When the temps dip and the days get shorter, many triathletes decide that it is time to get off the road —at least in part—and do their cycling training in a different way. While the need for winter cycling options in Texas is not quite as pronounced as it might be in the Northeast or Upper Midwest, it is still good to have some alternatives to on-the-road biking when the weather turns and there are fewer hours of sunlight during the day.
If you want to change your cycling routine for the off-season months, there are a few ways to do it. Each comes with pros and cons, and its own type of costs. Here are the best options for getting the most your of your winter cycling routine.
Any full-service health club or boutique fitness studio has plenty of spin classes to choose from throughout the week. The best ones have bikes that talk to each other and the instructor, providing feedback on wattage and intensity, not to mention the ability to clip-in with SPD cleats and make the experience better.
Austin has several good indoor cycling studios (Love and Ride are a couple examples) as well as some full-service clubs like Lifetime Fitness.
When it comes to spinning, the name of the game is finding a class and an instructor that you are compatible with. If you just did an Ironman, you might not want an entry-level, 40-minute class. On the other hand, if you are just starting out and trying to build a bike base, you might not want the intense instructor who has your heart rate in a max zone for 90 minutes.
Most studios and health clubs provide some information on the classes, including the intensity level and who it is geared for, either online or upon request. Once you find a class that works, it can be a great way to keep your off-season conditioning up.
The downsides? First, you might have to pay for each visit, or at a minimum be a member of a club or studio. This can be a sizeable financial outlay with some of the higher-end clubs. Second, these classes have a tendency to fill up. Plan on either making reservations, or arriving plenty early to reserve your spot.
Try Smart Training
The game for indoor cycling changed a few years ago as smart trainers hit the market and never looked back. While not cheap, these trainers really change the way a typical cyclist is able to bike inside their own home.
A smart trainer allows you to set up your regular road or tri bike on a trainer that is connected via bluetooth to apps and other programs. The result is an incredibly interactive experience—the app can tell you your power output, speed, and other key information, and the trainer gets harder and easier based on your program. If you are riding through the Alps, the trainer will mimic the incline and intensity of the various climbs. Or perhaps you want a structured workout, there will be hundreds to choose from.
The trainers themselves are made by brands like CycleOps, Wahoo, Tacx, and the highly-recognizable Peloton brand, which is actually a smart stationary bike. You can do a deep dive on the various trainers and apps here. There are many various alternatives to explore.
The pros are obvious: You can get great workouts without even leaving your house, and you can use your own bike. The cons? These trainers are expensive—$1,000, give or take, and even more if you go with Peloton.
Put your Bike on an Old-Fashioned Trainer
Cycling trainers and rollers have been around for a long time. There is photographic evidence of people were riding on rollers as early as the early 1900s. Trainers came along several decades later, allowing cyclist to mount their bikes on a device with actual resistance, and much more stability than rollers.
While we might call them “old-fashioned” now, they are still highly effective and a cheaper alternative to a smart trainer. Unlike a smart trainer, you don’t get an interactive experience—no power output on the app, and you will need to adjust your gearing to get the intensity you want. But when paired with a good training DVD or streaming workout, you can actually get a very high-quality bike workout in the comfort of your own home.
The bike trainers we are referring to here are the simple ones like these, which last a long time and provide a great workout provided you invest in a good brand. You cou can usually find a good one for just $200 to $300.
Just Keep Riding Outside
Given that we don’t get winters like they might experience in New England or the mountains, you can certainly bike outside all year long if you want.
If you do, you will want to invest in some different cycling gear. A good set of cycling tights and a thermal, windbreaking shell can go a long way toward keeping you warmer on a bike. You will also find that your hands and feet get colder as the temp dips, so it is good to outfit yourself with good full-finger cycling gloves and other gear.
Safety is also an issue, because there are fewer hours of sunlight. Consider a bike safety LED llight if you are an avid road rider during low-light conditions.
Many cyclists we know choose to spend less time on the roads and more time on trails in the offseason. In addition to providing a nice change-of-pace, new scenery, and some cross training, trail riding can be a bit safer during those days when the sun isn’t coming up until after 7am and is already beginning to set by 6pm.
Thank you to Paul from completetri.com for helping out as a guest writer for this blog post. Complete Tri has a wealth of resources including gear reviews, tips, and advice for triathletes of all abilities. All of their information is free, and a portion of their revenues goes back to community triathlon clubs like ours.
I participated in the Ironman 70.3 Lubbock event on 6/30/19 for a few reasons,
1) It was a close race to my hometown.
2) We were headed out of town up to Colorado so it was on the way.
3) I want to keep doing bigger races to see where I compare with others in my league.
4) Last, but not least, Austin Tri Club members got a great discount on registration!
I put in between 10–12 hours a week of training for this race (probably could have done more but I had a hamstring injury for the last month that affected my running).
My goals for this race: Swim Sub 29’, Bike 2:40:00 with a power goal of 200–210 and Run 1:36:00 at a pace of 7:20.
My support crew included, my husband, my kids, my mom, my aunt and my cousin. As always, it's hard to get to bed at a decent time with my kids but we went to a nice Italian restaurant for dinner and were able to get to bed by 9:30.
Swim was 31:11 time for a pace of 1:37min/100m: I was 4th in my age group. I did not make my goal for the swim. I believe the biggest factor that affected my swim was that it was technically a wetsuit legal swim and they claim that the water temp was 70°. It felt a lot warmer to me, more like 78° and after talking to others we all seemed to agree that it was warmer water. I used my full sleeve wet suit (it is the only one I have) and I was hot during the swim. I would occasionally pull the neck of my wetsuit down to let in a little water and help me cool off but it was still too hot. This time was still an improvement for me so I’m happy with it.
Bike was 2:30:32 time @ 22.75mph: I was 1st in my age group and I beat my goal by almost 10 minutes. I’m not sure of my power output because I forgot to zero out my pedals before the race and Lubbock is about 2,500’ higher than my normal riding elevation. I will learn from this and be sure to zero them out in the future. I got out of the swim and had the volunteers help me get my wetsuit off then ran into T1 (side note, we had 2 separate transitions for this race, I’m not a big fan of separate transitions). Because of the separate transitions we all had to put our wetsuits and any other objects we needed into our transition bags. After two unsuccessful attempts at getting my wet suit into the bag I finally calmed down enough to get it in and tie the bag shut. Grabbed my helmet and locked it into place; put my BASE Salt vile and Hammer nutrition gel flask into my back pockets; put on my shoes; took my bike off the rack and I started running down the long chute out to the bike course.
The roads were very rough with lots of uneven pavement and holes. I pre-drove the course the day before so I was familiar with the turns and hills however as I got to the first main right turn the racer in front of me went straight. I did not think that was the correct way to go but started second guessing myself. I had one other racer beside me and we were both trying to figure out which way to go. I ended up coming to a complete stop and yelling back at the police officer that was at the corner, asking which way to go. The officer just said “well everyone else went to the right except for that guy”. I’m still frustrated with this situation and would like for the course to be marked better in the future. But I jumped back on my bike and knew I had some ground to make up after stopping. The climbs were a lot of fun and I started catching people. By the time the turn around point came I had three females in front of me and before we made it to T2 I caught two of them!
Run was 1:37:09 time @ 7:26 pace: I was 1st in my age group and I am happy with how close I got to my goal of 1:36. As I came into T2 I again had a hard time getting my transition bag untied from the rack (obviously I need to do some work with transition bags). But once I got it undone I got my shoes on (I run and ride sockless in any race that is 70.3 and below. For a full Ironman I put on socks and this is how I train as well), grabbed my hat, sunglasses and timing belt and I was off on the run course. As I started the 13.1 miles the volunteer shouts, “you are No.2 female and 8 min behind”. Wow, talk about a blow to your spirit, I knew I was not going to be able to make up 8 min (at least not with a tender hamstring) so I just told myself to keep my pace and hold onto 2nd place. Less than a mile into the run my quads were cramping so badly I wanted to quit but I started praying and telling God that if I was going to finish this race, he was going to have to help me get through those cramps. This is when I remembered the BASE Salt I had in my back pocket. I took a few licks from that and within a minute or two the cramps subsided. They would come back every 5 min or so but I had a good handle on them. I also took Coke, water, ice and Gatorade from the aid stations. By the second lap of this 2-lap course my hamstring was feeling pretty fatigued and it was all about praying and just making it to the finish line on the Texas Tech football field.
Once it was all done, I had a personal best time of 4:42:56 and I hit very close to my goals for this race. Every race I learn more and more about what I am capable of and how pushing through the pain is more mental than physical. This was only my second ever Ironman 70.3 race and I’m very happy with 2nd Place Overall Female. This would not have been possible without the support of my heavenly father, my husband and kids or my parents who make it to most of my races and my incredible coach Sierra Snyder who keeps me on my toes and in line with my goals. I highly recommend this race to all Austin Tri Club members considering a half iron distance race, especially if you’re looking to get that awesome bike profile picture to show off to your friends and family!
Now it’s off to the mountains for a week of family and downtime then back to work as I prepare for Standard Distance Age Group World Championships on September 1st in Switzerland. Happy Training!
I'll never forget June 2, 2002. It was a typical blazing hot, post-Memorial Day, pre-first official day of summer in Austin—a day I anticipated with both dread and excitement. It was the day I was going to do my first triathlon, the Danskin Women's Triathlon.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky to buffer the sun as it made its ascent over Decker Lake in East Austin. Not exactly the most Walt Whitman-esque setting; it was, however, another memorable turning point in my life, which had shifted direction when, only a few months before, I had decided to do the Motorola Austin Marathon. In the fall of 2001, I’d made a conscious decision to turn my life around before I went any further down the rabbit hole of early onset adulthood self-destruction. The events of September 11 that same year only solidified my resolve to live life with passion, health, and purpose.
Friends I met through run training had convinced me that a triathlon would give me purpose after the marathon. “If you can do a marathon, you can surely do a triathlon,” they chided. In post-race bliss, I agreed and so there I was, sitting on the shore of the brown, murky lake next to a power plant, with 3,000 other people who also had the same feelings of trepidation and self-doubt.
I did train—as much as one can train with zero swimming and cycling experience. I watched a friend do a triathlon so that I could actually see how it worked. The whole “three sports with no costume change” had been a mystery to me until then. Trust me: I wasn't relieved much when I discovered that the costume (“race kit,” as I later learned to call it) was a bodysuit of spandex and Lycra. Ew. People pay for this self-mutilation? Apparently so.
That friend also helped me buy my first road bike, and I promptly loaded it up with 30 pounds of extra gear. I headed out to Decker with friends each weekend to ride the course. “Holy Moly,” I thought. “This is a beginner race?” Even now, those hills suck the life out of me. I even gave a couple of them names. The last two hills were (and always will be) “the B*tch and the B*st*rd,” as if somehow cursing them by name makes it just a little easier.
Swimming was a whole different beast. My roommate, a swimmer, took me to the YMCA to teach me what a proper stroke should look like—which was, evidently, not at all like a duck precociously flapping its wings to protect its territory. How was I supposed to have known? Until then, my swimming had mainly involved jumping off a diving board and somehow getting back to the ladder. Over three months, I trained myself to swim exactly the distance of the race: 17 laps in the pool, or 800 meters.
So, though I was super nervous (like everyone else on race morning), I knew I could do the distances. I just had no idea what I was really in for until my wave started and the trashing began. Somehow, I survived the less than 20 minutes of swimming. Of course, those who've been in an open water event understand that those minutes felt more like hours—of sheer torture. Still completely pumped up on adrenaline, I sped through transition, hopped on my two-wheeled aluminum tank, and proceeded to ride as fast as I could, as only 12 miles surely wouldn't be a big deal. Hence the big fat rookie mistake.
No one told me about pacing. No one told me about managing my effort level so that there would be gas in the tank for the run. No one told me that no water + heat = severe consequences. By mile eight, I was seeing the proverbial dead people. I remember feeling so dang hot, all while trying to figure out why I had goose bumps and chills. I pulled to the side of the road, got off my bike, and lay down in the grass, eight miles into a 12-mile bike ride, while that relentless clear blue sky spun above me. I was toast—burnt, dehydrated toast.
Many of the events of that day have faded, but the feelings I had while staring up at the sky haven't. I felt like a total failure, and this was only compounded when athletes would pass with some words of encouragement like, “You got this, sister,” or “Hang in there!” What I wouldn't have given to have traded places with them (or thrown some tacks in the road so they’d wallow in self-pity like me). I sat there trying to collect my thoughts and ego, which were melting along the pavement with my resolve, and pondered: “Do I quit? If so, who do I even tell? Where do I go?” Dang, I still had four miles to go, which seemed like an eternity. I had two choices: I could turn in my timing chip or get back on that bike and finish. Failure wasn't an option I had even considered, and so this experience had thrown me for a loop.
I told myself that, if I just got back to the transition area, I could quit. Some bargaining technique, eh? So, after a bit of time and some generous water donations, I got back on my bike and, through tears of humiliation and determination, pedaled those last four miles.
Pride, encouragement, and hydration were apparently my magic elixirs because, by the time I made it back to transition, I was ready to dig through that run. “If I can run a marathon, surely I can make it through a 5K,” I rationalized. Cheers from volunteers, family members, friends, and other athletes carried me through those 32 minutes. I walked some, and I know I felt horrible for much of it but, when I crossed the finish line, I felt exactly like the medal said: “The woman who starts the race is not the same woman who finishes.” Man, they got that right. I had gone from zero to hero in less than two hours, and it changed me forever.
During those moments by the side of the road, I was stuck in the failure trap; I didn't think I could finish. That possibility of failure was a good thing because it meant that I was putting myself out there; I was challenging myself in ways I never dreamed possible. It also meant I was facing my fears. Instead of giving into them, I got my butt back on that bike and kept pedaling. And you know what? I finished.
The hard truth is, you can't have success without failures along the way. In fact, as my inaugural triathlon experience can attest, feeling like a flat-out failure can also mean success is just a few miles away. You just have to climb your versions of the B*tch and the B*st*rd to get there.
Growing up, I have always been an athlete. I was actively playing sports during elementary school and eventually, became a varsity player in high school and college. I did not have any idea what a triathlon is all about. For me, running was done only during practice and games for basketball, soccer and softball. And just like everyone, I ride the bike for leisure. What’s more, born and raised on an island – Cebu, Philippines, you do not think about swimming as a sport, but rather, you simply go to the beach, lay on the sand, get from point A to point B, and you’re good.
A few years back, I worked for a sporting events company that organized aquathlons, duathlons and triathlons. It opened me to this world. In 2015, I supported my first Ironman 70.3 in Bintan, Indonesia, and seeing the triathletes crossing the finish line was just a mixed emotion. That moment made me realize that triathletes are of all forms and sizes, that the sport was not purely physical but it was a lot more mental, and it takes a lot of heart to do it. At that point, I somehow found myself smiling, saying, “Someday.…”
Fast forward to 2017 - I was at 175 lbs, in a foreign country, and a big smoker and drinker. After being in a battle with myself, I came to understand that the only person that could help me was - me. I accepted the situation and I realized that I need to lose weight so I can start running. And with help from new-found friends, I signed up for the Cap10K Race and started training for it by the end of the year. In February 2018, the same group of friends handed me a Rookie Tri flyer and said, “You wanted to do a triathlon, right? Here you go!” And I replied, “I am not crazy and I don’t have the training!” The friendly response I received was, “It is not until May, you have time to train.”
And that was it! That flyer sealed my triathlon path.
The feeling of excitement and anxiety dawned on me at the same time. It was like falling in love, the you know but you do not know kind of thing. If broken down, I can swim 300 meters, ride a bike for 12 miles and run for 2 miles, that I was sure of. But the real question was, if I can do all three in one setting, I had to be sure. Also, I did not want to start something and not be able to finish it.
So, I started with what I knew. Confident enough and given my background on the Cap10K Race, I was going to last a 2-mile run. This left me with only the bike and swim to worry about. Then given my island background, I was confident that I should be able to swim, I mean, how hard can it be. So, I focused on the bike.
As I worked on getting a road bike, I found out about the Bicycle World (BW) Rookie Tri Training weekend and that included a bike route preview. I was going to use this preview as my gauge, if I can finish the course it should mean I can do it and I will sign up for the race. But unfortunately, the bike I purchased will not arrive in time for it, BW was able to lend me a bike. And then, as I didn’t have a car, I had to find a way to get to Decker Lake at 8:00 AM from South Lamar. If you think my challenge is over, well, not quite yet. Looking at the map and bus times, I will not be able make the start time if I will be taking the bus the whole way. Pretty much there was only one option - take bus to Republic Square Station then ride from 4th Street to Walter E Long Park via the South Walnut Creek Trail, what’s 12 miles, right? I never thought I will make it on time, for some reason, I arrived 5 minutes before start time and was able to ride the Rookie route with the group! You do not want to know what went through my mind at that time. I walked up that great big Rookie hill, but I survived. I was the last three who finished, but I did it. Not only did I get through the course, but an entire 24 miles that morning! You should see my smile.
Later that day, I met the best supportive group ever - Meredith, Don and of course, Jennifer! For a then aspiring triathlete, these people are the greatest influences and mentors, particularly Jennifer, who introduced us to the Austin Triathlon Club. I joined the club happy hour that Monday which led to my becoming a member of the club then signing up for the Rookie Triathlon.
When I got my bike, I wanted to make sure I will be race ready, so I practice as much as I can by riding to work almost every day.
Getting accustomed and comfortable with the bike, now I needed to make sure that I am all good with the swim. I was very confident I can, I know the basics, I took swimming lessons the summer before my 6th grade and pretty much spent almost all my summer vacations and every possible time I can on the beach, in the water. Treading the water was not an issue, I am not afraid of the water and I believe I can swim. But I do acknowledge the fact that I do not know the technical side of swimming. To help with it, I signed up with the Open Water Swim Clinic and Wetsuit Demo at the Quarry. The first time I got into the water I was shocked at how cold it was, and for some reason I felt engulfed by it. My body was like lead, it was heavy! I thought it was just my initial reaction as I only stayed in the water for around 15 minutes but it was not. Then, my next open water exposure was during the Splash and Dash. The experience and feeling was the same - the coldness engulfed me and I felt like drowning. I barely made it to the first buoy, but I had to gather up my strength and swim back. With all of this, I realized that the swim turned out to be the most challenging. The water in Texas is not my friend, not just yet and I made a vow to make friends with it, no matter what. Together with my Tri friends and mentor, we had open water swim practices, we swam in Barton Springs, the Pflugerville Lake, Lake Austin and in Decker Lake. I feel a little better every time but the constricting feeling is still there. Aside from the weekend open water swim, I practice in the pool three times a week to prepare for race day.
It is true, the excitement level the night before is just out of this world. I made sure everything is ready and the checklist that I received during the preview helped a lot. To help me sleep, with the information I gathered from my tri friends and mentor, a beer before race night was a savior! I then woke up before my alarm, got ready and rode with Daniel to the race venue. We arrived past 6:00 AM, the flurry of activities and the buzzing of excitement was building up as the sun was rising. I was just soaking everything in. Good thing I remembered Craig’s tip to hydrate while waiting for start time. We did a walk through from the swim start, swim end to the transition area and I visualized the course in my mind. Thinking about all this, I tried to shake the fear that was creeping inside me and it came along the words start time and swim leg. My eyes kept on straying to the water, measuring the distance between buoys and that question of whether I can complete it. While on the line, I was all smiles but deep inside I kept saying over and over, “I just need to finish the swim, I will NOT be fished out of the water…” Then just like that, it was start time, I was not scared, I was annoyed because I was slow. It felt like everyone just kept passing me, and that I was not moving at all. I just prayed, “Please just let me finish the swim, please get me to my bike and I will be fine.” After what seems like forever, I was at the end of the swim leg. I thought I was the last person out of the water, so I took the chance to look back and I saw some others still in the water - I was happy! And so, the race started for me. I ran the hill to transition, dropped my swim cap, goggles and put on my sunglasses, helmet and shoes. I carried my bike to the mount line, got on my bike and rode off grinning. I huffed and puffed uphill and flew downhill. I pedaled as fast as my legs can and before long, I was at the dismount line. Now it is almost over, I thought, just 2 miles of run. The last half mile was brutal, you can hear the cheers echoing from the finish line but you know you are not there yet. My legs were heavy but I know it was just my mind telling me I cannot do it anymore. I was being passed by participants of every age group, I was starting to listen to the little voice inside telling me that I was tired. But then I saw someone in front of me who is in the 50+ age group, so I told myself, “If she can, then I sure can!” I just kept on going and before I knew it the finish line was just up ahead and I crossed it beaming! I was thinking, “I did it! Yes! All the months of training, all done! Yes! Now what?”
So that’s the start of the beginning for me. I decided to choose training over smoking and been smoke-free now for a year, of course I drink but not as much as I used to. I did two more sprint triathlon last year – Marble Falls and Kerrville. For this year, I will be back to improve my time on those races and as my main race, I signed up for the Kerrville Half Distance.
No, I am not crazy, I just know I can, so I will.
See you out there!
In the late winter of 2004, I was sitting at a bar with my best friend after work. She looked at me really seriously and said, “I want to do a triathlon. Do it with me!” I looked at her like she had 3 arms coming out of her forehead. “A what?” “A triathlon! It’s where you swim, bike, then run!”
At this point in my life, I rode my bike instead of driving most of the time. I swam (poorly) in high school. And I had no doubt that I could walk a 5k. Wait. How far was a 5k? 3 miles? Oh yeah. No problem. I could TOTALLY walk that. I slammed my shot of whiskey, took a drag of my cancer stick, and said, “F**k it. Let’s do it.”
So we registered for the 2004 Danskin Sprint Triathlon, an all women’s tri that was 750 m swim, 12.5 mile bike, and - of course - the 5k that I was probably gonna walk anyway. Over the next few months, my friend trained and prepped. I… did not. Race day came around, and I showed up, completely unprepared. My friend? She got stuck doing inventory at her work and couldn’t make it. (This broke her heart! It was another 6 years or so before she finally got to do her first tri!)
That morning, I was surrounded by 2,500 women who all looked like they had a pretty good idea of what they were doing. I didn’t know a single soul out there. No one came with me. It was just me and my bag of stuff. I watched as the more experienced women racked their bikes and set up their transition. I threw all my stuff in a pile and grabbed my swim cap and goggles and wandered off toward the water. I wasn’t nervous exactly. I mean you have to have some kind of actual goal for you to be nervous, right? It was more along the lines of, “well, I’m sure I can pull this off… so let’s just get on with it.”
I remember right before the gun went off, treading water in my wave of 100 women and thinking to myself, “this is probably the stupidest thing I’ve done in a long, long time.” And then the washing machine of 99 other pairs of legs and arms flailing around me. The water was a roiling mess, and I put my head down and got to work. It had been so long since I had swum (and I wasn’t a great swimmer to begin with) that my body had ZERO idea what I was trying to force it to do. But some way, some how, I managed to get through that swim and magically found myself back on the shore.
I found my bike again in transition and sat down to recover from my first swim since high school. I was pooped. My arms were noodles. It turns out, 750 m is REALLY, REALLY FAR when you haven’t trained for it! So I sat and had a snack. Then, put on my tee shirt that had my bib on it, my tennis shoes, my camel back, my gloves, helmet, sunglass, shoved a half a sandwich in my bag… pretty much I had ALL the equipment you might need for - say - a cross country trek… and headed out of transition 8 minutes later.
I was confident that the bike was going to be a cinch. I rode every day, all over Austin, to and from work and friends’ houses and bars and the grocery. I was a commuter. Biking was EASY. It never dawned on me that there would be HILLS on the course. The hills were hard, I do remember that, but really I was out there like I was on a leisurely cruise. I didn’t know to push myself, I just pedaled along and enjoyed the fact that it was a beautiful day. I remember getting half way up the biggest hill on the course, lungs exploding and heartbeat in my ears, and getting off my bike and walking. It was comforting to see that I wasn’t the only one. There is no shame in walking up a hill if you have to! At the top, I got back on my trusty steed, laughed at the ridiculousness of that hill, and kept on tralalalalala-ing my way back to the transition area again.
I racked my bike and dropped off all of my equipment and set off to walk the 5k. I high-fived every volunteer I saw and cheered on all the athletes that whizzed past me like they were flying. They were on a MISSION! I was not. I talked to everyone on the course, probably sang some songs, and just walked. Every aid station was a new experience for me (ice? Yes please! Gatorade? Absolutely! Water? I LOVE WATER!) With each passing minute, a grin grew bigger and bigger across my face. I still can’t exactly tell you why, maybe it was delirium, but there was just SO MUCH JOY out on that course. I walked at a good clip and managed to keep my pace around 15 minutes per mile. I felt GOOD! I felt STRONG! And after 2 hours and 25 minutes of relentless forward motion, I came upon the most beautiful sight ever: the finish line.
The tag line for this specific race was, “The woman who finishes the race is not the same that started the race,” and this was exactly true for me. What started as basically a dare in a smelly, smoky, dank bar turned into the beginning ofd a life-changing adventure. And while I was NOT prepared for the race, I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.
In 2011, I found myself in a fitness rut. I was bored, unchallenged and felt pretty unmotivated. Up to this point I’d run numerous half and full marathons. I liked having a goal race in front of me, and I found I geeked out on having a training plan/calendar I could follow. I needed that goal race, but I didn't want to run another marathon. Running was really what I excelled at in the world of sports, so how could I incorporate that, but differently?
My gym, Pure Austin Fitness, was pretty much the triathlon training headquarters in Austin at the time. Just about everyone at the gym had competed in, or was training for, a triathlon. They had master swim classes, brick workouts, awesome cycling classes, weekend run groups and a quarry where triathletes could practice open water swims.
I’m gonna be honest, I was pretty intimated by these “triathletes.” Deep down though, I really wanted to take a stab at the sport. I tried not to let the intimidation factor get to me, but just being around all these amazing athletes made me want to be one too! There was only one problem, I didn’t know how to swim AT ALL.
While the swim is the shortest leg in a triathlon, it was also the greatest hurdle in my decision to start the sport. Thoughts of drowning during my first race came to mind. Swimming was a big deciding factor for me and I almost gave up, but I didn’t.
I researched adult beginner swim lessons and found a program through the City of Austin. The class was eight sessions at a local pool by my house. So in eight short sessions, I too could be an expert swimmer, right? Wrong! While the sessions were great, they only taught me the very basics of freestyle swimming and they were in a pool, not the open water. As I came to find out later, open water swimming is a totally different experience. But, the class did give me a foundation and the many months of practice gave me the confidence.
So I had done it! I had “learned” how to swim, or at least how to not drown. With the greatest hurdle for me now conquered, I committed to signing up for my first triathlon. Next big decision, what race to choose? In the spring and summertime in Austin, there were no shortage of race options! I needed a beginner friendly race for women, and that’s why I chose The Danskin Women’s Triathlon.
With the Danskin on the horizon, I needed a support system. I recruited two of my girlfriends to train and race with me. This would be their first triathlon as well. With the help of the internet, I came up with a simple sprint-triathlon distance training plan. I spent lots of extra time in the pool, since I was still such a newbie. I was super freaked out about the swim portion of the race and I made practicing the swim a huge focus of my training.
Me and my training buddies decided the weekend before the race we would do a mini race on the actual course. It was a great way to get familiar with the course itself and to practice transitioning. Transitioning can be a little overwhelming for a newbie. How do I go from swimming in that big, gross lake to riding my bike? I don’t get it? Do I dry off? Do I change? Where are the changing rooms? What do I change into? Where the hell is my bike again?? All this stuff comes with practice, and that’s what we did.
First was the swim. We decided we should practice the full 500 meters since it was such a “short” distance (meanwhile, I’m panicking about how FAR that is!) and we all needed open water swim training. This would be my first attempt EVER at an open water swim. I took a deep breath and jumped in, focusing on the freestyle stroke I’d recently learned, but when I started breathing to the side, I COMPLETELY freaked out! I had a total panic attack in the water. There’s no bottom to this lake, or if there is, I can't find it! There’s no end to the lake…it goes on F.O.R.E.V.E.R! Oh my God, OH MY GOD, OHHH MYYY GODDD, I’M GOING TO DROWN. I tried to push through, but I was hyperventilating so bad I couldn’t breathe. That would end my swim. I failed that day. Completely.
We went on to practice the bike course, which went ok, but I was still pretty freaked out by my open water experience. Last was the run, which was my expertise. I started running and I couldn’t believe how wobbly my legs felt. Up to that point, I’d never practiced what they call, in the triathlon world, a “brick” workout, (a bike and run workout back-to-back). I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, but I powered through. I was amazed at how tired I felt and how hard that 5k run was. It was a real eye opener.
After three months of training, it was time to PROVE I COULD do this! I had gone to my gym a couple days before the race and practiced another open water swim in the quarry. Going into the practice swim, I knew what to expect this time and I did OK. I didn’t panic, and that was the important thing. I was going to put the panic attack behind me and power through. Race day finally came.
My training buds and I arrived super early on race day to stage our gear in the transition area. With our transition areas set, we waited for what seemed like an eternity, and all I could think about was the swim. They finally called my age group for the swim and we all marched into the water. I chose to stay in the back, and off to the side, as I had read this was a good position for newbie swimmers. The horn sounded and we were off! I maintained my perfect freestyle form, breathing side to side, while remaining calm. Very calm. Then I got kicked in the face (yeah, that happens). I recovered quickly and got back into my zone. Finally, I could see the final buoy…I was ALMOST to the swim finish! I was really going to do this, and I did it! I got out of the water with such a sigh of relief. I had officially finished my first open water swim and I was off to transition to get on my bike.
I finished the 12-mile bike course without any problems, and I felt pretty good on the run, but noticed I felt so tired afterward. I was good at running, but running after swimming and biking was so much more challenging. Finally, I’d crossed that finish line! I’d done it. I had completed my first triathlon, and y’all, I felt so good! I was so proud of myself, and I was hooked. That race in 2011 would be a huge fitness milestone for me and would start a whole new journey for me.
For my first triathlon, my key takeaway’s were:
Training for a triathlon requires dedication and consistency, but there is a point when the typical athlete doesn’t have any more hours in the week to train. Between work, family, and personal commitments, not to mention trying to not overtrain, most aspiring or active triathletes have a lid on their possible training time. How can you get faster or build endurance without adding more training time? One way is to add more intensity to your training time, and the other is to add more precision. I am going to provide a few ideas on how you can make your training more precise and take it to the next level.
Here are three ways to make your training more precise, and maximize your workout time.
Measure Your Power.
Understanding your power output while training is a surefire way to be more intentional about each and every workout. We have all had runs or bike rides when we go out and seem to just get in a rut. We go through the motions, but really have no idea if it was a quality workout or not.
One way to change that is by measuring power. On a bike, the most common ways to measure power output are by using a power meter, or if cycling indoors, by measuring wattage on a smart trainer or wired bike. Using either device allows you to keep yourself honest on your rides, making sure you are pushing it hard enough on the days when you want to train above your functional power threshold, but also helping you to not push too hard on the days that are meant to be more base-building and recovery-minded.
A power meter is a component that goes on your bike, and can measure your overall wattage output during a ride. There are several ways to install a power meter, but our favorites tend to be the ones that come in the form of a crank arm, a pedal, or a wheel hub. We did an entire piece on power meters here, where we go into depth on the pros and cons of various meters. Note, they are not inexpensive devices —they often cost $500 and up.
A smart trainer is like a traditional indoor bike trainer, but with more advanced technology to measure your power, speed equivalent, and simulate riding conditions like hills. For those who mainly want to measure power while riding indoors, a smart trainer can be a great way to accomplish this without modifying your bike. You usually use a smart trainer with an app like Zwift or Sufferfest. The difference between a smart trainer and the popular Peloton service that you see advertised is that you use your own bike on a smart trainer, and connect to whichever app you like best. It is a topic that can be pretty involved, so we profiled power meters and apps in depth for you, here.
You can also measure estimated power on runs, with more advanced running and multisport watches. We expect that technology to evolve rapidly in coming years.
Customize a Training Plan.
It might seem obvious, but having a plan to follow helps your training be much more intentional and precise. We still see lots of triathletes who are “winging it” when it comes to their training plan. They know which race they want to do, and give themselves a few months to train, but beyond that they just meander their way through training.
While you can pull any number of training plans off the web, we like the ones that have some level of customization for three things: Your base level of fitness, your goals, and your available time. One person may be doing their first-ever triathlon, hoping to finish, and trying to train with 4 hours per week. Another may be a seasoned athlete, looking for a podium finish, and able to devote 10–12 hours a week to training. Those two triathletes would be silly to use the same training plan.
If you have the budget for it, consulting with a local coach can be a great way to customize a training plan. The plans we like best tend to be the ones with a weekly prescribed tempo, rather than a rigid daily plan. Life happens, and you might have a kids’ activity on the day that calls for your intense brick workout, or it might be raining on the day that calls for a 2-hour bike ride. A week-by-week plan will give you the flexibility you need.
Keep a Log.
The workout log is one of the most underrated, least expensive, and simplest tools available to your training. Logging your workout, distance, speed, effort or output, and how you felt can be very powerful. It can also be a useful tool to correlate certain workouts with injuries or soreness, allowing you to adjust in the future.
You can use an online app or site to log your workouts, but you can be just as effective by simply keeping a notebook log. I use a small notebook, and on the left I have a day-by-day summary of the workout I did (and just as importantly, a big dash when I did not workout), and on the right I make notes about how I felt. Was I fast? Was my hamstring tight? Was my knee sore? Was I nursing a cold? I also note my weight about once every 2–3 weeks, so I can monitor a longer-term trend.
This type of log will not only help you spot injury trends and keep yourself honest in your training plan, but it can be very useful if you decide to consult a coach to amp up your training to the next level.
Thank you to Paul from completetri.com for helping out as a guest writer for this blog post. Complete Tri has a wealth of resources including gear reviews, tips, and advice for triathletes of all abilities. All of their information is free, and a portion of their revenues goes back to community triathlon clubs like ours.
In triathlons I have found something crazy in myself. Let’s admit it, to be a triathlete, you must be a little crazy. Pursuing an activity that pushes you to physical and mental capacities, testing your will, and then wanting to come back for more?! What an adrenaline rush.
As someone who has always been active, I am always looking for my next challenge; something that will keep my mind in as good as shape as my physical self. Competing in my first marathon gave me the rush to pursue triathlons; an outlet that let me hit three sports at once. I participated in a sprint and was hooked.
In triathlons, there is an element of always improving yourself; setting new PRs—competing with yourself, and then competing against others. I thrived in the competition of all the above. It was a new way for me to push myself and see what I was made of. It was a way for me to study other’s techniques and enhance my skills. It’s a driving force. I love the training; talking myself through my progress, working through the pain and knowing what I am capable of.
This drive has pushed me into half ironman competitions and I am soon on my way to a full as well as an Ultra. There’s the crazy. It’s good, it’s fun, it’s a rush.
I think what most of you can appreciate is the mindset. We are all here (in the tri-circuit) and have found something in triathlons that is our driving force. Whether that’s health purposes, building a new you, needing to build upon yourself, supporting a friend or family member or just because you love the feeling. No matter what it is, we’ve all found our way into this world and we will be here for years to come.
Cheers to all you crazies out there! I look forward to swimming, biking and running next to you all, soon!
As some people may know, my journey started because I happened across the 2012 USAT Para-athlete National Championships in downtown Austin. That's when I realized I had no excuse not to “tri”. The husband of one of my clients was a coach and he agreed to help. That man was our very own Craig Kuglen.
Now, I was already a runner, and I rode a mountain bike as well. Swimming was my nemesis. You see, when I first started, I couldn't even swim to the end of a 25-yard pool without gasping for air. Did I mention that I was a smoker too? So that didn't help.
For about three weeks Craig worked with me on my swim, run, and taught me how to ride a tri bike, all the while talking me into my first tri. I still couldn’t swim after that three weeks, but I succumbed to his "encouragement", and signed up for my first tri, the Tri For Old Glory sprint. Craig said it was a good one to start with. The swim was an individual start (at the time most others were age group mass start), the water was shallow, and I could get to the side easily and walk if I got into trouble. The bike was rolling and the run was flat.
My nerves were bundled the closer and closer we got to the day of the event. My husband, Sam, was encouraging me that I could do this, and helped me get to the start while trying to keep my nerves in check - not an easy task!
Here we go! The day of the event. I was going to do this. At least Craig was there to show me the ropes, and Sam was there for support. Craig and I arrived in transition with our bikes, mine borrowed from him, and our gear, me in basically swim jammers, to get set up. I was looking around at all the athletes thinking to myself, what did I sign up for? Can I do this? Lord help me…
After we set up our area, Craig encouraged me to visualize walking myself from swim to bike to run, something I still do today, to make sure I know where everything is. When I walked up to the swim entrance, my heart started to pound with anxiousness. Who knew that the swim always looks longer on race day? I had mentally prepped for this moment, but not enough. Both Sam and Craig tried to help me with the nerves, but still I was worried. I walked through the motions of what I was to do, checked my gear in transition, hit the restroom...Rinse, Lather, Repeat.
Time to start. We lined up single file line to enter the water, me towards the back (I didn't want to get swam over). One by one athletes entered the water, until it was my turn. As I approached the water, Sam screamed "you got this baby!" - if only that was the case! I jumped in and away I went... sort of.
I swam like my life depended on it, and in my head, it did. I swam so hard - not well, but hard - that I ran out of steam and had to get to the side within the first 100 yards. When I got to the side, there was Sam encouraging me and telling me that I went out too fast, to slow down and that I got this. I wanted to quit so bad!
After a moment I was on my way, basically crawling near the shore trying to pull myself together. All the while, Sam was there telling me I can do it. I mustered up enough strength and determination to carry me through the rest of the swim, all the while swimming in the shallowest (and I mean SHALLOW) part of the water to the exit. There had never been someone happier to be out of the water.
I made my way to transition, grabbed my bike, and I was off. As I was riding those 12 miles, my mind was racing with thoughts. I kept telling myself, I got this, I got this! Don't let what happened in the water ruin the rest of race. I pedaled faster, and faster the madder I got about the swim. So much so that I almost wiped out taking a turn.
I got back to transition and gathered my run gear, and I was off. Run is my favorite part of the tri and I ran, I ran, and I ran. I was so happy to almost be done. And as I was approaching the finish line, the tears started to fill my eyes. I did it. I actually did it! This smoker of 20+ years did their first tri!
I finished, gathered my stuff, and was on the way out of transition when I learned one of my first lessons. NEVER take off your numbers from your body and your bike before leaving. As we walked out, the nice volunteer told me I couldn't take the bike out because there was no number. The bike was not mine, but Craig's. I panicked and tried to explain. Luckily Craig was right there to help explain, and eventually we were let out. Whew!
It was honestly one of the best feelings I have ever had. To know that I finished something that I never thought I would do. This moment changed my life forever. I didn't place, not even close, but I was proud. Proud of what I did. Proud of what I would become. Who knew that at that moment that I would be an Ironman today?
Let me take you back the year 1986. Besides some Farrah Facet styled hair, most women were wearing massive shoulder pads and men were sporting the ever infamous Member’s Only jackets. Haley’s Comet made its closest encounter with earth, the space shuttle Challenger shocked the world by exploding just over a minute after takeoff, Oprah Winfrey made her TV talk show debut, and Andrea Fisher entered her first triathlon at the age of 13. Well, ok so I’m pushing the actual importance of my triathlon entry a bit in comparison, but the reality is that I was trying to paint a picture of when I did my first race – A LONG FREAKING TIME AGO!
Trying to recall that day, 33 years later, is like teeing up my parent’s old carousals of Kodak picture slides. I hit the button, click, a new photo appears in my mind….I hit the button again, click, and another photo appears in my mind. With that being said I would love to recall those photos, one by one, as they pop into my head.
Click: I remember a woman at the beach tell me she was doing a triathlon and that it was going to be really hard. I’m guessing that triggered something in my competitive mind, because I do remember thinking “Well heck, I swim faster than this lady!”
Click: There was a bike store where my mom took me to look at bikes. I think the reason I walked away with a stylish Raleigh Technium 8 speed was probably because it was affordable and fit me. I’m guessing the downtube shifting and stylish metal toe clip/Velcro pedals didn’t look to awesome, but that red-white-blue paint job made me feel like Wonder Woman! Of course the fact that I also walked away with a mandatory bike helmet made out of Styrofoam and netting did nothing to boost my super hero powers…..I literally could go put a $1.99 disposable cooler from HEB on my head right now and it would provide more safety than that thing did!
Click: Race day at Schoolley’s Mountain Triathlon! I show up with my bike and shoes. I look around and wonder why everyone has a bucket of water by their bike?
Click: I’m swimming, and there’s one person next to me (I was a really good swimmer at this point, but that’s it….stay tuned for more on the explosion to come) and THERE WAS NO WAY I was not getting out of that water first. I killed myself as hard as I could to swim as fast as I could….and yes I exit the water in front of her….and then proceed to collapse on the beach because I’m completely exhausted.
Click: I’m at my bike, feet dripping and covered in mud. AHA!!!! Now I know why there are buckets of water! To wash your feet off before putting shoes on. Oh well, I carry on with my muddy feet/shoes to the bike but at least this would be the 2nd time ever for me to ride my new bike (Note to reader, I SAID 2nd TIME EVER TO RIDE THIS BIKE!)
Click: I’m on the bike course, and don’t know how to shift or ride up a hill on this bike with the downtube shifting. I walk it up a few hills and I coast down a few hills riding those brakes like my life depends on it. I have promptly gone from 1st out of the water to 220th off the bike coming into transition.
Click: I’m on the run course. I have never run outside of the 100 meter sprint required of the yearly Presidential Fitness Testing at school, so 3 miles won’t be too hard right? As I walk most of the 3 miles and have every other person who passes me ask “Honey, you ok? Do you need some help. I eventually finish in 436th place. There are 437 people entered in the race.
Click: Post race I’m sitting in the Dover New Jersey diner eating a hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes. That was the BEST hot RBS I have ever eaten to date and I knew I earned every bite!
I went to work later that afternoon at the beach (I was a lifeguard) and as I sat there on my chair I was beaming. I didn’t cry or pout because I was 2nd to last….instead all I remember was thinking “HOLY CRAP….I did a triathlon earlier today and I finished!” Not a single person at that lake knew what I had done a few hours earlier, but I knew and for that I was so proud of myself. Even at a young age I took away what was most important from my first triathlon….I put a goal out there that was super crazy for me, I may have not prepared the best I could have for it but I tried the best I could at that time, and I tried something challenging and new. It would be 10 years later before I did my next triathlon, but to this day when things get tough I think back to that 13 year old naïve girl trying to finish the last 3 miles and I keep going. Now if I could just find a hot roast beef sandwich (with gravy) as good as that one in the diner…….there’s nothing I wouldn’t be able to do!
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