Is it fun to do a triathlon or other multi-sport endurance race? It is the way senior triathlete Nikki Austin does it, with family and friends and in various places she has not previously been.
Meet Nikki Austin
During most of her week, Dr. Nikki Austin serves as an associate professor in the Department of Nursing at Towson University (Towson, Maryland). Besides preparing the next generation of nurses, Nikki has authored or coauthored papers and spoken on a wide range of topics, including nursing care for children and adults in disasters.
When not working, Nikki is most likely training for her next multi-sport race, a triathlon or aquabike event. She is also an important part of the Senior Triathletes community, recently contributing to the post on Becoming a Confident Open Water Swimmer.
Nikki ‘s Triathlon History
Nikki’s introduction to triathlon came while providing medical support at the Eagleman Maryland 70.3 triathlon. The athletes inspired her, causing her to realize she would rather race than watch.
Shortly thereafter, Nikki learned that her youngest brother, Tim, had been doing triathlons for years. In 2013, Nikki completed the Frantic Frog Triathlon with him in his hometown of Scottsboro, Alabama.
Despite its later name change, this triathlon has become an annual racing event for Nikki’s family. Over the past ten years, she has competed in the Frantic Frog and its successor with her three brothers, two sisters-in-law, and many nephews and a niece.
Because of her love for racing, Nikki has, in the last few years, set a goal of doing around six races per year, one each month from May through October. At least one of these is what Nikki calls a ‘bucket list’ race, one in an area of the country she has not previously visited.
Training for Multi-Sport Racing
Signing up for a race provides all the motivation Nikki needs to train. While she is self-coached, in part because of her demanding work schedule, Nikki also sometimes trains with the Baltimore Area Triathlon Club.
Her typical training schedule includes:
- Two times per week, swim 1.2 miles at her local pool.
- At least once per week, ride 20 to 25 miles. Today, these rides are typically on a circuit on the beach near her home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, or on a rail trail, such as the National Capital Rail Trail or Washington Old Dominion Trail. She recommended several other trails as well.
- One time per week, complete an upper body strength training routine using her Bowflex.
Primarily because of knee pain, Nikki rarely runs. It is also the reason she has recently transitioned from triathlon to the aquabike (swim-bike) event.
To manage other chronic issues, Nikki has found the physical therapists at Dominion Physical Therapy to be incredibly helpful.
Preparing for the Next Race
Before a race, Nikki tries to complete the distance of the race at least once. This approach is good advice for beginners and those moving to a longer distance race.
First, training for the race distance helps develop the required strength and fitness. She also learns about your body’s need for water and calories to comfortably complete the distance.
To the extent possible, she also trains in the weather conditions she could face in the race. For example, if she is doing a spring race, some of her training for each of the legs of the race will be done in cold and windy weather.
Fun Racing With Family & Friends
While the fun of racing with family members has continued year after year, the specific race profile has occasionally changed.
One year after Nikki had suffered a broken ankle, the family group decided to ‘mix it up’ and race as a team. Nikki did the swim and bike, while one of her brothers did the run leg.
In other races, each of the family members does the event that best matches their skills. For example, in the Charlotteville, Virginia event in September 2019 (see the picture at the top of this post), Nikki’s two brothers and her nephew did the sprint triathlon, sister-in-law Janet completed the duathlon (run-bike-run), and Nikki competed in the sprint aquabike (swim-bike).
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Racing with family and friends is so cool and so fun. Plus, I am creating a retirement wardrobe with the race t-shirts.Nikki Austin
Making an Impact
Nikki sees part of her role as an educator to model habits that will help her students beyond graduation. This is one reason she rides her bike to work and parks it in her office. On top of this, exercise, particularly swimming, provides relief from the stress of her workday.
Exploring New Places
“You’re doing a race in July where?”
This was the nearly unanimous sentiment of family and friends whom Nikki told of her upcoming race in Florida.
Ignoring the nay-sayers, she competed in the July 2022 Fort DeSoto International Aquabike event in St. Petersburg, Florida. To make the event even more memorable, she ended up on the podium with a third place finish in her age group.
Those she told about plans to do the June 2022 Escape the Cape aquabike race also thought she was crazy. After all, who in their right mind would jump off the Cape May Ferry to swim back to shore? One friend was sure that they would be nothing more than ‘shark bait’.
Nikki did this race anyway. “This was a great race. I even enjoyed the long run in the sand to transition.”
I have never been a racer, but I just love to do these races. I love to meet new people and see those I have raced with in other places. The camaraderie is great.Nikki Austin
Racing With a New Hip
That Nikki continues racing today is proof that joint pain or replacement need not end your racing career. In fact, one of her most fun races was the 2021 Lititz recCenter Triathlon (Lititz, Pennsylvania) which took place a mere nine months after hip replacement surgery.
Each individual should follow the advice of their orthopedic surgeon. In Nikki’s case, her surgeon encouraged her to continue swimming, biking, and even running. “Getting back in the pool was great therapy!”
She’s still racing hard more than three years later even though knee pain has caused her to avoid running and switch to aquabike racing.
Advice For Ensuring Fun In Triathlon
With ten years of racing at various distances, Nikki has learned a few lessons from which others can benefit.
Choosing a Race
If you are racing with family and friends who have different interests and capability, look for races with options to fit everyone. “Races with many options are just great.”
While reading about a race, Nikki also looks for information about the support services that will be available during the race. Running out of water or food during a longer distance race, like half Ironman, can be disastrous if not terribly unpleasant.
By the way, Nikki is looking for what she calls her ideal race, one involving swim-bike-kayak. If you know of one, share this information in the Comments section below.
Related Post: How To Choose Your Next Triathlon
Many of the senior endurance athletes I have interviewed have told me of the importance of pre-race nutrition. Arriving at the race fully fueled is essential.
Nikki echoed this advice. In fact, she eats a breakfast on race day like one she has every other day of the week, typically two egg sandwiches.
For the typical aquabike race involving international (Olympic) or half Ironman distances, she has a banana and protein shake in the swim to bike transition and consumes water and a couple of GU packs during the bike leg.
Nikki told me about a race in which she ran out of water and, because of cold weather and a delayed start to the race, burned more calories than expected. Because of this, she became thirsty and hungry during the race. From this unpleasant experience, she now arrives at the race with food and water based on the race distance and level of on-course support.
Being prepared for a race requires training in each of the sports of a triathlon or other multi-sport event. For proper training, one must have clothing and equipment that fits correctly and is in good condition. Sources of quality gear are “worth their weight in gold”.
Nikki recommends having a bike shop staffed with those who will make sure the bike fits correctly and works well. She also makes sure she has biking socks and shoes that are quick and easy to put on and prevent foot cramps and blisters.
Nikki’s final piece of advice is also golden.
Some days we arrive at the race feeling better than on others. If you are feeling unable to complete the race for which you originally signed up, try to change your race.
Nikki found this to be her situation for one race for which she had registered to complete the Olympic distance triathlon. Rather than drop out of the race, she competed in the sprint distance race. Another option would have been to race as a team instead of individuals.
Is Triathlon Racing Fun?
What do you enjoy most about racing in triathlon or other multi-sport events? Has there been a particular race in which you have had the most fun?
Let us know in the Comments below.
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