Stan Reents, PharmD
05/06/2007 11:25 AM
Last Revision: 12/10/2018 06:03 AM
Twenty years ago, triathlon was considered an insane event that appealed to only the most hardcore of athletes. In 1995, about 50,000 Americans entered a triathlon event. Today, that number is closer to 200,000 annually. Even health clubs are now offering triathlon classes. Training like a triathlete is appealing to some people, as evidenced in the article "The Ironman Workout" in the October 2005 issue of Men's Journal magazine.
HISTORY OF THE TRIATHLON
The triathlon was invented in the early 1970s by the San Diego Track Club, as an alternative workout to running on the track. The club's first event consisted of a 500-meter swim, an 8-K bike, and a 10-K run.
In 1989, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) was founded in Avignon, France and the first world championships were held. The official distance for triathlon was set at 1.5-K swim, 40-K bike, and 10-K run; these were based on Olympic events that existed in each discipline at the time. This distance, now called the "Olympic" distance, is used for the ITU World Cup series, the Olympic & Commonwealth Games, and the Asian Championships.
In 1994, triathlon was awarded "full medal status" by the IOC and made its debut in the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney. Triathlon first appeared at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 at Manchester in Great Britain.
The Ironman Triathlon is a legendary race. It consists of a 2.4-mile ocean swim, 112-mile bike race, and 26.2-mile run. Thus, the Ironman distance is more than 4 times longer than the Olympic distance. Competitors have 17 hours to finish the Ironman. Cutoff times are also applied to the swim (2:20 after the start of the race) and the bike (10:30 after the start of the race).
The first Ironman, and still the most popular, is the Hawaii Ironman. The Hawaii Ironman -- the original Ironman -- is held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in early October each year. The swim segment begins and ends at the pier in Kailua. The bike race travels north on the Kona Coast to the small village of Hawi, and then returns along the same route to the new transition area at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. The marathon course travels through Kailua and onto the same highway used for the bike race. Contestants run back into Kailua-Kona, coming down Alii Drive to the finish line. Prize money totalling $580,000 is awarded.
Up to 1,800 competitors, ages 18-80, compete from 50-plus countries and all 50 states. Upwards of 50,000 athletes attempt to qualify at Ironman qualifying races worldwide. Another 4,000 enter the race lottery, which awards 150 slots to US citizens and 50 slots to international athletes. Age group champions automatically qualify for the next year's race.
For weekend warriors, the "sprint" triathlon is the most popular triathlon distance. While the Ironman covers a total of 140 miles, and the Olympic distance totals 32 miles, sprint triathlons can be as little as 15 miles. An example might be a quarter- to half-mile swim, a 12-mile bike, and a 2-3-mile run.
Some different triathlon distances are summarized below:
|• Kids Of Steel
|• Super Sprint
|750 m (0.47 mi)
|20 km (12.4 mi)
|5 km (3.1 mi)
|1.5 km (0.93 mi)
|40 km (24.8 mi)
|10 km (6.2 mi)
|1.9 km (1.2 mi)
|90 km (56 mi)
|21.1 km (13.1 mi)
|3.8 km (2.4 mi)
|180 km (112 mi)
|42.2 km (26.2 mi)
GOVERNING BODIES FOR TRIATHLON
The governing body of triathlon is the International Triathlon Union (ITU) (www.Triathlon.org). The ITU consists of over 100 member National Federations throughout the world. The ITU is responsible to their member Federations for the conduct of all triathlons throughout the world with the exception of Ironman events.
Ironman is governed by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) based in the USA, and is a privately run organization which licenses and oversees Ironman events around the world. In June 2005, WTC launched Global Tri Group Inc. (GTG). Global Tri Group was formed to standardize rules/regulations, provide insurance assistance, and design programs to implement drug-testing worldwide. In addition, GTG will revamp the officiating system, including the methods in which penalties are assessed. Drug-testing will comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) (www.wada-ama.org).
TRAINING FOR A TRIATHLON
How you train for a triathlon depends greatly on which distance (eg., sprint, Olympic, Ironman) you plan to compete in. According to Libby Burrell, MS, in The Woman Triathlete (2005), you should allow a minimum of 8-12 weeks of triathlon-specific training if you are an athlete with good aerobic conditioning. If you do not have a good aerobic base, then allow for an additional 6-8 weeks of lower-intensity training.
If you are training for your first triathlon, your goal should be to establish a baseline level of ability in each event. Once you have done that, according to Burrell, you can focus on skill and technique in each event.
Recreational triathletes should focus their endurance training on proper form. The duration of each workout should be in the endurance heart rate zone with an occasional session done at tempo pace to challenge aerobic capacity.
Triathlete coach Roch Frey (www.MultiSports.com) recommends: one key workout, one longer aerobic workout, and an easy recovery session in each discipline per week as a fundamental training regimen.
As you become more fit and conditioned, you will be increasing both the volume (hours) and intensity of your workouts. The general rule is to not increase either of these variables by more than 10% per week.
Tips for planning your training regimen:
• Determine what your real goal is. Maybe it is your first race and all you want to accomplish is to finish without stopping. Or maybe you want to shave 4 minutes off of your bike. Or, maybe you want to win a specific race. Each of these goals would require a different training program. Then, focus all effort towards that goal. Pick short-term goals that support your long-term goal.
• Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Train harder in your weaker areas.
• Don't overtrain. Training for a triathlon requires a lot of effort. But, not everyone can be like Tim DeBoom (he won Ironman Hawaii in 2001 and 2002), who trains 8 hrs/day, 6 days/week. Don't forget to allow for adequate amounts of recovery time during your schedule.
Newcomers to distance races like the triathlon should consider The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training program (www.TeamInTraining.org). Team In Training is the world's largest endurance sports training program. Since 1988, they have coached over 265,000 athletes -- from novice to expert -- as they trained for half-marathons and marathons, century rides, and triathlons, while raising funds to support cancer research. Over 75% of the funds raised support program research.
When you want to get serious about training for a triathlon, consider the National Training Center in Clermont, Florida (www.USAntc.com). Many top-level triathletes have trained here.
If you want personalized coaching from the best in the world, consider: www.MultiSports.com. Multi Sports, LLC offers training by such great names as Paula Newby-Fraser, Paul Huddle, and Roch Frey.
YOUR FIRST TRIATHLON: WHAT TO EXPECT AND TIPS DURING THE RACE
If this is your first triathlon, don't be surprised if you get kicked by the swimmer in front of you. Not only does this disrupt your rhythm and psyche, but, if you lose your goggles, and you are in choppy salt water, you'll be in for a frustrating swim. So, know where to line up to minimize this.
Analyze the course before you jump in the water. The course can vary, even if the distance at 2 different events is the same. For example, one event may map the swim as 500 yards out, 500 yards across, and 500 yards back to shore. Another event might set up the same distance as 300 yards out, 900 yards across, and 300 yards back to shore.
If the first turn is to the left, line up on the right side of the group. That way you will be on the outside of the turn when you (and everyone else) get there. If you are a slow swimmer, give everyone a 20-ft head-start before you jump in.
Triathlon coach Kevin Koskella (www.TriSwimCoach.com), author of The Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming, says to aim for 30 strokes per 50 meters.
Another tip is to get out of the water before trying to remove your wet suit.
The cycling phase of the triathlon is the longest, but also where you can make some excellent time. But, this depends on 2 things: (a) you have the right bike for your size and it is set-up correctly, and (b) you know how to ride.
Regarding the first issue, if you want to have a chance at being competitive, you simply must have a good bike. (I'm not going to review bikes in detail here. Instead, readers are referred Bicycles.) But, just as important is making sure the bike "fits" you like a tailored suit. Your cycling efficiency can be seriously compromised by having either your seat or your handlebars too high or too low, if your bike is too heavy, or if your tires aren't properly inflated.
• Hand position: Where you place your hands also has a dramatic effect on your cycling performance. There are 3 possible positions: (a) on the drops, (b) on the brake hood, and (c) on the top.
Riding with your hands on the top portion of the handlebar is the most comfortable, but, since it makes you sit more upright, this position produces the highest amount of wind drag. Also, this location gives you less turning control and it takes longer to grab the brakes. Thus, this position is not recommended.
During a race, you will be alternating between placing your hands on the drops and on the brake hood. With your hands on the drops, your torso is in the best position with regards to wind resistance, but cycling efficiency is compromised. When leaned way over, your diaphragm is constricted, thus, impairing maximum ventilation. And hip position hinders maximum pedalling power. But, when riding into a headwind, or flying downhill, this is the best place for your hands.
The most common position during a race is to hold the brake hoods. This hand position is about halfway between the other two. Also, from this position, you can grab the brakes easily. Take time to analyze the bike course, especially if it contains lots of hills and/or turns.
• Pedaling: With regards to pedaling, there are 3 issues: cadence, foot angle, and seat height.
You should aim for a cadence of 80-100 revolutions per minute. Less than 70 per minute compromises your efficiency. At a slow cadence, you will actually waste more energy, and increase the chance you will develop knee pain. Rates higher than 100 per minute will cause you to bounce on your saddle. Attempt to "spin" the pedals using a nice, controlled rhythm.
Regarding foot angle, keep your foot parallel to the ground throughout the entire revolution except on the upstroke where the heel is elevated slightly as you pull up.
Seat height is critical: too low and you will develop knee pain; too high causes you to rock back and forth on the saddle and compromises power.
Other tips regarding the bike segment of a triathlon:
• For maximum pedalling power when going uphill, shift your weight to the rear of the saddle.
• Rehydrating and consuming energy gels is easiest during the bike, so take advantage of that. Drink fluids while riding even if you are not thirsty.
• Drafting another rider is not permitted in most amateur triathlon races.
• Watch for sand or debris on the road surface when leaned over in a turn.
• If the road is wet, be very careful of railroad tracks and manhole covers.
Your legs will feel heavy at the beginning of the run. For the first 2 minutes, just try to find a rhythm.
Transitions should be viewed as a seamless part of your complete triathlon, not an isolated entity. Karen Buxton, author of Off-Season Training for Triathletes offers these tips for reducing the time spent at transitions:
• Mark your spot: Use a brightly colored towel to place your equipment on and note landmarks that will help you locate your spot.
• Less is more: Bring only what you will need into the transition area. Too much equipment just adds clutter and can be a hazard to you and your competitors.
• Have a plan: Know in which order you will put on equipment. For example, at T1, put on your helmet before removing your bike from the rack. Then, at T2, put your bike on the rack before removing your helmet.
• Be quick, but don’t hurry: Be calm and purposeful in your movements. Rushing around will just cause you to fumble with your equipment or worse, to forget something.
• Expect the unexpected: If something goes wrong (eg., a piece of equipment is not where you put it or a tire is flat), have a plan for these situations. Take care of them calmly.
• Make a mental map: Walk through the transition area several times to familiarize yourself with the flow of the area.
• Practice transitions prior to race day. Work on wetsuit peeling, running with your bike, mounts, dismounts and changing equipment.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Triathlon web sites include:
• www.InsideTriathlon.com is the online version of Inside Triathlon magazine.
• www.TriFuel.com is a site where endurance athletes can connect with each other. Find opinions on gear, books, coaches, and more. The site also has several city-specific sections.
• www.USATriathlon.org. This is the official web site for USA Triathlon and it contains a ton of useful links.
• A Florida triathlon group that has developed quite a reputation is the St. Pete Mad Dogs (www.StPeteMadDogs.com). Founded in 1993, and based in St. Petersburg, they now have more than 1500 members from all over the world.
• A web site listing races in south Florida is www.MultiRace.com.
If you're looking for marque events, consider these:
• Escape From Alcatraz: In this race, you swim in the San Francisco Bay, bike through Golden Gate Park, and run in the Presidio. Their web site also lists several other triathlons in central California: www.TriCalifornia.com.
• St. Anthony's Triathlon (www.SATriathlon.com), held in April in St. Petersburg, FL, is a very popular and competitive event. This race is also at the Olympic distance (swim 1.5K, bike 40K, run 10K). Online registrations fill-up in a matter of hours.
• Triathlon World Championships: This is the major event annually for triathletes competing at the Olympic distance (swim 1.5K, bike 40K, run 10K). This event is conducted each year in the country successfully bidding to the International Triathlon Union (ITU) to stage the world Triathlon Championships.
• Ironman Triathlon: Information on the Ironman races can be found at IronmanLive.com.
Books on Triathlon:
• Be Iron Fit by Don Fink (Lyons Press, $13.95), one of the most successful Ironman triathletes in the world, is packed with advice and training regimens. This book is mainly intended for experienced and advanced triathletes.
• The Woman Triathlete (Human Kinetics, $19.95) is an excellent book for triathletes, from beginners to Olympic-level athletes. It is a collection of chapters by authors that represent a veritable Who's Who in the world of female triathletes. (Men, don't be misled by the title...this book is a great resource for anyone wanting to train for or improve their performance in the triathlon.) Every chapter is packed with detailed information. Topics include sports nutrition, technic, gear, psychology, detailed training regimens, even tips like where to line up at the start.
• Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals by Steven Jonas, MD (W. W. Norton, $15.95) is a book that beginners might want to consider. Jonas is a physician who has completed more than 100 races and writes about his experiences.
Consult the Library for the following related stories:
GEAR FOR TRIATHLETES:
• www.TriVillage.com is an online store that sells gear for triathletes.
• www.SwimBikeAndRun.com is a South Miami store that supplies apparel and gear for triathletes.
• Swimming Gear: If you're looking for a wet suit, check out XTERRA (www.XTerraWetsuits.com) or Speedo (www.SpeedoUSA.com). Speedo also has swimming fins and power paddles which help to develop swimming strength.
• Bikes: Major manufacturers of triathlon bikes such as Cannondale, Specialized, and Trek each have excellent web sites.
• Running Gear: Save time in your transitions by using Speed Laces on your running shoes www.SpeedLaces.com.
EXPERT HEALTH and FITNESS COACHING
Stan Reents, PharmD, is available to speak on a variety of exercise-related topics. (Here is a downloadable recording of one of his Health Talks.) He also provides a one-on-one Health Coaching Service. Contact him through the Contact Us page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stan Reents, PharmD, is a former healthcare professional. He is a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). In the past, he has been certified as a Health Fitness Specialist by ACSM, as a Certified Health Coach by ACE, as a Personal Trainer by ACE, and as a tennis coach by USTA. He is the author of Sport and Exercise Pharmacology (published by Human Kinetics) and has written for Runner's World magazine, Senior Softball USA, Training and Conditioning and other fitness publications.
DISCLOSURE: Neither the author, nor AthleteInMe, LLC, has any financial relationships with any manufacturer mentioned in this review.
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