1. What if I can barely even swim 2 laps?
The swim is simply the bouncer that stands at the triathlon doors to keep the riff-raff out. If it weren’t for the swim, there would probably be about a million more triathletes than there are today. And that’s the whole point of a bouncer right? To keep the party exclusive; to keep it respectable. The truth is, swimming is coordination. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Anyone in the world can do it. You just have to practice it a little. With even a kindling of desire to become a triathlete, anyone can acquire the necessary coordination to kick, stroke, and breathe in a coordinated rhythm with a few trips to the local YMCA. Don’t let the swim intimidate you. But don’t expect it to come easily your first time in the pool. Just stick with it and don’t get discouraged; before you know it, it will “click” and you’ll be swimming laps no problem.
2. Running is hard enough. I don’t think I could do it after all that swimming and biking.
Take heart, running is the easiest of the three to do, so it comes at the end. You can go as slow as you want to without fear of sinking or crashing. All you have to do is trot along, reflect on how much you’ve already accomplished, and get closer and closer to the finish line. There’s plenty of aid stations, and there’s nothing that says you can’t stop and walk when you need to!
3. What if I have to go to the bathroom during the middle of the event?
This is a very common concern. It’s one of the most common things (along with eating) that I get asked about. Especially when dealing with races as long as an Ironman, which can take up to 17 hours, everyone is going to have to go at some point. There are usually plenty of port-a-potties located throughout the race. Most everyone takes a “pit stop” and it’s really nothing to worry about. At an Ironman triathlon, you can’t toss an empty water bottle without it hitting two port-a-potties. But if you’ve only got to go #1, and you don’t feel like pulling over, you can just let it go while you’re coasting downhill – you won’t be alone (I promise).
4. How do I get my bike to the race?
This can be a big question for people flying to their race. I actually flew from Okinawa, Japan to Louisville, KY for my first Ironman race and I put my bike in a Thule brand hard-shell bike case. Like a gigantic rolling suitcase, I wheeled my bike case through the airport and checked it in as luggage. If you don’t want to take your bike apart and pack it into a case or if you don’t plan to travel with your bike often, there are several services such as TriBike Transport springing up that will pick up your bike for you and have it waiting at the starting line of your race. After you race you just hand back to them and head home.
5. What if I get a flat tire?
Flat tires are a natural part of cycling. Just like a shoe coming untied during a run. They’re not a big deal as long as you are prepared for them. And all you have to do in order to be prepared is practice changing your tube a few times during training. So long as your first-ever tube change is not in the middle of your triathlon you’ll do fine. There are YouTube videos that will walk you through how to change a tube that you might find very helpful. I never cycle anywhere without at least two spare tubes. And don’t forget a travel size pump. These can all store neatly in a small tool bag that fits under the seat of your bike.
6. Am I suppose to eat anything during a triathlon?
If you’re going to be racing for any longer than a sprint triathlon (about 1 hour) I highly recommend eating something. If you’re going for a full-distance (i.e Ironman) triathlon than it is imperative that you eat…a lot. I put a Bento Box on the upper tube of my bike and it holds several energy bars and a banana. I’ve also put PB&J sandwiches in the pockets of my cycling jersey, and even taped goo packs along the bike frame. You’ll need to eat a lot, even when you don’t feel like it while you’re cycling in order to have enough energy for the run. During an Ironman I eat something every 30 minutes while I’m biking, and every mile while I’m running.
7. How much training is enough?
I recommend doing at least one bike, one swim, and one run per week at a minimum. If you can only fit in three workouts per week, that’s what I would go with. If you can do more, focus on the biking and running (the swim is just the bouncer, remember?). You should also try to do several “bricks”. A brick is when you combine two of the events into one workout – like going for a swim then a bike, or a bike then a run. If you can add a fourth workout each week, I would make it a bike/run brick. Make sure to get plenty of rest also. I recommend resting a day between each of your big workouts.
8. What if work gets in the way of training?
This is more a question of when – not if. Your job is probably the biggest consumer of your time, and all of us “Average Joe’s” must find a way to fit in our training whenever and wherever our work allows us. I usually swim during my lunch breaks and do my long bike rides on the weekend. Running can be fit in either before or after work depending on your schedule and preference. And if your job sends you away on long trips just try to maintain your present fitness level while you’re on the road. Realistically, this won’t be the time to set any new personal records, but do make it a point to pack your running shoes and spend a few hours on the bike in the hotel fitness center.
9. What if I can’t do it, fail miserably or embarrass myself?
What if you don’t? What if you succeed and surprise yourself with what you’re capable of? We all have fears of failure, but we can’t let these fears control us. I would rather try and fail at something than grow old as a “cold and timid soul who knows neither victory nor defeat.” It’s nothing against you to attempt something amazing and not quite make it. Just don’t spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been.
10. How on earth do I go from Average Joe to Ironman?
The same way you learn to play the piano or fly an airplane – you practice. No one expects you to be proficient at triathlon or music or aviation on your first (or second or third…) attempt. But the honest truth is that if you are capable of swimming ten meters, biking around the block, and running across your yard – then you could become an Ironman. At first it kills you to bike 20 miles, then you go for 25. Right now you may barely run 3 miles, next week you go for 4. By gradually stretching yourself a little bit at a time, you will – before you know it – be able to go The Distance.
David Mills is author of The Distance: An Average Joe’s Path to Balancing Family Work & Triathlon. Pre-order your copy of The Distance at www.TheDistanceBook.com.
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