Preparing for My First Triathlon
by Molly Schultz,
Team Estrogen Staff Member
I'm not a big fan of competitive pressure. I joined the swim team my 7th grade year and loved the practices, loved my coach, loved the freestyle and the butterfly stroke. My first swim meet went off without a hitch�I even received a blue ribbon as a part of our relay team's 1st place win. But something happened after that...for all future meets, I developed a bad case of what my parents called the "Swim Meet Virus." I became physically ill the night before all the meets and couldn't actually compete. I wasn't ever faking the illness, but rather just stressed myself out with nerves. Needless to say, my swim team career only lasted for about a year.
Next was high school Track & Field: Again, I loved the experience, the community of the sport, the coaches and practices. But the anxiety of competition was still there. Luckily, I never missed a meet because of my nervous system, but the day of an event was certainly not pleasant. The day track ended, I actually felt a huge sigh of relief knowing that I would never again have to do competitive racing.
My college days floated by with few runs and really not much physical activity at all. As a sprinter during my track days, I had never had much ambition for long-distance running anyway. I had the freedom to do nothing physical at all and I loved it. I met a cute boy who was really into cycling and I told him how much I loved biking too. What I didn't tell him was that the biking I did was maybe 2 rides a year, on summer vacations, on my old Schwinn Sidewinder. I fooled that cute biker boy only for a bit, but then I ended up marrying him and his passion for cycling quickly wore off on me.
Fast forward to Fall of 2004 where I now ride my bike every day to my fabulous job at Team Estrogen, a retailer of women's bicycling, triathlon & fitness clothing and gear. I was learning a ton about the cycling world and loving testing out all the gear (while my paychecks suffered with each 'test' purchase). My supervisor Susan suggested that Team Estrogen's staff participate in a Sprint Triathlon (500 meter swim, 11.4 mile bike, 5K run). There was one at the beginning of April, so we'd have several months to prepare. She said it would be great to train together and to have the motivation to stay active during the winter months. And of course, there was the added incentive of testing out some triathlon gear & apparel!
Despite the massive butterflies that swirled in my system at the mere mention of a triathlon, I agreed to do it. Why? At the time it was honestly because the triathlon was 8 months away and I figured I could always back out. Later, I realized I really did have the desire to do it�because it was a challenge and I wanted to prove to myself that I could. I took a casual approach and told myself from the beginning that there was no pressure; my goal was only to finish the tri without killing myself.
Even though I did track in high school, the running was the part of the triathlon I was most scared of. I have never enjoyed running that much because I have never gotten past the hard part of training. All the times I would talk myself into starting a running program, I would never actually get past 3 weeks of running. A 20 minute run felt like an eternity and I had no patience to keep going. Because it takes a good month or more of consistent runs to get your body conditioned, I obviously never got to the part where running felt good. It always felt like such a struggle and I usually gave up after a short time period. (In case it's not already apparent: I avoid pain).
To get over this issue, I decided to start a running program first (and concentrate on swimming and biking later) so that I would have plenty of time to be conditioned for the event. The program was set up so that someone starting from zero (me) could run a 10K in 10 weeks. I had much more than 10 weeks (it was only October) and the running portion of the triathlon was only a 5K, so I figured it'd be a piece of cake. I'd just use the program to get myself into 'it' and then keep training from there. The program started out very slow with a mix of running and walking for equal amounts of time. As the weeks progressed, the running time increased and the walking time decreased. I did well and kept it up most days with my various running partners (sister, husband and Team Estrogen folks). In the meantime I kept bike commuting every day (10 miles/day), but did not start swimming.
10 weeks ended right around Christmas time and the program had boded well�I felt as though I could handle a 30 minute run easily and even started to think that maybe I liked this activity (who knew?). It was about this time the holiday activities picked up (which included eating lots of good food), as well as the rain and cold. My usual hibernation mode took over and all in all I ended up taking about a month off from running. I've read that it can take 6-8 weeks of training to get your body to a certain fitness level and only 3 weeks of inactivity to lose it all. From my experience, that certainly rang true. It seemed in mid-January, when I started to run again, that I might as well have never done the 10 week program in the Fall. It felt as if I were starting all over again. And since the triathlon was only 2 � months away, I now needed to increase my biking and start swimming as well! Eeek!
I read The Woman Triathlete which gave some great pointers on how to arrange a training schedule. I started doing 'brick' workouts, which is basically a bike/run combo. The book stressed the importance of this type of workout in order to get prepared for the bike-run transition during the triathlon. The muscles used during the bike portion are so different from muscles used during the run that going from one to the other can be very difficult. I started doing bricks 2 days a week�I increased my ride home from work to 12 miles (normally just 5 miles one way) and had my running gear laid out so I could change and go for a run immediately afterward.
My husband, Brian, and I joined a community center and started swimming once a week. We always had intentions of swimming twice a week, which we did sometimes, but the average was usually just once a week. Brian was most anxious for the swim and neither of us had a clue what to do for a workout, other than to just try the 500 meter distance. In our pool this was 10 laps (20 lengths), so we just went for it. I couldn't go more than one lap without taking a breather. Every week we returned to the pool and tried our 500 meters again and eventually got to the point where we could do the full 10 laps without stopping. Then we actually figured out some real workouts (from the book) and used intervals during our swims.
During those few months many people asked me how the training was going and I always felt silly, as if what I was doing didn't deserve the term "training." It felt more like I was just increasing my physical activity and exercising in three different sports. I was loosely following the suggested workouts from the tri book, but certainly modified them to suit my own schedule and needs. I was working out more than I ever had before, but I also knew I wasn't pushing myself that hard. My nerves were actually eased somewhat during these months of "training," as I realized my body could handle all the individual workouts easily. What brought the nerves back as the event day edged closer was the question of how well I could handle all three at the same time. There was only one way to find out, and that was to do a trial triathlon.
Brian and I planned our practice tri for 3 weeks prior to the event. We picked a Saturday and drove to the community center with our bikes. We planned on swimming the 500 meters, then biking a loop in the neighborhood and finishing with a run. At the last minute though, we decided to do our ride on the stationary bikes in the community center gym because it was raining pretty hard. This was foolish though, as the gym bikes were incredibly uncomfortable and a completely different geometry from our road bikes. It was not comparable at all to what the real ride would be like and we used totally different muscles. But all in all, the practice tri gave us a taste of how our bodies would feel and how long it would take.
After going through the drawers at Team Estrogen and trying on several tri pieces by Louis Garneau, Zoot, Tyr, and Sugoi, I decided on a 2-piece outfit by Zoot. I chose the Zoot Long Tri Sport Top and the matching Zoot 6-Inch Tri Cycle Shorts. I am small chested, so I wanted to choose something with a shelf bra and the Zoot Long Tri Sport Top fit perfectly. I decided on a 2-piece instead of a tri suit because of the versatility�I wanted to be able to wear the top with different shorts for other workouts. With the Aquasphere Kaiman goggles and the Tyr Race Belt, I was set!
The day of the triathlon had arrived. The butterflies were causing an uproar in my stomach, but surprisingly they subsided quite a bit when I arrived on the scene and saw what lay ahead of me. It is the unknown that causes so much anxiety, so being able to see the transition area and finally understand the general flow of the course gave me some peace of mind. I watched the heats that started ahead of me, so I knew the routine once it was my turn to hop in the pool. Despite my history of the 'swim meet virus,' my swim was fantastic. I swam much faster than I had in any of my practices (a direct result of the adrenaline pumping in my veins) and because of that, I was way more exhausted at the end of the swim than I thought I'd be. As I grabbed my towel and trotted (too tired to run) from the pool to the transition area, I was thinking to myself, I still have to bike and run too?!
The first transition went smoothly (although it certainly took awhile to get my socks on over my wet feet) and I was off on the bike. The course was flat and fast and well marked. Everyone was encouraging and there were lots of kind words passed between the various participants. The ride went by in a flash and before I knew it, I was back at the transition area. My legs were heavy at the start of the run, but I was thankful for the brick workouts I had done that prepared me for how weird that transition would feel.
My run was slow. I was definitely feeling tired, but also knew I was so close to being done, and just needed to put one foot in front of the other. The first mile felt the worst, but after I got into the rhythm, the next 2 miles went by quickly. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line! And my first thought was, That wasn't that bad! I could do that again! I had fears that I would endure so much pain during the triathlon and instead I felt fabulous (although the soreness would come later that day, and the next day, and the next...)!
My surprise at feeling so great quickly led way to relief of finally being done. I was elated with my accomplishment and wanted to tell everyone I knew, I did it! You can do it too! The highlights for me included the camaraderie of taking on this challenge with my co-workers and friends, proving to myself that I could actually do it, and crossing the finish line with a smile. I think I might be hooked...when is the next one?
Editor's Note: Molly went on to compete in her SECOND triathlon in May 2006, bringing home a ribbon for placing 2nd in her age group. Way to go Molly!!
Molly swam, biked & ran her way to victory in Descente's Rave Triathlon Top and matching Aero-XT Rave Triathlon Short.