Triathlon on the Cheap

 

I kind of see the sport of triathlon as mid-life crisis sport because it’s so freaking expensive. TT bikes, aero helmets, designer tri kits, fancy bike shoes–all of that costs lots of money brand spankin’ new. And it’s nothing short of intimidating to see athletes donned in full tri gear when you have a hybrid bike and a regular swim suit. So, how can you get into this sport if it’s so expensive? It’s possible with a little bit of cash saved up and some patience. In fact, lots of triathletes didn’t buy all of their gear new before they even did a triathlon, so why should you?

Your biggest expenses will be a bike and a gym membership with a pool. Many road bikes can be purchased used for around $500, and gym memberships vary. Oftentimes, if you teach at least one class at your local gym, you can get a discounted membership, so look into that. I pay $120 a month for a family membership to the local Y, but since I work there, it’s a lot less now. For the record, my road bike cost $500. However, a word of caution if you’re like me: your bike(s) will be a hole that you throw money at all the time on maintenance and gear. The thing to remember is that the cheapest way to buy speed without upgrading your bike, helmet, jersey, tri kit or whatever is to become a better cyclist. Anyway…

You’ll need some bike tools, spare tubes, and a helmet. But other than that, here’s what you really need:

  1. A swimsuit–buy on sale on Swim Outlet or your local shop. I got a Speedo Endurance swimsuit for $50 at Toad Hollow in Paoli, and it will last me for a few years. Yes, a Speedo Endurance suit will last for a very long time, so buy one you like! And, it’s cheaper than spending $20 on a suit that will only last a month (I did that and won’t do it again).
  2. Cap and goggles–$15 for both. Make sure the goggles fit your eye sockets without the strap before you buy. The most expensive pair may not be the best pair.
  3. Running shoes–look for sales! I got a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline for $80 instead of $120 at my local store. Replace them every 300-500 miles.
  4. Cheap running shorts or cycling shorts.
  5. A used road bike $500-$800.
  6. Helmet, spare tubes, saddle bag with tools, CO2 cartridges. $20-$60 for a helmet and $40 for everything else. Bonus if you buy cycling glasses to protect your eyes from rocks and whatnot. Tifosi is a less expensive option compared to Oakleys. $70 vs. $120.
  7. Beach towel–for your transition mat (find one at home).
  8. A bag to put it all in–check thrift stores, use a canvas grocery bag, anything works.
  9. Water bottles–free at many races or pick up two for $10 each or less.

I guarantee that you will not be the only one at a triathlon to swim in a regular swimsuit and throw on a pair of running shorts for the bike with your running shoes, especially for a local sprint tri. That’s another thing: do local sprint races that are way cheaper than branded races.

It took me a few years to get a tri kit, clip in shoes for my bike with the new pedals, an aero helmet, Roka goggles, a TT bike (I bought mine used for $1800 on Ebay), and all of the other stuff that goes with the sport. Heck, I’m still saving up for gear like new racing wheels for my awesome TT bike because my bike and gear is how I like to spend my money besides family trips. So what are you waiting for? Borrow a bike, get a used one, and sign up for one of your local triathlons!

Hilly Ride

Hills are unavoidable around where I live, so I usually head to the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) since it’s the flattest and fastest ride near me; however, with Ironman Chattanooga coming up, I need to practice on hills with my TT bike, Ikaika. Sadly, Ikaika is in the shop getting some new bright red tape and longer shifting cables because I had the aero bars raised, which means that this ride was on my road bike, Bia, and she’s perfect for hills and steep climbs.

I had a three hour ride to complete, but I wanted to head for the hills for the first half of my ride before cruising on the SRT. I looped around Valley Forge’s ribbons of trails and roads at least three times–past Washington’s Quarters where he stayed during the war in the actual valley that was a forge for making all kinds of items out of iron. His house was modest and near the workshop, but it was way better than the cabins and rustic living of most of the troops in the wintry mud of the valley. I’ve been in Washington’s Quarters a few times and glided my hand up the railing he and others touched. It’s kind of gross if you think about it too hard, and my family has a running joke about Washington with all of the signs in the area about “George Washington slept here.” If he slept there, he must have peed there too, so I remind everyone that George Washington peed here, or somewhere around here anyway.

I passed the cabins too along with replicas of the forts the troops built to look out for the British. I rode by the church where they all worshipped, past monuments with spectacular views of the valley below. Valley Forge is a day’s march from Philadelphia, so if needed, the troops could swoop down and defend the city. Although, they may have been too late if the situation was dire.

You can get an idea of how the hills are from the photo on the left, but there’s no substitute for running or cycling up and down them. I went up that hill three times, which is a good 5-8 minute climb. Around Valley Forge, you’re either climbing or descending; there are no flats. When I had enough, I headed to the SRT for some easy riding.

French Creek Racing Swim Series

It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.

The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.

I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.

The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.

I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.

The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.

Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.

To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link:

Open Water Swim Series

Tri Shoes or Road Shoes?

So, which shoe is better for you: triathlon shoes or road shoes? As a triathlete, I’m all about the gear that goes along with the sport, but I am also frugal when it comes to dropping my paycheck on unnecessary accoutrements. Yes, I have a road bike and a TT bike, but I bought them used after a long search. The hybrid I have is my beater commuter bike, and that one was free! Sure, I have a wetsuit that I found on sale online. Of course I have more than one swimsuit; swimming is my first love with this sport. Three pairs of running shoes line my staircase, and I have a drawer full of running and cycling clothes. And, yes, I do have a pair of Roka open water goggles because I love them so much.

But when it comes to my bike shoes, I have two pairs: a mountain bike shoe with SPDs that I use for spin classes, and road shoes that go with my Shimano Ultegra Pedals for all of my trainer rides, outdoor rides and races. Many athletes will ask: aren’t they harder to put on after the swim than triathlon specific shoes? What about the flying mount and dismount? Doesn’t that save you time in transition? Will my feet be soaking wet after the swim in a pair of road shoes? To answer all of these questions, I ask questions: how far do you ride and how comfortable do you want to be?

You see, road shoes are way more comfortable than triathlon shoes, and if you’re an athlete who enjoys long course races or rides lasting a couple hours on a Sunday, then you need a pair of road shoes. I’m all about comfort over squeezing a few extra seconds out of transition time for most age group athletes. If you don’t believe me, time yourself in a mock transition. Do one time trial by putting your cycling shoes completely on, then reaching for your bike, and then mounting your bike. Next, do it with a flying mount with the same distance to the mount line. Which one is faster? And which one is safer in the mounting zone when other athletes are scrambling to get on their bikes as well? Unless you practice the flying mount and dismount so you can do it flawlessly, it won’t save you time, and it might even cause you to fall over or hit another cyclist before the bike portion.

But, if you want to spend the money on two pairs of shoes, keep the triathlon shoes for short races and rides–sprint or Olympic distances and draft legal races, and use the road shoes for long rides or long course races. If you are only buying one pair to save cash, I recommend the road shoes.

This video is really helpful when deciding which shoe to buy:

Tri Shoes or Road Shoes?

Pictured above are my current road shoes. To make it easier in transition, I loosen the velcro so I only have to worry about closing and tightening the top, and sometimes, I leave it open on a short ride, but still take the time to put on socks, always. Gasp! I know, socks? Like I said: for a long course race comfort is key. If you’re a draft legal athlete, elite, or pro, you probably have a pair of triathlon shoes for your draft legal races or short distance races. That’s OK. There’s a shoe for everyone.

Last of all, I made my road shoes even more comfortable by adding inserts so that they feel like a pair of Birkenstocks. The inserts keep my arches from collapsing on a long ride and prevent lower back pain as I pedal. So, when cycling shoes cost almost as much as running shoes and don’t need to be replaced as often, I’ll have one pair, please: road shoes.

IMG_7888
Last, last of all, these are my mountain bike shoes with SPDs. The clip is embedded so you can actually run through transition with these on; however, since the sole is softer, it doesn’t offer as much support for really long rides. I use these for spin classes now, but they were my first pair of bike shoes that I used in a triathlon. I went with these shoes for a few years when I first started the sport because they were less slick when starting and stopping at traffic lights (road shoes take some practice), I could walk or run in them through transition without a problem, and I still got the benefits of riding while clipped in by pushing and pulling the pedals. I switched to a standard road shoe since I’m riding longer outside, and I needed more support for my arches.

So, when you go to the shop to buy a pair of cycling shoes be honest about how you ride and what you do. Try on different shoes and pick the one that best suits your needs and wallet.

Open Water Swimming Tips

With the Philly Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24, it’s time to get back into the open water for some practice swims. If open water swimming is something new to you, or if you panic at the beginning of each triathlon season in open water, here are some useful tips:

  1. Practice in your wetsuit. Many early triathlons are wetsuit legal, so get used to swimming in it. If it feels like it’s choking you, you can trim your wetsuit, but be careful not to cut any seams.
  2. Go for an open water swim practice. French Creek Racing has practices and races that you can participate in and so does Mid Atlantic Multisport.
  3. Know the swim course and how many times you need to swim around buoys, what direction you’ll be swimming in, and how the swim will start–is it a run in beach entry? Walk in wade, and wait? Tread water and wait for a mass start? Jump or slide off of a dock? Or will you jump off the back of a ferry and swim to shore?
  4. If you can’t practice in open water before your first race, do your best to get into the water for a practice session prior to the event, if allowed. Some races do not have warm up sessions in the water before the race start. For a practice swim, hop in, totally submerge your face, blow some bubbles, and take a few strokes out and back. That is usually enough to settle your nerves; there’s no need to swim a 1600 or anything as a warm up.
  5. If there is no open water practice before an event, when you enter the water for your start, take your time, get your head wet, fix your cap and goggles, stay away from the other swimmers, and start off slowly, gradually building your speed.
  6. When problems occur like goggles filling with water, your cap slides, a cramp strikes, another swimmer swims over you, kicks you, punches you, or pulls you by the ankles, know that you can turn over on your back to fix many of these issues. Except for jerks in the water who try to pull you by the ankles, you can’t fix assholery, but you can kick really hard.  Do breaststroke for sighting when fatigue sets in. If you don’t know how to do breaststroke kick, do a dolphin kick or flutter kick instead, it still works!  And, if you really need it, you are allowed to hold on to the lifeguard’s kayak, paddle board, or rescue tube while you rest, as long as you are not moving forward. You can also swim any stroke in a triathlon, even side stroke.
  7. Practice open water skills in the pool. A few skills I practice with my athletes during our Saturday “group workout” of 600 yards include drafting off of another swimmer’s feet (this works if they are similar in speed to you, but just a bit faster), dock entry off the starting blocks (I teach a stride jump to prevent athletes from going too far under), corkscrew for rounding buoys, sighting 3-6 times per 25 yards, dolphin dives for beach entry, head up freestyle for sighting in high waves, and bilateral breathing to swim straighter and more balanced.
  8. Know what to do if you get a panic attack in the water. In a panic attack, your heart will race, and you’ll have difficulty breathing. Have a plan. I’ve had panic attacks in open water away from the guards and shore. I turn over on my back, focus on breathing in for three and out for three while kicking lightly and sculling with my arms so that I’m still moving. I tell myself that I am a strong swimmer, and that I can do this. After about 30 seconds or more that seems like an eternity, I turn back over and continue swimming freestyle. If you are close to a guard, ask them for help, hold on to the kayak or rescue tube until you can calm down. Whatever you do, do not try to grab onto a guide buoy because there is no way you can hold onto that, and you’ll only wear yourself out trying.

Here’s a fun 600 yard set you can do to practice some of these triathlon specific drills mentioned above:

8x75s (600 yards) as

Odds = 25: dolphin dive to the deep end / head up freestyle / 25: get out in the deep end and jump off the starting blocks with a stride jump / sight 3x as you swim to the shallow end with alligator eyes (no need to pick up your whole head) / 25: run to the deep end, dolphin dive 1x / swim breaststroke to the wall. REST. That’s one 75!

Evens=  25: Underwater flutter kick until you pop up / bilateral breathing every 3 strokes / wall kick for 10s / 25: corkscrew 3x in one length / pull up or gutter press or vertical kick in the deep end / 25: fast as possible freestyle. REST. That’s two! 6 more to go just like that!

If you have a friend, practice drafting off of each other for one of the lengths. You can draft off of the feet by swimming in the bubbles, just out of reach of the other swimmer’s feet, or you can swim off the hip of another swimmer.

That’s it! Enjoy the triathlon season already under way!

On the TT Bike

One thing is for sure, I enjoy cycling a lot more when I can go fast. Ikaika lets me go a full two miles an hour on average faster than on Bia, my heavier road bike. But, Ikaika requires a bit more maintenance and and prep before a ride. Essentially, Bia is my sedan, the bike I can ride all day and for days, while Ikaika doesn’t wait around for all day rides; she’s more like a Ferrari and covers the distance as fast as possible. The faster I ride, the more stable Ikaika’s frame becomes.

Since I’m riding Ikaika for Ironman Chattanooga, I’ve been fitted in a more comfortable aero position, tested out four different saddles and finally found one I like–surprise! It’s a road saddle with the nose angled slightly downward for an easy ride in aero. I have gorilla water bottle cages waiting at the shop and a bento for all of my food. Heck, Ikaika even has lights on the occasion that we take to the road. She’s ready to go!

When we’re on the trail, no one passes me. Groundhogs flee from the whirling gears and wind we create, trees wave at us, and confused bumble bees bounce off her frame or my helmet. I can even stop quickly with her when a dog on a retractable leash jumps up or pulls the leash across the pavement. The back tire skids with speed thwarted for an instant. Soon, we’re back on the trail in aero and passing all the other cyclists as we ride because who has time to go slow?

Running in the Rain

IMG_7823There’s no greater joy than running in the rain, especially when it’s pouring down on the pavement. I throw on an older pair of running shoes, slap on a baseball cap, and head out the door to splash in puddles like a little kid in rain boots.

I may not be little anymore, so I guess this is the acceptable way to enjoy the wet weather as an adult. It’s called training for inclement weather one may encounter in a race. Plus, no one is out and no one is on the track for a speed session. It’s just me and the rain, and I’m OK with that.

For the speed workout, I warmed up for one mile, did 3×8 minutes in zone 3 with 3 minutes recovery jog in between followed by 4x30s fast with 1 min recovery. My cool down was a mile run back home in the driving rain, and nothing could be better than that.

Broad Street Run

The Broad Street Run is one on my favorite races because it cuts through the center of Philadelphia from North Philly to the Navy Yard. And, it’s one long block party with live music, DJs, and the Temple University Marching Band.

This race wasn’t my best since I had GI issues from mile 4 on, so I decided to take it slow, enjoy the spectators, the music, the architecture, and have fun. But now, I’m going to reevaluate my nutrition plan for long distance races like the 10 miler to the full Ironman. because my gut is telling me to eat real food, so that’s what I’m going to do. Gels and gummies tend to work for about a year, but then my body revolts against them. On all of my long runs leading up to Broad Street, I had stomach issues: what did all of these runs have in common? Gels. Enough. Real food it is!

I wasn’t able to celebrate at the race thanks to cramping that had me doubled-over and almost sick on the train, but I did enjoy a beer from Great Lakes Brewery later on. Cheers! Oh, and the Philly Escape Triathlon–I’m coming for you. And real food will be in my pocket.

A big thank you to Phil who ran with me the whole time and waited at the port-o-potties! He’s the best!

You Are Not a Before and After

AprilstatsYou are not a before or an after. So many people in the fitness industry are focused on getting clients by promising some awesome “after” version of their bodies all the while, posting pictures of their progress. Why? Because that is exactly what sells. Please. Do yourself a favor and repeat: “My body is not a before or after.”

You will not find happiness in a shake or by cutting out entire food groups or in skipping events because you can’t eat what’s there. For all that is holy: please eat more real food than processed food and find ways to move your body–whether it be swimming, cycling, running, team sports, or fitness classes at your local gym.

You need to eat real food because you are on a journey. I’m not going to call it a fitness journey because even if you are a professional athlete, I’m sure you have a family, other hobbies you love, and places you enjoy. Your overall health and fitness is part of your life. Sure, if you’re a casual athlete you might have goals of qualifying for Boston, completing an Ironman, or competing in your first ever race. Goals are good. But they are not everything. You and the people around you are everything.

In the picture above are my stats for the month of April. Some of those miles were early and tough, some were with friends, and there are more than a few miles missing because I needed rest and time with my family. Do the hard work and do what’s important to you, remembering why you chose triathlon or running in the first place. There will certainly be more miles in May and for years to come.

Last of all when you look at your body in the mirror, thank it for all it does for you. Be grateful that you can still move, compete, and inspire others to do the same. And, if you want to wear that bikini this summer without sipping on any expensive shakes to shed those stubborn pounds, just put it on and be proud. Celebrate the you that you are right now. And, give the whole fitness industry a big middle finger when you do.

Haver Tri at the Haverford Area YMCA

YPoolOh my goodness, people. If you want to start off your triathlon season right or if you’re new to the sport, then I highly recommend the Haver Tri on Sunday, April 29, 2018 at 1pm, hosted by the Haverford Area YMCA in Havertown, PA. And, it’s not because I helped to organize it either.

It’s only $20 to sign up for this race that will award prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, men and women. The first 100 athletes to sign up get a t-shirt too! Here’s what the event is all about:

300 yard serpentine swim (swimmers will be sent off 20 seconds apart)

9 miles on the spin bikes in the cycling studio

1.5 mile run/walk on the Pennsy Trail

Oh, and we won’t be timing transitions, so no worries there!

That’s ALL! This event will also kick off our Ironman in a Month Challenge in May–more on that soon! I’ll be on the pool deck volunteering as a timer, so I hope to see you there!

Click on the link below to sign up. All proceeds go to the YMCA’s annual fund campaign so that everyone has access to a great place to workout.

Sign up for the Haver Tri