Training for my first Triathlon with Team in Training

People at the various user groups I go to seem to enjoy my triathlon training stories. Since sports training is a hobby for me, I thought I’d share what it’s been like training for my first “tri”. I’m terrified of swimming, hence why i’ve never done one before.

I’m with Team in Training, a non-profit organization that raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (blood cancer research). You fundraise for “TnT” and in return they train you for your event, whether it’s a triathlon, a marathon, or a century bike ride. They also handle event registration and logistics for you. It’s been a perfect experience for me.

Triathlon selection

I started off training for a half-Ironman (1.2 mile swim, a 50 mile bike ride, and a 13 mile run), but a 5-minute run in my Vibrams gave me some tendonitis in my ankle. Yes, i had been taking it slow, wearing the Vibrams for nearly 3 months before trying to run. And yes, they were a proper fit. I had been through 4 different sizes. Nothing is that good to be true, so if you have low arches, I highly suggest avoiding Vibrams. Additionally, I heard there was an open water swim cut-off for the half-ironman, which freaked me out. I could just imagine me fighting the people on the beach or on a boat trying to pull me out of the water if i didn’t make the cut-off. Luckily, I was able to downgrade my tri to an Olympic size one in time. Baby steps.

I’m doing Marin County Triathlon on Halloween (can’t wait to see the costumes). It’s an Olympic distance of .9 mile swim, a 22 mile bike ride, and a 6.2 mile run (10k). I *love* cycling, and before the Vibram incident I could easily run 3 miles. But the swimming! Shudders.

track running

The training

The TnT folks on the tri team get together twice a week to train with the various coaches. This group has 5 coaches, most are specialized per activity. It’s cool to hear stories of the coaches starting off with TnT years ago doing their first tri as a participant and working their way up. It’s been very inspiring to me.

You also get assigned a mentor, who in my case, keeps me from quitting when I get frustrated in the swimming pool or from my latest injury. The participant to mentor ratio is really low (at least in this group), making you feel like someone truly has your back.

And lastly, they give you a static schedule to follow. I think the most important part of any exercise program or training schedule is knowing how to listen to your body, and knowing when to push through and when to throttle back. Given my never ending list of injuries, i’m constantly working on this! The other challenge is making sure you get your workouts in. You have to train 6 days a week, since you’re training for 3 different sports.

The biggest satisfaction I’ve gotten out of TnT is having run coaches evaluate my running technique and tell me what i’m doing wrong. My shin splints went away almost overnight just from correcting my technique. I was really impressed how much knowledge the coaches have. Also, being new to the area, they have been a great source for local recommendations.

bike training

You even also get your own paparazzi who take awesome photos of you training. Nothing better than folks taking pictures of you from a car, as the other vehicles start asking each other “are they famous people?” Epic!

The swimming

Last week was my first open water swim. I was terrified. I’ve never been in a wet suit before, so i’m expecting the water to be ice cold compared to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not the open water that scares me. I used to sail as a kid. What scares me is cold water.

I stare at the lake and finally put my toe in the water. My immediate reaction is “Oh, it isn’t that bad.” I slowly walk into the water feeling the cooler temperatures permeate through the wetsuit. I’m told to open my suit a little to let the water into my chest to help get adjusted to the water. It’s a little shocking but again not that bad. I’m just grateful i’m starting off in a lake instead of The Bay.

The last step is to go underwater. No big deal. I’ve only been practicing my breathing techniques in the swimming pool for months. I sink down and I realize to my surprise I can barely get my head underwater, the wetsuit is that buoyant. I jump up and try to cannonball into the water to get fully summered.

Next, I realize I can just “sit” in the water. I’m that buoyant with this “human body life jacket”. I scream “This is AWESOME!” and take off swimming. I had a blast and didn’t want to get out of the water at the end.

I thought of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, in the episode about the Great Dane that was terrified of the swimming pool. Once Cesar finally gets the Dane into the pool after 10 minutes, the Dane discovers he likes swimming (as illustrated by the Dane’s future willingness to jump into the pool). Cesar tells the family, “10 minutes of fear versus a lifetime of fear.” This was so true in my case of the open water swim I couldn’t stop laughing at myself.

The fundraising

The first thing anyone who has done TnT before asks me, “Send me your fundraising link! I’ll help you out.” So, if you fall into this category, here’s my fundraising page.

If your employer matches donations to non-profits, contact me and i’ll send you the instructions to request a match. If you’re a Microsoftie, I’ll send you the step-by-literal-step instructions.