Sunday I completed my second sprint triathlon. I love/hate this sport a whole lot.
To review, a triathlon consists of three disciplines: swimming, biking, and running. The “sprint” category consists of a 500-meter swim, 12-mile bike, and 3-mile run. The sprint is for those who don’t consider themselves super crazy athletes who spend their lives getting up at ungodly hours and never drinking beer or eating sugar (those people do Ironmans: a 2.5-mile swim, 110-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run, also known to we laypersons as a MARATHON). I like my sprint tri’s but may someday consider an Olympic distance (roughly a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run).
When I first got into this sport I was definitely overwhelmed by the gear I thought I needed. I had seen all these pictures of “tri suits”, and bike shoes, running shoes, special shorts, etc. As with any sport, you can get as into gear as you want to, or you can realize you are a tough-minded, budget-conscious racer who doesn’t have Olympic aspirations.
The Helena competition consisted of a pool swim, which I am thankful for since I have yet to do an open water race. This year I invested in a $60 TYR swimsuit from REI (I think it was even 20% off!) and was very happy I did. I tested this suit on both biking and running workouts, and I will say there was no chafing or wedgies experienced on either, which surprised me immensely (wedgies are commonplace for me – large behinds be damned!). I mention this purchase because I wear the suit through ALL stages of the race, equaling roughly an hour and a half of intense mobility. You definitely want to have a suit you like since the only other option is stripping naked in the transition area open to all eyes in spectation.
Other gear you need is a swim cap, goggles, a bike you like, shorts to wear if you don’t have a tri suit (or you are ok letting your buns hang out on the run), bike helmet, bike shoes (or running shoes if you don’t clip into your bike), sunglasses, shirt with number attached, cap for running, and fuel (as in food – something simple like a protein tortilla with peanut butter and honey).
As with any sport, there are definitely opportunities to purchase elite gear and many add-ons, but the main thing you need to bring to a triathlon is your mind.
The sport offers many moments of contemplation such as, Wow, I just swam a long way, I should call it a day…Oh man, I am SO fast on this bike, I may actually win this thing!… They can’t seriously think I am going to run with my jello legs NOW can they?…Running has got to the be worst thing ever invented, I am sure of it…There is the finish, I am the strongest woman EVER!!…
Even with the mind trip, triathlons offer a freedom from boredom, at least for me. I have run distances up to half marathons and felt great accomplishment after each, but the middle was a slog. I have a hard time keeping pace within the same activity, and triathlons offer a change every half hour or so. Your mind gets the opportunity to change gears and reset, but that also means your body has to as well. I find it difficult to pace myself through the disciplines since all use slightly different muscle sets, so I should be able to push hard, but all require cardiovascular endurance. I have to take stock of a deeper level of fitness that is often hard to gauge. This is where I employ what I think of as “stick-to-it-ness”, or mental toughness.
Training for a triathlon is difficult since many don’t have the leisure to brick workouts (meaning swim, bike, and run in one workout) since they take a lot of time. However, you definitely have to be able to work at a high heart rate and exertion for however long you think it will take you to finish.
I average an hour and a half for a sprint tri, so I need to be able to sustain a fairly high level of physical exertion for at least that long, if not longer. Hiking strenuous trails is the best prep since I am usually out for long periods of time at a high heart rate. I still train all areas though, swimming roughly 1,200 meters, biking 20 miles, and running 5 miles in individual workouts. Last year I did a “mock” run and actually put all parts together one morning (swam 500m, biked 12 mi, ran 3 mi), which was helpful to check out my gear and determine how transitions would go, but I didn’t run a mock this year since I knew my cardio base was strong enough.
So, how did Sunday’s tri transpire? I will preface by saying I had personal goals: to swim 500m in 13:30, average at least 16 mph on the bike, and run at least a 9:30 average mile. I have to set goals to push myself and provide something to surpass and feel like a total badass when I get them!!
We had to wait a LONG time to get in the pool, which can be normal but also kills the mojo. When I hit the pool I was worrying about things like whether or not my fueling was good enough now that it had taken longer than I had anticipated, if my muscles had gone cold after my warmup, if it would be really hot during the run, etc. The first two swim laps were terrible. I hated each stroke and felt heavy and slow. Then the third came, and I was feeling my rhythm. I found a competitor in my next lane who was matching closely, so I used her to compete with. I definitely work harder with any and all competition – I need a carrot to reach for!
I finished the swim feeling good, like I had gas in the tank for the bike. Transition 1 went well, and I was off in good time for the bike portion, which was technical but fast. The beginning had quite a few downhill, hairpin turns and confusing traffic weaving before we headed out of town where I could stretch out for a fast 6 miles. I passed quite a few bikers and was feeling pretty swell coming back into transition.
Then I got off the bike. Oh man, solid ground felt good. I was ready to be done. I knew I nailed the bike portion but worried I might not have enough for the run. A few extra breaths and a quick bite of a protein bar and I was off. Have I mentioned how much I HATE running after the bike portion? Ugh, I felt sluggish, slow, heavy, tired, uncoordinated…any and all adjectives you want to describe a horrible athletic experience.
I will sum it up by saying the run did not feel good until the second mile. That was almost 20 minutes of feeling like crap, like the worst beginner runner you can think of even when you’ve been running consistently for ten–plus years. I was happy to see that finish line and was able to do my trademark kick since I love a good sprint when I know I can quit!
When it was all over, I basked in the feeling of utter satisfaction, happiness, elation, and badassery that I have only ever felt after completing a difficult challenge. I automatically started gauging my performance, which is not necessarily healthy, and figured I had rocked the swim and bike portions but hadn’t met my mark on the run. I was happy, but not ecstatic.
However, when I checked my results later, I realized I had smashed all my goals, marking a 13:10 swim, 17.8 mph ave. bike, and a 9:22 min. ave. mile (again, my goals were a 13:30 swim, 16 mph bike, and 9:30 mile). I placed 24th of 95 overall and 3rd of 10 in my age group.
I don’t mention all of this to receive recognition, but rather to hopefully inspire others to reach for new fitness goals. I was not athletic in school. I played sports but was never very good. I was mediocre to poor in most athletic pursuits. I quit early, cried easily, and wanted to be good but didn’t have the mindset or the desire to make it happen.
I learned I had to find what worked for me and made me happy long term. Many sports are too high-pressure and tend to push younger generations out of athletics, and thereby fitness. You NEED to find an athletic pursuit you enjoy, whether it be hiking, biking, swimming, running, weights, etc., in order to feel the high that comes with being a moving, changing human being. Set realistic goals you can meet and don’t try to conquer the world or you will be left feeling more inadequate than you started.
I watched an 85-year-old and a paraplegic woman who both completed all sections of this triathlon independently, so don’t tell me you can’t make your goals happen! I have been at the lowest of the low points of training where I contemplate why I do what I do, but luckily I have topped out from those times and have feelings of accomplishment when I reached the goals I didn’t think were attainable. There will always be people who do more than I do, but I realize that I can do better than I did yesterday and that is enough.
Lesson learned: Love what you do and push yourself to be better each day!