I suppose I started this crazy sport like most by doing a triathlon just for fun. I had never really been a swimmer (except for family vacations to Florida at the Ramada pool). I had been a casual runner (read weekend jogger), and in collage I raced bikes a bit because my roommate happened to be on a local bike team. He would drag me out with him on their team rides.
I figured that was all the background one needed to complete a Sprint triathlon that started at the local rec center’s indoor swimming pool with a mere 500 meter swim. I trained for this race for about 2 months. By train I mean that I went on a “long” run of about 5 miles once a week. I biked about 15 miles once a week and I swam the 500 meters a few days before the race. On race morning you could say I was race ready. And if by race ready you meant that I was 40 pounds overweight, with the aerobic fitness of a marshmallow and the leg muscles of your average preteen girl, you’d be correct.
The swim went pretty well in that I finished it without walking or drowning or reverting to the on your back angel swim. The bike started out well but about the second time I hit the moderate hill my lack of training began to show. I was huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf but not blowing much down, except for my ego.
By the time I got to the 5-mile run I was spent and in pure death mode. My legs had locked up like a vise grip and I was trying my best to do the survival shuffle. This is that sort of run walk motion that feels and sort of looks like you are running, but in fact you moving along much slower than if you were actually walking.
I was gulping water, air, sports drink and anything else I could think of to help me make it to the finish line…which I did, you could say, in record time, that is if you consider record time to be smashing the slowest time for your age group.
But I had indeed finished and now I was a triathlete. And worse yet I had been totally bitten by the triathlon bug. I wanted to test myself on longer and longer races. So I spent the next few year basically repeating my first race performance in longer races all the way up to the Olympic distance.
It wasn’t until my 40th birthday that my smart and beautiful wife kick started my racing career. She got me a coach and it was only than that I began to realize how much I really didn’t know about the sport. For instance:
a) There is an entire body of knowledge for each of the three disciplines. I didn’t really know how to swim (Ok I knew that I didn’t know how to swim) bike and run.
b) You could easily fill a library with books on proper sport and race nutrition.
c) And most importunately, you could easily fill several libraries with books on the science of peak race performance and training.
But it was really the training part that I had completely gotten wrong.
My typical week went something like this. I would get up and look at my day.
Monday I had some free time at lunch so I would head to the health club for a 30 minute treadmill run at a pace that felt comfortable for the say 10 minutes. Than the adrenaline would kick in, or the guy next to me was going faster, and I would increase the speed to some huff and puff range for some undetermined amount of time or until I felt I could no longer keep up.
Tuesday I would be back at the club for a swim. How about doing 1000 yards in intervals of say 200 yards each or until the siren call of the hot tub called me to her?
Wednesday it was time for my 15-mile bike ride but the wind came up or the sun went down, or work got busy, so nothing got done.
Thursday I’d make up for Wednesday’s lack of biking by going on a hard run. So I ran extra hard for 20 minutes and ate extra hard for 10 minutes.
Friday it was back to the pool. I would swim in a noon masters class which was a real killer, but also probably the only “valuable” work out I did that week.
Saturday was family time so no working out or perhaps just a short jog with the dog.
Sunday was my time to go for a long bike, which I did for perhaps an hour and a half with no particular goal, but to finish. I would, more or less, repeat the entire week until race day at which point my legs would seize up on the bike or the run. I’d bring it on home with my fav death shuffle.
Wes Hobson, my coach, got me started on the long road from being an amateur age grouper to a real triathlete. First he taught me how to run. Did you know that there really is a right and a wrong way to run?
Next he worked on my swimming which I’ve come to realize is pretty much a life-long endeavor.
Next he changed my bike position to a proper bike fit and got me biking on a plan with a goal.
But most importunately he put together a real training plan for me based on the science and a life-long knowledge of the sport.
After just a few months of training with Wes, I lost weight and started to finish strong. The next year I began to drop my race times.
Today I use that first Sprint triathlon as a measure of my fitness. Since I actually began to train like a pro (not in terms of quantity but in terms of quality) I’ve dropped over 45 minutes from my initial Sprint time. That’s an eternity (for me about 35 percent) in a race that’s only about 2 hours long.
Last year I took third in my category at the Chicago Triathlon and more importantly no more death shuffle. This year I’ve changed my focus to longer races. Remember that eventually all roads lead to Kona, the home and start of Triathlon.
So my best advice is plan for the year. There are tons of training plans and pros out there that you can use. I’ve had great personal experience with two:
Wes sells both canned and personalized plans on his web site. My friend Luis Vargas runs MarkAllen Online. Luis has taken Mark Allen’s winning race training program (Mark has won Kona 6 times) and made is adaptable to your personal schedule. Check out his web site for really powerful interactive training plans. Both of these folks also provided great one-on-one support and keep up-to-date with the latest in triathlon thinking.
Take a look and see which one is the best fit for you. If you are serious about this sport, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better investment for the New Year. Or if you plan on doing a half or iron distance race next year, you best have a plan, unless you really like the death shuffle.