What do you need to do a triathlon?

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A friend of mine is interested in getting into triathlons (yay!) and he asked me what things you need for a triathlon.  I gave him a few tips, but it got me thinking.  What things do you need to do a triathlon.  And I’m not talking about the intangibles, like grit and determination and a bit of crazy, I mean the actual stuff.  So I’m going to break it down into some categories for you: Needs, Definitely Nice to Have, The Next Level, and You Don’t Need This, But It’s Cool.

Needs

  • Something to swim in
  • Goggles (thanks, Kecia!)
  • Bike
  • Bike helmet
  • Clothes to wear on the bike and the run
  • Shoes to bike and run in*
  • Bike hydration method

*I guess technically, if you’re a barefoot runner, you don’t need run shoes, but you will still need shoes while on the bike, so put something on your feet.

You don’t need to have clipless pedals or special bike shoes.  Those will appear in the next section.  Your bike doesn’t have to be fancy.  It can be a road bike or a hybrid bike or even a mountain bike.  Whatever you have, that works.  I have seen people racing on cruiser bikes.

What about clothing?  At triathlons geared towards beginners, you will see everything.  Wear what works for you.  Some women will do the entire race in a what is essentially a bathing suit (including elites).  I am not one of those women.  You will see ladies get into the swim in a bathing suit, then pull on shorts in transition.  It’s an option, but I would worry about chafing.  At the bare minimum, for women, I would recommend a pair of triathlon shorts, a sports bra, and a shirt to put on at transition.  For men, I would recommend the same, minus the sports bra.

What are triathlon shorts?  Basically, they are spandex shorts with a bit of padding in them. Not quite as much padding as bike shorts.  They’re designed so you can swim, bike, and run in them.  If you tried this in bike shorts, the padding would fill up with water on the swim and be quite uncomfortable, and you would feel like you were wearing a diaper on the run.  Technically, you can wear whatever shorts you want, but I would very much recommend tri shorts.

In most triathlons, you will find water stops on the run course.  Sometimes you will find them on the bike course, sometimes not, but either way, you’ll want to have some sort of hydration plan for riding the bike.  This doesn’t have to be fancy.  A bottle in a water bottle holder.  If you struggle to pull out a bottle on the bike, wear a Camelbak or similar hydration device.  Hydration is very important.

Definitely Nice To Have

  • Tri Kit
  • Socks (for me – others will disagree)
  • Clipless pedals
  • Bike Shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Chamois Cream to prevent chafing
  • Flat Repair Kit

A tri kit is either a two piece or a one piece outfit that is designed so you can wear it the entire race.  You know what’s hard after getting out of the swim?  Trying to pull a shirt on to your wet body.  If you wear a tri kit, you don’t have to worry about changing at all during the race.

You don’t have to ride or race with a flat repair kit, but I really recommend it.  If you’re out for a ride and you get a flat tire, you’re going to need to fix it, right?  Sure, you could also just call for a Lyft, but that’s not going to work in a race.  So I recommend getting a repair kit and learning how to use it.  I will talk more about this in a later blog post (and if you’re local, will be doing a flat clinic in July).

One thing that scares a lot of cyclists is clipless pedals.  These are confusingly named – they’re called clipless because they don’t have toe clips (which are really old school).  However, you do clip your shoes into the pedals.  So you have special bike shoes with a very hard sole that have a cleat on the bottom.  This cleat will attach to the pedals so that while you ride, you get the full force of motion from your legs.  You’re not just pushing down, but you’re also pulling up.  It’s amazing how different riding feels.  Will you fall over?  Probably.  From a complete stop.  Usually in front of people.  But you will mostly just hurt your pride.

The Next Level

  • Aero bars
  • Wetsuit

If you’re taking your racing to the next level, you might want to have aero bars put onto your road bike.  This lets you ride in a much more aerodynamic position.  You will see lots of people without them, but it’s an inexpensive addition to your road bike.

I struggled with where to put “wetsuit” on this list.  Technically, you can be a triathlete and race multiple times a year and never ned a wetsuit.  They’re only absolutely needed when the water is exceptionally cold, making the race wetsuit mandatory.  You can just avoid those races.  But there are also races where the wetsuit is an option.  In these cases, I like wearing my wetsuit.  It adds buoyancy, and “free speed,” as my coach calls it, plus it makes the cold water seem less awful.

You Don’t Need This, But It’s Cool

  • Tri bike

You will see lots of triathletes with really cool bikes.  And you know what?  Every single one of them wants a newer and cooler bike.  You see, the proper number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently own.  Tri bikes put you in a more compact, more aerodynamic position.  The geometry lets you use your leg muscles in a way that helps save your legs for the run.  It’s not a requirement by any means, but if you’re in the sport for a while, eventually you’ll find yourself looking at tri bikes, doing the math, crunching the numbers, and deciding if it’s for you.

There are plenty of things that triathletes use that aren’t on this list: Sunscreen (wear it), towels, different little products that people use on the various legs of the race, but these are some of the big things that came to mind, things that people need or wonder if they might need.

Anything I missed or miscategorized?

Do The Hard Things

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Starting this week, my training schedule has me back to swimming twice a week.  Pool workouts are always my most dreaded workouts of the week.  I do not know why.  I think part of it is because it has to be so meticulously scheduled.  For running and biking, I can sort of do them whenever I want, but when it comes to swimming, I’m either going to a pre-scheduled group swim or I’m swimming in the morning before work, which means I want to get to the pool as early as possible to ensure that I’m not super late for work (though I’m technically on a flexible schedule, so even when I’m “late,” I’m not really late).

Going to the group workout isn’t actually that bad.  I’m meeting up with a group!  It’s fun!  They’re fun people!  And all I have to do afterwards is shower and go to bed.

Morning swims though, I think I find them awful due solely to the logistics.  Get to the pool fast, hope I can get a lane, get through my workout, shower and make myself presentable, and then rush off to work.  But while I’m actually swimming, it’s not bad.  I don’t mind the workout itself.  In fact, I really enjoy swimming.  It’s a great workout, as evidenced by my wobbly arms and legs after the fact, but it doesn’t feel as rough on my body as running or biking.

But somehow, in my brain, swimming is the hard part of the three sports in triathlon.  Not the one that I’m worst at (that’s probably running), but the one that I struggle the most to train.  I’m trying to get it through my head that going to the pool isn’t that bad, that it’s great to have my workouts done early in the morning, and more importantly, the more I train my swimming, the less time I spend in an open water swim.

So I have to make myself do the hard things.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t want to.  I have to do it.  And we all have those hard things that we don’t want to do that we have to do.  So get out there.  Do the hard things.

I have a love/hate relationship with FTP tests

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I often say to my coworkers that I don’t understand how they get so much done during the week.  I feel like I go to work, I workout, I shovel food in my face, and I sleep.  Meanwhile, some of them are raising kids, doing all sorts of fun activities, and one is off building furniture.

Then I realize that I’m doing two hour long workouts.  Add to that getting ready for the workout and showering after and I start to realize where my evenings are going.

(The coworker who builds furniture and takes care of her family though, I’m fairly convinced she has a time turner.  Or doesn’t require sleep.)

This isn’t a complaint.  I enjoy my two hour long workouts, plus indoor workout time is also my tv time, so I get some quality entertainment at the same time.

Last night, I had yet another FTP test.  My goal over the winter was to raise my FTP, and I wasn’t sure I was succeeding in that goal.

Wait, let’s backup.  For you non-cyclists, FTP probably means File Transfer Protocol.  I’m not uploading anything here.  FTP is also Functional Threshold Power, and it’s a measure of the maximum power you can sustain for an hour of riding.  Thankfully, testing doesn’t mean killing yourself for an hour on the bike.  Instead, you ride as hard as you can for twenty minutes, then take 95% of that to figure out your FTP.

What’s it good for?  Well, it’s a good measurement of your fitness level, but there are also a lot of great FTP based workouts, where you do intervals at varying percentages of your FTP.  So ride for 20 minutes at 75%, then 10 at 50%, then 5 at 95% or whatever.  (Don’t do that workout, it’s probably not good.)

Wednesday’s FTP test had the potential to go very poorly.  The night before, I had swim practice, where the coaches tried to drown us with tabata drills.  So much kicking.  Which is awesome, and I love a good hard swim workout, but it meant I was coming into the FTP test a bit more fatigued than normal.

Well, it turns out that didn’t matter.  In fact, it may have helped.  This FTP test was an improvement over my last.  That’s awesome – I’m getting stronger!  I’m becoming a better cyclist!

Of course, this also means that my workouts will now be scaled up, so insert sad trombone here.

Seriously though, I’m pleased.  While I don’t necessarily feel like I’m working that hard, clearly I am.  I think it means that I’ve found that perfect balance between hard work and enjoyment.  I’m not pushing so hard that I’m burning out, but I’m also not going too easy on myself either.  Now to just remain in this sweet spot for as long as possible.

 

Coeur Team Kits are Here!

I got some awesome mail last week.  My Coeur Sports team kit arrived!  This is my third year on the team and each year, the design of the kits gets better and better.

If you love the design too, don’t worry, it will be available next year.  Because of the love for these team kits, they are team exclusive for one season, and then the next season, they’re available for purchase (without the sponsor and other team specific info).

These kits get better and better.  I’ve done a review of the kit before, and I still love them.  The chamois in the shorts is amazing.  Zero issues with chafing, even during my 70.3.  But now, they’ve added 8″ shorts to the line (I’m happy in the 5″, because I have short legs, but I know that 5″ is too short for some people) and they also have tops without a built-in bra, since many of us still have to wear a bra under our kits.  I don’t find that the built-in gets in the way, but I’m looking forward to trying a top without the built-in.

I’m also simply looking forward to racing with this team again.  The Coeur Team is filled with awesome women.  If you see any of us out on a race course this year, be sure to say hi!

 

 

Coeur Half-Century Swim

This weekend, I did something crazy.  One of my Coeur teammates set-up a challenge – get together to swim 100×100.  Now, there was no way that I was going to be able to do a full century swim, but this event was totally friendly to all ability levels, and we were all encouraged to set our own goals.  There were over 30 people there, which was pretty impressive.  I felt bad for the regulars at the pool – they just kept looking for an open lane and figuring we had to be done soon.  That said, we were only taking up 4 lanes.

I set my goal at 50×100.  5000 yards in the pool.

When I was setting my goal, I wanted something that was challenging, but also something that I could achieve.  I’m honestly not sure what the longest swim I’ve ever done was, but I’m betting it was somewhere around 3000.  That said, I’m doing the 4500 swim at Fort Ritchie Swimfest at the end of May, so I wanted to see just how much training I need to do to comfortably be able to complete that swim.  But even the night before, I was debating whether or not I wanted to drop my goal to 4000.

This was an awesome event to be a part of.  There were people of a lot of ability levels participating, and there was zero judgment in the slow lane, or from anyone in the fast lanes.  We were all out there challenging ourselves and getting it done.

I definitely wasn’t attempting to swim 5000 without any breaks.  There were chat breaks at the end of the lane, bathroom breaks, snack breaks, water breaks.  Whatever it took to get through the workout.

I definitely hit a bit of a wall somewhere around 3000.  I couldn’t believe that I was only 3/5ths done.  But once I pushed through and hit 4000, doing an extra thousand didn’t sound so bad.  For me, it’s all about breaking up a big workout into manageable chunks.

And while the company was clearly the best part of the workout, the second best part was the delicious Honeymoon Ice Cream sandwiches afterwards.  YUM.  I’ll do just about anything for good ice cream.