I want to do a triathlon, but…

Dave Jimenez Article Leave a Comment

I want to Tri, but…I hear it all the time. People come to me and tell me, “I want to do a triathlon, but…” and the list of things that follow is lengthy. The most common things that I hear are:

  • I’m really out of shape
  • I don’t think I can … or … I can’t
  • I am scared of the bike
  • I can’t swim (sometimes followed by… I mean I can swim, but not really swim)
  • I don’t know when I will be ready to race
  • I don’t want to be last

Regardless of which one or many of these bullets are a reality for you, it all starts with one thing… getting started. I’m not being flippant. I am empathetic to your concerns because I have had them all. All of them. Well… except the bike. I never really feared that part having been a cyclist one one kind or another since I was 5. Aside from that, I have experienced them all. With that said, I wanted to share a few thoughts on how to get out of the “I want to do a triathlon, but…” mindset.

I want to do a triathlon, but…

I am really out of shape

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ve heard that a bunch of times in your life. The fact is that to get into shape you have to have a commitment to change. Commitment to change drives discipline. Discipline drives a change in behavior. Change in behavior produces results. Results fuel your fire. You need to do a few key things:

  1. Start… Yup. That point again. Sorry to be repetitive, but it is what it is. You have to get going,
  2. Ease into it. Don’t try to do too much too fast. As a general rule of thumb, you only want to increase your volume (the amount of time you spend training) and intensity (how hard the training is) by no more than 10% per week. For example, as it relates to volume, if you spend an hour jogging, an hour swimming, and 90 minutes cycling in a week, the next week you are safe to jog 66 minutes, swim 66 minutes and cycle 99 minutes. You can round it up or down to the nearest 5 minutes and be safe. Just keep yourself honest. The harder thing to regulate is intensity, but  as a general rule, keep the first month or so of your training at pace or speed that is conversational. You can then add more intensity a bit week over week. There is a method of training called the Maffetone Method (MAF) that is a really great way to get started. I’ll let you read on your own about MAF, but you need to know one thing… if you stick to it, you will get really amazing results really quickly.
  3. Fuel your commitment intelligently. If you put diesel fuel in a Ferrari, how will it run? Poorly. Like shit! If you want faster results, clean up what you are fueling your body with and pay a bit more attention to when you are eating certain things. For example, it’s ok to do workouts of less than an hour in the mornings in a fasted state. Especially if you are keeping the intensity on the lower end of the spectrum (see bullet 2). If and when you do that, eat immediately after the workout. Fuel with healthy carbohydrates and protein. Fats are good, but post-workout, keep them low because they slow down nutrient absorption. The post workout meal is critical. It fuels your recovery, which will make the quality of the next workout much higher. For workouts that are longer than an hour, fuel before with healthy carbs and fats, then after the workout, do the recovery meal. Bottom line, quality is key and timing is key. You don’t have to worry so much about quantity (# of calories) if you are focused on quality of foods because good foods generally have less calories.

Those three points are enough to get you started. If you need a plan to take you from “Recliner to Race Day”, I have written two of them.

  1. Recliner to Race Day – 5K 
  2. Recliner to Race Day – 10K

I want to do a triathlon, but…

I don’t think I can … or … I can’t

This will be quick… you CAN! Unless you have some sort of physical limitation, you can do this. Let me tell you how I know this, personally. When I was three years old, I was involved in an accident at a department store in New York. My shoe string was untied and we got on an escalator. The shoe string got caught in the escalator and pulled my foot into it leaving me with a mangled foot with no fourth toe (next to the pinky toe) and half a big toe on my left foot. At times this makes running and cycling really painful. Thankfully, I have awesome partners at Tri Shop and with Hoka that allow me to purchase running shoes in two different sizes, which helps with keeping me running with minimal pain. I never thought I could do what I’ve done. I was terrified along the way. Meanwhile, here I sit, a few marathons and a couple of IRONMAN finishes. I’ve seen blind people finish IRONMAN Triathlons. I’ve seen full leg amputees finish IRONMAN triathlons. The blind have guides and these folks have a few special concessions, but they get it done. 140.6 miles. The bottom line is that most things can be overcome. You can do it!

I want to do a triathlon, but…

I am scared of the bike

It just takes time and patience. Starting is easy. Hop in a spin class. This will help you build fitness. It’ll also get you used to pedaling seated and standing. You’ll also get the feel for what spinning easy and spinning hard feels like. Get a feel for it on the spin bike. Do this for a couple or three weeks then get on the real bike. Ride on bike trails without traffic at first. Practice things like shifting gears, braking, turning, looking each way while staying on line, and grabbing water bottles. Empty office building parking lots are also great places to practice your skills. Get comfortable without worrying with things like traffic before you go further. From there, find a great no-drop group ride. Most good bike shops have them. There safety in numbers and no-drop means that you will not get left behind. Once you knock out a few of these, you’ll feel really, really comfortable. Make sure you’re always in the safest possible scenario, and ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!

I want to do a triathlon, but…

I can’t swim (sometimes followed by… I mean I can swim, but not really swim)

Swimming efficiently is your goal. To get people to understand what it takes to really improve your swim, I use a golf analogy. When someone wants to get good at golf, sometimes they think they can just go grab their golf clubs and go to the driving range and buy the biggest bucket of balls and just hit. And hit. And hit. The fact is, you may make small improvements, but usually what you are doing is actually counter to what you are trying to do. Golf (and swimming) has a lot to do with muscle memory. Teaching your body to do what you need it to do at the right point in the stroke. If you just go pound a large bucket with reckless abandon, whatever small technique deficiencies you have are being drilled into your muscle memory, which can make it much, much harder to make improvements. If you want to get really good, you’ll find someone that can help you hone your technique and you will buy the small bucket and you will work no more than two things at a time. When you have mastered those things, then you get with the coach and you get two more things to work on that builds upon the first two things. You master those things and then you move on. The swim is the same thing. If you just go crank out yards, and crank out yards, and crank out yards, you are drilling the wrong things. Instead, find a great swim coach, get them to come observe you swimming, and get them to provide you with the one or two things to work on and the drills that need to be done to master them. Then work on those things. 25 yards at a time for what is a relatively short distance overall. Maybe that is 600 or 800 yards. That’s fine. This kind of practice is tiring. Fatigue will impact your ability to execute well, so when you get tired and you start to have trouble executing, cool down and stop. Before you know it, you’ll be cranking out efficient 500’s. Efficient is fast, so don’t worry about the fact that until now I haven’t mentioned anything about speed. Speed will come. For help with your swim, consider joining the Octane Athletics triathlon club and come out to our Monday morning coached swim.

I want to do a triathlon, but…

I don’t know when I will be ready to race AND I don’t want to be last

Try not to overthink this. Here is why. Chances are, there is a beginner’s race in your area.

For example, Lifetime Fitness has a fantastic race series for beginners that starts with their INDOOR TRI Races. You don’t need a bunch of training and your peak fitness to participate in these kinds of races. I’ll let you read about them on your own, but to summarize, it’s not a race in the sense of you need to be the fastest to win. They structure it more to test and challenge yourself. It’s a how far can you swim, bike, and run in a set period of time. Everyone gets the same amount of time to do all three. You don’t need to worry about learning how to hustle through transitions, or worry about fear of the swim or bike. You’re completely safe with this kind of event, so JUMP IN and GO FOR IT!

Once you complete one or two of these, you can step up and try your first outdoor race. Lifetime has their own series. There are usually fantastic race promotions in the major metro areas. For example, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we have Dallas Athletes Racing, which is the most fun, most inclusive races that I have ever seen. Their slogan is “A Workout and a Party” and they do not disappoint. They have something to offer everyone, from first timers to elite triathletes. A simple search on Active.com will also give you some good options. Look for Sprint Races with Pool Swims to start with.

As far as, I don’t want to be last is concerned… I tell first time triathletes the same thing at my first timer’s clinics. I tell them that you have two goals for your race, have fun and finish. Whatever the clock says when you finish or where you finish, it’ll be your best time ever, so don’t sweat it. Have a blast!

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