Triathlons for Runners

Triathlon for Runners: Triathlon Cycling 101

This article is part of a  series focused on triathlon information for runners.  Since we know cross training is good for runners and biking and swimming are popular cross training exercise, why not mix it up and add a triathlon race to your calendar?   Lana, from her blog The Fire Inside offered her expertise in this topic in response to our Help Wanted ad a few months ago.   We were excited to have this marathoner turned Ironman share her knowledge with the Lounge.

By Lana Matthews Sain

 

Cycling can be a bit intimidating for a beginner, with all the different types of bikes and equipment involved.  For those of us who haven’t thought about riding a bike since childhood, it can also seem a bit scary.  It’s like most other things in life, though; once you educated yourself on the subject and take a leap of faith – it’s not as bad as you might have thought.  Cycling is a great sport.  It’s full of camaraderie and fun, and it gives your body a rest from the pounding of running.

If you are a beginner in triathlon and looking for your first bike, you need to know your options.  The main types of bikes used in triathlon are road bikes, time trial bikes, and occasionally you’ll see some hybrids and mountain bikes.  Any type of bike will do if your only goal is to cross the finish line.  If you tend to be on the competitive side, or if it might bother you to see someone gliding past you effortlessly as you huff and puff on your 10 year old mountain bike, you might want to consider shopping around for a fairly decent bike to train and race on. 

Road bikes are conventionally what the beginner triathlete starts with.  A road bike is light and stable, has a wide range gearing, and is for riding only on road surfaces.  These bikes resemble the old 10-speed you might have had many years ago, although technology has come a long way since then.  Road bikes also can be more suited for racing or otherwise better for touring, depending on the composition of the frame, the gearing ratios, etc.  A new entry level road bike will cost around $700 - $800.

Time trial bikes, which are also referred to as “triathlon bikes,” are the bikes that look a lot like a road bike, except they have aerobars, a more slender and aerodynamic frame, and a slightly different geometry.  Time trial bikes are built to be as aerodynamic as possible.  Most riders find that time trial bikes are not as comfortable as road bikes, mainly due to their aggressive geometry.  This geometry, however, shifts a lot of the work from the hamstrings to the quads, therefore, saving more of your hamstrings for the run. Time trial bikes also come with double, instead of triple, chain rings.  The gearing ratios are normally suited for hammering on the flats rather than climbing in the mountains.  A new entry level time trial bike is normally in the range of $1200 - $1500.

Mountain bikes and hybrids are occasionally used in triathlon. Mountain bikes have heavy frames, straight bars, and big, knobby tires for off-road riding.  Hybrids have fairly heavy frames and straight bars, but the tires more like those on a road bike.  They can be used on or off-road.  Either of these two types of bikes will get you through a sprint triathlon.  If you just want to check out the sport and you already have one of these, riding it in your race is fine.  You will use more energy getting through the bike course than your friends on road and triathlon bikes, however.  The price of these bikes varies, and normally I wouldn’t recommend for you to go purchase one of these for the sport of triathlon.  If you already have one in your garage and want to give it a shot, go for it.  If not, you should consider purchasing either a road or triathlon bike.

To make matters more confusing, within each type of bike I just described lie many different levels of quality and price.  Many of them also come with women-specific models.  Visiting your local bike shop is a great way to see the differences in these types of bikes.  You should also get measured and fitted to any bike you ride.  If you have cycling friends, or friends who are experienced triathletes, ask around about which bikes they are riding and how they feel on them. Carry on conversations about the topic and take mental notes on some of the terms they use and things they say.  Once you have a bike, go on group rides with cyclists who ride close to the same pace as you.  Absorb all the information you can, and enjoy your quest to becoming an experience cyclist and triathlete.  The price of your bike isn’t nearly as important as the shape its pilot is in, so get out and ride!

Triathlon For Runners: Triathlon Swimming 101

This article is part of a new series focused on triathlon information for runners.  Since we know cross training is good for runners and biking and swimming are popular cross training exercise, why not mix it up and add a triathlon race to your calendar?   Lana, from her blog The Fire Inside offered her expertise in this topic in response to our Help Wanted ad a few months ago.   We were excited to have this marathoner turned Ironman share her knowledge with the Lounge.

 

By Lana Matthews Sain

Triathlon Swimming 101

Many “runners-turned-triathlete” find their biggest obstacle to be the swim.  Some have never had any experience with competitive swimming, and some swam with a swim team as a child, but either way they find the swim to be the most challenging of all three sports.   

Swimming requires a different mindset from running or cycling.  In running and cycling, for the most part, if you want to get stronger and faster you run or ride longer and/or harder.  The key to swimming in a triathlon, though, is about being efficient in the water.  You can get out there and give 110% and wear yourself out in the pool daily, but if your swim stroke is inefficient you aren’t going to get any faster.  Factors such as body position, drag, stroke entry, and elbow position will determine how easily and quickly you slip through the water and how much energy you retain for cycling and running afterwards. 

Contrary to the popular belief, you do not swim flat on your belly.  Efficient swimming requires a constant rolling of the core and hips from side to side.  It is a “roll and glide” that engages your core and requires only a quiet, flutter kick of the legs to propel you through the water.  Your body should stay in a long, streamlined position during the glide portion in order to produce the longest stroke and the least drag possible.  Fewer strokes and less drag result in faster swimming and more energy left for cycling and running.  It is very important to master this principal early on in your swim training.  Swimming lap after lap with an inefficient stroke is counter-productive.  Take some time and learn it right on the onset, and you won’t have to go to back and reprogram your muscle memory later. 

Open water swims in triathlon bring about another set of factors that you may not encounter in pool swims.  In an open water triathlon, sighting is extremely important.  It doesn’t do you any good to have a perfectly efficient swim stroke if you can’t stay on course and find yourself swimming a longer distance than required!  Sighting just takes practice - preferably practice in the open water.  You should pick out a buoy or maybe a building on the shoreline and quickly take a look at it every 5th or 6th stroke to ensure you are still on the right course.  If you find yourself in a race an unable to sight very well, it is also helpful to keep an eye on the swimmers in front of you – of course you have to hope they know where they are going as well!  Also, don’t forget that while drafting is illegal on the bike in triathlon, it is not illegal on the swim.  You can gain an advantage in the water if you find a swimmer swimming about the same pace as yourself, and you swim in his draft. 

Lastly, I have found one of the most important tips to swimming in a triathlon is to stay positive.  When you have hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of bodies churning the water around a single set of buoys – unforeseen things are going to happen.  You most likely will get kicked or pushed by others, or you might find yourself in the middle of a pack and unable to navigate easily.  These things are just part of the swim, and you’ll become more comfortable with them with more experience in races.  Regardless of the circumstances, though, stay positive and remember what a great opportunity it is to be out there.  It’s the first event of the three, and you don’t want to be wasting energy on negativity right off the bat.  Stay calm, focus on your stroke, and make sure you are swimming on course.  Then go kick butt in the bike and the run! 

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Triathlon for Runners Series: 5 Reasons To Give Triathlons a Shot

This week we kick off a new series focused on triathlon information for runners.  Since we know cross training is good for runners and biking and swimming are popular cross training exercise, why not mix it up and add a triathlon race to your calendar?   Lana, from her blog The Fire Inside offered her expertise in this topic in response to our Help Wanted ad a few months ago.   We were excited to have this marathoner turned Ironman share her knowledge with the Lounge.

 

By Lana Matthews Sain

Running is a great sport.  It keeps our heart healthy, our body strong, and our mind clear.  Just running mile after mile, day in and day out, though, can put you at risk for injury and/or burnout.  Ever had a doctor or a trainer tell you to incorporate some cross training in your schedule?  We all know that we need to mix it up some, but if the elliptical just isn’t doing it for you, how about a triathlon?  I can think of a gazillion reasons to get into triathlon, but for starters, here are of five of the big ones:

 

1. Swimming and biking are more fun than the elliptical!  Pounding the pavement daily can really wear on your joints, so we all know that cross training is important.  Swimming is the absolute best form of cross training, because there is no impact involved.  If you get involved in a masters swim club, you can actually make it competitive, too!  Cycling is the same way.  There is bound to be a cycling club somewhere near you, and getting out on group rides in the early morning or the evening is a blast.  You can also cover a lot more ground on a bike than on foot, making your workout way more interesting.

 

2. Swimming and biking can make you a better runner. I think one of the main things that keep runners from crossing over into triathlon is the fear of losing their running fitness.  That’s understandable, because for most of us, that fitness hasn’t come easy.  While there is much merit to the benefits of specificity in your training, there is also much evidence that the benefits gained from swimming and cycling can actually improve your performance as a runner.  For example, swimming requires you to engage your core muscles.  Many runners suffer from a weak core.  If you’ve found yourself falling off your pace in the late miles of a long run or race, more than likely a stronger core would help keep you stronger to the end.  By the same token, cycling helps strengthen your quads.  You know how badly your quads suffer from the down hills on a hilly running course, right?  Cycling will make them stronger, and you’ll have better runs on those hilly courses.  Both sports also strengthen your aerobic capacity, as well. 

 

3. Triathlon involves strategy.  If you like to strategize how to beat your competition in a foot race, you will love the strategy involved in triathlon.  Not only will you have to decide where to go hard and where to save a little for the run at the end, but you will also have to come up with the best process to get you in and out of transition.  Transition time alone can sometimes be the determining factor in who will win an age group, and who will come in 4th  or 5th.  There are all kinds of ways to gain an advantage in triathlon, and it’s up to you to figure out what will work best in your situation.

 

4. Prevent burnout.  Most runners inevitably suffer from some form of burnout from time to time.  Sometimes we change our routes or run with different people to mix it up, but triathlon can really shake things up for you!  Triathletes always have another option when burnout sets in.  If you are tired of running, go for a bike ride!  If you are tired of biking, hit the pool.  Having three different sports to turn to almost ensures that you never end up in that deep, black hole that is burnout.

 

5. Meet new peeps!  While this one may not directly affect your physical fitness, it may be one of the best reasons to get involved in triathlon, yet.  There are so many amazing people in this sport – from the pros on down to the amateurs and age groupers; you will no doubt meet friends in this sport that will change your life.  There is a common aurora around the multisport scene that’s just hard to describe until you experience it.  We’re all out there alone and for different reasons, but whether you are a professional triathlete going for the podium or just out there trying to make it to the finish line, we’re somehow all in it together.  You can feel that in this sport.  You can see it in the nod of the head or a smile in the runner that you meet on the course.  You can hear it in the encouraging voice of the cyclist who passes you.  You may even experience it when someone sacrifices their own minutes on the clock to stop and help you change a flat.  I’ve even seen top competitors stop and care for someone who had just crashed a bike.  It’s a great sport, but the people are what really make triathlon unique.

 

So what are you waiting for?  If you’re looking for the most fun you can have in cross training, this is it.  Jump in the pool, go visit your local bike shop, and pick out a race! 

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Triathlons for Runners Series: Taking Running into the World of Triathlon

This week we kick off a new series focused on triathlon information for runners.  Since we know cross training is good for runners and biking and swimming are popular cross training exercise, why not mix it up and add a triathlon race to your calendar?   Lana, from her blog The Fire Inside offered her expertise in this topic in response to our Help Wanted ad a few months ago.   We were excited to have this marathoner turned Ironman share her knowledge with the Lounge.

 

By Lana Matthews Sain

 

If you have been running a while now, you may have entertained the idea of trying your hand in the sport of triathlon at some point.  Maybe you have some experience with swimming or cycling; or maybe, you haven’t swum a lap or rode a bike since you were a kid.  About 5 years ago, I was in the latter group, and I can tell you that it doesn’t matter – triathlons are super fun, and you don’t need to be a veteran swimmer or cyclist to jump on board.  Many sprint triathlons are extremely beginner-friendly; many even offer beginner award categories along side the age group ones.  Just like when you first started running, taking small steps in the direction you want to be will eventually land you right where you want – in this case, toeing the line of your first tri.

 

At this point in the year, we are getting right into the thick of the triathlon season.  That doesn’t mean you need to wait for next year, though.  Right now is a great opportunity to get out and watch, or even volunteer, at nearby triathlon events.  Observing first hand how the races are conducted and how the participants’ transition from one sport to another is invaluable information.  The sport isn’t nearly as intimidating as you may have thought.  At my first triathlon, I remember being surprised out how much encouragement there was out along the course among the participants themselves.  I can also tell you that the great thing about coming into triathlon with a predominately running background is that when you finally make it to the run – it’s a blast – because you’ll be passing those swimmers and cyclist all the way to the finish line!

 

A few steps that you can take towards doing your first triathlon are:

1)      Hit the pool.  If nothing else, just get in and start getting used to the water.  If you have a local masters swim club, join it.  An instructor can help you with your stroke and the class will hold you accountable.  If not, just jump in and start swimming laps.  A good reference, if you are teaching yourself, is Terry Laughlin’s line of Total Immersion books.  There are also video clips and many resources for swimmers on his website: http://totalimmersion.net.

2)      Visit your local bike shop.  Don’t be intimidated, most bike shops are very friendly and accommodating to beginners.  We all have to start somewhere, right?  I’m going to go ahead and advise against picking up a cheap bike at retail store.  I know it’s tempting when you don’t know for sure how well you’ll like the sport anyway, but in order to have a good first experience with real cycling, I think a decent bike is a must.  If you don’t have the funds to get a nice, entry level road bike ($600 - $1000), then hop on the indoor trainer at your gym, or attend a spin class until you are ready to make the purchase.  Once you have a bike, get on and ride.  The main ingredient in gaining cycling fitness is time in the saddle.

3)      Pick out a race.  There is nothing more motivating that signing your name and paying your money.  There are lots of good races near the end of summer and up into the fall.  Get online (http://www.trifind.com is a good resource) and pick one out, sign up, and start taking those small steps towards the goal.

 

Your running fitness will not suffer from the cross training of triathlon, and it may well be improved.  Not only that, but the bike and swim workouts will give your body a chance to recover from the many miles you’ve been pounding out on the road or on the treadmill.  The variety involved in triathlons may very well be the recipe you need to spice up your fitness regimen.  If the thought has been in the back of your mind, now is the time – make it happen!

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