Try a Tri!
By Kim Thomas
Exhilarated. Accomplished. Challenged. Fulfilled. Proud. Fun!
What do all of these emotions have in common? These are all words that triathletes have used to describe their experience training for and competing in a triathlon. Wait…a triathlon?! That excruciating trifecta of torture where you are expected to be a superhero of running, biking, and (EEK!) swimming? Yes, that’s the race! Here is expert advice from two of the Bay Area’s premier coaches on how to breakout of your normal fitness routine (or begin one) and be ready for your first triathlon
People compete in triathlons for different reasons. Some crave competition; some raise money for charity; some use it as an escape from the trials of day-to-day life. Whatever the reason, triathlons can be intimidating. So, where do you start? Do you need to take out a mortgage on your house to buy that light,streamlined “rocket ship” bike? According to Johnny Z, co-owner of Powerhouse Racing in Friendswood,“Your bike needs to have two wheels, move forward, and be safe.” Any bike will do, as long as it is safe. In fact, at Powerhouse, they have seen every kind of bike, from baskets to bells. So don’t be afraid to dust off that old clunker in the garage. What about time? Do you need to quit your job in order to fit in all of those training sessions? Well, of course that is your choice, but you won’t be able to blame it on your training schedule! Beginners should expect to spend 8 to 10 hours per week training in all 3 disciplines. The experts recommend that you find a group to share in your training. Working out with a group makes training seem less like work and more like social hour; plus, learning from other athletes is inevitable.And then, there is the swim. Swimming is the area where most people need additional training. Melanie Yarzy, swimming coach and co-owner at Powerhouse Racing, suggests that beginners usually need 1:1 lessons to learn the proper technique, as race swimming is much different from leisure swimming. The number of swimmers in the water can be very disorienting, which may cause beginning swimmers to feel panicky and anxious. The fact that you cannot stop or touch bottom during the swim is also a source of anxiety to the beginning swimmer. It is important to start training in a pool until you get strong enough to be able to swim longer distances without resting. At that point, move to open water swimming practices that more closely simulate the racing experience. Strength training is often neglected or underestimated by many endurance athletes. All it takes is about 30 -40 minutes of strength training two times a week to strengthen stabilizing muscles and connective tissues. Johnny’s story is a reminder of the importance of strength training. “I trained for 9 years neglecting strength training and it resulted in a really bad injury during Ironman Texas in 2011. During mile 24 of the marathon, I broke the femoral neck of my hip from poor running form and years of training without strengthening the stabilization muscles.” He now has two titanium rods in his hip and has since re-learned how to run properly and employs strength training in his workouts. TRX workouts are a great way to get these muscles in shape; Powerhouse Racing offers these classes.
So now that you know where to start, how can you improve your performance and time during a triathlon? Coaching is the answer! Coaches help identify individual short and long term goals (and commitment levels), and then create a plan to help you achieve these goals. According to Melanie, “You can spend years in triathlons making each mistake yourself or you can hire a coach who has made all of those mistakes.” Johnny maintains that most beginners start out training with a group and evolve into a coaching relationship. “You can go into a pool and learn all of these different drills, but if they’re not effective for YOU, they won’t help. A coach can streamline the process and help you get to your goals quicker.” Melanie and Johnny have found that they have to “slow down” 80% of their clients because they want to push too hard too fast. “Sometimes people who are competitive will go at it too hard and try to get there too quickly and they’ll burn out or become fatigued or over trained. A coach can also help these people learn how to hold back in order to sustain the workload for the long haul. It’s easy to get burned out so it’s important to find balance between training for 3 sports and family life. At the end of the day, you have to make the right choices, not just for the sport, but a lot of times, for your family also.”
Anyone Can Do It!
Everyone has to start somewhere. And you don’t have to be a natural born athlete to be a triathlete. Melanie says, “I wouldn’t say that either one of us are super naturally talented. Johnny was a little boy with asthma. A little kid, not a big strong kid, and I didn’t start sports until I was 14. I was the worst swimmer on the team. I was never really a good athlete. I started later in life learning how to be an athlete and really what makes us successful is the consistency of our training. We train day in and day out and we put in more work than other people and that’s why we’re on the podium. It’s a lifestyle. So if someone wants to be competitive at the sport, they really just need to ‘stay in the work’ for an extended period of time.” Johnny adds, “There’s a lot I’ve learned that I wish I knew when I started but just wasn’t available back then. I came into the sport late in life; I was 31 and started running when I was 29.”Melanie has since lost track of how many races she’s competed in since she began 6 years ago. She estimates it to be close to 100 triathlons and running races, combined! This includes 6 Ironmans! She has competed in an Ironman every year for the past 6 years, and won her first Ironman last March! Johnny has placed in almost every race he has ever competed in, whether it be strictly running or a triathlon. His fastest Ironman time is a staggering 10:07! Not bad for a little kid with asthma and the worst swimmer on the team!
The Powerhouse Racing logo stands as a symbol of strength, courage and experience. While recovering from his hip injury, Johnny would warm up on the track at Turner High School in Pearland. He ran barefoot on the orange surfaced track so he could re-feel his footing and his gate underneath him, rather than striding out. As a result of running on the orange track, Johnny’s feet would turn orange and leave an orange footprint wherever he stepped. This stood as a reminder to him of his journey to become whole. Thus, the Powerhouse Orange Foot logo was born.
Sprint distance: 750-meter (0.47-mile) swim, 20-kilometer (12-mile) bike, 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run
Intermediate (or Standard) distance (commonly referred to as the Olympic distance): 1.5-kilometer
(0.93-mile) swim, 40-kilometer (25-mile) bike, 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run
Long Course distance: 1.9-kilometer (1.2-mile) swim, 90-kilometer (56-mile) bike, 21.1-kilometer
(13.1-mile) run (half marathon)
Ultra Distance (commonly referred to as 140.6 (total distance in miles, equivalent to 226.2 km) or
the Ironman): 3.8-kilometer (2.4-mile) swim, 180.2-kilometer (112.0-mile) bike, 42.2-kilometer
(26.2-mile) run (full marathon)