April 2017 - TRIATHLON & DUATHLON
Ten Sure-Fire Steps for Aspiring Triathletes
By Christine McKnight
Let’s say you’re an experienced cyclist or runner, but you’ve been feeling a little stale lately. Or, maybe you’ve been on-again, off-again about fitness in recent years, and now you’re ready for a firmer commitment. Is it time to challenge yourself in ways that, until now, you’ve only dreamed of?
Whatever your reasons, completing a triathlon or duathlon is very doable with a little preparation. And it offers a feeling of accomplishment like no other.
But it can all be a little intimidating to the newbie or the novice. So here are some guidelines on how to get started. If you embrace them, you’re likely to have a rewarding experience training and racing, and it will lay the foundation for years of smiles and success.
Above All, Find a Mentor
Many years ago, when I was contemplating making the transition from road racing to triathlon, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Bill and Cathy Taylor of Gansevoort, two of the area’s pioneering multisport athletes who together had completed many Ironman races around the world. They tucked me under their wings and gave me savvy, down-to-earth advice on everything from wetsuits to nutrition to goal setting. They let me tag along on their training rides and patiently waited while I struggled to keep up. They explained about goggles, tires, and speed laces for shoes. We raced the Vermont Sun triathlons together for many years, often sharing the ride to the Lake Dunmore venue in Vermont. Every trip was a mini-tutorial in triathlon. Seek out a mentor!
Join a Triathlon Club or Training Group
The most likely place to find a mentor is a triathlon club. The ones in the greater Capital Region are all excellent, and include the Capital District Triathlon Club, Adirondack Triathlon Club, Saratoga Triathlon Club, Bethlehem Triathlon Club, and Sacandaga Triathlon Club. Each is unique, but they all welcome newbies, and offer structured training opportunities in safe environments. If a club is not your thing, consider attaching yourself to a masters swim class or a running or riding group that will challenge and support you. Get connected!
Make a Plan
What races would you like to do? How much time are you willing and able to train? What else is going on in your life that will affect your level of commitment? One of the most common mistakes I see is athletes who drift into the season with only a vague idea about races. Your mentor and training buddies can give you invaluable guidance here, and will hold you accountable.
It’s great to have a one-year plan. It’s even smarter to embrace a two-year plan or, if you are truly hooked, a five-year plan, with some really big “pie in the sky” goals. If you can dream it, you can do it!
Set Realistic, Achievable Goals
Ideally, you should think about your goals in late fall or winter, and begin putting together a modest race calendar by early in the year. A good goal for your first event might be to simply finish with a smile and to have a good time. Go ahead and settle on a finish time, but don’t let that alone define whether your day is successful. Some other yardsticks for measuring success might be finishing in the top-half in your age group, posting the fastest transition time in your age group, or running the second loop of a two-loop run course faster than the first loop.
A good race calendar for a first-year triathlete might feature three sprints, spread out over the season, perhaps concluding with a more challenging “stretch” race – or time goal at the end of the summer. Be sure to pick some races your friends are doing. It’s more fun to share that finish line experience with them.
Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses
What are your limiters? Do you love to swim, but dread the bike? Or maybe you love to ride, but struggle on the run. Do you need more upper body flexibility? Focus on your weaknesses, not your strengths. Above all, be a year-round triathlete, and create a lifestyle that places a premium on fitness and good nutritional habits every day.
Assemble Your Team
While triathlon is a sport of individual achievement, the most successful triathletes I know are those who are able to assemble a team of positive-thinking supporters around them. My team starts with my family and close friends, followed by my coach, my personal trainer and my massage therapist. From time to time, my team may also include a nutritionist, physical therapist or podiatrist.
Do you need a coach? I’m a big fan of coaches. They can help an average athlete achieve exceptional goals. But you may not need a coach in your first year or two of multisport. Get some experience under your belt, determine how serious you are, and then decide as part of your five-year plan. Ask your triathlon friends about their experiences with coaches.
Create a Budget
It may shock you. Let’s start with race fees, which even for sprints or duathlons typically run in the $60 to $100 range. Olympic races are often $130-$150. A typical Ironman race these days runs around $800. Add apparel and gear like a wetsuit, goggles and nutrition. Are you traveling to and staying overnight at a venue or two during the season? Write down every expense you anticipate. Then decide what’s possible and what’s not. You’ll have the hard, cold numbers in front of you.
Resist the Urge to Spend Ridiculous Amounts of Money on Equipment and Gear You Don’t Need
Spend your triathlon budget wisely. Ride the bike you have for a season or two, or more. Or you can borrow a bike from a fellow triathlete or a cycling friend. In the meantime, ask other triathletes about the bikes they are riding and why they selected that model. Wetsuit? If you are only doing one or two triathlons your first year, renting a wetsuit at about $45 per event makes sense. Do your homework when it comes to triathlon toys.
Make Friends with Your Bike
There’s no substitute for knowing how to clean your chain, check your tire pressure, and change your tire. You should be able to do these basics without breaking a sweat. Ask a member of your triathlon or cycling club. For more complicated stuff, cultivate the mechanics at your local bicycle shop. They are a wealth of knowledge. They can help you head off problems you never saw coming. Be good to your bike, and it will be good to you.
The most definitive guide on the market is The Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. An excellent new book about fueling and nutrition is The Endurance Training Diet and Cookbook by Jesse Kropelnicki.
Remember: if you can dream it, you can achieve it!
Christine McKnight (firstname.lastname@example.org) has completed more than 100 triathlons, from sprints to the Ironman World Championship in Kona. She lives in Gansevoort.