Tom Licciardello: You can be a triathlete this summer
Is this the year to tri?
If you are a runner, chances are you’ve already done at least one triathlon. If you are a runner who has not yet done a triathlon, chances are you have a running buddy who has and is encouraging you to try one.
Maybe this is the year, so let’s talk some basics if you want to get your feet wet and enter a sprint triathlon — the shortest event, typically featuring a .25 to .5 mile swim, 10 to 18 mile bike and a 5K run.
Of the three disciplines necessary to reach the finish line, you have already prepared yourself for 30 percent of the task — the run. From a training perspective, not much needs to be changed. Be prepared, however, to reduce the number of weekly runs to accommodate the work you’ll need to do to prepare the bike and swim legs.
For many runners, the thought of reducing the total miles per week will seem counterintuitive. It is better to consider your training from a total perspective, measure the weekly effort output rather than the weekly running mileage alone. The additional training models will not only help develop overall strength, but it may also give weary running legs a chance to recover.
For most runners, triathlon training improves running performance, despite fewer training miles. If you are working with a coach, be sure to let him or her know you have a new goal so that your training plan can be modified accordingly.
But the run is the last of the three tasks in a triathlon. You’ll have no problem getting across the finish line once you get to the second transition.
First, however, is the swim, then transition to the bike. One of these two is probably the reason you haven’t yet done a triathlon. Let’s see if I can remove the barrier. Is it the swim?
It sure was for me, even though it’s only about 10 percent of the event.
When my buddy and race director Dave McGillivray encouraged me for years to do an Ironman event, my standard answer was simple: “No, thanks. I’d die. I could never swim 2.4 miles. I’m a sinker.”
His response: “If I could do it, you can.”
Well, he was right, and I’ll give you the same advice, but sinking to the bottom of the lake is still a possibility if proper training isn’t followed.
Successfully managing the swim requires dedication if you are currently not a strong swimmer.
Efficient distance swimming is all about proper technique, and anyone can learn the basics of that technique in a few lessons. Mastering the technique will take the rest of your life, but you don’t have to be a master swimmer to get through .25 to .5 miles successfully. Get lessons from a qualified instructor and find a swim buddy to join you.
Swim gear requirements are a bit more than a Speedo swimsuit and goggles. When the water is cold, getting a triathlon-specific wetsuit is strongly recommended. Though they cost around $125 or more, the bonus is that the wetsuit makes you float like a cork — very reassuring on those first open water swims.
The second swim gear recommendation is to buy a swimmer’s rescue can — you know, that orange float device featured on “Bay Watch.”
Whether you are a newbie or an experienced swimmer, swimming in open water with a partner — a minimum requirement — is not enough of a safety precaution. The truth is that if one of you has a problem, it’s unlikely you’ll hear a distress call. Towing a flotation device is a simple remedy, and along with the wetsuit, the anxiety of swimming in open water would be minimized.
That leaves the bike portion as the final challenge.
First, the easy part, there’s not much to learn. Once you become comfortable with choosing the right gear for the terrain you’re riding on, it’s really just time in the saddle. Simply put, the more time you spend riding, the better you get. Because cycling represents about 60 percent of the triathlon, paying attention to this part of the training regiment is a must.
If swimming wasn’t what kept you from doing your first triathlon, then it was probably because you need a bike. No doubt about it, it’s the most expensive part of the gear requirements. The biggest mistake many newbie tri-athletes make is to borrow a friend’s bike. You might get lucky and get one that fits, but it is as risky as borrowing your friend’s running shoes. A proper bike fit is as important to happy, efficient riding as proper fitting shoes is to pain-free running.
If you are able to get a good deal on a used bike, bring it to a qualified bike shop for an analysis and fitting first. Otherwise, go to a quality bike shop, ask for assistance and buy the bike that fits you.
Entry-level road bikes are going to start in the $500 range, and will quickly go up depending on how light and well equipped the bike is.
The good news is that if you purchase a quality, well-fitted bike, you will get years of enjoyment, whether you continue to compete in triathlons or you simply use it to diversify your training.
While you have your checkbook out, there are a few more items to consider:
· Bike shoes — Clip-in pedals with good bike shoes increase power by 25 percent.
· Bike shorts — Comfort while piling up the miles will keep you smiling.
· Bike bottle, bike computer, bike rack — just wander around the bike shop and say yes to the salesman.
Finally, it’s time to pick a goal. If you’re a first-timer, give yourself a full two months of training.
There are plenty of sprint triathlons in August, and that allows time to hone those new skills. They are best developed by hooking up with an experienced tri-athlete buddy or by seeking a triathlon coach. Fortunately, the sport has grown so large that neither is hard to find.
Now is the perfect time to make that commitment to trying a tri. Every chance you get, jump in a lake, go for a ride on a two-wheeler and go for a run. Then put it altogether, so you can add to your list of accomplishments that, yes, indeed, you are a tri-athlete.
Tom Licciardello is a founding member of the Merrimack Valley Striders. Licciardello has participated in 35 Boston’s and 88 marathons. He has also completed the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. Professionally, he is a Certified Financial Planner and resides in North Andover with his wife, Lyn. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.