As you may have gathered from my previous posts, Heather’s First Ocean Swim and My First Aquabike that, (besides being unable to commit to first or third person in my titles), I’m leading up to an even bigger event- my first triathlon. The triathlon in question is the Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon, an all female, sprint distance race. The sprint distance varies a bit by race but in this case it means a .62 mile swim, a 17.5 mile bike ride, and a 3.3 mile run.
So why do a triathlon? A great question! And one I ask myself very often as I’m laboring up some giant hill on my bike or trying to fend off leg cramps in the pool. Triathlons have been surging in popularity and I’ve come across more and more people who participate in them. This popularity has helped triathlons seem more accessible to me. I also really like the fact that you have to train across three very different disciplines. This means the boredom factor remains low. The realization that triathlons come in all sorts of sizes and you don’t need to commit to an Iron Man distance to compete sealed the deal- I was in.
The day I decided I was going to do a triathlon probably wasn’t the most rational time of my life to reach this decision. I was doing laps in the pool; while recovering from a knee injury that left me unable to fully bend my leg for months, swimming was the only cardio exercise I could do. For some reason I thought to myself, “I’m really starting to look forward to my swims, I know I can already run a 5K, all I need now is to get a bike and I’ll be good to go!” I couldn’t even get up a set of stairs properly or drive my stick shift car yet.
I eventually recovered from my knee injury, bought a nice hybrid bike (I was too scared to get a road bike. I hadn’t ridden a bike in 20 years!), and got a nice assortment of various IT band straps to keep my knee (not the just injured one but, you know, my good knee) in place while I ran. Time to get serious.
I started by signing up for some adult swim classes at my gym. I could swim okay (i.e. not drown) but could definitely use some help/critique/tips on my stroke and kicking and, well, everything. Next, I signed up for some indoor bike training classes (this was January) at TriColumbia, the organization that actually hosts the Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon. Those classes were fantastic. As the weather got warmer the classes began to be held outside so I got my first taste of some brutal hills and survived thanks to the not-so-tender tutelage of my wonderful bike coach. I also graduated to my first road bike, a Specialized Dolce Comp Apex Compact. The SRAM shifters are what sealed the deal for me. I have small hands and these were, by far, the easiest for me to manipulate. I also love how Specialized designs bikes to truly fit women instead of just making a man’s bike smaller and calling it a day.
Along the way I’ve been inundated with opinions on how to train, what to eat, what gear I oh my god just have to have! Since those of you reading this post might not yet know this about me, I am very skeptical. I’ve come around somewhat on certain things (yes, you really do need bike shorts) but others I still keep at arm’s length (no, you don’t need a bike jersey). I’ve gone from silently deriding those who use a heart rate monitor to not wanting to work out if I’ve forgotten mine. Some things I find laughable (a tri suit with a built in bra, who are they kidding???) and others whose value I’m still trying to determine. For instance, I’ve been taking mineral supplements before I train (calcium, magnesium, potassium) to help ward off cramps, especially while swimming. Not sure if they help or not but after being slammed with agonizing cramps a few times I’m willing to try. I would really like to get all the nutrition I need from my diet but I’m still trying to work that out. A plethora (and often just crazy or faddish) of ideas about the perfect diet for triathletes exists. Not to mention all the gels and goos and bars and drinks and who knows what else that exist to eat during your actual workout. I’m very resistant to heavily marketed “scientific formulas” that consist mainly of food dyes and sugar and have been trying to find more natural substitutes.
The triathlon is in three weeks. I’d like to write a follow-up post about my training habits (which might make my perhaps laissez-faire approach to training seem more official than it really was) and whether I felt they were effective or not. I’m not a professional triathlete (ha!) or sports nutritionist or a kiniseologist or any “ologist” but I can tell you what worked for me. Or didn’t. This is all assuming I survive my first triathlon. Keep your fingers crossed!