Tips to "Tri"
Maybe it’s because quarantine forced many of us into a more sedentary lifestyle. Maybe it’s because we’ve had more time on our hands to think about goals. Or, maybe it’s simply that our global pandemic has made us realize that we never know what tomorrow will bring, so it’s time to quit screwing around and carpe that diem! Whatever the reason or driving force behind it, I’ve recently had several women share with me their secret (and not-so-secret) desire to participate in a triathlon. I’ve been asked many questions including:
· “How do I start?”
· “How much time is involved in training?
· “How hard is it?”
· And finally, the biggest question, “Do you think I can do it?”
· Right where you are.
· As much as you need.
· As hard as you make it.
· OF COURSE YOU CAN!
I completed my first triathlon, an Olympic length, at the age of 47, and a half-Ironman at the age of 49. Oh-did I mention that I did not learn to swim or ride a road bike until I was 46? I’m not telling you that because I think it makes me special. I’m telling you that because if I can do it---anyone can. It’s just a matter of deciding what you want, putting a plan in place, and doing the work—even (and ESPECIALLY) on the days you don’t feel like it. The following are a few tips to “tri” that I found especially helpful. And if you need someone to train with you—give me a shout—I’m ready to tri again too!
Be realistic about your goals. When I first decided to take on a triathlon, I immediately set my sights on an Ironman 70.3 that was just six months away---never mind that at that time I couldn’t swim the length of a 50 meter pool. Obviously I needed to adjust my expectations and be more realistic about my abilities and the timeline. I didn’t take the 70.3 off the table, I just didn’t serve it up as the first course. Instead, I got my feet wet (so to speak) with an indoor tri at my local gym in order to get a taste of what participating in three very different disciplines back to back felt like both physically and mentally. There are several triathlon distances that range from a sprint (short and sweet) to a full Ironman. Decide where you want to start based on your fitness level and goals.
Hire a good coach. I cannot stress this one enough! Yes, you could download one of the many available online plans, but it’s not the same thing. A live coach can customize your plan for you based on your goals and skill levels, while taking into account what else you have going on in your life because, let’s face it, few of us can clear our calendars completely to train all day. A live coach will also keep you accountable and will be able to help you track and measure your progress, making tweaks and adjustments to your plan when needed. I am NOT a coach, but I have a great one I can connect you with if you need one, and I am also happy to run, swim and bike alongside you as you train.
Know why you tri. Are you a competitive athlete who wants to podium or place? Are you a fitness fanatic who wants to check a tri off of your bucket list? Understanding your “why” will determine your “how.” If you are “in it to win it,” then you will be working harder than someone who merely wants to cross the finish line in one piece. My goal, for example, was to place in the top 10 for my age group in the Olympic length and in the top half in the 70.3, all without beating my body up. I accomplished my goals, but I did the extra work in the form of a very specific heart rate based training program, a nutrition plan, and a pretty strict training schedule.
Train like you race. What does that mean? For starters, it means swim in open water prior to race day. Even the best pool swimmers get panic attacks in open water, so find a lake and jump in. If your race is wetsuit legal, you will want to take a couple of practice dips in your gear before the big day. Wetsuits are constricting and take a little getting used to if you’ve never worn one before. Do your bricks i.e. bike and then run, or swim and then bike in order to get your body used to going from one endurance sport to the next. Experiment with your nutrition during your training sessions—not on race day! Finally, don’t forget to practice your transitions. I lost 12 minutes transitioning from the swim to the bike—which meant the difference in finishing in under 7 hours (another goal) and finishing at 7:03.
Work on your mental game. Training for an endurance event challenges more than just your body. Your mental game has to be strong too. There are days when you are physically worn out. There are days when you feel overwhelmed. That’s when you have to rely on your mental strength and endurance to carry you through. Focus on the endgame and remember your “why.”
Is participating in a tri challenging? Definitely! Is it worth it? Absolutely! For me, it was a way to push myself way beyond my comfort zone to see if, at almost 50, years old, I could still make my body and mind do what I needed and wanted them to. I needed to prove to myself that I could set and reach goals all on my own without the benefit of a training partner. In other words: I needed to do it for ME. Don’t let fear, age, or other people’s opinions stop you from anything you want to do. Remember, you never know how strong you are—until you “tri.”