Running on uneven surfaces is beneficial for strengthening a wider range of muscles in the feet, ankles, legs, and core. It is also good for improving balance. According to one source, off-road running lowers the risk of injury compared to road running.
During recent restrictions, some governments required a mask to be worn when within 6 feet of another person not from within your household. In these situations, I found it simpler to run on trails and grassy park areas away from the sidewalks where pedestrians and leisure walkers travel.
Training More Aerobically
If you are like most of us, you train differently when people are watching compared to when you are alone. At least one study has shown the power of training with others. Group classes and training partners tend to drive us to train harder.
This can be good.
However, if our goal is to train slowly, then training with a group can cause us to train harder than we ought.
On the other hand, when no one is watching, we are comfortable training more slowly, more aerobically. We can also train with lower weights and more repetitions when no one is watching.
Having the freedom to train aerobically and with lighter weights is good because it protects us from injury.
Shunning the Mass Swim Start
Ask most triathletes and they will tell you that one of the least pleasant parts of triathlon is the mass swim start. You can feel as if you are being attacked by other swimmers as each jockey for position. It is only in the triathlon mass start that swimming can become a contact sport.
One way race directors are creating more space between triathletes is through the time-trial swim start. With this type start, swimmers enter the water at 5 to 10-second intervals. This extends space between racers in the swim which carries over to each of the other legs.
Triathletes are a motivated, driven group. However, we can often be guilty of impatience when training for a triathlon as we strive to become faster or go longer distances.
Younger athletes can get by with more impatience and carelessness in their triathlon training. However, older athletes are less tolerant to training errors. Recovery from training related injuries is longer. Some injuries may even be career ending.
Patience Is A Virtue Especially in Training
When I hear of patience, I am often reminded of the phrase ‘patience is a virtue’.
There are various thoughts on the origin of this phrase. Some attribute it to the early fifth century poem by Prudentius titled Psychomachia. Others credit William Langford in his 14th century poem Piers Plowman.
That ‘patience is a virtue’ is timeless. This idea has been passed down through the ages because it is true, including for triathlon training.
What Does Impatience In Triathlon Training Look Like?
You know the feeling during a game of Taboo when the hourglass timer is running out of sand and your partner is contemplating a clue for the challenge word?
That’s the feeling of impatience. But it has nothing to do with triathlon.
However, the following thoughts, mostly based on experience, do apply to triathlon training. They are examples of how impatience can rear its ugly head in training.
1. Going Too Hard Too Soon
My run training has suffered over the past few winter months. Gyms require masks throughout the visit, something I cannot and will not do while running. On top of this, it’s too cold for me to run outside.
So, when I traveled to a warm climate for a few weeks this winter, I was ready to run.
I have lost count of the number of times I have strained a muscle or been too sore the next day to run. On this trip, however, I pledged to exercise patience.
Sure enough, I saw the results I had hoped for. After two weeks of aerobic training, I was ready to introduce some intervals and long runs.
Patience is important because the quickest path to injury is to do too much too quickly.
2. Buying the Latest Gadget, Supplement, Or Gear To Make You Faster
Our sport has caught the attention of some brilliant marketers. Many promise that the latest supplement, pair of shoes, bike wheels, or gadget will make us faster.
During the earlier days of my triathlon journey, I succumbed to these messages. I still have some of these items in my closet, which I no longer use.
Of course, we need some basic gear to be competitive. For example, a heart rate monitor has made my training more effective by forcing me to ‘go slow’ while I build aerobic fitness.
Also, swapping my 18-speed Giant hybrid bike, which I used in my first triathlon, for a properly fitted, entry level triathlon specific bike (tri-bike) has made a tremendous difference in my bike times. Most of the improvement from the bike came from the difference in gearing between the two bikes.
After this, I quickly experience the law of diminishing returns. Gear that will help a younger, professional athlete shave seconds from his/her time is unnecessary for me, an amateur triathlete who is solely competing in the sport for fun and as a focus for staying physically fit.
For most of beginner triathletes, spending a week’s wages to shave weight from the bike will have less impact on our bike times than strengthening the relevant muscles or losing a few pounds.
The article summed up my sentiments. Most of us will get the greatest gains in performance from increasing our strength and endurance, not from spending on the latest fad or buying more expensive equipment.
Patience in spending on supplements, sensors, and equipment is valuable. There are no shortcuts in triathlon training. Consistency and discipline win the race.
3. Not Resting Properly or Enough
In a post on a rest and recovery for senior triathletes, Jim Chapman shared the benefits he has seen from increasing the amount of rest he gets. The patience to listen to your body or, in Jim’s case to his coach, is rewarded in the long run.
Driving ourselves too hard without proper rest can quickly lead to injury or, at a minimum, poorer results from the training.
Rest does not have to mean sitting on the couch watching movies. Cross-training that allows hard-worked muscles to repair can provide rest without sacrificing fitness.
Patience leads to a well recovered, adaptable body.
4. Not Sticking With Your Plan
If you are self-coached, like me, you may relate to this one. There are many free (e.g. library books, blog posts) or inexpensive resources for developing a triathlon training plan.
However, when improvement is slow, there is a tendency to change the plan frequently, even in small ways.
Then, if you are training alone, without a partner or as part of a group, the pressure to tweak the plan can be overwhelming.
There can be legitimate reasons to change a plan, especially if it is not working. However, we don’t want to be the proverbial dog who jumps when he hears the word ‘squirrel’.
Patience gives a solid plan a chance to produce results.
Patience Truly Is A Virtue In Triathlon Training
If you are beginning, patience is vital to improving your performance and gaining confidence while minimizing the risk of injury.
If you are an experienced triathlete, patience is a vital ingredient to training that leads to stronger performance. Patience leads to a strong finish.
Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.
Arkadelphia-Caddo Valley, Arkansas; September 13, 2020—DeGray Lake Sprint Triathlon.
The DeGray Lake Triathlon was the only race I would take part in during 2020. The government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in others in Kansas and Oklahoma I had registered for being canceled.
I had originally registered for a spring race, the Ozark Valley Triathlon in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Organizers delayed this triathlon until the fall and eventually made it a virtual-only race.
I had – and still have – no interest in a virtual race. One of my reasons for doing a triathlon in every state is to visit each one. I want to experience each state from the perspective of triathlon by swimming, biking, and running in it.
Meanwhile, the DeGray Lake Triathlon had always been scheduled for later in the year. Thanks to a relaxing of restrictions by the State of Arkansas, organizers could hold a live event.
Traveling to the DeGray Lake Triathlon in Arkansas
Our ultimate destination for this trip was a little south of Little Rock, Arkansas. Through a couple of slight detours, we visited our son and his family and our son’s in laws.
Our initial route took us through central Iowa. Here, we saw hundreds of acres of flattened corn stalks. These were reminders of the hurricane level winds which had passed through the area in mid-August. Three hours later and we were at our son’s home near Omaha, Nebraska.
That evening, Joy and I prepared for the six of us Alaskan halibut that I had caught about a month earlier. We finished the evening watching “Frozen” for the umpteenth time with our granddaughters.
The destination for the second day was our son’s in laws in a pastoral area of central Missouri. This was the second visit to their home, as we had stayed with them before the Missouri triathlon. They are the greatest hosts.
Before departing for Arkansas the next morning, Joan loaded us up with canned goods. The box she sent us off with included jars of salsa, relish, tomato sauce, and elderberry juice all from the produce of her garden.
Last Minute Preparations for the Arkansas Triathlon
Part of the protocol for complying with state requirements was to allow triathletes to set up their transition area during packet pickup and leave their bike overnight.
A group from Teen Challenge, a faith-based nonprofit organization, secured the area. Others from this group provided support throughout the race the next day.
Next we completed our pre-race ritual of driving the course, or most of it. Joy drove while I observed the road conditions and took a few pictures. It was then time to sample the local cuisine at the Fish Net Family Restaurant.
22nd Annual DeGray Lake Triathlon
The weather on race morning was as near perfect for a triathlon as one can imagine. A light breeze created a satiny feeling to the humid, 73°F air.
While the sun was shining, it did so through a thick haze. We attributed this to smoke from forest fires still burning in California and the Pacific Northwest.
The advertised distances for the individual legs of this USAT-sanctioned sprint triathlon were:
Swim: 820 yards (0.75 km) – Actual: 645 yards or 0.59 km
Bike: 12.4 miles (20 km) – Actual: 14.1 miles or 22,7 km
Run: 3.1 miles (5 km) – Actual: 3.8 miles or 6.1 km
(The actual distances shown above are from my Garmin Forerunner 920XT.)
Before the start, race director Bruce Dunn of All Sports Productions led with a prayer that was both thoughtful and relevant to the time. Following the playing of a recorded version of the National Anthem, the triathlon began.
The temperature of the Lake DeGray water was over 78°F. To comply with USAT rules, anyone competing for an award could not wear a wetsuit.
The swim leg began using a ‘time-trial start’. This was another part of the COVID-19 protocol for this race. About every 5 seconds, a swimmer crossed the first timing mat, starting the timer for their race, and entered the water.
One benefit of the hazy sky was a muted sun. Had the sun been shining through an unfiltered sky, we would have looked nearly directly into it when sighting during the last part of the swim. Today, however, the haze made it much easier to locate the exit and swim on course.
Lake DeGray was the only flat part of this course. Both the bike and run courses involved a continuous series of rolling hills.
After a short ride from the ‘Bike Mount’ location outside the transition area, we turned onto the road within the park. The bike course stayed on this road during both the out and back portions.
The initial ride involved a climb that felt much steeper than the picture below indicates.
I made it through the first hill, though my heart was pounding. I caught my breath while on the flatter section across the dam.
As I started to climb the second hill a little past the dam, I downshifted and the chain came off. It became jammed between the frame and sprocket. The bike stopped almost instantly.
Unable to unclip my shoes from the pedals, I promptly fell over to my left. I scuffed my left knee and jammed my left ring finger.
Another casualty was my pride. As typical, several racers paused as they passed to ask if I needed help. I didn’t but was grateful for the support.
Limping through the bike leg
I got the chain back on. However, being on a modest hill, I could not mount my bike and clip my shoes into the pedals. I have never practiced this.
I walked the bike up the hill until reaching a flat enough section on which I could get on the bike and clip my shoes into the pedals.
Immediately, I noticed the chain would jump back or ahead one gear every one to two revolutions of the pedal. I was at a loss for what to do. Finding no solution, I kept riding, though slower than I should have. The clicking sound distracted me. I was also concerned the chain would come off again.
On the other hand, I was grateful for being able to finish the race.
After the race, I learned that both the chain and derailleur were damaged, presumably in the crash. A few days after returning home, a technician at Maple Grove Cycling repaired the derailleur and installed a new chain.
By the time I got to the run leg, the temperature had risen ten degrees to 81°F. It was still humid, though not different from conditions I had been training in over the summer.
The T-shaped out-and-back course took place on roads within the DeGray Lake Recreation Area. With the time trial start, maintaining physical distance between racers was easy.
Or was it because I was near the rear of the pack?
A Variation on a Basic Triathlon Axiom
Most beginner triathletes know you should never put into practice anything for the first time on race day.
I learned an important corollary to this truth in the Arkansas triathlon: “Do nothing on race day that you have not done during the final weeks of training for the race”.
I had not ridden my triathlon bike on hills similar to those of the race course during the last several months before this race. Even though the bike had been recently tuned and ridden on the trainer, it was not race-ready.
After the DeGray Lake Triathlon
After the race, Joy and I visited historic Hot Springs. From there, we headed north through the Ozark Mountains. We continued through Kansas City and Des Moines back to Minneapolis.
First triathlon race during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was the first triathlon with a new Trek SpeedConcept frame.
First triathlon for which I body marked myself using tattoos provided by the race organizer and a felt-tip marker. This was yet another part of the COVID protocol for this race.
Because of government restrictions, this was the first of my triathlons that Joy did not attend as a spectator. However, she visited the race venue with me during packet pickup the day before the race. (Truthfully, I think she enjoyed sleeping in.)
Have You Had a Bike Malfunction During a Triathlon?
Has your bike malfunctioned during a triathlon?
Have you done any triathlons in Arkansas? Which? What was your experience?
I completed the lesson, finishing with a game plan from the instructor for further developing my skate skiing technique. Before the second, solo outing with the skate skis, I watched a few videos with drills for beginners.
The videos reinforced what I had learned during the lesson, that skate skiing requires much better balance than classic cross country skiing. Before moving from the practice area to the course, I must learn to balance while gliding on one ski longer than I am currently able.
How do I improve my balance? That is the question I have been trying to answer and the subject of this post.
What is Balance?
According to the non-profit VeDA, “Balance is achieved and maintained by a complex set of sensorimotor control systems that include sensory input from vision (sight), proprioception (touch), and the vestibular system (motion, equilibrium, spatial orientation); integration of that sensory input; and motor output to the eye and body muscles.”
Essentially, balance involves the following three processes:
Signals from inputs (eyes, ears, touch, etc.) travel to and are processed by the brain.
Signals from the brain travel to the muscles required to maintain balance.
These muscles contract as needed to stabilize the body.
For good balance, these processes must occur quickly and efficiently.
How Does Age Affect Balance?
Balance tends to decline with age, beginning as early as age 40. According to the USA’s National Institutes of Health, a problem with balance is among the most common reasons older adults seek help from a doctor.
Poor balance can have many causes. These include disease, loss of eyesight, reaction to medications, changes in the skeletal system, and loss of muscle strength and joint flexibility.
Muscle strength is key to balance for a healthy, active adult. Strong muscles allow the signals from the brain to produce quick response. Conversely, if muscles are weak, they may not be able to provide adequate or fast enough response to maintain balance.
The foot, which can also change with age, is critical to balance. Even a relatively minor change, such as growth of a bunion, has been shown to affect balance.
Posture, which affects one’s center of gravity, often becomes poorer with age through loss of core muscle strength. If our body’s center of gravity is not directly over the support position, we are not balanced. With poor posture, we are less stable and more likely to fall.
How Can Balance Be Improved?
Assuming no other medical conditions, balance is primarily related to the neuromuscular system. Therefore, the current training program can be modified to (1) strengthen any overlooked muscles that affect balance and (2) train the nervous system.
According to an article on the NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association) website, adaptation of the nervous system occurs more quickly than does building of muscle mass. Early in a strength training program, the ability to lift greater weight is due more to adaptation of the nervous system than to increase in muscle mass.
The Law of Facilitation is in play when a signal from the brain to a muscle or set of muscles passes through a given pathway, excluding other paths. As the movement is repeated, the resistance in the ideal path becomes progressively smaller with the number of repetitions. The body continues to adapt and respond more efficiently until the movement becomes automatic.
Through this process of adaptation, we are creating what is often called ‘muscle memory‘. Through practice, even complex movements are made with little or no conscious effort.
Several posts, including Six Principles of Triathlon Training for Seniors, document that the rate of muscle loss increases with age. Our goal is to reduce the rate of muscle loss. As noted earlier, one component of a program to improve balance is to strengthen the muscles affecting balance.
While the focus of most strength training for triathlon is the larger muscles (gluteus maximus, hamstring, quadriceps), smaller muscles (gluteus medius, soleus) are often ignored and lose strength without us realizing it.
Since these smaller muscles are important for stabilizing the hip and knee when standing on one leg, they are important for balance and, therefore, skate skiing and ice skating as well as biking and running.
My wife is a stickler for good posture. After many years of ignoring her comments about my posture, I now encourage her to point out when I am slouching or not sitting tall. She relishes the assignment and is quite good at it.
Exercises To Develop Better Balance and Become a Stronger Triathlete
Through a ski instructor, physical therapist, and several websites, I have developed a routine that I expect will lead to better balance for skate skiing.
The following series of exercises is performed three days per week. They are add-ons to regular strength training, which includes a series of five core strengthening exercises and a new exercise targeting the gluteus medius.
Single leg stand – stand on one leg with the knee bent slightly and the other leg off the ground and stationary. Hold for one minute on each leg. Once this becomes too easy with your eyes fixed on a point in the distance, try it with your eyes open but looking to your right or left. Then try it with your eyes closed.
Single leg swing – stand on one leg with the knee bent slightly and the other leg swinging forward and backward. Move your arms in combination with your leg. Repeat one minute on each leg.
Single leg dip – stand on one leg with the other out to the side, then bend the knee of the leg on which you are balancing to dip down and return to standing upright with your knee bent slightly. Repeat for one minute on each leg for 10-15 repetitions.
Single leg hop scotch – hop on one leg, landing inside an array of five real or imaginary rings and return backward to the start. Switch legs and repeat. Maintain standing balance at the end of each repetition.
Expect these to become easier as your body adapts to the position and the stabilizing muscles become stronger.
Single leg forward jump and hold
To even more closely mimic the movements in skate skiing than those of the single leg hop scotch, Peter from McBike & Sport suggests hopping forward and out onto one foot and holding this position for one to two seconds to simulate maintaining balance during the glide. Repeat the sequence on the other foot for one repetition. I am working up to repeating this 50 times for each foot.
Better Balance Makes A Stronger, Less Injury Prone Runner
This project started out as an effort to find a better, more enjoyable way of training for the bike leg during the winter without sitting on a trainer or moving to a warmer climate or buying a fat tire bike.
What I have learned is that better balance will also help in the run leg. Running is effectively a matter of jumping onto one leg and balancing on it for a short time then repeating this on the other leg. Good balance of each leg minimizes fatigue and injury from running.
Essentially, running is a series of single leg squat jumps, occurring quickly and repetitively.