Push Your Limits

Prepare to Push Your Limits with Triathlons

Man’s desire to push physical limitations is deeply routed in our nature. For those of us striving to become self-actualized individuals, opportunities to challenge our level of physical fitness are important as a means to achieving just that. Of the numerous approaches out there, the triathlon presents us with a well-rounded way of uncovering our human potential. For my first foray into the world of competitive races, I signed up for the Marin Triathlon this past season to complete an Olympic distance event that would challenge both my physical and mental capabilities. Below are some key insights I gained upon reflecting on my experience…

Selecting a motivational competition

2014-marin-county-triathlon-web-posterIt can be a daunting decision to enter into any type of sports competition. At the end of the day though, it comes down to simply setting the intention to do it. To find the right event, conduct some simple research via the internet on sites like Active.com or at local sport store bulletin boards. With just a few months notice, I found what seemed like a well supported and nicely organized event by Sustainable Sports Foundation with a good cause in the Marin Triathlon. The Olympic distance (as opposed to the Sprint) for this race included a 1.5 mile swim, 22 mile bike and a 6.0 mile run. For some additional motivation, I would recommend getting involved in a race with a higher purpose in the form of a charitable beneficiary. This will provide additional “pull” for you in preparing and actually completing the race.

Soliciting advice from qualified experts

The preparatory work for a race can arguably be more challenging/rewarding than completing the competition itself. Knowing that you need to get through some physical feat like a Triathlon, it becomes imperative to get up every day and train yourself in a dedicated manner. My suggestion is to obtain as much professional advice and support as possible. For example,

  • Ask friends that have completed a similar activity. I reached out to a friend, an Ironman athlete and triathlon coach, to solicit his thoughts on the best ways to train for my first competition. Listening to success stories and getting input from those that have come before is an important step to mustering up the courage to achieve your goal.
  • Consult a personal trainer with knowledge about your activity. I took the opportunity to consult with a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) at my gym. He gave me an initial physical assessment and specific advice on strength training and cardio routines to prepare for a Triathlon. While I didn’t continue working with him on a regular basis, setting the training context was still a big help.
  • Join groups or classes that provide support and instruction. I was lucky to find a master swimming class at my gym lead by an experienced instructor held multiple times per week for a full hour of intense intervals. This was a great chance to learn correct form, exert myself and talk with others who have done similar challenges.

Setting a consistent training schedule

It’s imperative to get on a regular training schedule to prepare for a competition. The amount of time that you have before the race is the biggest determining factor for scheduling your trainings. I only had about six weeks prior to the Marin Triathlon due to other commitments (e.g. travel abroad). Therefore, I had to figure out an accelerated path. Leveraging your calendar to block out periods of time for training in each of the respective sport is a great thing to do. Make sure you set a realistic schedule and that you factor in time for recovery. Figure out how you can dedicate time on weekday mornings (i.e. before work), weekday evenings (i.e. after work), and on the weekends. I found that the weekdays were better for consistent hour long trainings where the weekends allowed for activities that took longer and that could be paired up with others.

Training your self for results

Cultivating discipline is a lifelong pursuit. With the need to prepare for a physical activity that pushes your limits, discipline becomes a critical asset for your success. With an event like a triathlon that involves multiple sports, mixing up your training activities is fun and at the same time a big challenge. You’ll need to make sure you are doing enough of each to feel prepared and pairing up activities to simulate race day. In my future training, I intend to focus more on the transitions between sports.

For swimming, it was my intention to make the two master swim classes per week at a minimum along with the occasional solo training. For biking, I made sure to complete a long bike ride every week either in a spin class or outdoors (preferred!) such as climbing up Mt. Diablo. As for running, This became the most consistent activity at the gym where I would go for 1-3 miles each time. For strength training, I also made sure to go through routines focused on the back and shoulder muscle groups as well as my core to primarily benefit my swimming – the weaker of the three sports for me.

Tracking your progress with technology

I found that reporting my workouts on social media was a huge motivator to keep me on track for the triathlon. Sharing progress with photos on Facebook and tracking my steps on Everest were great ways to both tap into supportive energy from my network and inspire others to get in shape. As far as tracking specific metrics, I used MapMyFitness to record my progress across activities but especially biking given the quality the GPS capabilities. Next time, I intend to acquire more measuring devices (e.g. sports watch, bike-mounted GPS, heart rate monitor, etc.) so that more detailed training can be conducted as well as pacing during the actual event.

Preparing for the big day

For a competition such as a Triathlon that involves multiple sports, there are all sorts of gear requirements. Without the right equipment, it makes it even harder on yourself to get through the event. For example, the swim for the Marin Triathlon was taking place in the cold water of the San Francisco Bay. I initially thought that a short sleeve wet suit would suffice but thankfully made the decision the day before to rent a long sleeve version which made it marginally more tolerable. As this was my first triathlon, I didn’t have a checklist prepared but afterwards made sure to put one together that can be leveraged in the future. For your benefit, I’m providing a free download of this that will surely be useful for you.

Taking in the right nutrition

Nutrition is a critical component to both preparing for and performing during a competition like a Triathlon. I was very pleased that Vega was the sponsor of the Marin Triathlon. They provided participants with their plant-based Vega Sport system including a pre-workout, sustaining, and post-workout formula. Vega has put together an incredible line of performance nutrition products totally suitable for people looking to unleash their potential.

For race day, I got some good advice to eat a carbohydrate heavy breakfast a number of hours before start but also heard that some top performers don’t eat anything at all. During the race itself, I only ate one Powerbar gel pack right after transitioning from the bike to run. In addition, I used the electrolyte powder from Vega mixed with water and had a few other cups of water and sports drink throughout the course. After the race, I made sure to consume a high-protein Powerbar, other snacks like fruit and a carb-heavy meal (i.e. pasta) provided by the event organizers.

Analyzing your performance

Overall, I would say my performance expectations were exceeded. The swim was by far the hardest part for me especially because I didn’t actually train in the cold, open water of the Bay especially with a full wet suit that constrained my stroke. My transitions were much slower than most despite efforts to get all the gear setup to make it as smooth as possible. The bike was probably my strongest event (despite still being significantly slower than the rest of the competition) followed by the run which I was able to complete with not too much strain. Given this was my first event, I wasn’t sure how much it would take out of me so going cautiously through each stage was prudent. In hindsight, I could have pushed myself a lot harder but it was important to set some sort of baseline for future events.

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Analyzing the results of your race will help determine a few metrics that can be used to assess future performance. Here are a list to consider with my own results included:

  • Total Race Time (03:07:18)
  • Average mile per hour for Swim (00:25:47 min/hour)
  • Average mile per hour for Bike (15.80 mph)
  • Average pace per mile for Run (00:09:07 min/hour)
  • Average Transition Speed (3.965 min)
  • Rank in Total Race (139th)
  • Rank in Class Group (14th out of 15th)
  • Rank in Gender Group (116th out of 200+)

Of course, depending on the course, these times will vary but having something in mind will act as a good proxy for what to expect at future events. I really had no expectations this first time around but certainly intend to progress in each subsequent race like any aspiring self-actualized person would do.

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Do you have any advice or stories to share about Triathlons or other competitive races? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

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