Thursday, February 2, 2012

Q&A with a Triathlon Coach, Part 2

Read part 1.

Experience Triathlon has agreed to donate one half-hour swim lesson session with Judie to my American Cancer Society raffle! The lesson can be held in Lisle or Rolling Meadows. Every $5 donation made before February 14 = 1 entry into the raffle. 

How was the transition from just one sport to three and then doing them all at once in a tri?
I learned how to swim in grad school, started cycling in my late 20’s, and rediscovered running in my early 30’s. It wasn’t so much going from one sport into three as it was just combining things I already knew how to do and then making a race out of it.

It is surprising, though, how much more challenging it is to do all three sports back to back in a race. It’s not so bad (well, in perspective) swimming a mile, riding your bike 25 miles, and running a 10k, but when you have to do them all together with no resting it’s more challenging than a lot of people give it credit for!

I discovered, as I went through this process of becoming a multisport athlete, that I love to swim. I didn’t grow up swimming, it was something I learned as an adult. I’m very detail-oriented and swimming is a technique-intensive sport, so it is actually a really good fit for me!

I also discovered after a couple of seasons doing triathlon that there is a lot of joy in the simplicity of running. One sport takes on a different perspective when you spend a lot of time training for three. Just putting on a pair of running shoes and walking out the front door can be a nice change of pace from the sports that require travel time or equipment. There is a lot of challenge in doing 9-12 workouts a week in three sports and also a lot of variety so you definitely don’t get bored, but going back to my roots is comforting (and therapeutic) at the end of the season.

From a fitness perspective, I think triathlon produces a more well-rounded athlete if only because it is multidimensional. We do strength training, which is not always beneficial to running but is a great asset to swimming and cycling. Cycling is highly aerobic (and anaerobic) like running, but without the wear and tear on the body, so it’s easier to recover from, but one of the best recovery activities can be swimming. Don’t get me wrong, swimming is still hard, but you can squeeze in swimming when your legs are really fatigued or if you have an injury.

What advice do you have for a runner who wants to transition into triathlons?
If you’re a competent runner, you may find yourself doing less running so that you can become more proficient at the other sports. It’s really gratifying to do the sport that you’re good at, but you are not going to do as well in triathlon without some level of proficiency in all three sports. Twenty years ago you could get away with being really good at just one sport, but not anymore! 

A lot of runners (and cyclists) need help with the swim--it’s very common, so don’t feel bad about needing to look for a swimming lesson or two or a masters group to join. “Masters” doesn’t mean people who are good swimmers necessarily, it’s just a term that refers to people who are over 21-ish, so don’t let that scare you!

The other thing I hear a lot of is “the bike seat hurts me.”  There are a couple of solutions to this:

  1. Stay on the seat more.  Your sit bones will eventually become accustomed to being on a bike seat and stop hurting.  Dad's recommendation when I started was to spend even just 10-15 minutes on the seat every day, and that seemed to work.
  2. If the sit bones aren't your problem, there are a lot of saddles on the market that solve....soft tissue problems.  There are noseless saddles marketed to men, and saddles with cutouts in the middle marketed to everybody who has soft tissue pain.  Keep trying out saddles until you find one that's comfortable.

What's the biggest mistake or misconception about triathlons? 
What a lot of people don’t realize going into triathlon is that it can be an expensive sport, but it doesn't have to be at first. To do an indoor tri, you don’t need anything fancy that you don’t already have (swimsuit, running clothes). To do a sprint tri, you should have a decent bike. Once you get upwards of the sprint, a lot of people will buy a wetsuit for the longer swims and potentially cold open water, and people start really thinking about a better bike. To do an Ironman race, the entry fee is significant ($500+), and then coaching is almost (read: ought to be) mandatory. So if you want to do triathlon but not spend a bunch of money, start with the indoor and sprint tri’s. Those are very approachable to all kinds of people and don't require a ton of training to complete.

Women’s tris are all the rage now, there seem to be more popping up every year. Women’s tris can be more approachable for some women than co-ed tris, some of them have “swim angels” to help nervous swimmers and other things meant to
help get women into the sport. Don’t be fooled, though, women’s tris can be just as competitive as the co-ed ones! There are some FAST ladies out there.

I think a lot of people have the perception that in order to be fast, they have to spend a lot of money on a bike, and have fancy this and that. While you do need to have a decent bike, it’s moreso about the engine. You can spend that money on coaching, classes, swimming lessons, etc. and get so much more bang for your hard-earned buck when you’re starting out than you’ll get from $3,000 race wheels and shaving grams off of your pedals.

How do you train for a tri? How does it compare to training for a marathon?
In general, triathlon training is what it would sound like – swim, bike, and run. Strength training should also be a part of anyone’s training program. Sprint tri’s would obviously be the least time commitment and Ironman-distace events would be the most, but as to how much time anyone spends training depends a lot on their personal schedule and what their life outside of training requires.

Training for a marathon and training for an Olympic/International distance triathlon take up the same number of hours for me, but how I proportion the hours is different. With marathon training, I have more hours running, for the tri I’ll spend more hours cycling, but my swimming hours are pretty constant all year (2-3 a week). Based on my work schedule (which is irregular and sometimes crazy), I train 8-12 hours a week depending on where my races are situated in the calendar, usually 6-7 days a week. For an Olympic tri this is probably okay, but for longer distances more would be better. I have done a half-Ironman distance race on about 10 hours a week, which is not optimal (12-14 would be better.

What are your pre-race rituals?
The night before races, I have started going to a fast-food Mexican joint where I can get burrito stuff in a bowl. For me rice is great fuel. When a local pizza place had whole-wheat crust that worked pretty well too. The morning of the race, I’m up at least an hour before we have to leave. I’ll have a banana and make some coffee - a little nutrition, a little caffeine, everybody’s happy.

I like to be on race site an hour before a running race or as soon as transition opens for a triathlon. Transition areas can sometimes be a free-for-all and getting a good spot in a poorly laid-out transition area can shave minutes off a race time. After that, it’s just time management until race start. Portajohn, set up transition, portajohn, warmup, portajohn … you get the idea!

What's the craziest thing that ever happened to you during a race?
I haven’t had too much happen that I would classify as crazy, but I do recall the Schaumburg Triathlon in 2008 or 2009. About 15 minutes before the start, we noticed that my husband’s bike had a flat tire. I discovered that, with an anxious man standing over me, I can change a flat in about 6 ½ minutes. Those flat clinics Dad gave me in the garage turned out to pay off big!

What's the most bizarre thing about triathlons that the average person doesn't know?
My preference, when buying wetsuits or tri bike seats, is to buy new. I will leave you to draw your own conclusion from the following: Getting into a wetsuit is a process, like putting a snowsuit on a kid. Standing on the beach with pre-race anxiety, a lot of folks look around for the portajohns that aren’t there. Hmm. Wetsuit. Water. I’m going to go stand in the water for a minute, I’ll be right back.  No thank you!  I'll buy new.

On the bike seat part, there is an old saying that you can’t call yourself a triathlete unless you can pee on your bike. There are people who can do it. The no-draft rules are there for your protection and to ensure a fair race (kidding about the protection, true about no drafting and fair racing).

Experience Triathlon has agreed to donate one half-hour swim lesson session with Judie to my American Cancer Society raffle! The lesson can be held in Lisle or Rolling Meadows. Every $5 donation made before February 14 = 1 entry into the raffle.

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