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Book Review – Train to Tri: Your First Triathlon

Looking to complete your first triathlon? Want to inspire and motivate your children, grandchildren, parents, friends, or co-workers? If so, Train To Tri: Your First Triathlon by Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout is for you.  This 246 page guide provides the essential information needed to prepare for your first triathlon.Cover of "Train to Tri - Your First Triathlon" Authors: Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout, both USA Triathlon Level 2 coaches with lots of experience competing in triathlon and coaching triathletes. Publisher: Human Kinetics

Who is this book for?

Train To Tri is written primarily for those considering or already committed to completing their first sprint or standard (formerly called Olympic) distance triathlon. Even though it is aimed at first timers, it is not just for those doing their first triathlon.  While I have completed over 35 sprint triathlons, I found several useful training tips, some that I have already put to use.  

What does the book cover?

The book opens with a 24-question Triathlon Readiness Assessment.  Results of the self-assessment help the future triathlete identify with one of three categories – bronze, silver, or gold – and select the appropriate training plan included later in the book.  This initial section also provides guidelines for choosing the specific race for your first triathlon. I like the basic strategy of the first triathlon training plan laid out by the authors – to focus most of the training effort on your weakest leg.
You should focus the most time and effort on [your third strongest sport] to develop strength and endurance as well as improve technique. (page 9)

Gear

Once you decide to do a triathlon, you will quickly learn about the incredible amount of clothing and equipment (called ‘gear’ in the triathlon world) surrounding the sport.  Since not all of the gear is necessary for your first triathlon, the authors distinguish between the ‘necessary’ and the ‘nice to have’ or ‘you can wait and decide after your first race’ gear.

Your Triathlon Support Group

Training with a group can provide the extra motivation needed to push through a training program and reap the rewards of completing your first triathlon.  A group can also help you to improve your technique more quickly. In this chapter, the authors suggest ways to create a support network for your training in swimming, biking, and running that includes various clubs as well as your family, friends, and co-workers.

Swim

The chapter on swimming covers the basic elements of an efficient stroke with illustrations for a proper freestyle technique.  I appreciated the suggestion for travelling and swimming, especially the advice for making use of the typical small hotel pool. Interestingly, many triathletes find swimming to be their weakest sport.  If you are in that group, get comfortable with the being in the water and with swimming with other people as you will experience on race day.  Whether swimming in a pool or in open water, you will inevitably come close to, if not in contact with, other swimmers.  Staying calm is the key to finishing the swim. If the race you choose includes an open water swim, you will want to practice swimming in open water to become familiar with sighting.   For safety reasons, I recommend adding the ISHOF Safe Swimmer (see also below) to your list of gear.

Bike

Most of us know how to ride a bicycle.  However, many have never ridden in a large group at speeds associated with a triathlon. Therefore, the focus of this chapter is safety.  According to the authors, safety in biking begins with a review of the various components of the bicycle to make sure that they are each in good working order.   They also describe the most important cycling skills and suggestions on how to hone these, both individually and in group rides.
When riding on the road in traffic, you need to follow the rules of the road as if you were driving a car. (page 78)

Run

We all no how to run. Right?  Well, not necessarily in a way that is the most efficient or that minimizes the possibility for injuries.  About half of this chapter is dedicated to proper cadence (steps per minute) and body form.  The rest of the chapter introduces training with a heart rate monitor and training involving the three run types included in the weekly training plans. If you take one thing from this chapter, remember to progress slowly (the ‘10% per week’ rule) in order to minimize the likelihood of injury.  Unfortunately, we need to be reminded of this every so often.

Strength and Flexibility

Building strength and increasing flexibility are two keys to increasing your performance in triathlon.   For many of us who spend a lot of time sitting during their work day, lack of flexibility can be the major root cause of injury.   The authors show that a relatively small amount of time spent in strength training and stretching can lead to better performance and fewer injuries.  Plus, these are another way to ‘mix it up’ and keep the training interesting and fresh.

Nutrition and Rest

If we all no how to run, most of us are even better at fueling (aka eating).  The challenge is to eat properly.  It becomes even more complicated when we are exercising, burning more calories, trying to build muscle, and recovering from the stress of training. Triathlon training can be a great way to shed pounds and improve your health.   Eating the right foods in the right amount and at the right time is the focus of this chapter.  As the authors so clearly write “Although your daily caloric burn will certainly increase based on your training volume, you don’t have a license to hit the buffet for every meal”. The chapter begins by showing us how to calculate two important numbers related to exercise – resting metabolic rate (RMR) and caloric burn rate.  The authors discuss how to eat (or ‘fuel’ as they define it) throughout the day, including before, during, and after workouts.  Sample menus for triathlon training days help to illustrate the principles of proper fueling. The chapter concludes with a discussion about the importance of rest within a process known as periodization.  The authors even provide a simple test to help us determine when our body is telling us to take a day of rest.
If you do not get adequate rest, the muscles will fatigue and eventually fail, resulting in injury. (page 139)

Training plans

It’s now time to put the information from the previous chapters together and begin to train for your first triathlon.   Sample 8-week training plans are provided for bronze-, silver-, and gold-level athletes for both sprint and standard distance triathlons.    I appreciate that the authors show readers how they can tailor the plans to meet their particular strengths and weaknesses and their individual schedules.

Preparing to race

I love this section as the authors take us down the ‘home stretch’ in the new triathlete’s quest to complete their first race. Filled with practical advice, the authors walk us through the two weeks leading up to the race.  With greater detail for race day, you can feel the thrill that begins upon waking and includes crossing the finish line and heading to the refreshment area for a cold drink and banana.  

Why get this book?

Train To Tri is pragmatic and focused.  It includes the essential information for each of the sports of a triathlon seasoned with the nuances of practicing them within a triathlon. You can trust the USAT-certified coaches with this ‘no-nonsense’ guide.  

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5 Common Mistakes in the Pool Swim of a Triathlon

5 Common Mistakes in the Pool Swim of a Triathlon
Mizzou Aquatic Center at University of Missouri, Columbia MO, venue for the swim leg of the TriZou Triathlon.
Want to prevent fellow triathletes from becoming annoyed with you during a race? Avoid these mistakes commonly made during a pool swim. From my experience with sprint triathlon, here are the top five mistakes, in no particular order, that occur doing a pool swim:
  • Reporting too aggressive or conservative pace/time
This mistake most often occurs during registration when you are asked to provide an estimate of the time that it will take to complete the swim.   You definitely do not want to be swimming with triathletes who are significantly faster or slower than you. If you are worried about the registration filling before you can time your swim, give your best estimate.  Then, after later measuring the time, contact the race organizer to make any correction. In many cases, you will also have opportunity on race day to make any correction.  You will likely be asked to line up with those of similar pace (if the start is one at a time) or to join a group with those of similar speed (if swimmers start in a group, typically of five or six) . Just don’t make the mistake on race day.  
  • Starting too fast
With adrenaline rushing and the crowd roaring (even a small crowd can be deafening in an indoor pool), it is tempting to start swimming too fast too soon causing your heart rate to spike or breathing to become difficult.  The next thing you know, you are swimming much slower than planned or even stopping to catch your breath.  Better to start out at what you consider to be a bit slower that you think you should until you are in a rhythm.  Once your breathing is at a normal race pace and you are ‘warmed up, give it your all.  
  • Not drafting, if it is possible
Drafting is considered by many to be one of the keys to conserving energy during the swim while at the same time turning in a respectable (for you) time.  The problem with drafting is that it can be difficult to practice unless you swim with a group. To take advantage of drafting, swim with your hands just behind the feet of the person in front of you.  (Avoid touching their feet which sends the message that you want to pass them.)  
  • Not staying in your space
This is especially important when swimming in the same lane as one or more athletes and remaining in the same lane during the entire swim.  Stay on your side (usually the right side) of the lane.  You do not want to be the cause of a head-on crash. Even if the swim involves a single length of each of several lanes in a Z-pattern, stay to the right as a matter of courtesy to faster swimmers.  You will appreciate this if you are the faster swimmer.
pool swim

Staying within your space during a pool swim will allow faster racers to pass.

  • Not allowing faster swimmers to pass when they let you know that they want to
Another courtesy to fellow racers is to allow faster swimmers to pass.  Let them pass as soon as possible once they have signaled that they want to do so.  Typically, faster swimmers will tap one of the feet of the swimmer that they wish to pass.  If you can, move to the right side of the lane to allow them to pass.  In races in which the entire length of swim involves multiple laps within a given lane, it is typical for the racer who is being passed to pause at the end of a length.  Allow the faster swimmer or swimmers to pass you, and then resume your swim.  

What is your experience?

Have you identified other mistakes or have experience with those I have listed? Leave your comments below.  

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