Q&A with a Triathlon Coach, Part 2

Read part 1.

Experience Triathlon has agreed to donate one half-hour swim lesson session with Judie to my American Cancer Society raffle! The lesson can be held in Lisle or Rolling Meadows. Every $5 donation made before February 14 = 1 entry into the raffle. 

How was the transition from just one sport to three andthen doing them all at once in a tri?
I learned how to swim in grad school, started cycling in mylate 20’s, and rediscovered running in my early 30’s. It wasn’t so much goingfrom one sport into three as it was just combining things I already knew how todo and then making a race out of it.
It is surprising, though, how much more challenging it is todo all three sports back to back in a race. It’s not so bad (well, inperspective) swimming a mile, riding your bike 25 miles, and running a 10k, butwhen you have to do them all together with no resting it’s more challengingthan a lot of people give it credit for!
I discovered, as I went through this process of becoming amultisport athlete, that I love to swim. I didn’t grow up swimming, it wassomething I learned as an adult. I’m very detail-oriented and swimming is atechnique-intensive sport, so it is actually a really good fit for me!
I also discovered after a couple of seasons doing triathlonthat there is a lot of joy in the simplicity of running. One sport takes on adifferent perspective when you spend a lot of time training for three. Justputting on a pair of running shoes and walking out the front door can be a nicechange of pace from the sports that require travel time or equipment. There isa lot of challenge in doing 9-12 workouts a week in three sports and also a lotof variety so you definitely don’t get bored, but going back to my roots iscomforting (and therapeutic) at the end of the season.
From a fitness perspective, I think triathlon produces amore well-rounded athlete if only because it is multidimensional. We dostrength training, which is not always beneficial to running but is a greatasset to swimming and cycling. Cycling is highly aerobic (and anaerobic) likerunning, but without the wear and tear on the body, so it’s easier to recoverfrom, but one of the best recovery activities can be swimming. Don’t get mewrong, swimming is still hard, but you can squeeze in swimming when your legsare really fatigued or if you have an injury.
What advice do you have for a runner who wants totransition into triathlons?
If you’re a competent runner, you may find yourself doingless running so that you can become more proficient at the other sports. It’sreally gratifying to do the sport that you’re good at, but you are not going todo as well in triathlon without some level of proficiency in all three sports.Twenty years ago you could get away with being really good at just one sport,but not anymore! 
A lot of runners (and cyclists) need help with theswim–it’s very common, so don’t feel bad about needing to look for a swimminglesson or two or a masters group to join. “Masters” doesn’t mean people who aregood swimmers necessarily, it’s just a term that refers to people who are over21-ish, so don’t let that scare you!
The other thing I hear a lot of is “the bike seat hurtsme.”  There are a couple ofsolutions to this:

  1. Stay on the seat more. Your sit bones will eventually become accustomed to being on a bike seatand stop hurting.  Dad’srecommendation when I started was to spend even just 10-15 minutes on the seatevery day, and that seemed to work.
  2. If the sit bones aren’t your problem, there are a lot ofsaddles on the market that solve….soft tissue problems.  There are noseless saddles marketed tomen, and saddles with cutouts in the middle marketed to everybody who has softtissue pain.  Keep trying outsaddles until you find one that’s comfortable.

What’s the biggest mistake or misconception abouttriathlons? 
What a lot of people don’t realize going into triathlon isthat it can be an expensive sport, but it doesn’t have to be at first. To do anindoor tri, you don’t need anything fancy that you don’t already have(swimsuit, running clothes). To do a sprint tri, you should have a decent bike.Once you get upwards of the sprint, a lot of people will buy a wetsuit for thelonger swims and potentially cold open water, and people start really thinkingabout a better bike. To do an Ironman race, the entry fee is significant($500+), and then coaching is almost (read: ought to be) mandatory. So if youwant to do triathlon but not spend a bunch of money, start with the indoor andsprint tri’s. Those are very approachable to all kinds of people and don’trequire a ton of training to complete.
Women’s tris are all the rage now, there seem to be morepopping up every year. Women’s tris can be more approachable for some womenthan co-ed tris, some of them have “swim angels” to help nervous swimmers andother things meant to
help get women into the sport. Don’t be fooled, though,women’s tris can be just as competitive as the co-ed ones! There are some FASTladies out there.
I think a lot of people have the perception that in order tobe fast, they have to spend a lot of money on a bike, and have fancy this andthat. While you do need to have a decent bike, it’s moreso about the engine.You can spend that money on coaching, classes, swimming lessons, etc. and getso much more bang for your hard-earned buck when you’re starting out thanyou’ll get from $3,000 race wheels and shaving grams off of your pedals.
How do you train for a tri? How does it compare totraining for a marathon?
In general, triathlon training is what it would sound like –swim, bike, and run. Strength training should also be a part of anyone’straining program. Sprint tri’s would obviously be the least time commitment andIronman-distace events would be the most, but as to how much time anyone spendstraining depends a lot on their personal schedule and what their life outsideof training requires.
Training for a marathon and training for anOlympic/International distance triathlon take up the same number of hours forme, but how I proportion the hours is different. With marathon training, I havemore hours running, for the tri I’ll spend more hours cycling, but my swimminghours are pretty constant all year (2-3 a week). Based on my work schedule(which is irregular and sometimes crazy), I train 8-12 hours a week dependingon where my races are situated in the calendar, usually 6-7 days a week. For anOlympic tri this is probably okay, but for longer distances more would bebetter. I have done a half-Ironman distance race on about 10 hours a week,which is not optimal (12-14 would be better.
What are your pre-race rituals?
The night before races, I have started going to a fast-foodMexican joint where I can get burrito stuff in a bowl. For me rice is greatfuel. When a local pizza place had whole-wheat crust that worked pretty welltoo. The morning of the race, I’m up at least an hour before we have to leave.I’ll have a banana and make some coffee – a little nutrition, a littlecaffeine, everybody’s happy.
I like to be on race site an hour before a running race oras soon as transition opens for a triathlon. Transition areas can sometimes bea free-for-all and getting a good spot in a poorly laid-out transition area canshave minutes off a race time. After that, it’s just time management until racestart. Portajohn, set up transition, portajohn, warmup, portajohn … you get theidea!
What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to youduring a race?
I haven’t had too much happen that I would classify ascrazy, but I do recall the Schaumburg Triathlon in 2008 or 2009. About 15minutes before the start, we noticed that my husband’s bike had a flat tire. Idiscovered that, with an anxious man standing over me, I can change a flat inabout 6 ½ minutes. Those flat clinics Dad gave me in the garage turned out topay off big!
What’s the most bizarre thing about triathlons that theaverage person doesn’t know?
My preference, when buying wetsuits or tri bike seats, is tobuy new. I will leave you to draw your own conclusion from the following:Getting into a wetsuit is a process, like putting a snowsuit on a kid. Standingon the beach with pre-race anxiety, a lot of folks look around for theportajohns that aren’t there. Hmm. Wetsuit. Water. I’m going to go stand in thewater for a minute, I’ll be right back. No thank you!  I’ll buy new.
On the bike seat part, there is an old saying that you can’tcall yourself a triathlete unless you can pee on your bike. There are peoplewho can do it. The no-draft rules are there for your protection and to ensure afair race (kidding about the protection, true about no drafting and fairracing).

Experience Triathlon has agreed to donate one half-hour swim lesson session with Judie to my American Cancer Society raffle! The lesson can be held in Lisle or Rolling Meadows. Every $5 donation made before February 14 = 1 entry into the raffle.

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