Getting into Triathlons!
Founded by several friends over two decades ago, the sport of triathlon is booming today. An endurance event usually comprised of a swim, bike and run, triathlons are now held worldwide, come in many lengths and types and have even made it to the Olympics.
There are plenty of great reasons to try tri. Maybe you love biking, ran cross country in college and would like to put your sports together. Perhaps you want to get in triple-good shape, so that like the Energizer Bunny you can go all day. Maybe you just need a new goal, and one even more exciting than the last. Triathlon certainly fills the bill.
Whatever the motivation, you won't find a more satisfying sport. From Ironmancompetitions and ultra events, to Xterra races, which are held mostly off road, to the sprint series so popular today, there are tris for every athlete and interest. What's more, almost anyone can participate whether you're a couch potato finally inspired to be slim and trim or a full-fledged aerobic animal vying for the top podium spot.
To start you on the path to triathlon mastery we answer the most common questions people ask us here. Keep in mind that we also have a storeful of bicycles, clothing and accessories to help you become a triple-sport threat and we're always happy to answer questions and offer advice, too.
Q: Aren't triathlons, like the Ironman I've seen on TV, grueling events only for super-humans?
A: While the Hawaii Ironman, which launched the sport of triathlon is probably the most well-known event, and is considered a distance tri consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile ride and a 26.2-mile run, there are tris with less-demanding distances. For example, the sprint distance races are very popular today, in which you stroke for 750 meters, pedal for 20 kilometers and stride for 5K. Next there's the Olympic race with distances of 1.5, 40 and 10K. Then comes the half-Ironman events (each leg is 1/2 the Ironman distance). Also, one of the most popular and oldest sprint tris, and one geared for both first-time and veteran athletes is theDanskins Women's Triathlon Series. And, there are even youth events, like the IronKids tris for ages 7 to 10 and 11 to 14 so your kids can have fun, too! You'll even find team triathlons, ones featuring canoeing instead of swimming and more.
Q: What if I'm only a biker or jogger and lousy at the other sports, can I still do triathlon?
A: There are multisport options for everyone. If you're really a one-sport specialist you can look for team triathlons where you pick your favorite event and team with a couple of friends who do the other legs. This is how a lot of people get introduced to the sport and a fun way to enjoy it without committing to doing all three events back to back. However, our experience is that once you do a few team events you'll be itching to see if you can do all three sports, too. And, we've found that most people who put their mind to it can, because fitness in any sport makes it easier to learn a new sport, or two. Or, if you simply dislike one of the other sports, you can take up a dual-sport event like duathlon (running and biking; sometimes mistakenly called "biathlon," which is actually comprised of skiing and shooting) or aquathon (swimming and running). So, there are truly multisport options for everyone.
Q: I swim like an anchor, should I even consider doing triathlons?
A: We know something about this because it's actually a common problem for top cyclists whose legs can be heavier due to muscle mass, than athletes who mainly swim or run. Top cyclists get in the water and their legs can tend to sink slowing them down and making swimming difficult. Yet, with proper training, some help from a good coach, and with work on proper technique many cyclists have become strong triathletes. That's not to say that it's easy to become a good swimmer. Like any other sport it takes practice and training, and the more natural ability you have the better you'll get at it. However, if you're willing to work at it, get some help from a coach, and practice, you should be able to master swimming enough to complete any triathlon. A really excellent way to improve fast is by joining a masters swimming program at your local pool. There a coach will run you through a workout and can help you improve, too. A lot of swimming is proper technique, which is why it's so important to have some one-on-one with a coach who can help you get it right. A good tip is to wear a wetsuit because it significantly increases your buoyancy making it easier to swim and especially to breathe. Something else that helps is knowing that in tris governed by the USAT, it's okay to hold onto the support boats if you need to to rest up before swimming some more. (You just can't push off.) And, keep in mind that if you find swimming too daunting, you can choose the sport of duathlon instead (running and biking only).
Q: I'm not that competitive. Can I just go out and go the distance to see if I can do it?
A: Sure! Local, smaller tris are perfect for this approach, though almost any triathlon without special qualifying requirements will usually work. In these events, there are people gunning for the winner's laurels but also folks just enjoying the camaraderie of a day outside swimming, biking and running, sort of like the people who jog and walk to complete marathons. You'll get a great workout and have fun, too. If you're going to do this we recommend doing some research about the tri to ensure it's the right one for you. You probably don't want an icy swim, Alp-like climbs and a tough run, for example. Plus, you don't want to mix it up with the faster racers, so you'll want to be casual in your approach starting your swim after the wave has hit the water and being in cruise mode on the bike and run, too. If you pick the right event you might find some folks doing it purely for fun even wearing costumes and riding cruiser bikes.
Q: If I'm just starting out, how long will it take me to get in shape to do a triathlon?
A: This mostly depends on your current level of activity and fitness. If you're working out already, you might have the strength and endurance to do a tri if you pace yourself and do it within your limits. You can always back off if you tire out. If you're not currently training, we recommend starting by having a physical examination so your doctor can clear you for exercise first. Once you get the okay, you'll want to pick an event as a goal, and then get out a calendar and plan your training. Depending on your fitness level and how you hope to do, you'll probably need at least 10 weeks to prepare for the race, less if you're already fit and only need to fine-tune your running or swimming. Ideally, you'll design a training program that works on all three sports, or two if you choose to do duathlons or aquathons instead of tris. And, your training should consider your strengths and weaknesses. If you're a good biker, you may only need to ride three times a week and focus on running and swimming on the other days. Your goal should be to gradually increase your effort up until a week before the event at which point you start taking it easy (called tapering) for your event. Also, it's best to increase the intensity of your workouts no more than 10% in distance or effort in any week. And, one of the most important principles of training is that you get stronger during the recovery phase. So, be sure to train hard but rest as hard because that's when the muscles recover and true gains are made. Those are some quick tips. You may want to pick up a book on training for more.
Q: How do I get more involved and find out about the races?
A: We can let you know about the local events and we recommend subscribing to the magazine Inside Triathlon, which does a fine job covering the sport around the world. Other excellent sources with information on getting into the sport and events around the country include USA Triathlon and the ITU.
Q: How do I find the time to train for so many different sports?
A: It seems impossible, yet even busy professionals find ways to fit in their workouts. For example, masters swim workouts typically take place early in the morning before work, so it's just a matter of getting up in the wee hours and heading down to the pool for that workout. Then, if you get an hour break for lunch, or can take a little more, it's the perfect time to fit in a nice run. And, on days you want to bike, you might be able to ride to the office in the morning and back at night. Weekends are ideal for longer rides and for linking together swimming and biking or cycling and running to get used to transitioning between events. With a little creative thinking like this you can plan the best way to fit in a nice blend of workouts during your weeks leading up to the event. You'll probably be surprised how much you can do in the average week and how good you feel, too! Finally you get to do some multitasking for you!
Q: Can I use the bike I have or do I need a fancy and expensive aerodynamic machine?
A: In most tris you can use any old bike you want. But, keep in mind that if you want to go fast it really helps to have a speedy bike. So, riding a standard mountain bike with its upright riding position causing you to catch a lot of wind right in your chest and its heavy, slow tires adding lots of drag, you go slower and work a lot harder than the folks on road bikes. You can still do it that way if you want. Or, if you don't want to get a different bike you can install faster tires on your mountain bike and some aero bars and get some of the speed of a road bike with relatively little expense. It mostly depends on what your goal is. Those who want to race and set personal records will choose a road bike equipped with aero bars and even aero wheels. And the top individual competitors usually go a step further and choose one of the wind-cheating road rockets completely engineered to be as slippery and speedy as possible (photo). If you can tell us at what level you want to compete, we can show you some ideal bicycles or how to set your current bicycle up for success.
Q: Shouldn't I worry about sharks?
A: Probably nothing we can say will prevent you from worrying about sharks in ocean tri swims if you're so inclined, but it might help knowing that we've never heard of a shark attack in a triathlon even in known shark habitats, such as Northern California and Australia where they held the Olympics. It could be that the mass of swimmers and support boats and surfboards in the water scare them away, but whatever the case it seems they don't care for the sport — or perhaps skinny athletes. If you're really afraid, you could choose only fresh-water events, too.
Q: Should I eat during the race, and what?
A: Your body can only store about 90 minutes of glycogen reserves and it's likely you'll go through this because you're linking three sports together, and going pretty hard. So you'll want to drink and eat during races. Having a bottle of your favorite energy drink along with another bottle of water works well. You can also tape energy bars or gels to your bicycle for easy access. And you can keep them in your transition area for quick consumption on your way to the bike and run. The tricky thing is figuring out which energy food works best for you and how much you need to eat, so it's important to experiment in training and find that fine line between getting enough to do your best and not overdoing it. It's much better to figure this out in training than on race day.
Q: What do you wear in a race?
A: The best approach is to learn as much as you can about the conditions, which you can do by asking other triathletes or reading up on it on the event website. If it's an ocean swim in cold water you might want a wetsuit, if wetsuits are allowed. If you're racing you might choose a tri suit that you can wear all day, during the swim, bike and run. These dry fast and provide comfort on the bike and run legs. If you're taking a more casual approach you might change into clothing you like to wear for each leg in the transition area. Shoes make a significant difference in the bike and run legs, so most athletes slip into cycling shoes before the bike (often leaving them in their pedals so they can leap into the saddle and close their shoes as they start out onto the course), and slip on their running shoes when they get back. Clothing is another thing that's good to experiment with in training to find what you like to wear and what works best for you.
Q: What other equipment do I need to do triathlons?
A: While you could do tris with only baggies, a bike, a helmet and a pair of sneaks, we find that most people that give it a go get hooked and soon want the "right stuff." We usually set them up with an appropriate bicycle for the type of tris they're doing, making sure it fits right, of course. We also equip them with a helmet, cycling shoes, gloves and eyewear. And, we have a wide selection of cycling clothing perfect for racing and training to get ready for triathloning. Besides these items you'll need good running shoes, maybe training and race models if you're competitive. You may want a wetsuit if you're swimming in cold water or like swimming in one. You'll want to get swimming goggles as well, and perhaps some pool toys for use during swim workouts (your instructor will advise). Plus, a supply of energy food will keep you fueled during training and races and let you recover more quickly, too. Other niceties triathletes appreciate include cyclocomputers, heart-rate monitors, caps, singlets, cycling socks, training diaries (print and/or digital), running clothing, watt meters and more.
We hope these tips help jump-start your triathlon career. Be sure to swing by to see our wide selection of triathlon bicycles, accessories and clothing. And, good luck at the races!
Buying your first wetsuit
Whether you've signed up for your first triathlon or have done a few and are now hooked on them, a triathlon wetsuit is a smart investment!
The Right Wetsuit Matters
There are many types of water sports wetsuits available and you might think they're all the same. But a triathlon wetsuit is very different from one made for scuba diving, jet-skiing or other sports.
While all of these wetsuits will offer some degree of insulation, that's where the similarities end. Water sports wetsuits are typically covered in abrasion-resistant Lycra and aren't necessarily designed for any particular body position.
Triathlon wetsuits, on the other hand, sport slippery outer coatings that make you glide faster through the water. Plus, they're made specifically for swimming so you're more comfortable with your arms over your head and looking forward. And since you'll be reaching over your head many times in an open water swim, you'll really appreciate the difference!
There are different styles of triathlon wetsuits for different types of swimmers. Some suits have extra buoyancy in the hips and legs so runners and cyclists with heavier legs can stay high in the water. However, efficient swimmers with a strong kick may find that these types of suits interfere with their stroke. Knowing what kind of swimmer you are is a big help when shopping for a wetsuit.
Full-Sleeve or Sleeveless
Triathlon wetsuits come in two basic styles: full-sleeve and sleeveless. While a full-sleeve wetsuit offers a little more warmth, more buoyancy and less drag than a sleeveless one, some people find a sleeveless suit more comfortable.
For best results, a triathlon wetsuit should fit like a second skin. If you aren't accustomed to tight clothing, this might seem restrictive at first, but a wetsuit will loosen up a bit when you get in the water.
Sleeveless wetsuits often feel more comfortable in the chest and shoulders to people who don't like the feel of tight clothing. They can also be good for swimming in warmer water, especially for people who generate a lot of heat when they swim.
Full-sleeve wetsuits can take some getting used to, but they have a lot of benefits. Many full-sleeve wetsuits have some type of catch panel on the forearm to help you grab more water with every stroke. And since they cover more of your skin, they are more buoyant and hydrodynamic than sleeveless suits.
Fit Comes First
Triathlon wetsuits come in all different shapes, just like people. While the neoprene used in triathlon wetsuits is very stretchy, not every wetsuit will fit every body type.
Triathlon wetsuits are typically sized by gender, height and weight, but people in the same height and weight range can have very different builds. A runner with a thin upper body might not be comfortable in the same suit as a swimmer with broad shoulders. Sizes can vary greatly between manufacturers and even between styles from the same manufacturer.
Since they need to fit like a second skin, it's a good idea to try on wetsuits before you buy one. Keep in mind that it will be a little looser in the water!
A properly fitting wetsuit will give you a snug hug without restricting your stroke in the water. The fit of the torso is very important when trying on a wetsuit. Too big in the chest and neck and water will flow into the suit and drag you down. Too small in the chest and neck and you will feel restricted and uncomfortable. If the torso is too short, it will feel like your shoulders are being pulled down. Be sure to take some swim strokes after you've got the wetsuit on to see how it feels.
The fit of the arms and legs isn't quite as important as the chest and shoulders. The legs and sleeves need to be snug enough to keep the water out but not so snug that your arms and legs start to tingle after awhile.
If you are long-limbed, you may find that your wrists and calves stick out from the suit, but this doesn't mean you need a larger size. Some wetsuits are even cut high up on the calf to make removing them in transition a little easier.
They may not make you look like Batman, but triathlon wetsuits can have just as much technology in them! Most triathlon wetsuits are made from Yamamoto neoprene rubber, often considered the gold standard of wetsuit neoprene because it's lighter, stretchier and more buoyant than other neoprenes.
|These wetsuit sleeves sport different forearm panels for catching and feeling the water.|
Triathlon wetsuits are commonly made from Yamamoto #38, 39 and 40 neoprenes. The higher the number, the more flexible and slicker the neoprene. Wetsuit manufacturers will often use different types of neoprene throughout a wetsuit to balance flexibility, durability and price.
Neoprene itself is made from several layers of different materials. The inner layer, a jersey-type material, supports a layer of blown rubber that has a special outer coating to reduce drag in the water. Some neoprenes incorporate large air pockets for increased buoyancy and others even have a super-thin layer of metal for added warmth.
Triathlon wetsuits are often comprised of varying thicknesses of neoprene to optimize the fit and function of the wetsuit. Thinner neoprene has more stretch to it while thicker neoprene is warmer and more buoyant.
Sleeves, for instance, may be made from 2mm-thick neoprene for greater stretch while the torso and legs of the same suit may use 5mm neoprene for more buoyancy and insulation.
Triathlon wetsuits also incorporate different technologies for speed and comfort. The neck needs to seal out water without feeling uncomfortable or restrictive and there are many different styles to achieve this.
Many wetsuits also have specially designed panels on the lower legs for speedy removal in transition. On full-sleeve wetsuits, there are often different types of panels on the forearm designed to enhance the catch part of your stroke. And the rear zipper is engineered to seal out water and be easy to remove in transition.
Not all events allow wetsuits, especially when the water temps are warm. That's why many wetsuit manufacturers also make swimskins. A swimskin is a Lycra suit with a slick outer coating that reduces drag in the water. They don't have the center layer of blown rubber like a wetsuit and don't provide any buoyancy or insulation.
Swimskins are fast in the water but they don't breathe well on land and are intended to be removed after the swim, just like a wetsuit. Be sure to check the rules of your event to see whether wetsuits or swimskins are allowed.
Ready to Swim
Stop by and let us help you find the wetsuit that's right for you! Be sure to bring your swim suit or triathlon kit to try on wetsuits.
NEW TO TRIATHLON? SWIM SMART IN OPEN WATER!
For many first-time triathletes, an open water swim is the most daunting part of the race. Lots of swimmers in close quarters with no lane lines to guide them can sound overwhelming. But with the right preparation, your swim can be smooth sailing!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
If you've never experienced swimming in the open water, it's a good idea to get out and practice it before your race. That way you can get familiar with the unique challenges of swimming in open water so you're prepared for them on race day.
Attend some open water swim practices in your area. If you're not lucky enough to have these events nearby, get a buddy or a group of friends together to practice in some open water. Check your local laws to be sure that swimming is allowed where you plan to practice before you venture out.
The key to being successful in open water is staying calm. If you don't take to swimming like a fish takes to water, take some time to get used to it. Wade out until you're waist-deep and then dip under to get wet and acclimate to the temperature. Focus on breathing from your diaphragm while putting your face in the water and blowing bubbles gently. Try humming to keep the water out of your nose. When you're comfortable, move on to deeper water while moving your hands back and forth and continuing to breathe.
When you're comfortable, swim back and forth parallel to the water's edge so you know you can touch the bottom if needed. Some people find that counting their strokes or singing a song in their head helps them stay calm and focused. As you get more comfortable and confident in your ability, head into deeper water and swim a loop back into shore.
In open water, you must use landmarks and buoys to guide you through your swim. Race courses come in many different shapes and it can be easy to wander off course. Blindly following the person in front of you isn't always a great idea because they may be swimming off course too!
It's better to find your way by "sighting." Lift your head slightly at the start of your stroke and look forward briefly to spot a buoy or stationary landmark before turning your head to the side and completing your breath. Be careful not to lift your head completely out of the water as this will cause your hips and legs to sink, slowing you down.
With enough practice, sighting can be an effortless part of swimming in open water. Once you get the hang of it, try sighting every 4 to 6 strokes. If you get disoriented, stop and tread water while you regain your bearings.
It's a good idea to practice your sighting technique in the pool, but you might not want to wear clear pool goggles in the open water. Goggles with a metallic, sunglasses-style coating can be ideal for swimming in open water because they cut down on glare. If your triathlon starts near dawn, chances are you'll be swimming toward the rising sun at some point along the course! When the conditions are cloudy, goggles with a high-contrast lens will be better.
Swimming pools are often kept in the upper 70's to low 80's Fahrenheit, but open water is often cooler. Regardless of the temperature of the open water, a wetsuit is always recommended because triathlon wetsuits do a lot more than keep you warm. They add buoyancy, too, so you float much easier.
If the water's really chilly, consider getting a thermal neoprene cap and even some neoprene booties. Thermal caps are made from the same neoprene as a triathlon wetsuit and cover your head and ears for added insulation. You can even wear it under your event cap on race day.
Some people also find that wearing moldable swimming earplugs helps them stay warm by keeping the cold water out of their ears. Neoprene booties will help your feet stay warm and give them some protection when you're on shore.
No matter what type of swimmer you are, wearing a triathlon wetsuit will always make you faster in the water. And if you're not a confident swimmer, a wetsuit can make you feel safer, too. Many suits are designed with extra buoyancy in the hips and legs, a big help for triathletes from a running or cycling background.
The additional lift of the wetsuit floats you higher on the water and makes it easier to maintain proper form. Additionally, triathlon wetsuits are extremely flexible so they're easy to swim in and they even have a special slick outer coating that makes them slide through the water faster than bare skin.
There are two common styles of triathlon wetsuits: full-sleeve and sleeveless. A full-sleeve wetsuit will be a little warmer, more buoyant and faster in the water because it covers more of the body. Wetsuits fit very snugly and some people don't like the feeling on their shoulders and chest. A sleeveless wetsuit can feel less restrictive while still providing warmth and buoyancy. They are also nice for swimming in warmer water.
Triathlon wetsuits can be a big investment so you may be tempted to find an inexpensive "shorty" or other wetsuit designed for jet-skiing, scuba or other sports. While these types of suits will provide some insulation, they're not meant for swimming. They commonly have lycra on the exterior for abrasion resistance and are not cut for the swimming position.
Triathlon wetsuits are specifically made for use in the swimming position – arms over your head, head forward and hips high on the water. They are more flexible and far more comfortable for swimming than wetsuits for other sports.
You've put in the yardage at the pool, you've had a few practice open water sessions and now you're ready to race! Look around – it's a good bet that the person to either side of you is just as nervous about the swim as you are! Give yourself plenty of time to get in a good warm-up to work out the nerves before going to the start line. Be sure to scan the race course, too, and take note of the objects you'll be using for sighting.
Instead of lining up at the front and center, and taking off as soon as the gun sounds, consider lining up at the back or to the side of your start wave. When the starting gun goes off, wait a few seconds for the other swimmers to start before you take off. This way you can swim in your own space, focusing on breathing and staying calm.
If you get tired, there are ways you can rest in an open water swim. You can turn over onto your back and float or tread water with your head up if you need to take a breather. While the crawl stroke is generally faster, you can swim whatever stroke you are most comfortable with. And in USA Triathlon-sanctioned events, you are allowed to hang on to the lifeguard's boats and rest if needed, as long as you do not push off from them (be sure to read over the rules of your event before race day!). Remember that it's your event and swim it at your pace!
When you're nearing the swim exit, start kicking harder to get the blood circulating in your legs in preparation for the run up to the transition area. If you're exiting onto a beach, wait to stand up until your hands are scraping the ground as you swim. Because it's much easier to swim across the top of the water than to wade through it. And as you run up the beach to the transition, congratulate yourself - you're 1/3 of the way to finishing that triathlon!