Training For My First Triathlon: Or, How I Learned a New Skill in Six Weeks Using the Interwebs

In mid-May I was running about ten miles a week and riding stationary bikes at Snap Fitness and was strongly considering signing up for the 2012 Wisconsin Triterium Triathlon in Verona on June 30. I looked over several training plans before choosing the sprint distance tri over the Olympic distance (aka international distance or ID) course. I simply didn’t have time to condition for the swimming and bike portions of that race which essentially tacked on two+ hours of cardio to where I was physically.

Before registering online for the race, my first course of action was finding a place to swim. Normally in the summer I swim in the Walter Bauman Pool in Middleton, but I found they didn’t open until June 9 and that would not give me enough time to get me to where I needed to be. After further research I found that the area high school pools have open lap swims and Middleton High is right down the street.

swim goggles
My favorite goggles, the TYR Nest Pro

Way back in my college years I was a lifeguard so I have a solid swimming background. My first training day in the pool I was able to swim 650 meters comfortably, alternating between tri/lifeguard stroke and breaststroke. This gave me a lot of confidence in my swimming since I could already bang out that segment of the race. My running has been adequate for a few years now-generally running about 9:30 miles on 10k training pace. I’m certainly not going to break any speed records with my pace, but I’m generally not last either.

What scared me considerably was the bike segment of the race. In all honesty, I hadn’t so much as touched a bicycle in close to twenty years (hard to believe living in Madison right?). I knew my father owned a bike and he said I could use it for training and in the race. He also has a black Bell helmet that looks a lot like half of a bowling ball. My strategy for the bike split was to just ride it and survive. No grandiose thoughts of racing on the bicycle whatsoever.

I sat down for coffee with my friend Chris (Ironman Wisconsin 2010, 2011) and had a very long list of rookie questions for him. He had a lot of excellent suggestions, although short races and Ironman (IM) distance races are entirely different beasts. In actuality, the more I’ve trained, the more I realize how far away from achieving IM endurance I really am. After that meeting, I’ve used google and youtube a lot to answer my questions/curiosities about various aspects of the three sports. In every single case, I have found the answers I was looking for.

Since I was jumping headfirst into week six of an existing eleven-week training plan it was a bit tough getting used to the six-day training week. I quickly realized it is far too easy to overdo it on a long bike ride or training run. If you’re still sore from a long, fast run the day before and you have to bike fifteen or twenty miles, it’s not going to make for a good Wednesday.

On June 9th I twisted my ankle on mile five of a run near Picnic Point. I don’t know what happened, only that it started hurting so I slowed to walk the last mile back to the car. Frustration and panic set in. What if this was a sprain that could take weeks to heal? I was in the middle of my training regime and could not afford to be sidelined for that long! I iced it down and hoped it would recover quickly. The next day I gingerly biked on it after determining the range of motion of stationary cycling wasn’t painful. I was much more worried about having to run on it and I was scared.

After skipping a few days of my training schedule due to eleven-hour work days, I attended the race preview clinic hosted by veteran triathlete Will Smith. This was incredibly beneficial and I had about ten million beginner questions about the course for Will (who has won the Triterium race in the past) who patiently answered every one. I still didn’t have a bike or a bike carrier for my car so I wasn’t able to ride the course with the group, but I did swim and run the course and my ankle held up!

By this point, I had basically become obsessed by the upcoming race. Almost every waking moment I am thinking about training, racing, a shiny, new-tri bike, or watching Ironman World Championship highlights on the net. Pressing questions filled my mind… what shorts am I going to wear on race day? What kind of helmet should I buy? Should I get a black digital watch or a white one?! What the heck am I going to write in my blog about this? I must say, at the present time this sport has become a self-indulgent endeavor for me. When a friend or family member calls guess I what I want to talk about? When I plan my day you can all imagine what becomes the primary focus of the itinerary.

I still hadn’t decided on the bike situation. My friend Kevin and I chitchat about running and fitness often. Kevin is a twenty-year veteran of bandit running a certain 10k run and he told me in no uncertain terms that I needed a road bike for the bike split. As is often the case, Kevin was correct. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to race to my full potential on a hybrid bike with wide tires and upright bars. I was going to need a plan B for Bike.

Craigslist has an excellent selection of used bikes in every variety: fairly priced, overpriced, needs work, no essential frame measurements listed, etc. However, I felt I needed a rental that was a solid runner in short order. My first lead was to the Trek Bicycle retail store where the internet told me they rent the ultra-fast Madone for something like $50 a day. This was more bike than I’d ever need and even I could swing fifty bucks. Where I would score pedals and cleated cycling shoes seemed trivial at the time. Regardless, the store discontinued the rental service last season so back to the google machine I went.

I found Budget Bicycle on Regent St. had several tiers of road bikes to rent by the day or the week. I went in and found a few vintage racers that would fit my needs perfectly. I decided on a 1986 vintage, aluminum Trek 1000 that’s a little too big for me but I don’t care, I only need to go eleven miles right? So I rented the bike for a week and after installing a borrowed water bottle cage I was on the road.

Words can’t describe how poorly my first (and only) practice run of the bike course went. Let’s just say I was biking out of gear, totally out of steam, and was having rear derailleur cable mechanical problems. Not to mention it was 90ºF and I was so focused on getting over the hills (mountains?) I was virtually unable to use my water bottle. I finished the eleven-mile course in rough physical shape. For a few days my internal organs felt like I had shaken/shifted them over an inch or two. The only good things I gathered in the practice run was getting used to high-speeds down the hills and tucking into my aero position. I had attacked the course and the course chewed me up and spit me out.

A few days later a brand-spanking new Sigma 1609 bike computer with cadence arrived from amazon and I went to work wrapping and wrapping the excess cable (an inelegant, but practical industrial design) around the front brake cable and fork of my rental bike. From what I’ve determined so far, this $30 gadget is the only reasonably-priced specialty equipment in the sport of cycling.

This tiny, high-tech machine would be my saving grace on the bike. Turning on the computer for the first time I immediately realized I had been trying to ride in gears which were far too high for power efficiency. Where I should have been in first gear with a cadence of 90+ rpm I was trying to muscle the yellow and white ten-speed in fourth gear or some nonsense like that. I knew with 100% certainty (from my new bike expert friends on youtube) I needed to stay as closely from 90-110 rpm as possible.

To remedy the additional shifting issues I was having (remembering which way to move the two shifters), I placed little stickers near the shifters indicting L and H for my low and high gears. This because when my heart rate gets high, I instantly develop an IQ of about 17 points. For me, idiot-proofing the ride as much as possible was key.

Slowly but surely, over the past week with the rental I became better at shifting the bike, hand positioning, and hill climbing. I have actually become comfortable on the saddle. I am thinking I might just pass a person or two on Saturday on the bike. Particularly if they are in the wrong gear altogether!

Part 2: Race Day

Final checklist scan

One Comment

Race Report: Wisconsin Triterium Triathlon | My Blog / Website
April 12, 2014 5:42 pm

[…] year ago I did my first triathlon in Verona and enjoyed every minute of it. Since then, my tri interest hasn’t waned and […]

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