3 Things My First Triathlon Taught Me

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Well, I did it.  Finished my first triathlon – a sprint-distance tri: 500yd swim, 14.2mi bike, 3.1mi (5K) run.  Felt pretty good throughout.  My results (i.e., my Personal Best):

8th (of 9) in age group
Overall 48th (of 63)
Swim: 4th in age group Time – 10:07
Transition 1 – 3:37
Bike: 7th in age group Time – 53:07
Transition 2 – 1:33
Run: 9th in age group Time – 35:28

Here’s a few things I learned from the experience.  Hope they help you with your first triathlon or next triathlon or anything else you might be able to apply them to!

(1) It’s better to be tapped on the foot

The triathlon I did had the swim leg in a pool.  The course snaked back and forth from one end of the pool to the other, and each swimmer started about 5 seconds apart.  I positioned myself at the back of the line to the pool, thinking that I might be slower and I didn’t want to be holding anyone up.

I shouldn’t have underestimated myself.  Many people in triathlons apparently do not do much, if any swim training.  I’d kept my training fairly balanced, and done well swimming.  So, by underestimating myself, I did what another competitor told me: “I’d rather be tapped on the foot than kicked in the head.”

Lesson I learned:  Be it swimming or other aspects of your life, don’t undersell yourself.  If you’ve worked hard and you know that you are in a certain class, don’t let self-doubt get to you.  Take your rightful place in line and let others tap you on the foot and politely pass by if they must.  You don’t deserve to get kicked in the face.

(2) Pacing works

As I was about 1/3 of the way through the 14-mile bike leg of the triathlon, somebody passed me.  It’s not a big deal because most competitors are really competing against the clock, and I passed people, myself; that’s just the way it works.  But something about this person’s style bothered me.

In cycling, cadence is the name of the game (read my article about it here).  Pedaling at 90-100RPM (i.e., the number of times your pedals make a revolution during a minute – that might be self-evident, sorry) does so much for you in terms of efficiency and endurance.  I’ve worked hard to build myself up to keep a cadence in that range and was doing very well with it during the race.  This person who passed me, though, was clearly chunking along using more pure force than cadence to move ahead.  They were pushing their pedals much more slowly and because of basic brute strength, they pulled past me and away.

But I thought “I’ll see him later!”  And sure enough, about another 1/3 of the way through the course, there he was.  Tired out, still pushing those pedals, and beaten down by the brutal headwinds we faced that day.

Lesson I learned:  Slow and steady really does win the race.  Not only have I experienced this in athletic performance, but I’ve also lost more than 70 lbs in the last 10 months on Weight Watchers and it came off at about 1-2lbs per week.  No radical diets or shortcuts, just persistence and dedication.  It’s truly so hard to keep going when you see others burst past you by taking a shortcut, exploiting some apparent advantage or bullsh*tting their way through life.  But take solace in the fact that if you’ve done your research and listen to those who know the truth, you’ll be the one with the reserve power and extra gears under your feet when it’s time to make your move.

(3) Know where the finish line is

The last leg of the triathlon was the 5K run – my weakest link.  Running isn’t my favorite thing to do, and while I’ve improved as I’ve trained more and lost the weight, I haven’t conquered it.  Yet.

So, aside from the fact that I didn’t take my heavy, wet biking jacket off, I slogged my way through the run. (Bonus lesson learned: I didn’t take the biking jacket off b/c my race number was on it and I didn’t want to take the time to repin it.  Next time, I’m definitely going to have a race belt like this one so I can easily move my number around without having to worry about pins.)

The course was half cross country (grass) and half rough road, so the softness of the surface was very different from my road training.  Still, even after I got my legs to adjust from the cycling, I lightly bounced along the path at a very slow pace.  Sure, I was tired from the other events, but I acted almost like I was saving energy up for something.

But saving for what?!  I was only a few miles from the finish line of a very long race and after that, I would be done!  Even if I took it easy for a mile or so, I could have recovered a little and engaged my legs to finish a little stronger.  I might have felt some burn, but as long as I didn’t go to the point of knowingly injuring myself, I might have found enough reserve energy to keep up a steady and strong pace.

Lesson I learned:  When you know where the finish line is, don’t waste that knowledge and just go for it.  I knew that I was in the home stretch and still ran very conservatively.  Knowing the distance, direction and steps to get to the finish line is such a powerful bit of information – again whether it’s an actual finish line of a race or a deadline or goal in your life or work – and you are killing yourself for no good reason by squandering that knowledge.  Finish strong.  You’ll have time to take a well deserved and well-earned rest after.

Those are three things I learned among many other great things I took away from my first triathlon experience (including:  triathlon competitors are really friendly, nice people who are happy to share information and encouragement at every turn – even during the ‘race’).  I’m planning on doing more tris, and on challenging myself in other ways to have fun and keep progressing in fitness and health (next event: Warrior Dash, March 31).  Next time, I’ll be setting myself up for success in swimming, staying the course on the bike and keeping in mind that while the running comes after the other events, it’s just that last thing between me and the finish line.


Hope this was useful for you if you’re running, swimming, cycling, doing all three, or just looking to get ahead in your career or your life.  Let me know what you think!


Thanks for listening!

3 Ways You’re Wasting Your Workouts (And What To Do About It)

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I’ve been training for a triathlon for several weeks.  My mantra has been “faster, longer, harder” (that’s what she said) – I’ve kept pushing to cover more distance, ride/swim/run for a longer amount of time, and work to get more power out of myself to incrementally improve.  And it’s worked pretty well so far, I think.  I’ve increased my net speed in each activity, have more endurance, am losing weight at a good pace, and vitals test in the healthy range whenever I have them taken.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if I could do a little better.  And you know what?  I think I can.  And I bet you can too.  Here’s how you and I may be wasting our workouts and how we can turn that around and do much better.

Don't Waste Your Miles

(1) “I just want to exercise, I don’t want to race”

I’ve fallen into this a lot.  You think that you are just exercising to be healthier – and that’s definitely a positive thing – but you do it without a goal or plan.  But think about that – if you want to be healthy, you probably have some measurements in mind that will let you know if you’re achieving or maintaining what you believe to be “healthy”.  Whether it’s weight, waist, biceps, cholesterol, or something subjective but meaningful, somehow you will know or have a sense that you’ve met your goals.

But if you don’t set a goal, you might just plod along, languish and give up.  Why continue if you don’t really have any destination or milestone?

So, set a goal and keep yourself focused; create a track that you can stay on.  You don’t have to qualify for the Olympics, but why not plan to run (or walk) a 5K?  Or if you don’t want to register and participate in a 5K, just do a 5K program (Runner’s World has an excellent 8-week 5K program).  If you swim, try the zero-to-1650 workout plan and swim a straight swimmer’s mile.  You could even do some good by entering a charity 5K or bike ride and have a goal and some extra supporters…  But why not consider something to make your exercise program a little more motivating and measurable than “just for the sake of exercise”?

(2) Start.  Finish.  Repeat.

In the beginning triathlon app that I’m using (First Time Triathlete), they build in drills to most workouts.  The one I finally did the other day was for cycling.  “Hill repeats.”  You find a hill along your path that takes 1-2 minutes to climb, climb it 10 times, spinning easily on the way back down.  I avoided injecting this into my workouts, but the other day I just made up my mind and did it.  Wow.  By the end of the repeats, I was climbing the hill at or above my flat road cadence and speed, and I was able to maintain my target cadence range (88-95) at a speed of 18.5-19.5 MPH for the remainder of my ride (I previously was spinning in that range, but only getting about 16-17MPH from the gear I was in).As I mentioned above, I had done my workouts mostly just straight through.  Get on the bike, ride, get off the bike.  Run, finish.  Swim lap after lap.  It worked well, but I was skipping something very important.  Drills.

So, don’t neglect the little drills.  I know that I won’t be.  And bonus: not only is it valuable for your training, it’s kind of fun to have more than a “finish the workout” challenge ahead of you.  Give it a try!  Make the miles count!

(3) Don’t stop.

Rest is vital to maintaining and improving performance.  Whether it’s taking a day off from working out or taking a short break (possibly even as short as 10 seconds) while exercising, the incremental improvements can be tremendous.  Yesterday was  a swim workout.  In addition to a warm-up and cool-down and a few drills, I had an 800-yard (32-lap) segment to swim.  Well, actually this was the prep for Sunday’s 800-yard segment.  It was laid out as 4×200 yard segments with 10 seconds in between each.  Each tiny break helps me to keep my form up, and stringing them together so closely lets me get the feel of doing the whole 800-yard segment (and knowing I can handle it just fine).

Rest also helps you navigate change.  After donating blood, I stupidly did some exercise the next morning – a 40-minute run.  After about 20-25 minutes, I couldn’t keep jogging.  I listened to my body, took plenty of walk breaks and finished the walk/run in decent time.  Knowing that my recovery would take a little longer, I moved my usual Friday rest day to the day after the run, and now I’m back on pace.

So if you’ve been getting bored with your workouts or not seeing/feeling much improvement from one to the next, Give these things a try.

  • Sign up for an event to work toward a  measurable goal (if you’re in Northeast Florida, check out 1st Place Sports for dozens of running events, or find events anywhere in the U.S. at Active.com),
  • do some drills (sprints, repeats, etc. – find them at Runner’s World, RTK’s Swim Workouts (one of the BEST sites for swimming workouts including the 0-to-1650 plan I mentioned above), and Active.com has a bunch of drills, too), and
  • rest (pre-emptively and in response to your body’s signals).

Do you have anything to add?  What do you do when your workouts get stale?  Or how do you mix it up to keep getting results?

Look forward to hearing your suggestions and comments!  Thanks for listening!

4 Things That Will Enhance Your Running Experience

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… or at least they enhance my running experience and I think they’d be good for you, too!

I’m still a novice runner; I actually don’t even truly “run”, I am still doing jogging/walking intervals.  Today I ran a 5K route with a jog 6 minutes/walk 1 minute interval.  And I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I ever have!  Here are the things that I’ve done or added recently that made this the best run to date:

1. Professional Shoe Fitting at Jacksonville Running Company

You know how everybody is like an a**hole because they all have opinions and advice (or something like that)?  Well, the one piece of advice that I finally took was to get a professional shoe fitting.  I’d been using some old cross trainers and while they basically protected my feet from the elements I did find it a little taxing to run in them.

So I went to Jacksonville Running Company and Bobby, the Training/Events Manager, took the time to learn about my running experience and plans, measured my feet, do a couple of computer/video analyses and let me try on and try out (actually jog with) several pairs of shoes until I had one that was just right.  Not only did he walk through all the analysis, he explained everything along the way without making me feel ignorant as a new runner or overwhelmed by information.

I love my shoes I (a great pair of Brooks shoes which are highly rated for heavier men)!  Wide enough for my feet but not too loose, good support for my high arches and very stable.  As I was at the store there were two other customers who each received the same personal attention as I.  This is a great store, great staff, and an extremely valuable service.  Highly recommended!  While there I also picked up…

2. Yurbuds Sport Earphones

These ingenious “twist-lock” earbuds are designed to stay in your ear and pipe the music right where it should go without letting sweat or moisture in.

Not only are Yurbuds fantastic earphones out of the box, the little twist lock earbud covers easily slip off and slip on to other earbuds.  I love that feature because I like to use my iPhone’s earbuds with the mic and remote (great to be able to adjust volume, use Siri or take/end a call while on the bike or on the run).  I slip the twist-lock piece on and I get the same benefits as the native Yurbuds headset.

Since I’m hell-bent on using my iPhone, might as well use a great app to track and time my runs…

3. Track with the iMapMyFitness App

The iMapMyFitness app is one of the best apps I’ve found to log and record workouts.  I used to use the one by the company with the swoosh logo but it had a couple of shortcomings (only for running, voice feedback is buggy, poor GPS responsiveness).  The app is great at recording workouts using GPS tracking (includes linear and elevation measurements), and it works for cycling or running.  You can also log swimming workouts, gym workouts, adventure workouts, and so on.

This goes to the App Store, but also available for Android

Another great feature is the “stats” view.  While you’re running or riding you can view your workout map or you can switch to view a screen of 4 stats (time, speed,  and a host of others that you can set, including ones that interact with other devices like ANT+ heart rate monitors).

You can also pre-map routes on the website for the app.  And you can connect w/ friends who use the app, and then see them while they’re on their workouts.  And… you can post your runs to Facebook and twitter, including a link to the map of your run/ride…  So many great features and the app is free! (There’s an advanced, ad-free $1.99 version of the app that I’m going to upgrade to, but the free version is really fantastic and the ads are very unobtrusive. )

Listening to music while on the run or ride is great, but you do need to be aware of what’s going on around you. While the Yurbuds still allow ambient noise, you never know who or what might trip you up on a run, so just in case…

4. Get a Road ID (www.roadid.com)

Road ID is a nice little piece of insurance.  For less than $30 you can get a wristband (or dog tag, like I have) that has your name, emergency contact info and even a code that First Responders can use to look up a full personal profile in the event that something happens to you on the trail or road or ocean.   RoadID is one of the most professional, engaging, quality service organizations I’ve encountered.  They are amazing communicators and really know how to anticipate your questions and make sure that when you buy your ID it’s an effortless and satisfying process.

Go to www.roadID.com today and get one for you and/or a runner, cyclist, swimmer or outdoorsy type that you love.  It’s the best money you can spend for a little peace of mind while braving the great outdoors.

So there are 4 things that I think can make your running (or cycling or outdoor activity) a little more comfortable, enjoyable, productive and safe.  They’re definitely doing the trick for me so far.  If you have any experiences with any of the above to share, my readers and I would love to hear them!

Thanks for listening!


Ok, now I see that cycling cadence is important

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So, yesterday on my bike ride I tried something different.  I’d been reading about cycling cadence – sort of equivalent to the amount of “spin” at which you are pedaling – and how maintaining a higher cadence is ideal because you burn fat (rather than muscle energy), fatigue slower and recover quickly.

Resistance Builds Strength, Doesn’t It?

The thing is, it doesn’t feel natural.  Everything your body learns about exercise is that the greater the resistance you feel the better workout you’re getting.  When lifting weights the larger the weight, the larger the resistance, the more you feel like you’re building muscle.  And when it comes to propulsion exercise like running, the harder your push against the resistance of gravity and wind, the faster you travel.

Higher Cadence Gives You More Gears

Then again, I suppose that proper cadence is closer to the “light weights/high reps” type of workout.  If you really want to learn more about the finer points of cadence, this is the article I read (and the site www.beginnertriathlete.com is full of great info for swimmers, cyclists and runners).

80RPM Down, 8-15RPM to Go!

So, using my CycleOps PowerTap (hey, you never know, maybe I’ll get a kickback if I mention the little computer by name), I watched my cadence and kept it to a minimum of 80RPM.  It felt like I was pedaling way too fast for a mile or so but then I started to get into it and realize how much gear I had left to go.  Before I was pedaling harder and slower, and while I could get my speed up in short bursts I ran out of places to go.  This time I was able to sustain speeds of 21mph or more for a while and it really wasn’t very difficult.  I went further faster, got a great workout and felt better than ever after I finished.

I’m looking forward to my next ride and trying to get the cadence up a little more.  The article I referenced above says that a cadence of 88-95RPM is ideal.  It might take a few rides to get in that range consistently, but I know I can get there.

Six weeks to go until the Tri-Jax Challenge!  Hope my documentation of my training will help you out or at least make for some interesting reading.  Thanks for listening!