Essential Sports Nutrition

6/13/18

Calling all beginner triathletes!


I remember my very first triathlon like it was yesterday. I saw a flyer on the Lexington, KY YMCA wall, outside of the classroom where I taught spin classes. As a life-long competitive swimmer who recently transitioned to cross-country running (to give my back a break from all the swimming), I was intrigued by this 3-sport event because it was a new challenge for me to conquer. I was more excited than intimated but I had one main concern - I didn't own a bike. Luckily, my 21st birthday was approaching so I did what any 21-year old would do...I asked for bike from my parents so I could compete in my first triathlon. With less than a week before the event, I rode my shiny new hybrid bicycle a few times in my neighborhood and somehow I convinced myself that I was ready for my first ever triathlon. My dad traveled with me to watch and I had so much fun ....even though I had no idea what I was doing. Look at me so focused and determined (and a little bit scared on a bicycle)!


While my skills, fitness and knowledge of the sport has grown tremendously over the past 15 years, one thing has continued to remain the same...... I do this sport because I love it. No one is making me be a triathlete and I don't feel pressure from society to keep my triathlete-title. If I didn't truly love the sport, I'd find another mode of activity to keep me healthy and fit. Triathlon has become part of my lifestyle and it's a big part of who I am and I don't feel guilty or bad about saying that. Although a somewhat time-consuming and expensive hobby, triathlon has become an important component of my life - mentally, physically, socially and emotionally. I don't consider it an obsession but a passion of mine. When I met Karel in 2006, he was not a triathlete. I never asked him to give up his love for road cycling in order to swimbikerun but it was a choice that he made in 2012 to give triathlon a go. You can read his first triathlon race report here. While swimming was an immediate challenge for him, he also enjoyed having a new challenge as something to motivate him on a daily basis. Today, he says he enjoys racing triathlon more than bike racing because he enjoys the 3-sport lifestyle and even as he gets older, he can still feel/see himself getting better (which keeps him motivated to keep "tri"ing).

Karel after his first triathlon. 

Inevitably, we will all have to do things that we don't want to do in life or that we aren't good at. Embracing a challenge is a skill that every human being needs to survive. Triathlon serves as an excellent platform to build confidence and self-esteem, to learn the art of good time-management, patience and discipline and to step outside of your comfort zone. I can't imagine my life without triathlon for it has taught me so much about myself, has allowed me to travel to beautiful places, I've met so many inspiring and motivating people through the sport and it's been an enriching way to improve my quality of life. It's been an exciting journey over the past 12+ years. Until my joy for training and racing goes away, I plan to continue to pursue this hobby because it's a lifestyle that brings me great value in many different areas of my life. Realizing that I could spend my money, time and energy on many other things/hobby's, I enjoy investing into triathlon for it gives me so much in return. For me personally, I never felt that I had to "buy" myself into the sport. I have always spent my money on what I felt was most practical and reasonable for me in each stage of my development.

To help the triathlon industry grow the sport of triathlon, Time to Tri is a new initiative to help and support athletes as they train for and compete in their first race. The initiative is a joint effort between USA Triathlon and Ironman with the goal to  increase triathlon participation by 100,000 nationwide by the end of 2020.

I was selected by Ironman to help kick-off this effort and pilot the program and I couldn't be more excited to help grow the sport. Although I specialize in coaching endurance triathletes, I want to help others get more involved in the sport and that means encouraging beginner triathletes to train for a sprint distance triathlon. Knowing there are lots of questions and concerns when training for a triathlon, don't hesitate to reach out to me via email. For prospective triathletes, you can visit mytimetotri.com to fill out the form to receive a free 8-week sprint triathlon plan. You can also use this website to access great tips and information to help you feel less overwhelmed about your upcoming triathlon journey.

Here are my top ten tips for getting involved in the sport of triathlon:
  1. Get involved with a triathlon club or your local triathlon community for support, education, developing friendships and accountability
  2. Don't rush your journey. Give yourself at least 12-16 weeks to consistently train for your first triathlon and don't feel you need to step up to a longer distance until you feel you have the skills, time and strength to add more volume and intensity into your training.
  3. Invest money into the areas that will help you stay healthy as a triathlete. Examples include a professional bike fit, a consult with a sport dietitian, a strength coach/PT and an appropriate training plan (or coach). Avoid spending money on supplements, gear/equipment or pricey items that are marketed to help you get fit or fast.
  4. Expand your racing resume by participating in different events, such as running races (ex. 5K-10K), cycling events, open water swims, aquabike, duathlon, trail running, etc. Not only will you gain new skills but you'll learn more about yourself in a racing environment. No training session compares to the nerves and excitement that you will experience on race day.
  5. Don't be a cardio junkie. Incorporate strength training into your triathlon training plan to help you build a strong and resilient body to help reduce the risk for injury. Also make sure to include mobility work and focus on proper recovery between training sessions.
  6. Create good lifestyle habits to support your triathlon lifestyle. If you begin to sacrifice sleep or proper nutrition/fueling in an effort to train more or squeeze in workouts into your busy life, you are no longer making smart choices to help you make positive training adaptations.
  7. Master your skills and build resilience before trying to get faster. This will help reduce your risk for injury, sickness and burnout. For example, learn how to ride your bike, change your gears, manage the terrain and feel comfortable on two wheels for if you lack the skills and confidence to ride your bike well, no amount of indoor training will help you ride faster, stronger or better on race day.
  8. Incorporate open water swimming (in a group environment with a trained coach who specializes in open water swimming) to help you minimize the anxiety and fears of swimming in open water. I suggest to listen to the Tower26 podcast to help with your swim skill development.
  9. Focus on quality not quantity training. There is no magic number of hours you need to train per week (or day) to prepare for a triathlon. Make the most of the time that you can give to training so that you can minimize the times you need to make sacrifices in order to train more/harder.
  10. Involve your family in your workouts, plan races that are spectator friendly and always communicate with your family so they understand your new triathlon lifestyle demands/requirements. This positive support from others is imperative to keep you encouraged and motivated in this exciting new lifestyle.

    Bonus tip: Have fun! Enjoy setting small progressive goals for yourself, challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and get ready for the most rewarding race-day experience as you conquer a 3-sport event to earn your triathlon medal.