Friday, November 13, 2009

Train away the swim anxiety

The number one reason I hear not to commit to a triathlon is concern for the swim. I’m fortunate enough to have grown up with a lifeguard as a mom and weekend outings to Caddo Lake, which makes me the most confident on the swim than any other leg. For those who have a different story, all you need is to jump in (pardon the pun) and start training to get comfortable in the water.

Start in the pool and practice your freestyle stroke. Remember that a typical Sprint-distance tri only consists of a 600 - 800 meter swim, depending on the race, which lasts about 20 minutes. That’s not long at all. If you get tired as you’re swimming along, you can always roll over on your back and catch your breath, as long as you keep moving forward.

You’ll want to practice a few swims in open water so you get the hang of swimming without a lined lane to follow and a wall to kick off of. For Austinites, Barton Springs is a chilly, but excellent choice. Ian and I figured out that if you go from the ladder near the dam area to the steps just before the diving board area, it’s about 80 meters. Do 10 lengths and you have your half-mile. Open water is an excellent time to start sighting, aka, looking up every third or fourth stroke to make sure you aren’t going to run into anyone. Having other swimmers around is uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it and will find that (at least on race day) people who bump into you are courteous and will move out of the way. After all, they want their own swimming space as much as you do.

I covered gear a little bit in the Attire post, so you should have a basic sport swimming suit. Most races issue swim caps to identify who is in which starting group (wave), so you won’t have to worry about buying one. Amusingly, I have four hot pink caps because they always give that color to the youngest female group. Since I should age out of the babies group this year, I’m hoping to diversify my swim cap colors! Anyway, some people will have big open-water swim goggles, but normal pool goggles have worked fine for me. In fact, a vendor at this year’s Trek Women Tri expo told me that tri gear manufacturers are getting away from the larger, clunkier goggles in favor of more sleek versions. Just find something that fits your face and practice with them.

On race day, the swim will be first (in 99 percent of cases). That’s a good thing for those who want to get it over with. It can be a bad thing since you’ll have overall-race anxiety on top of the swim anxiety. The best way to calm your nerves is to pick a location in your starting wave that works for you. I tend to choose a spot on the edge near the back because like to pace myself; I’m not racing anyone. Many of the swimmers who start off sprinting get worn out in the middle anyway, then I pass them. :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I whole-heartedly agree with Christina’s Getting Started tips [see the first entry], especially about gear. Here are a few thoughts to expand on hers. As you remember, she said the most important things are to get a bathing suit, a bike, good running shoes and socks.

The bathing suit part is pretty easy. You’ll want something you can move around in, meaning a “sport” bathing suit that has adequate support. The most obvious choice is a one-piece speedo-type suit or a two-piece sport suit. For later tris, you may consider looking into tri gear like a tri bra (a quick-dry sports bra) or tri tank, and tri shorts (spandex shorts with less padding than bike shorts with a quick-dry feature and side pockets).

For your bike, there are a few things to consider. Since most triathlons will be held on the road, it makes sense to get a road bike. Unless you’re an expert in bike adjustment, you’ll want to go to a bike shop and ask them what size frame you’ll need. (I’m just under 6 feet tall and I ride a 58 cm frame. The seat should be high enough that your leg is nearly fully extended at the base of your pedal stroke.) You don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line bike for a sprint triathlon, but expect to pay between $800 and $1,000 for a new bike. If you’re buying a used bike, make sure to ask the previous owner if it’s ever been in a significant crash. Look all over the frame for signs of damage that could hurt the structural integrity of the frame (these are more than chips in the paint, you’d look for dents in the metal). You'll want to take the used bike to a shop to get adjusted, cleaned and ready to ride. If you're buying new, the bike shop will do all this for you.

Take Christina’s advice on the shoes—go to a shop like RunTex or Rogue Running and let them analyze your stride, how your foot hits the ground, etc., so you know what type of shoe will be best for you.

Socks are easy, too. Get a sport sock that will dry quickly. As you start doing longer distances, you may consider packing two pairs of socks, one for the bike and one for the run, so you have a dry, clean un-blistered foot throughout the whole race.

Getting Started 2 -- Introduction

So you’re thinking about trying triathlons.

As a little background about myself, I never considered myself to be an athlete growing up. When I graduated college, started working an 8-5 job and had some free time on my hands, a good friend encouraged me to sign up for the Danskin Women’s triathlon. We “trained” (quite comically now that I look back at it…more on that later) and I completed my first sprint tri in 2006. That race became a springboard that gave me the confidence to continue getting healthy and challenging my body to be better. Now my race count to date is seven—six sprint-distance triathlons and one olympic-distance triathlon. It’s safe to say that I have the bug.

The hardest leg for me emotionally and physically is the run, and it will probably always be that way. But, I have to say that doing triathlons is much easier than any long-distance running I’ve ever done because it allows you to use different muscle groups throughout the three legs of the race. That’s the beauty of a tri. Don’t get me wrong, it’s challenging to keep moving for such a long period of time, but the feeling you have at the end is indescribable. I’ve cried at every finish line.

As Christina said, there are a few things you need to know as you get started. For searchability reasons, I’m going to start a new post all about attire so it’s easier to go back and find.

For now, congratulations on your decision to be a triathlete and thanks for joining us on our journey, too!