There are three legs to any triathlon, no matter the distance: Swim – which always comes first, Bike – which always comes second, and Run (you guessed it, always third). The “kind” of triathlon is determined by the distances.
Sprint: ~200-750 meter swim, ~10 – 15 mile bike, ~3.1 mile run.
Olympic: 1500 meter swim, ~25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run.
Half-Iron: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.
Iron, or “Full”: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.
I’m training for the longest one, but I’ll do some of the others along the way. The races that lead up to your main event are usually called “B” or “C” races, meaning that you are really taking it a little easy, not trying to win so much as to gauge your fitness. That’s the theory, anyway, I personally have a hard time not leaving it all out there on the course.
This week was my first week back in the pool in more than a year. I love the feeling of swimming – especially the first 25 meters or so, when you remember how awesome it is to feel the water streaming by your body, the rhythm of the breathing, the sharp way your arms cut into the water. Then, around the 26th meter, you realize that you haven’t been in the pool in FOREVER, your technique has fallen apart, and your body really, really, really, _really_ doesn’t want to swim any further. That part is less fun.
No question, the swim is the part of the event that keeps most people – fit, athletic people – from trying a triathlon. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that “it looks like fun, but man, I just don’t know how to swim anymore!” I sympathize – I grew up spending every summer at a pool, I was a lifeguard when I was in college, but I didn’t really swim. If you already kind of know how to swim, though, learning to swim better is easy and fun – you just have to join a group of other people doing the same thing. Like a swim team that a kid might be on, but for adults, and for the most part without swim meets – they call these groups “Masters Programs,” and they are all over. If you do a quick internet search, and you live in a major metro area, I bet you can find one within 15 miles of your house.
Although the name suggests some sort of mastery, this is not really the case – sure, there are the people who were competitive swimmers in college, and yes, it can be a bit intimidating to walk into the pool in a swimsuit in front of strangers if you are just starting to come back into your “fighting trim,” but these groups – all the ones I’ve ever been to, anyway – are welcoming. Workouts are set by ability, more or less, and you find yourself sharing a lane (like bowling lanes, or track lanes) with other people about your speed. There is usually a coach on deck, who will set the workout and give some feedback on your stroke, if you want it.
I am training with the Washington DC Tri Club’s Masters’ program – DCTC, as they are known, have been running, biking, and swimming in an organized fashion for more than a decade. My first workout was pretty brutal – we warmed up by swimming 600 meters easy, then did a 100 sprint to loosen up, and another 200 super easy to cool back down. That wasn’t so bad. The 3×500 meters at “Best average pace” was rough. The idea is you swim 500 meters, no stopping, at a pace that you can hold as you do it 3 times. The idea was to get a “threshold” test on the first day back in the water, to see where everyone was endurance wise. I kind of surprised myself – I wouldn’t have bet that I could swim 1500 meters on my first day back without my arms falling off! My splits were
1st 500: 9m52s
2nd 500: 10m20s
3rd 500: 10m10s
Not fast – but I did manage to find some speed at the end of my last set. Considering that the race I’ll be doing in October is 3860 meters, I have a lot of work to do if I want to swim my goal time of 60 minutes!
Check out this funny Clif Bar start triathlon video for you to enjoy! https://youtu.be/r3S0wu4Zbfk