold water. The other impacting problem was the very long and narrow exit out and then approach into the park which did not allow for passing. This created about a mile in each direction where everyone was at the mercy of the riders in front of them. In a race staggered start and a duathlon it made for some frustrating minutes lost. I was shooting for 40 minutes or under and was quite shocked at my time.
I traded my muddy bike shoes for an old pair of running shoes that I had remembered to bring (i.e. not my nice, newer shoes).
Run: 25:52 612/839Muddy shoes after the run
The run was almost enjoyable. The sun came out and started to warm things up. I even ended up with a bit of a sun burn. The new run course was an out and back loop on sidewalks through the park. I didn't have my GPS running but I swear it was under 5K. I was very happy to be at the end of that race.
Total: 1:32:53 OA: 539/839 AG: 88/113
Once again, it was a fun day. The weather, mud, and cold water made for a very interesting and educational experience.
- Old running shoes are great for short races if you don't want to get your new shoes muddy.
- If the water temp is less than 62F, go for the LONG SLEEVED wet suit.
- Do more warm up in the cold water before the race to better acclimate to the frigid temps.
Looking forward to next time!
I was digging around some old docs and found my old race report for the 2007 Issaquah Tri. This one is important to me because it was my first Triathlon of any distance and a great turning point for me personally.
Report, as written on June 3, 2007-
Wow, I actually did it and achieved my goal (finish in less than 2 hours). I arrived just in time to sit in traffic as the over 1000 participants waited to get into the parking lot at Lake Sammamish State Park at Issaquah, Washington, just east of Seattle. There was plenty of time for me to set up my bike and other things in the transition area and meander over to the starting area. While waiting in the line for the restroom I found a friend of mine from church who was participating in the Tri with his wife. It was nice to know someone else who did the race. They both beat me by at least 10 minutes (way to go!).
The swim start for my heat was at 7:18 am sharp. I stayed in the back of the pack and then did the breast stroke for just about the entire 400m swim. The water temp was perfect (for me anyway) at around 70F. This was my weakest of the three events by far. My time coming out of the water was about 18 minutes (more on that below). The first transition went well considering I didn’t have a wet suit to fool with. I put on my shirt, cleaned my feet, donned my shoes, and off I went.
As I was just starting my bike run I saw the race leader coming back from his bike run. He won with a time of 58:35, almost 1 hour faster than me. To put that into perspective, I did the bike portion of the race in just over 55 minutes. The next closest competitor to him was almost 5 minutes behind. I did pretty well on the bike. I noticed that a lot of people around me didn’t use their downhill gears: I passed a lot of folks on the downhills with minimal effort. The one hill we had to go over and back on was a slow rise up about 300 feet. Lots of people looked at me funny as I sang Christmas songs to pass the time (i.e. "Walking in a Winter Wonderland", "Frosty the Snowman", and "Have yourself a merry little Christmas"). I was feeling really good coming out of the second transition.
The run felt really good except for one thing: of the entire course, only 1/4 of it was paved. The remaining was over grassy fields, dirt roads, or sports fields. My ankles were really bothering me as I approached the finish. Most of the course was shaded which turned out to be a blessing as the sun came out near the end. As I broke out of the trees for the final time I saw Wendy and the boys there to cheer me on. I sped up and somehow found the energy to sprint across the finish line.
Here are my official results:
Swim 00:18:23.6 T1 00:06:27.9 Bike 00:55:05.8 T2 00:04:37.9 Run 00:27:49.1 Finish 01:52:24.3
Overall I am very happy with the entire experience and my performance in this, my rookie race. The 5K time is less than the 5K I ran last month (29:37). The only thing that went wrong for me on race day was that I forgot my shoes. I had to turn around and drive home about 3 miles from home. Good thing I remembered. I can race without a shirt; I can race without socks; but I certainly cannot race without shoes.