Getting Started – The Run

A lot of triathletes started out as injured runners who started cross-training during their recovery. So, for a lot of people, running comes most naturally, but for those who don’t, where do we start? This article contains helpful tips for getting started for the run.

Training for the run is probably the easiest when it comes to preparation. You need shoes. You need something to cover up if you’re outside because sunburns aren’t fun. If you want to track your heart rate, pace, distance, and route you will probably need a smart watch. Check out DCRainmaker’s watch analysis. When I started out, I drove around my neighborhood tracking mileage for routes that I wanted to run. It’s not difficult to get out there and get going, but what do you do once you get out there?

I recommend 80/20 running. 80% of your running volume’s intensity will be in Zone 2 (more on that later) and 20% will be at a higher intensity. If you know your heart rate zones, you know what Zone 2 is. It’s that intensity just above a slow walk where you feel like you could keep walking for days and days; that effort level where you know you’re doing some work, your heart is pumping, but you can hold a conversation the entire time. It is also known as “Conversational Pace.”

Most of your running should be at a Conversational Pace meaning you should be able to control your breathing well enough to hold a conversation. It should not be too taxing, but it should be enough to get your heart working a little bit. This can be a run, slow jog, walk, or a walk/run. A walk/run workout consists of running for a set amount of time or distance and then switching to a walking interval to recover. The number of sets depends on time and purpose for the workout.

An example workout: warm up for 10 minutes by doing mobility exercise or dynamic warmups like high knees and butt kicks. Then walk for the rest of the warm up. For 10 sets, run for 1 minute and then walk for 2 minutes. Make sure you push yourself a bit on the run because you can recover during the 2 minute walk. Once you finish those ten sets, cool down for 10 minutes incorporating some stretching.

Do this workout a couple of times a week, then add a workout with the same sets, increasung the intensity of the running intervals and/or shorten the recovery intervals. When you increase the intensity, your heart pumps harder and all of the ligaments and tendons and muscles in your legs start feeling what it’s like to work a little harder. So, your body will send help and protection to all of those body parts that support your running. Following this process and increasing the intensity when your body adapts will get you in shape and ready to tackle your first race.

Interested in getting started on the run? Visit the coaching services link and choose one of the packages.

Getting Started – The Bike

For me the bike is the most fun. Your head isn’t stuck in the water, like on the swim, and you’re not trying to push through discomfort, like on the run. You can take in the views and coast if you need to shake out your legs. Let’s talk about getting started on the bike.

The bike seems to be the least technical. If you want to go faster, hammer. If you want to recover, spin and coast. There are, of course, technical details like choosing the right gear to get up a hill or how fast your feet should rotate through the pedal stroke: known as “cadence.” With a high cadence, you utilize  your cardiovascular system more than the major muscle groups of the legs. Using the major leg muscle groups requires more energy. Depending on how you train, you can train your legs to keep a higher wattage when you need to spin out your legs.

Training for the bike has gotten much easier with the availability of at-home trainers or turbos. Wheel-on or drivetrain driven trainers allow the athlete to specify a wattage during a workout and achieve a desired outcome. If you want to increase your FTP (Functional Threshold Power, defined as the wattage you can sustain for an hour), then your training should be targeted for the one hour effort. To learn more about trainers, check out DC Rainmaker’s breakdown.

The bike is probably the most expensive discipline in triathlon. A used bike can relieve some of the pain on a budget, but new tri-bikes or even road bikes with aero bars can still be very expensive. I have seen everything from beach cruisers to state-of-the-art time trial bikes at every race. If you’re looking to start out in triathlon, it doesn’t take five figures. The bike has to be roadworthy, but the engine is the most important part.

The most important element of your time on the bike is how quickly you push the pedals. Note: not how hard, but how fast. You have to keep in mind that the bike is the first discipline in a triathlon that uses the legs…not the last. You have to have enough strength and enough endurance to complete the run. Start out with Fast Cadence drills: after a good warmup, go 30 seconds on and 30-60 seconds off for 6 reps and then cool down. Since the bike has less impact than running, you can complete this workout several times a week and improve quickly. Once the cadence gets higher, increase the effort. Push a little bit more at the same RPMs.

Interested in getting started on the bike? Visit the coaching services link and choose one of the packages.

Getting Started – The Swim

Almost everyone fears the swim, and for good reason. You can coast on the bike. You can walk on the run. But if you’re out in a lake or the ocean and stop swimming, bad things happen. So, first off, if you feel overwhelmed as you swim, flip over on your back and settle your mind. We’ll talk about mental preparation for the swim in a later post, but taking a minute to settle your mind will help you continue. Let’s talk about getting started on the swim.

I’ve posted on my instagram several times about the swim. It’s the one discipline you can’t fight and push and get better. It takes detailed analysis and understanding of how to move your body through the water. It takes reps and reps and reps of drills to bring that form into alignment because swimming is form over everything. When starting out on the swim, take at least one workout per week to focus on drills. Include sculling, doggie paddle, finger tip drag, fist swim as some of the drills which help get a “feel” for the water.

“Feeling” the water is such an abstract notion. Traditionally, the swim stroke has three phases: catch, pull, recovery. I add a fourth: finish. The finish is the last 10% or so of the pull that brings your hand to your hip and out of the water to start the recovery. You “feel” the water the most during the pull and finish. It takes time to really understand what that means. When I started Ironman training and having to swim these long 500, 800, 1000 yard reps I started to really understand how to feel the water. Hop in the pool and stand in the water. Put your arm in and pull it behind you along your side. Can you can feel the resistance of the water against your arm? That resistance is what we’re trying to feel during the pull phase of the swim stroke. Getting that same feeling as you swim is crucial. You should feel the resistance along your elbow, forearm, and hand through the pull phase of the stroke until your hand reaches your hip and comes out of the water to start the recovery. Feeling that as long as you can during the pull will help propel you forward through the water.

If you’re interested in coaching or a swim stroke analysis, visit this coaching services link and choose one of the packages. Getting a handle on how to improve your swim stroke will help take the fear out of the swim.

Getting Started – Equipment

Contrary to what seasoned triathlete think, the sport of triathlon doesn’t require a ton of equipment to start out with. You need something to wear, something to ride (and a helmet, of course), and something to run in. Let’s take a look at what equipment you really need when you’re getting started in triathlon.

Something to wear. Your local bike shop or running retailer will have something that you can do your first, short triathlon in. It’s nice to have some padding, but you don’t need a big chamois like bike shorts have. You need something that won’t cause a lot of drag in the water or on the bike and that’s really it!

Something to ride. All but two of my triathlons were on a road bike: from a sprint to a full Ironman. It doesn’t take anything fancy to start out with; the engine is more important than the bike. You are the thing that needs to be dialed in.

Something to run in. Running shoes are important, but they don’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to spend $200+ on the newest racing flats with a springy carbon plate. Starting out is just that: testing the waters to see if you like the thing.

Many athletes have jumped in with both feet and bought the newest tri-bike and racing flats alongside a speed suit and magic goggles only to have listed them on a local deal site because the sport just wasn’t for them. In swimming, biking, and running, you really can start with the basic equipment and go from there when you’re getting started in triathlon. If you’re interested in coaching, take a look at our coaching services.

Getting Started – Motivation

Sometimes the motivation is at it’s highest levels when you’re working away with and a compilation video playing your favorite hype music in the background and lowest when the alarm clock shakes you out of that sweet dream where you’re eating donuts and cannoli. In the winter, the ebbs and flow can be even more dramatic. The sunshine on your lunchtime walk makes you feel human again. Then, the extra layers always seem to be in the wrong place when the were right beside the shoes the night before. There’s the dark, and the keys, and the ear phones that were left on the counter. 

Things add up and they take a toll on the desire to go to a gym; to pray that people respect a safe distance or wear a mask and wipe down the machines. Everything is working against us, but a lot of us still have goals or dreams that need tending to. So, what are we going to do?

Well, we can quit and some mornings we should. We should crawl right back into bed because it’s the best use of our time. However, most of the time, we need to figure out what will get us to put our feet on the floor and shuffle towards our goals. 

When I started training (if that’s the word you want to use), I read so much about motivation and discipline because I thought if I learned as much as I could about the concept, I could master it. If this pandemic has taught me anything it’s taught me that there is no mastering motivation. Sometimes you’re ready to run through a brick wall and sometimes you just want to sit in your chair and pet your puppy. I’ve had to go back to the drawing board and dig into the archives because I have goals. One of my favorite articles was written by James Clear “How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the ‘2-Minute Rule‘,” which he added to his book, Atomic Habits, and I highly recommend it. Take a minute and go read it. I’ll still be here.

To apply it to our purpose, ask your self what you can do in the next two minutes that you can complete and will get you moving towards your goal. If your goal is to go to the gym and you’re next to the bed yawning and wiping your eyes, what’s next? Shoes? Clothes? Coffee?Then do that. And do it again the next day. It’s the collection of small, simple steps that accrue and develop into a journey where you find you’re reaching your goals.