Can you be a parent and an Ironman? - Statistically, people doing "Ironman" races (both men and women) have more kids. Why? Do they taste life more? Are they more trained to schedule goals and obtain them? Are they more efficient? Who knows. Anyway, life gets harder even for them when the kids are two-in-a-row, and not the usual one. What to do? I already gave a similar tip: you don't have two bodies, one for training one for your life. So consider stress, and enjoy life. Some of us won't consider the chance to continue training, other will keep doing something. Kids bring energy, anyway, and - to women who never raced an "Ironman": there is no comparison, according even to Karen Smyers, former Hawaii champion, to the effort of giving life. So, tell your ironhubby to start train for a double "Ironman", and feel superior anyway!
What if I get bored with triathlon? - Ok, triathlon is a sport very difficult to get bored with. But it happens that distances, faces and rhythms become automatic (and we started this to get out of the track and field ring...). Well, try off road triathlons, or even orienteering events. There, you don't know how your next stride will be, and the rhythm is the one of the nature. Once back to the usual triathlon distances, you will notice something different in your heart, guaranteed!
Do you have a good triathlon base? - Base. Yes, I mean aerobic base. Mark Allen once said that a good base to have, when starting an Ironman training, is the ability to spend a whole day outdoor, in the nature, walking in the woods and on the mountains, or staying at the beach playing for hours. Easy? Could be. If it is, you probably spent some time doing sports when you were a kid, or you were the desperation of your parents, coming back home for dinner all covered with mud and scars! If it is not, and you would like to try any triathlon (even the shorter ones) check your outdoor abilities: enjoy. Have fun. At night check yourself. Ok? Tired? Dead tired? No, no more again? You will have the correct information to build your training base. Think about it, if this season has already gone, or if you are thinking to start racing next year.
Heart Rate monitor: useful or not? - The Heart Rate monitor is definitely useful. And to give the maximum of help we are not required to buy the most complicated and expensive models. Save the money: buy a heart rate monitor that just returns your beats and, if you want, the alarms to tell you if you are going too fast, or too slow. Invest what you saved in having your anaerobic threshold (AT) determined, with some test like the Conconi one. You will take out the best from a true personal training, tailored on your cardiovascular system. And while training with that "strange bra" on your chest, remember: when your heart rate does not rise with the usual speed, you are probably still recovering the last workout (consider to ease down or even stop, if you are going to have a tough session, as you don't want to enter Overtraining Land); if you are going uphill, add 5 to 7 beats to your anaerobic threshold (let's call this "a bonus for heroes"); remember that you have three different anaerobic threshold for the three different sports and the one in your weakest event is usually the low one; be wise: don't use your heart rate monitor in every workout. Don't let that strange watch tell you how you feel: just allow it to help you!
Be a true tri-fan - Are you following your triathlete during those tough weekends, taking pictures, giving time splits, keeping an eye to the wetsuit, insulting marshals but when your champion passes, and you are giving your best cheer, he/she does not realize you are there? Well, if you are experienced enough, you know this can happen, and if you tried, once, you know it can be very demanding even smiling, not to say waving a hand. So, the tip this month is for you, young and bald supporters: make yourself visible in distance. If the one racing is the one who spot the fan first, the encounter will be good, but maybe too fast. If you (supporter) can be spotted from far (you choose how) the athlete will have time to collect strenght to build up a decent encounter; if this does not happen, and it seems the athlete won't nag at you, don't get angry, or upset. That athlete is taking the cheering where it is needed, deep inside. So, don't stop cheering - it won't ever get wasted!
Clean the sand off your feet - In many beach races we find sand in the Transition Area. It is normal. When I begun racing, ages ago, almost everyone in his/her own section of the area, had something wide filled with water or a wet towel, or just spent few seconds to use part of the water they drank to clean their feet, and prevent blisters. Now they look (and feel) all like heroes! They go so fast through the T1 (transition area between swimming and biking), so fast during the bike leg, and... they suffer so much while running, loosing much more than those few seconds that could have been spent wisely to clean the sand off the feet!
Wise scheduling: where does it begin? - Today's tip: having a schedule to plan workout helps, making it truly yours is much better. Experienced or not, a good triathlete can find deeper motivation if he/she knows what a workout is for. Study. Study. Study. Physiology? Medicine? Abstract from advanced research? No: study what your needs are. It all starts from here: you have to trust a schedule that in the end will organize your whole day, don't you think? Do you have a coach, live or online? Good checks to know if a coach is good for you are: a) looking at results (obviously); b) understand if she/he listen really to your questions; but the most important is c) are you comfortable making question to your coach? For me, it's the first thing to plan in the ideal tri-workout schedule - especially if, like me, you coach yourself...
Take care of your feet - Consider your feet as your best tri-friends. Television won't realize any Emmy awarded tv series about them, but they are your friends. Who is in charge of a perfect, energy-saving kick while swimming? Who is compressed for miles and miles on a rigid sole in every weather condition? Who is forced to carry tons every running step you take? Learn to massage your feet every day: use a tennis ball, your hands, some specific wooden objects to ease their stiffness - it's there even if you don't feel it! No matter the mileage, give them specific relaxing cream, the kind used by the mountain men. Triathlon will be easier. Guaranteed!
Dealing with your family - This month's tip is about family management. Multidiscipline's training, with its strange (for those not affected) timesheet, dates and recover (it took me three months to explain my wife that I can recover a long run with 45 minutes of swimming), is something you must put up considering family needs. If you want support from them, do not ever put triathlons before them. They have elephant's memory. And this is true, even if triathlon is your hobby, and they support you just not to be annoyed with it. Easy tip: prepare a schedule of your races and important training sessions long before you are going to do them, and don't do killer reps on Sunday morning if you know you're going to see your kid on his theather debut. Imagine? "See, my dad is the one sleeping, in the second row!". You'd be ashamed!
Dealing with pit stops - If the race is long, some needs can grow exponentially. But even in shorter tri races having to stop can be a problem: not all organizer provide toilets, porta potties and similar facilities. Modest triathletes can try this trick, during the run leg: stop at an aid station, grab a great cup of water and gently pour it behind your neck. Any liquid will slip along your legs, and, important, especially if you keep them well wide open. You'll be quite choreographic for the folk there, keeping secret your pit stop but showing the relief it gives you with a brisk re-start. No liquid will enter your shoes, avoiding major problems to your feet (experimenting the whole process during training is highly recommended, anyway!). What about doing it during the bike leg? Hmmm. Doing it from the saddle it's not that easy. Pro cyclist does it, but if it's a short race I guess you can hold it, and during an "Ironman" personally I don't see the point of not stop spinning for 30-40 seconds. Body must remember how to shint its blood, so let's give it a quick chance to recover sometimes. Happy drinks, and miles!
Training in the cold months - Weather goes foggy and rainy for lots of us, in November. Windtrainer is good to maintain a decent bike shape, but is it ok even for training? The second answer is the right one! Few tips to take the best from your windtrainer: use a fan to dry your body, or you'll resist just few minutes, if you train in a little room; use time, not kilometers, to build your training; to do more than one hour and a half is almost useless: consider that it's like three hours outdoor, when done properly. What does "done properly" mean? Do specific workout (speed work, uphills); don't be lazy, and remember: it's not like riding outdoors. Back and hip muscles work less, so to keep them fit have a ride in the cold (brr!) when possible.
One, two, three, four - What about another tip about proper form while training for racing triathlons, especially long ones? Once they asked Mark Allen, a legend of triathlon, what he focused on during hard moments, if not crisis. He simply answered: "One, two, three, four. One two, three, four", and specified that it was enough to concentrate on a proper stroke, or spin, or stride. Well, ok Mark, nice. I thought he was right, but I had to understand the hard way how much Mark was right! During "Ironman Austria" 2001 I fell from my bike, and damaged it. Lost no less than twenty minutes to fix it and find out if I was able to continue - I was. After a while I realized my mind was drained, lost lots of mental energies there, and my pace was going away - no way to have a proper spin even though my legs were ok. I tried "One, two, three", but it wasn't my style! I tried other things to focus on, and finally found that my way to stay focused, and not to think to other things, was to concentrate on my ankles and their movements. It really helped my pace to stay stable at the speed that can be maintained! And this worked during the marathon, when I focused on my arms movement, just to forget my little stomach problems and a mind truly at its end... Luckily just heart is needed to finish an Ironman! So, the tip is: find out, during some hard workouts, what's good for you to focus on and stay concentrate. Find something in your athletic moves, something really yours. In case of need, just remember it, and save lots energies in finding out what works not to kill your pace, whatever it is.
Build your own race - Hey! I am talking to you, triathlon veterans! Do you start to have lack of motivation in racing? It happens to the best of us. Any tip for this? Sure I have tips! Dare. Exaggerate and build your own race. Plan the course, take the highest number of no-tri friends and give prices just to them, for being part of the crew. Silly? I'm building a "Self Made Man" race... Will you join me?
Off-road triathlon - Do you think that many triathlons are actually "too tech", "too pro" or simply "too"? I can't say you're completely wrong. It's the other side of the Olympic dream. But triathlon is far more than a every-X-year-race... The tip is: why don't you try an off-road triathlon? Usually they're shorter than an Olympic distance, they're ran with mountain bikes so it's easier to borrow one, if you're a beginner... Tip 2 (always valid): don't think "off-road" means "easier", anyway. Respect the distance and check the bike course: it's short, it can have little elevation gain but you need to be focused on a single track or on a grassy downhill. Tip 3 (for free): even if leading the race, don't hesitate to stop and smile if the landscape is breathtaking!
Triathlon travelers - Are you wondering if triathlon is a good way to see the world? Sure it is! But be careful: choose precisely what kind of triathlon travel is cut for you. There are lots of possibilities, actually: you can choose a full training immersion with the champion, or plan the trip yourself towards a not-so-known race near a venue it's ages you'd like to visit. But there are two basic tips valid in both cases: choose your travel mates. Consider a holiday like this like one in a boat: it can be demanding under psychological aspect if you and the other don't match, or if there are people not so involved in the sport. And (tip number two) go for the fun. If you sweat like crazy just for fun, this occasion will add fun to fun, so relax! It's going to rain, one day, so what? Enjoy!
Be open to triathlon - Let's face it: triathlon has changed, from its very beginning at the end of the Seventies. Now it's an Olympic sport with one of its versions. But the shortest ones are still very popular as past time and easy fitness activity, and the longest - "Ironman" and longer - are seeing a terrific growth of their success. The tip is: be open. Don't even think that an Ironman is a better athlete than a guy doing just sprints. It's not a matter of miles: it's a matter of choice, often of a life choice. Personally, once I enjoyed an Olympic distance, I thought "No way for an Ironman", while my running racing went (and still go) from 400 meters to the marathon. Now I'm happy to be... rusty! I repeat it: be open. Triathlon can reveal more of yourself than any other sport.
Winter bike training - Winter bike training? What?!? You're right. But you know that wind trainer exist, don't you? And you also know that they will permit a good base for Spring early rides... I know they're boring and uncomfortable, sometimes... Some tips to get the best from the windtrainer "rides": 1. Don't train for more than one hour and a half: it's useless. Concentrate speed work and for agility the indicated time is enough (ask Peter Reid...); 2. Prepare carefully a fan or open a window in the room you'll train. Start a little uncomfy for cold - it won't last, and will ensure a proficient workout without hot suffering; 3. Music, television, a book... Lots of thing can help if don't have to stay focused on the intervals! 4. Use a heart rate monitor: warm up, workout and cooldown times are different than on the road. Enjoy!
Triathletes resolutions - Let's not enter the polemics about "Is this the real new Millennium start?" and talk about triathletes' New Year's Resolutions. Ever done them? If not, you should! There's something warm in planning heroic run training, loooonger rides than ever, smooth swim in sweet Mediterranean... so warm you usually think about them in bed until you fall asleep again. Whenever your planning time is, keep it simple and try to focus on doing it for real. Write on paper your will of reach your goal through a day by day work on your body and mind. Write it clearly, something that touch your weakest part: to me, a hard sentence is "I won't cut a single session just because I relax a minute too much after work", not to say about "I won't skip a workout unless I know it would be really worse for me to do it". Write this kind of honest statement and hang them on your fridge, or on your bedroom wall. You're not going to hate them, if you really wrote them!
Taste before you eat - Nutrition: always a problem? Really? I think that this could be true just if you don't dedicate some time to your overall nutrition - not just because you have a goal in triathlon. The tip is: check, check, check and test, test, test. Listen to every advice, but always check any food and drink during hard training sessions. Why during the hardest? Easy: they reproduce the race moments, and give you the exact feeling of what the tested food will taste. "I tried those new bars, on a long, easy ride of mine, and found them delicious and easy to swallow. But during Ironman Japan, years ago, when pushing hard on the bike, they forced me to endless chewing and I had to puke, too" Mark Allen use to tell this to convince people, during his seminars. I won't tell anything else.
Plan your race - Well, have you seen the Olympic triathlon? Terrific races. They showed clearly the importance of planning in triathlon. Both winners carefully analyzed the course, the other competitors and how the race could develop. They used these analysis to build a race strategy, and built a whole year of specific training to realize it. Even the second male finisher understood that it was going to be a very tactic race, with a potentially great wasting of energy from the top racer during the bike leg, and decided for a training mainly focused on his running. The tip we can learn is less obvious than it seems: always plan your whole season. Choose one or two main competition where to give your best and then let the rest to have fun. It will help to build training around your strong event without forgetting your weaknesses, and... it will permit you to have always a great time!
Take a deep breath - Breathing is important in triathlon during a transition moment. Especially in short races, where you swim in a pool and have your bike very near the first leg, once you leave the water take some deep breaths with your abdomen. This will calm you, and cancel the risk of being short-breathed - if not hyperventilating - during the first meters spinning on your bike. On longer distances, it allows also to eat when you hit your transition area, have no difficulties in chewing and being at your best from your first spin. Lock your helmet and hammer!
Fight laziness - Let's face it, every good triathlete is lazy. No triathlete is doing all that work because he or she likes to sweat. Instead, what they like is that feeling of ease they have after five hours of cycling followed by one hour of running. Even if the distance is shortened. A warm idling takes their body, causing a relaxed approach to others and a smooth relation with the external world. What can you do to fight lazyness? a) You need to want your daily workout. If you are not into it, than do something else. When you think about it you are not missing as many workouts as you think. b) Give yourself a full day of rest once a week. This will make you want to train more, and let you enjoy the benefits of a fit body during a normal day, something which training addicts can not let themselves experience. c) Remember to celebrate life in every stroke, spin, and stride you take. If you like it, then it will make your workout easier and even the longest runs will have sense. d) Do not have more than one expedited workout each week, one is enough for the best results. e) If you find yourself smiling with no evident reason during your training or race then take a few seconds to fix the moment in your mind. Share this with your family and friends so they may understand why you do all this training, as well as relive it again yourself.
Believe in luck - What does "luck" mean in a triathlon? Just one thing: to win a slot at the Hawaii Ironman lottery, one of the 150 slots to enter the World Championship without qualifying, without being a superathlete, just to demonstrate you can do it. Isn't this non sense in a triathletic world where purists of the "test yourself" will put on the brakes not to draft the previous cyclist? It would be, but to me true triathletes are deeper persons, people like Lucy, who finished happily the tough Hawaii race in 1998. In her words: "I am or at least was the most unathletic person in the whole world. My mother was of the old school which believed that for women to be feminine they had to be petite and frail. I read about the Ironman in Outside magazine when I was very young and vowed that I would do it one day. I never did a triathlon with an ocean swim until 1993 and when I did the swim was so hard and the race took so much out of me I thought that it was ridiculous to think that I would ever compete in the Ironman. This has been a very challenging year for me as my husband has been living and working two thousand miles away, my mother had a stroke and I had to make the difficult decision to leave my job. Being awarded this Hawaii slot is the best thing that has happened to me in a long, long time and I feel blessed to something positive to focus on. Racing in Kona is the culmination of the dream. I am not sure how racing in Kona will change me, but I can tell you how being selected for the lottery has. Even though it has only been one week now I view life and people with a slightly different attitude. I have had so many people recognize me in such warm and touching ways that I have had my belief in the innate goodness of people renewed. I feel so very lucky that I received this gift at a time when I was so down and so much needed something good to focus on that I hope I can try to shed a similar light in the lives of those less fortunate than myself". Tri-training tip: insert "celebrating Life" workout in your tri-training log. Beginner level: we all are! Advanced level: build it every day.
Consider emptyness - "How can you pour nice wine in a full glass? God's love is the best wine, so your heart should be empty to have it" (Zen wisdom). Coming down to triathlon, emptyness is one of the most rewarding sins you may commit. Examples in rapid fire: a) Cold numbers are not empty enough. Ironman wanna-be: "Hey, it's not that terrible, 3,8 kilometers swimming, then 180 kilometers riding a bike, 42 kilometers and change running. I can do it!". Ironman: "Let's put it that way. Swim all along the Lido of Venice (in Italy! Check Ironman distance in your area! Try this at home!), go biking until Verona, and then run to the Garda lake. Can you live it?". "Same distances?". "Ah-ha". "Ok, got it". b) Look for emptyness, find fullness. Barbara: "Hi. I'm Barbara, and... I'm a triathlete". All: "Hi Barbara!". Barbara: "Before triathlons, I used to go to the gym... friends, noise, being popular, fitness at its best. Then, a triathlon. I was scared, at the beginning. Me alone in the water, me on the bike, me running. There were people around me, and I could feel them like they were one: the one with the carbon bike, the girl with the funny helmet... persons, not a class, like spinning. Lots of time to know them when they were absolutely themselves, out here, like me. Every sensation was coming like... in a void, a scaring emptyness at the beginning, but then I discovered it was helping to have a calm persepective on everything. Most on me, my thoughts, my self-esteem... I looked good to myself just because I was doing something I wanted to do!".
Run The Planet thanks Mauro Mongarli for his triathlon tips. Illustration © by Run The Planet.