[081] Lessons learned

Swim: 2,100 m/78,400 m

Bike: 0/546.4 miles

Run: 0/146.9 miles

My sprint triathlon last weekend provided me with plenty of food for thought - it was my very first triathlon and a warm-up for an Olympic-distance race in the fall. I’ve spent nearly all my free time since the race analyzing what went wrong, what went right and how my experience can shape my future training.

The honest truth is that I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped in any of the three disciplines in last weekend’s race. But in addition to analyzing my actual performance, I have been thinking hard about the basis of my expectations heading into the race. I didn’t have specific time goals, since I had never done a triathlon before, but I did have some benchmarks based on my training so far this year. But now I realize that a performance from an individual ride or swim or run workout – even brick workouts – doesn’t necessarily predict what will happen on race day. There are exponentially more factors to consider during a triathlon, such as how your performance from each discipline carries over to the next. You can’t consider your individual training sessions in a vacuum.

Here’s a look at each leg of Sunday’s race, and what I will take away from the experience:

THE SWIM: The swim was the biggest shock of the day, and the bad mojo stuck with me through the bike and into the run. It was hard to shake it off. I think my major mistake was predicting a time that was too fast – 5:21. I had covered the distance at that time in practice, but I should have accounted for the fact that the race situation was completely unknown to me. I ended up swimming 6:52.

I think a big part of my failure in the swim was worrying about keeping up a hard pace when my mind was trying to process everything about the race environment for the very first time. I wonder if predicting a swim time that was slower than my hardest practice sessions - perhaps around 6 minutes – would have put me more at ease since I wouldn’t have felt the pressure of matching my fastest swim times or been worried about holding up the faster swimmers behind me. It would have been a more comfortable swim and I could have focused more on learning about the race itself rather than trying to PR. And, in the end, I might have done it faster than the time I actually produced.

In other words, I should have been more willing to back off my high expectations in order to make it more of a learning experience, since that was the point of this race in the first place.

Improving the swim: Before I worry about getting faster, I just need to swim more laps. It sounds basic, but I’ve only been swimming for a couple months. I just need to swim so much that the strokes become perfect muscle memory, so I’m not thinking about the swimming. And even though my stroke is far better than it was just a few months ago (when I didn’t know how to swim freestyle), I could always benefit from more training and even swim classes. There are weaknesses to my stroke that I need to iron out. Also, the next time there’s a seeded swim start for a race, I should add about 30 seconds to my best practice times.

THE BIKE: Here is another example of the need to make sure my expectations are realistic. My goal for the race was to ride at an average speed of 20 mph or more, but, in fact, there was no basis for that prediction. With the exception of one 12-mile time trial and one circuit of the race course where drafting may or may not have been in effect, all of my training rides have been in the 18-19 mph range. I guess I was counting on race-day adrenaline to push me beyond that threshold. What I was not counting on was being drained from an exhausting and frustrating swim.

(For anyone who read my race report earlier, I claimed to have ridden at a 20.3 mph average. However, the race timers made a mistake and added a minute of the bike to the T2 time. Therefore, my actual bike time was 36:31, for a 19.7 mph average. My overall race time of 1:08:42 is unchanged.)

Improving the bike: Again, the keys here are repetition and base building. I’ve been riding only since January and have totaled about 550 training miles. I’ve read that cyclists should have 1,000 base miles before starting more complicated and difficult workouts. Unlike running, where I have almost 7 years of base training built up, I am pretty new at both biking and swimming.

But I want to get faster, and I’m motivated toward that goal. To get faster I need to train faster and build strength. I need to make sure I’m riding hard during training and not just cruising (although I’m not usually loafing through a ride). I will start adding speed intervals to some workouts. I also will start a dedicated strength-training regimen to build cycling-specific muscles in my legs and core.

THE RUN: I came pretty close to my goal pace on Sunday, although I would like to have finished the 5k run about 30 seconds faster. My practice times indicated a pace in the low 7′s but my actual pace was 7:16. Usually I can go to the well toward the end of mid-distance running races (10k, 13.1), but in this case the well just seemed to be dry. I was going hard but not all-out. The problem was that I couldn’t seem to find that “all-out” switch. There were mitigating factors on Sunday - it wasn’t a particularly fast course, it was a pretty warm morning, and I had just completed the first two legs of a triathlon - so I’m not going to beat myself up about this one.

Improving the run: I’ll continue to work on running speed and stamina during my summer training. My Olympic race calls for a 10k run after a 26-mile ride, so I need to work up to those distances while hopefully maintaining the same speeds I’m running now. I’ll be starting the FIRST program (outlined in the book “Run Less, Run Faster”) that calls for dedicated speed work and hard long runs. I’ll also be incorporating running-specific weight training as part of the new routine I mentioned above.

OVERALL: This race was fun, and I’m so glad I did it. Any frustrations that I experienced afterward were merely a result of my unrealistic expectations. I’ve heard from several people who have done this race previously that 1:08 is an impressive time for any triathlete, particularly a first-timer. (The winner of my age group was about 10 minutes faster – he was 3rd place overall. The slowest in my AG finished in 1:39, and I was in the top half.) The point of this race was the experience, and it proved very valuable in that regard. I’m armed with so much information and knowledge that can only be gained by experience. I’m looking forward to incorporating the lessons I’ve learned into my Olympic-distance training, which starts now.

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5 Responses to [081] Lessons learned

  1. I think you did a great job! I have done 4 tris so far (all sprints, and have my first Oly in Sept) and don’t put nearly as much thought into times as you do…..I’m just happy to finish! Is your Oly a pool or open-water swim? If it’s OWS I highly recommend practice. Otherwise, sounds like you have a great plan for improvement!

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks! I don’t know why I put so much emphasis on times – it’s not like I’m competitive with anyone. It’s something I really need to work on – don’t worry so much about the times and just focus on having a good time. The Oly is open water, and I plan to get several practice sessions in this summer!

  2. steena says:

    There’s so much that can go wrong in a triathlon. Flat tire is my worst fear. I like that you laid everything out here & have a plan to improve.

  3. David H. says:

    Great lessons Jeremy. Looking forward to seeing what the summer holds for you now.

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