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!