Friday, June 9, 2017

Triathlon Tips and Tricks (Friday Five Edition)

Growing up I did a lot of swimming and biking.  Now that I had added running into my life, I thought it was about time that I try to do a triathlon.  In 2013 I did my first tri and since I have done 3 more sprints and one Oly.  I have posted some things about swimming and biking as I am currently training for another sprint tri.  Here are some things that I have learned along the way.  Please keep in mind, all of this is from my experience and things that I have read.  Other races might be different.

1. Distances - For those that are new to triathlons it is made up of a swim leg, a bike leg, and a run leg.  99% of the time they are done in that order.  I have done a reverse Tri which I did the run, bike, then swim.  I really like that one, but I can see why they do it in the order that it is.  I was so tired by the time I got to the swim that I had a hard time breathing and swimming so I walked a lot in the shallower part of the pool.  There are 4 main distances in triathlons just like in running. 
  • Sprint - The sprint is the one that has the most fluctuation on what distances they offer, but for me I see it as the equivalent of a 5k in the running world.  It is usually where most people start before the bigger races.  The swim is usually anywhere between 300-800 meters, the bike anywhere between 10-20 miles, and the run anywhere between 1-4 miles (but is usually a 5k).
  • Olympic (or Oly) - This usually has a standard distance for everything.  It is a 1.5k (or almost a mile) swim, 40k (or 25 mile) bike ride, and a 10k (or 6.2 miles) run.
  • Half Ironman (or 70.3) - Ironman is a brand, so not all 70.3 are called a half Ironman, though it is a common name like Band-aid or Kleenex.  The distance is always the same, as it adds up to 70.3 miles.  The swim is 1.2 miles, the bike is 56 miles and the run is a half marathon (13.1 miles).  One day I hope to do this distance.
  • Ironman (or 140.6) - This is the distance I always think of a marathon distance in the run world.  It's that thing that you always wonder if you can do, but know you have to put your full attention towards it.  The distances are 2.4 miles for the swim, 112 miles for the bike, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). 
There are a lot of different distances in between these, just like running.  There are even ultra-triathlons, which are any distances above 140.6, just like ultra-marathons are any distance over 26.2.

Me and my Oly medal
2. Training - For my first triathlon, the thought of the training was very overwhelming as I didn't know how to get everything in and what to focus on.  For one sport it is easy to focus on speed and form and all the little things.  But when you have 3 to train for, IMO, not one will be perfect.  When I'm in tri training, things get dropped.  I'll miss some of my gym classes (weight training) and I won't run as much as I usually do.  I know some of the training plans for a full Ironman you can have 2 workouts a day.  I don't know if I'm willing to put that much dedication into it, so for now, the full is not anything that I want to do.  But maybe if I drop 50 pounds. :)

For my first tri in 2013 I joined a group that was training specifically for that triathlon.  My first was an all girl sprint, which most women in my area use as a first tri.  Which meant, that everyone that was training was all women and most have never done a tri.  So we were all in good company not really knowing what to expect.  The group made us a training plan to follow and we met on Saturday mornings where we would have a clinic of sorts about running or biking or transitions and then head out to do our brick workout.

Ladies from the tri training group.
A brick workout is an important workout to have during your training.  This is where you do your bike workout and then you do your run (weather it's just a mile or your full run workout).  What this does is condition your legs to go from biking mode to running mode.  It is called a brick because when you get off the bike and try to run, your legs feel like bricks.  It's the weirdest sensation.  They suggest to do at least a mile after the bike ride because that is about how long it takes for that feeling to go away.

Most groups that put on triathlons will have clinics.  I highly recommend attending these, especially if you are new to the sport.  The clinics are usually on the course, so you can get comfortable before your race.  I will always try to make at least the swim clinics, especially the open water ones, as that allows me to swim in an environment that I couldn't on my own.  If you feel weak in one area, join a group.  If the swimming leg scares you, take some lessons.  While you will have butterflies before a race, in a triathlon, you really should feel comfortable in all areas.

3. Transition - I think this was the scariest thing my first time.  I knew nothing about how to go from swimming to biking to running.  I had never seen a tri and the whole concept of the transition area was so foreign.  With my training group we did have a clinic session about transition and it explained a lot, though I was still overwhelmed by the thought.  Basically the transition area is where your bike and other equipment is while you are doing the other legs.

The area is full of racks where you can place your bike.  There are several bikes that can be put on each rack.  All of the triathlons that I have been to have had assigned racks.  This is based on bib number and usually each rack has assigned numbers to them.  So one rack might hold bib number 1-6 and the next will hold bib number 7-12.  If you have bib number 5 you can rack it anywhere on that first rack.  I like to get there early to make sure I can rack my bike on the outside and not be in the middle of everyone.
Transition before the race
Along with your bike, you will have everything you need for all three legs.  Most people put a towel down in their area to mark their spot.  The spots are tight, so it's best not to hog too much space up.  Since most tris start with the swim, everything for the bike and run should be setup and easy to get to.  For sprints, everyone tries to get through each transition as quickly as possible.  For halfs and full Ironmans people take a little more time.  There is even a place to change clothes between the different sports.  Transitions can be stressful as you are trying to do a lot of different things quickly, but if you are organized and practiced, it's not too bad.

4. Clothing - Clothing can be a challenge in any sport, but when you are doing three back to back, it becomes even more of a challenge.  Unless you are doing a longer tri where there is a place to change, you will wear the same thing for the whole race.  You can wear what makes you comfortable to get through everything, but most people wear Tri Kits or Tri Suits.  The kit is a two piece top and shorts while the suit is all in one.  The idea of these is that it's form fitting enough to not cause a drag in the water at the same time giving you a little bit of padding for the bike without feeling like a diaper when it gets wet.  It's made of material that is quick drying, especially with the wind of the bike after the swim.  

I have used both.  Some people, especially guys, can get away with something different, but I have to have a sports bra to run.  So I will wear that under my top, even during the swim.  Like bike shorts, most people usually don't wear underwear under the shorts as that can cause more chafing, especially when they are wet.  I really hate wearing either because they are skin tight and that is not very flattering for me, but I prefer the suit as the top usually rides up on me more then I like with the kit.  The best thing to do is to try different things out and make sure you go for a swim in what you plan on wearing with maybe a run after and see how things feel.

My tri kit
5. Pool vs Open Swim - The swim seems to be the one sport that most people I know say is the reason they haven't done a tri.  I grew up swimming, so I have never really had those concerns, but I do understand them.  The swim portion of triathlons are either in a pool or open water (a river, ocean, or lake).  Being new to triathlons, I knew I didn't want to add stress to it all and do an open water, so I opted for one that was a pool swim.  The rest (except for my reverse tri) have been open water.  

A pool swim is done where you swim down a lane and back in the same lane on the other side.  Then you go under the lane marker and go up and down the second lane.  This is repeated through the whole pool.  So the length of the swim for that particular tri is usually how big the pool is.  An 8 lane pool will usually be a 400 meter swim.  Everyone is lined up in the order of how fast they predict they are and one by one in about a 15 second delay jump into the pool and start swimming.  What I don't like about pool swim is that people usually don't put the right time down or they have a better or worse swim then they have had in practice.  And as you can imagine when you have people swimming up and down the same lane, it is hard to pass or get passed.  So if you need to pass someone, you tap their foot and at the end of the lane they are supposed to wait and let you pass at that point.  So the congestion bothers me enough to prefer open water swim.  But the nice thing about the pool swim is that if you feel uncomfortable at all you can walk the lanes and hold onto the lane markers if you want.  Like any type of race (especially the beginning) adrenaline, nervousness and excitement all hit, adding water to the mix sometimes is not the best combination.  So it's nice to be able to know you can hold onto something if needed.

Open water is basically any body of water.  I've only done them in the river here.  In open water there are several waves.  When it's time for a wave to go everyone in the wave gets in the water and stays behind the start buoys till the start is announced.  Because it's harder to see where you are going, there are one colored buoy to mark the way and if there is a turn a second color buoy is used.  They have volunteers in kayaks that are out there if anyone needs any type of help, even if it's just holding on to catch your breath.  Some people don't like open water swims because people will bump into you and maybe even try to swim over you because they are not paying attention to others around them.  I just start far away from the main group, even if that means I will swim a little bit of a longer distance.  I'm not out there to win, I'm out there to finish.  One of the open water tris that I have done has swim angels.  They are volunteers that will swim next to you to help you feel more comfortable. They are there to guide your way help if needed.  Also with an open water swims there is always the potential to wear a wet suit.  You can only wear a wet suit if the water temp is below a certain temperature.  Everyone that has done a lot of tris get really excited for the races that allow wet suits in as it's supposed to help you float, therefore makes you faster as you are not putting in extra energy into floating.  I have never used one, and in fact it really intimidates me as the only time I have is when I have Scuba Dived and I just remembered hating putting one on and taking it off.  But the nice thing is, most tris that allow wet suits have volunteers after you get out of the water to help you pull it off.

The river before we started
Bonus:  If you have had the want to do a triathlon but one or more legs of the race intimidate you, you have options.  Volunteer!  A great way to see how things are done and give back to the community at the same time.  Another thing you can do is sign up for the Aquabike division, where you only do the swim and bike.  Or you could grab one or two friends and do a relay.  Each one of you do one of the legs of the race (with a 2 person team one of you will have to do two of the legs).

Sorry, this post has gotten very long.  I hope you made it through it all.

Is a triathlon something that is on your bucket list?  Have you ever done one?  Do you have any other tips?  Anything that you might want more information on that I could incorporate into another post?

I'm linking up with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0


  1. I've been tri training hard this spring/summer and focusing more on the bike. It's been paying off for me. Good luck w your training

  2. I never ever had a desire to do a tri but as you now I've been thinking about our local one here! I read every word of this and now I am nervous to try! Haha. I had no idea people would tap your foot if they want to pass you! Can I get a swim angel in the

  3. Thanks for breaking this down for me. My husband is interested in tris but we have no idea where to start. I have zero interest because I'm a terrible swimmer and I'm scared of cycling on roads. ;) But this is great for planning my husband's workouts!