Doing a triathlon has been in my mind since I picked up road biking as cross training from running. It was four years before I actually took the plunge, literally. I chose the at Boulder Peak Olympic Distance Triathlon on July 10, 2011.
I had the running and cycling pieces down, but like most triathletes, I was intimidated by the swim. It took me three years to mentally prepare myself to actually get in the pool and SWIM. Growing up I used to be a little dolphin in the water, spending hours on end playing in the pool and doing numerous flips off the diving board. But I never swam laps and somewhere between my young age and four years ago I developed a fear of the water.
The first few times I went to swim laps it was not pretty. I am talking gulping water, air, making strange noises, having horrible stomachaches and barely making it one length without having to stop. After each discouraging experience in the pool I would wait longer and longer to go back to the pool. Then, finally about a year and a half ago the desire to do a triathlon took over. I started going to the intro to Master’s Swimming at my local gym. There I received support and coaching on my stroke. Since I was never actually taught how to do freestyle or any other stroke, I had A LOT of room for improvement.
Slowly but surely I got to the point where I was actually able to swim one mile in the pool without stopping. Even though it took over an hour it was a huge accomplishment. Over the course of the next year, I found myself in the pool 2-3 times a week. I noticed drastic improvements in my stroke and speed and the water gulping was reduced to a minimum. I brought my mile swim time down to around 35-40 minutes!
The next big challenge was to become comfortable with open water swimming. Luckily, this one went over fairly well. I borrowed my friends wet suit, went out in the Boulder Reservoir with the Boulder Aquatic Masters and I was hooked. The feeling and rhythm of swimming in the open water was so surreal. After that point, I knew my first triathlon was near.
In January, my heart became set on doing Boulder Peak Triathlon in the summer. I began talking with others about it, doing research on training plans and in February I signed up. I decided to train on my own using the Master’s Swim classes at my gym for my swim workouts and a personal trainer to get me started.
I began doing each discipline (swim, bike, run) 1-2 times per week with strength training, yoga and skiing in between. From February through April, my goal was to build a strong athletic base in each discipline.
From there, I increased the frequency of each discipline to 2-3 times per week, the intensity of each workout and I added brick workouts. Bricks are when you go straight from biking to running or swimming to biking.
There were times where I struggled to get out to do my scheduled workout or when I could come up with any excuse in the books as to why I could not make it. But then I reminded myself—that I wanted to do this, I have wanted to train for a triathlon for a long time. This motivated me to get out there, give it five minutes and then decide if I still did not feel like it. Most of the time I found myself getting in a great training workout and glad I pushed through to the end.
After getting my training program set up, the next important step was to get the right equipment. Luckily, I had a great bike already and was set up with good quality running shoes. After trying out my friends wetsuit and wanting to do a few open water swims for practice I decided to buy my own. You can also usually rent one at a local triathlon or water sports shop.
I purchased a full sleeve Xterra suit because I get cold easily and I have had no problems with my range of motions although this is the biggest complaint with full sleeve suits. There are a lot of reputable brands of wetsuits including Blueseventy, Quintana Roo, Orca, Zoot, 2XU, and TYR.
Body Glide or a similar product is a must have. It helps make the rapid removal of your wetsuit much easier and is essential to prevent chaffing on the back of your neck—I learned this one the hard way.
Next you will need is a tri suit that you can wear under your wetsuit. Look for minimal padding in the shorts for the bike and quick dry material. Pearl Izumi, Louis Garneau and Sugoi all make great options.
Here is a basic list of equipment:
- Wetsuit, full sleeve or sleeveless (optional depending on the location of your triathlon)
- Body glide
- Tri suit
- Anti-fog spray for goggles (saliva also works)
- Swim cap, for training, most races provide you with a colored cap to signify your wave
- Road or Tri specific bike
- Saddle bag stocked with an extra tube, tire levers, a small multi-tool and a CO2 canister
- Bike computer
- Water bottle cages and bottles
- Bike shoes
- Bike gloves (optional, but good for long training rides)
- Aerobars (optional)
- Bento box (optional, but a good place to store your race nutrition)
- Quality running shoes
- Race bib belt (optional, but an excellent time saver so you are not pinning on your race bib in the transition area)
- Hat (optional)
- Fuel belt (optional, depending on your race distance, but good for training)
- Large towel
- Small hand towel for trying off in the transition from swim to bike
My First Race
I had a great first race at the Boulder Peak Triathlon on July 10, 2011. While on the bike, I was thinking to myself “I am really doing it!”
I finished the 1.5 k swim in 33:05 minutes, the 40 k bike in 1:30:45 minutes, and the 10 k run in 57:13 minutes, bringing my total race time to 3:07:16 with transition. Finishing the triathlon was a huge accomplishment for me and I could not have been happier with my training and performance. I had the most fun transitioning from one activity to the other, and finishing of course!
What I learned
A few important things I learned while training and participating in my first triathlon:
- Find people to train with. This definitely helps with motivation, holds you accountable, forces you to push yourself and gives you someone to keep you company on long rides or runs.
- Eat breakfast about 2-3 hours before you plan on being on the bike. I made the mistake of eating breakfast after setting up my bike in the transition area, leaving me with less than an hour to digest before my swim wave went of. This left me feeling too full and unable to eat on the bike, which is essential for fueling the run.
- Go early! As if you are not stressed enough on the morning of your race, get there at or shortly after the bike transition area opens. This way you will have enough time to get a good spot on the bike rack, set up your equipment, while allowing for ample time to go in/out in case you forgot something before the transition area closes.
- Bring an extra pair of running shoes if you want to do a warm up jog to ease the pre-race jitters, because your running shoes will be locked in the transition area.
- Take as long of a warm up for the swim as you can. Get in the water, get your wetsuit fully submerged, do some deep breathing, get your head under the water, do some easy freestyle strokes, tread some water and set yourself up where you feel most comfortable before the swim start.
- Have FUN! Remember that you wanted to do this; so get out there, enjoy the scenery, meet some new friends, collect some cool race shirts, sign up for a race in an unfamiliar location and enjoy the excitement of the multi-sport aspect of triathlons!
My goals for next year are to significantly reduce my swim time and get my total time below 3 hours!
Have you ever done a triathlon? What did you learn after doing your first? What is your favorite part about triathlons? What is holding your back? What race would you like to do?
Article by Lauren Anderson, Boulder, Colorado