From Runner To Triathlete?
|August 14, 2012||Posted by Katy under Summer 2012 Training, Triathlon, Triathlon Training|
It has been over a week since my final race of the season and first Olympic distance triathlon. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and organize my thoughts on not only this race/ training, but my other triathlons this year.
When I started thinking of my goals for 2012 late last year, I decided to take the step from the running world into the world of triathlons. With a string of injuries in 2011, I wanted to enjoy racing and challenge myself with a lesser chance of injury. Therefore, it made sense for me to give triathlons a “tri.” My workouts would be more balanced, and it would be a change from a traditional road race. I knew it would be difficult and a new experience, but I was not prepared for just how difficult it would be. I consider myself to be an average runner, but I am not the fastest on the bike, and I had to overcome a crippling (and admittedly, a bit ridiculous) fear of swimming, or more specifically, being seen in a swimsuit.
When I started training (and even now that I have three under my belt), I had absolutely no idea how to approach training for a triathlon, but that was part of what intrigued me. When I was training for my first half-marathon back when I started this blog in October 2010, everything was new to me. I found a basic beginners training plan, did a little speed work, and just went out and ran. I didn’t think of hitting certain paces or running X amount of days. I just did what was on the plan and posted a decent time (which happens to still be my PR at the 13.1 distance). Now that I know more about running, I tend to over think and psych myself out.
But with triathlons, I got that “new” feeling that I haven’t had in a long time. I was able to go into training for an event without any expectations on how I would perform on race day- I found a plan, modified it a little, did the workouts, and just went out and competed on race day.
So, in an effort, to keep this post from turning into a Master’s thesis, I’m going to briefly summarize a few takeaways I got from my training, especially as a runner going into triathlons. I had a few people over the past few months ask me for this perspective, so I am happy to oblige. However, if you have any specific questions that I didn’t address or discuss in this post, please E-mail me! I love reading and responding to your E-mails!
1) Triathlons are completely different than road races: This is obvious, but noteworthy. Almost everything is different from the race atmosphere, to the preparations before and on race day, to the mindset you have to be in. In general, I found the race atmosphere at triathlons to be a bit more intimidating but people were more willing to talk before the race. I rarely talk to anyone before a road race, but I found myself interacting and talking with the other competitors when I was setting up for transition and before the swim. Maybe this is because the situation lends itself to be more conducive to opening up a conversation, but it actually helped to calm my nerves before a triathlon. However, talking to anyone before a road race actually makes me more nervous and lose my focus.
Also, before a road race, I only have to focus on one sport- running. However, with a triathlon, I have to wrap my head around three different disciplines, and have different “game plans” in case I don’t perform well during one leg. There is this constant mental dialogue of “if I tank during the swim, what can I do during the bike to make up some ground, but without exhausting myself for the run?” It’s a bit mentally exhausting!
2) It’s a frustrating and humbling experience to be dead last, but not the end of the world: In road races, I am pretty confident that I won’t be the last person to finish. I don’t mean that to sound cocky, but it’s true since in 99% of races these days, there will be people who walk the entire distance (which can be more difficult than running sometimes). However, with triathlons, I have found myself being one of the last or even THE last person to finish a leg or race. In my Olympic triathlon, I was the last person out of the water with an Olympic distance colored cap. (I wasn’t the slowest overall, but since my wave was the last of the Olympic distance athletes, I was the last out of the water).
During the race, it was embarrassing because I was the last out by a few minutes, but I got over it. I was able to catch a few people on the bike and run. Even so, I was one of the last athletes overall to finish the race, which is something I have not experienced before I did triathlons. If you remember from my race report, they were starting to tell volunteers that they could leave the water tables since only a few athletes were still racing. Hearing that from my mom later was frustrating and made me embarrassed about my performance, but now that I am a week removed from the race, I am still proud of myself.
3) Training is much more tricky: In my experience, training for a road race is much easier in terms of scheduling workouts. You can go outside and run, or hit the treadmill if the weather is poor. However, with triathlons, you have to balance two other disciplines- swimming and cycling, and make sure that you get a certain amount of workouts a week. For me, I would shoot for 2 days of swimming, 2 days of cycling, 3 days of running, 2 days of strength training, and 1 day of rest. One of the cycling and running days would be a brick. However, the weather, especially during the summer months, definitely forced me to be very flexible with my training. I can not tell you how many days I had to swap around in order to get in all my workouts for the week.
If it’s raining outside, it is impossible to ride so either you have to change the day or go for a spin class. My gym pool (which is indoors) will close when it is storming outside and was closed for an entire week in July due to repairs. I often found myself swapping days around, and unavoidably missed a few training sessions. With half-marathon training, I have a much more rigid schedule and rarely miss workouts.
4) Swimming is not scary: I feel like most people say they will never do a triathlon because of the swimming, but take it from me, it is not as scary as people think. Sure, getting into the pool is scary the first few times (especially if you have no idea what you are doing), but you get the hang of it. I promise that people are not judging you, and the lifeguards are not making fun of your stroke (I actually asked my cousin, who is a lifeguard, this and she said no).
5) I’m not very good at triathlons: Probably one of the biggest takeaways I got from this entire experience. I’ll admit, I went into training for my first sprint triathlon with the expectation that I would be a mid-packer because I do come from a background of sports and endurance activities. However, as mentioned above, I am often the last athlete not only in my age group, but also overall. I was relying on my running too much to pull me through and did not put as much focus on the swimming and cycling. Which leads me to my next point…
6) I need to stop being so independent: I’m an only child and I grew up doing almost everything alone. To this day, I often do things alone- traveling, going to the movies, going out to dinner, etc, and exercise is no exception. I prefer to be alone with my own thoughts and motivation, but if I decide to do another season of triathlons in 2013, I DEFINITELY will be seeking out the help of a coach and/or triathlon group. I desperately need help with my swimming (which has remarkably gotten a LOT better since the Olympic triathlon- go figure!) and I need to pick up some speed on the bike. Joining a group would not only help me become stronger on the other legs of the triathlon where I lack confidence and skill, but it would also push me to be a better triathlete.
There is a lot more on this topic that I could discuss, and maybe I will do another post in the future. However, this post is lengthy enough and I should probably stop for now.
I hope this gives you all a little bit of an insight on my thoughts and experiences with triathlons. Obviously I am far from an expert on this topic and still have a lot to learn, but that is part of the fun. These past few months have been a challenge, and while I may not have posted stellar times, I am proud that I tried something new, broke out of my comfort zone, and got over some of my biggest fears (swimming).
I’ll leave you with one final thought- if I can do a triathlon, ANYONE can. I know a lot of people say this, but it is true. While I came in with a background of running, I had limited cycling experience, and NO swimming experience at all. I still have a ways to go in the sport, but have a base point to go off of for future triathlons.
Do you have any specific questions that I did not address? What are the biggest takeaways you have taken from training for a triathlon, road race, or any other event?