Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Getting ready for your first season of triathlon

With 2013 just around the corner, I have no doubt that many people will be heading back to the gym to make those with New Year's Resolutions in hand.  And I know for a fact that a few of you have your first triathlon on the list of things to do next year.  So let me start you off right and share some advice on getting the wheels rolling for your first season in tri.

The hardest part

My buddy and Jon crossing the finish line at his first Tri
The hardest part about getting into a sport like triathlon isn't learning how to swim, its certainly not clipping into road cleats, and it's definitely not the 5km run.  Its committing to doing it and signing up for that first race.  Triathlon is an intimidating sport to first get into because of the associations we around having to actively participate and train in three sports rather than one.  In reality, getting to the finish line of your first triathlon is 90% mental and only 10% physical.

I don't mean to sound mean or anything like that, but I've seen some truly terrible swimmers commit themselves to completing their first sprint tri with a 500m swim, and in a few months they were more than capable of getting out of the water in a respectable time.  On the bike, take your phone with you and track how fast and how far you can go in an hour and you'll be surprised at how quickly 20km can zip by.  And as for the run, 5km isn't anything to trivialize, but if you've spent more than half an hour on a treadmill and not succumbed to death by boredom, then you can get through the 5km run.

How challenging your first triathlon ends up being is entirely based on the standards you set for yourself and how committed you are to your goal.  For your first tri, just finishing is the perfect goal because it means that you went outside your comfort zone and took your first step, and just like it is for a 1 year old, the first step is always the hardest one.

If it doesn't get measured it doesn't get done

Ask any coach and they'll go on and on about the importance of planning out your season, your months, and your weeks of training.  And for good reason.  Like I said in the previous section, you're training for three sports, which means time management is important.  Its always good to work with a coach that can help your prioritize how you spend your training hours.  Even professional triathletes are faced with a conundrum of how to balance their time between the three sports, and many of them spend between 15 and 30 hours a week this time of year training.

So that brings me to measuring and tracking how you spend your time training.  There are awesome online programs that allow you to upload and track your workouts.  A few of them include MapMyRun, Strava, GarminConnect, Nike+, and my personal favourite, TrainingPeaks.  They all have varying pros and cons, and all have varying degrees of functionality when it comes to planning your training, but I really do prefer TrainingPeaks above all the rest.

With just the basic TrainingPeaks account you can log all your workouts, and the types of workouts and even upload data files from the workouts to the program.  Better yet, if you're working with a coach, they will be able to see those files as well, and give you workout plans for the coming weeks in advance.  With the premium account you've got an array of tools and apps to analyze individual workouts, and your long term development.

The tools to get the job done

There's no limit to how much money you can spend on triathlon.  At the high end of the spectrum, if you'd just won the lottery you could spend $1200 on a wetsuit, $15000 on a bike, $500 on making the bike fit, $200 on shoes, and another few grand on electronic toys to see how well all that other stuff is working.  But those aren't prerequisites to completing your first triathlon.

To get in the water at a sprint triathlon all you need is a swimsuit and a pair of goggles.  If its an open water swim you'll probably want a wetsuit, and places like Tri It in Calgary actually rent them out.  At a sprint triathlon you'll probably see as many mountain bikes and hybrid bikes as you will road bikes and triathlon bikes.  So don't sweat it if you're showing up with your Canadian Tire hardtail mountain bike if your goal is just to finish, the rest of us are just buying our speed.  And as for the run, well some people are proving these days that you don't even need shoes.

That being said, you probably already have some of the tools that you can use to measure your performance.  There are plenty of apps available for iPhone and Android that will use the GPS feature of your smartphone to track your pace on the run and bike.  Many of those apps are available to actually work with the websites I mentioned earlier and can be downloaded right from there.  So you might actually be more advanced than you think when it comes to performance tracking.

However, with Christmas just around the corner you may want to have a gaze at my 2012 Triathlete Gift Guide to see what you can get under the tree to help you on your way to next season.

If and when you become more committed to the sport, you'll find there are pieces of equipment you'll want to graduate up to.  I'd never recommend someone have a go at Ironman on a mountain bike, thats not to say it can't be done, I'm just saying its not the best way to go about it.  But in the meantime, don't sweat the gear beyond what you're willing to spend, its all about the engine anyways.


I'll keep the blogs coming on getting into your first season of triathlon, so if you have any questions or would like to read about something specifically, feel free to post something in the comments section below.

You'll also soon be able to visit my other blog where I focus more on cycling on the Ridleys website.  So stay tuned!