Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beginner's Tri

“If the mind can believe it, the body can achieve it.” – Unknown

I won’t even try to fool you. I’ve never done a triathlon. But I’m gearing up for a “tri” that takes place on May 30, and barring injury or anything unforeseen, I expect to cross the finish line on that day.

A victory for me, simply stated: finish.

So, why a tri? Why now? I'll give you three reasons:

1. I turn 35 in March – a milestone age for me, and I want it to be a monumental year;

2. I finished the Houston Half Marathon last Sunday, so the juices are flowing and I’m feeling it; and,

3. There’s no time like the present to check a box on your bucket list.

(Me, Smiling briefly at Mile 8 of the Houston Half Marathon; courtesy of Emily Covey)
Over the last week, I’ve done a number of things to get myself focused for the next four months:

Built a basic level of knowledge about triathlons – I read a post at Zen Habits, which kept me in the active spirit and contains useful tri-related information, as well as a few links to online resources. There are essentially four types of tris:

• 500-800 yards of swimming (pool or lake)
• 12-15 miles of biking
• 5K, or 3.1 miles of running

International (Olympic)
• 1650 yards of swimming (lake, ocean)
• 25-30 miles of biking
• 10K, or 6.2 miles of running

Half Ironman
• 1.2 miles (2,200 yards) of swimming (lake, ocean)
• 56 miles of biking
• 13.1 miles of running

• 2.4 miles (4,400 yards) of swimming
• 112 miles of biking
• 26.2 miles of running

Registered (early) for the big event – My money is out the door, and I’m signed up for the International (Olympic) distance CapTexTri. Total cost: $153. Included is a $10 fee for USA Triathlon (USAT), required for all non-members participating. (Note: entering triathlons is not a cheap endeavor, especially when you add in the accessories involved.)

Joined a gym – In October of last year, the new Tellepsen YMCA opened in downtown Houston. That is where I plan to get my swim training done. I read somewhere that appropriately training for a triathlon could eat up as much as one hour per day. While this may be true, it sounds like a lot to me. I figure I’m in decent enough shape now to cut that down, making refinements where necessary. I’ll have an online exercise log up at some point soon. Until then, I plan to track my routine with pen and paper. A la Peter Drucker, "What gets measured gets managed." I’ve looked at a few training plans posted on Tri-Newbies Online and will identify and tweak one for my own use by the end of this weekend.

Found a training partner – I got word yesterday that one of my friends of forever committed to do the race with me. He did the same triathlon last year and knows the drill. The best part: he's an orthopedic surgeon. (Hey, you never know!) In the process of searching for someone, I discovered quite a subculture of people who regularly participate in triathlons. I can think of worse habits.

Bought a bike and swimming gear – After just running 13.1 miles, I have what I need to run six. The real equipment comes in the way of a bicycle, and not just any. If you want to reach speeds of better than 20 miles per hour, you need one that is aerodynamic and will move for you without too much effort expended. Looking around, I promptly stoked the debate among riders of whether to buy a tri-specifc bike or a typical road bike. Tri bikes are designed to reserve your legs (quads, especially) for the run that follows the ride. I chose to keep it typical. My selection: a Specialized Allez. It is a beauty. I made the purchase at West End Bikes, an exceptional shop with a knowledgeable and helpful staff, if you’re in Houston and in the market for one. A tight, butt-padded pair of riding shorts is not required, but I plan to sport some for increased comfort.  A protective helmet and a pair of toe-clip shoes are also on my road to the finish line. As for swimming stuff, there is more to it than you might imagine: goggles and a suit for training, both of which I picked up at Tri On The Run. The goggles I bought came highly recommended and are made by AquaSphere. The key is to avoid, at all costs, water seeping into your eyes. A wetsuit is evidently useful for the CapTexTri (for speed and warmth). I don't have one, so I’ll need to somehow sort that out before the starting gun fires. According USAT, there is a unique rule (4.4) around wetsuits in triathlons, which I find interesting:

Wet suits. Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The wetsuit policy for elite athletes shall be determined by the USAT Athletes Advisory Council. The AAC has set the wetsuit maximum temperature for elite/pros at 68 degrees for swim distances less than 3000 meters and 71.6 degrees for distances of 3000 meters or greater. Effective January 1, 2013, any swimmer wearing a wetsuit with a thickness measured in any part greater than 5 millimeters shall be disqualified.

Pledged to eat and drink right – Nutrition is the final aspect of training that I'll keep in mind. To the extent that I can, I'll stay away from useless sugar and employ, as much as possible, a diet rich in energy to burn efficiently.

If you know anything about triathlons and care to share, drop a line in the comments section below. I’ll provide an update now and again on how the training is going and definitely one after I finish. 

With that, on this clear Saturday, it is time to start training – it is all about the bike today.

Fun facts about triathlons:

• The first modern swim/bike/run event to be called a 'triathlon' was held at Mission Bay, San Diego, California, on September 25, 1974. (Source: Wikipedia).

• On average, triathletes are from high socio-economic backgrounds with median incomes of $126,000. (Source: August, 2010 USAT Demographic Study)

• Brick training refers to training on two disciplines during the same workout, one after the other with minimal or no interruption in between, just as you would do in a race. (Source: