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Terry VanderWert

How Will Social Distancing Change Triathlon?

How Will Social Distancing Change Triathlon?
Mass swim starts will be replaced with time trial starts in 2020 triathlons.

Strict social distancing in triathlon is impractical. This is the major reason for two of the three triathlons I had planned for June, those in Arkansas and Oklahoma, being rescheduled for the fall. Meanwhile, organizers of the Kansas triathlon canceled the event for 2020.

What will a triathlon be like in 2020? I asked race directors this question. This is what I learned.

In-Person Racing Will Resume in Phase 3

Guidelines for Opening Up America Again” published by the White House and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) defines a three-phase plan for re-opening the USA. Under this plan, state governors determine the schedule for re-opening their state based on trends in virus cases.

In the three phases, physical distancing requirements gradually reduce from strict (Phase 1) to moderate (Phase 2) to limited (Phase 3).

USA Triathlon has interpreted the Federal government guidelines for the triathlon community in its May 7, 2020 publication titled “Return to Racing Recommendations for Race Directors“.

Having read the USA Triathlon publication, I better appreciate why race directors have canceled or rescheduled the 2020 triathlons.

Even Moderate Physical Distancing Is Not Practical For Triathlon

If you have competed in a triathlon of over 50 people, you probably agree that guaranteeing social distancing (6 feet or roughly 2 meters between individuals) in triathlon would require major changes.

According to Bruce Dunn, owner of All Sports Productions, he and a group of a dozen race directors have been meeting weekly by video to discuss how they could resume putting on races while in Phase 2 as defined by the Federal government.

The group has simulated races considering how to ensure moderate social distancing. Some requirements for a 300-person race that came from the simulations were comical:

  • Time-trial swim start with 5 minutes between individual starts; this would lead to 25 hours to start all 300 swimmers.
  • Transition area that covered 2 acres (0.8 hectares).

Imagine forgetting where you racked your bike in this race. As an alternative, one group member recommended using each racer’s car for the transition space, making the parking lot the transition area.

From these brainstorming sessions, the group concluded that the only practical solution was to wait until Phase 3 to restart triathlons. It avoids extreme measures and/or unacceptably high entry fees.

social distancing in triathlon will mean more space
Will more spacious transition areas be an unexpected benefit of the pandemic?

What Changes In Triathlon Should You Plan For?

Phase 3 is supposed to mean a ‘return to normalcy’. However, there will still be many differences from triathlons of previous years.

First, triathlon organizers must pay attention to physical distancing and sanitation.  USA Triathlon’s “Return to Racing Recommendations for Race Directors” identifies “continuing to adhere to physical distancing and sanitation protocols” as a requirement for races conducted in Phase 3.

According to Jim Rainey, race director for Georgia Multisports, “we plan to make many changes to help ensure your (the triathlete’s) safety.”

Jim explained that this will mean more disinfecting stations throughout areas of high traffic. Race staff will wear masks or shields. In addition, athletes will have their temperatures measured and be asked to wear masks when not racing.

Other changes before, during, and after the race we should expect are:

  • Self body marking.
  • More spacious transition areas to allow for greater separation of individual transition areas, a change probably welcomed by most racers.
  • Time-trial (one person at a time at a fixed interval) starts rather than mass or wave starts for the swim.
  • Fewer “pinch points” on the bike course where cyclists must ride close to each other.
  • More loop, rather than out-and-back, run courses.
  • Self-service aid stations on the run course.
  • Fewer goodies such as free samples in the swag bag.
  • Changes to the awards ceremony.
  • Fewer spectators.

Doing a triathlon in this new era will definitely be different!

Will You Race in 2020?

Comment below to let us know about your plans to race in one or more triathlons during 2020? Which race(s)? What are your concerns? Are there changes you welcome?


Why Senior Triathletes Should Use Interval Training

Why Senior Triathletes Should Use Interval Training

Interval training for senior triathletes provides important health and fitness benefits through short, intense periods of exercise. It is not surprising that, in recent years, high intensity interval training, or HIIT, has been among the most researched type of fitness program.

The interest in HIIT comes in part because of its value for the growing population of seniors. For the older athlete, HIIT can be an important part of a training plan. Why? Because it reduces the wear and tear of continuous, low to medium intensity exercise used to help us stay competitive as we age.

What is HIIT?

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), high-intensity intervals are defined as those exercises performed at 80 to 95 per cent of one’s maximum heart rate. Intervals are between five seconds and eight minutes long.

The periods of high intensity are followed by periods of complete rest or active recovery performed at 40 to 50 per cent of one’s maximum heart rate. These periods depend on a person’s fitness but are generally longer than the high intensity period. As you will read further on, recovery is a critical part of an effective HIIT protocol.

Since there are so many ways to apply the principles of HIIT, this technique is used by elite and amateur athletes. It is even used as part of cardiac rehabilitation.

HIIT exercises can be performed in the gym using stationary bikes and treadmills, in the pool or lake, and at home using only bodyweight.

You May Already Be Using HIIT

If you have taken a cycling class at your local fitness center, you have probably made use of HIIT. Tabata, one of the most well known methods of applying HIIT, consists of eight repetitions of 20 seconds pedaling at 170% of maximum sustainable oxygen uptake followed by 10 seconds of rest. Done properly, the cyclist will maintain the same level of power for each repetition, rather than have the power taper off with each successive interval or even vary between intervals.

Other examples of high intensity interval training for the swim and run legs of a sprint triathlon are:

Interval training helps senior triathletes be more competitive racers.
High intensity interval training can help athletes of any age become more fit and competitive racers.

Benefits of High Intensity Intervals

High intensity interval training has three main benefits:

  • Reduces the tendency for overuse injuries,
  • Minimizes boredom – and the tendency to skip workouts – from repeating the same routine day after day,
  • Increases performance, that is, helps us become faster.

While longer, moderate intensity workouts build our body’s aerobic system, high intensity intervals tap into and strengthen both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

In a May 22, 2019 article in Science Focus magazine titled “HIIT is changing the way we work out, here’s the science why it works“, author Jamie Millar explains the changes occurring during and as a result of high intensity intervals:

“Ramping up the intensity forces your body to tap into its anaerobic system for energy, because it can’t supply the oxygen required to work aerobically quickly enough; in the recovery intervals, your body reverts to its aerobic system. As the session goes on, your body relies less on the anaerobic system, because quick-release energy sources of phosphocreatine and glycogen (glucose stored in your muscles) become depleted. Your body will therefore start to rely more on the aerobic system, which releases energy more sustainably but slowly from fat.”

In Millar’s comments, we see benefits in developing our anaerobic system and in burning more fat. The latter is one reason why HIIT (along with proper nutrition) is great for weight loss.

What Senior Triathletes Should Know About Interval Training

Getting the most from HIIT and avoiding injury from it requires a well-thought out and properly executed plan. Here are three fundamentals of this type of routine.

First, Warmup

Before engaging in intense intervals, it is essential to warm up our muscles and get our heart rate up. My typical warmup is a 10 to 15 minute swim, bike, or run before the interval portion of the session.

Second, Recover Properly

Recovery in the context of HIIT has three meanings:

  • Recovery between each interval of a session,
  • Proper recovery at the end of HIIT session, and
  • Fully recovering between sessions.

Recovery during a HIIT session – Experts remind us to honor the recovery time specified in each interval. During the so-called ‘recovery interval’, our body clears out lactic acid from our muscles. One study showed that a recovery of 3 minutes between 4 minute running intervals led to faster, more productive intervals than when shorter or self-selected recovery intervals were used.

Recovery after a HIIT sessionA study by the German Federal Institute of Sport Science showed that active recovery, such as 15 minutes of moderate jogging after a HIIT session, led to a beneficial increase in anaerobic lactate threshold compared to passive recovery.

Recovery between sessions – Between HIIT sessions, it is important for our body to eliminate the lactic acid, hydrogen ions, and hormones (e.g. adrenaline) produced during the anaerobic exercise. For some types of HIIT, recovery also involves repair of micro tears of the muscles.

It is because of the time and need for complete recovery between intense sessions that most training programs include no more than one HIIT session per week.

Third, Be Patient

As with any form of physical activity that I can think of, doing too much too soon is a formula for injury. The key is to progress slowly.

For example, here is an example of a progression I have used, one that has NOT led to injury:

  • Hill repeats – start with 2 x 15-20 seconds running up a hill with at least 8% grade (8 feet [meters] rise over 100 feet [meters] distance) after a 10-15 minute warm-up run. Repeat every 7 to 14 days adding two repeats each session to a maximum of 10 per session. (Source: Stryd.)

On the other hand, I have become injured twice while trying to run intervals too fast. Too fast in this case means significantly faster than my 5k race pace. In one case, I injured a hamstring. Another time, I injured muscles around both knees.

Both injuries required a week without running. I am sure that I lost more than I gained from the sessions.

Managing Risks

The idea of becoming fit for little investment in time may sound appealing. However, that should not be the takeaway from this post.

To gain the benefits and avoid possible serious injury, HIIT must be done properly. The risk of high intensity can outweigh the benefits if done improperly.

Before starting a HIIT program, proponents of HIIT unanimously agree that you should discuss your plans with your physician.

How Do You Use High Intensity Intervals in Your Training?

Comment below to let us know how you are using intervals in your training? What have been the results?

Affilitate Disclosure


How Are Multisport Businesses Coping With COVID-19?

How Are Multisport Businesses Coping With COVID-19?
We miss you! from Team Magic, manager of the Baptist Health Capital of Dreams Triathlon in Montgomery, Alabama. This event in 2017 was my Alabama triathlon.

April 14, 2020 – We hear a lot these days about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses. Among these businesses are the ones near and dear to our hearts who put on multisport events.

While the triathlon season has not started for most of the northern hemisphere, there is an air of uncertainty. Some races have been canceled for this year. Other early season races have been postponed when it is possible for the organizers to reschedule them.

Having participated in triathlons across the country, I am on the mailing list for many multisport businesses. I thought you might be interested to see how one race organizer is dealing with this uncertainty while working to keep their business afloat during this crisis.

Georgia Multisports Productions

logo for Georgia Multisports Productions, sponsor of the 2020 8-week endurance challenge.

Race Director and Senior Triathlete Jim Rainey sent information about the Georgia Multisports Productions (GMP) 8-week challenge.

Jim wrote in his email:

“We have recently created a Georgia Multisports Strava page to try and help us stay together and motivated so when the pandemic is over, and our lives are back to normal we are ready for what comes next.”

The event began April 1st and will continue through May 30th so you still have time to participate. Running and cycling miles will be tracked through a FREE account for the George Multisports Club on Strava. After joining the running and cycling events, register on runsignup. With the registration, you to receive awards, a t-shirt and discount for a future race.

How Is Your Favorite Race Business Handling the Crisis?

Let us know in the Comments section below what your favorite race company is doing about their early-season races, whether triathlon, 5k, or other.


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