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Welcome to the Tri Swim Coach podcast. This is Episode #36 and this is Kevin. Today I am actually releasing a podcast I did with Simon Gowen on his show on L.A. Talk Radio, and this was last week. So, it’s actually him interviewing myself and two other coaches, Lance Watson and Luis Vargas. The title of the show is “Top Ten Tips for Beginners”. We go through a ton of information on answering questions, typical questions from beginners, and then some questions that we made up that people should be asking but aren’t. It was a great show, I think that Simon does a great job over there and I highly recommend going over there and checking it out. Even if you just listen to this podcast, go check out the L.A. Talk Radio show and you can go to simongowen.com to get to his site. I’m also going to be having him as a guest. Simon Gowen is going to be coming on my show here next week, so I should have that to you in a couple weeks and that’s going to be awesome stuff.
The newsletter– Some of you that are listening are subscribers to my newsletter. If you subscribed previous to the last couple weeks, around mid-January, you might have been getting the old five lessons that I gave with the newsletter subscription. What we did is we upgraded those so that every lesson is actually very comprehensive and you get a PDF that explains the drill, the workout, what you’re supposed to be getting out of the drill, and then it actually has pictures of how to perform the drill. It’s very detailed. It’s more detailed than what I was giving before. So, if you are interested in getting that, it’s five swim sessions. It’s all free. So, if you can’t afford the Tri Swim Secrets course right now, it’s a great way to get started or to just make some improvements to your freestyle. You can just go to either website: triswimcoachonline.com and put in your name and email address. It’s a new list, so if you’ve already subscribed in the past, you can go ahead and subscribe again. Don’t worry, you’re only going to be on one list. I’m not going to be spamming anyone or anything like that. So, there’s that.
I’m doing a triathlon. I’m going to be entering the San Diego International Sprint Distance, and that’s in June. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m still looking for a bike, so if anyone knows of any great deals on used bikes, I’m not picky, I’m not a biker at all, I just want to have some fun. I’m leaning towards either going with a really, really, cheap tri-bike or just doing it on my beach cruiser. It would be really slow, but it might be kind of fun. It would also give me some stories for later. If you have any suggestions there, firstname.lastname@example.org and without further ado, here’s the interview. Enjoy. Have a great week of training and we’ll talk to you soon!
Simon: Hello and welcome to the Simon Gowen Triathlon Show. On this week’s show, we’re going to be asking the questions that newbies ask to coach, and we’ve got a coaches panel including some of the best coaches in the United States and Canada. We have Kevin Koskella who is the tri-swim coach, we’ve got Lance Watson from Life Support coaching and Luis Vargas from Mark Allen Online.
We’re going to be answering the questions that people generally ask them, but also the questions that people should be asking, so you can have an amazing 2011 season. The Simon Gowen Triathlon show is brought to you by Triathlon Lab. You can check out Triathlon Labs 2011 Triathlon starter kit. It’s a really proper kit. It contains all the necessary gear needed to train and compete in triathlons at a price that won’t break the bank. It includes a complete bike, wet suit, and ten other race essential items for only $999. By the Mano Lani Hotel and bungalows on the big island of Kona, the venue of choice for top triathlete Miranda Carfrae and Tim DeBoom. Also by Leslie Cowen Law, offering positive solutions for personal and business bankruptcy.
Onto our tips of the day for newbie triathletes, these are the questions that people most write in about to coaches and we’re going to kick off with the swim, which is customary in triathlons. So, I’m going to start with Kevin Koskella. Kevin, first of all, welcome to the show! Nice to have you on!
Kevin: Well, thanks Simon. Yeah. It’s good to be here.
Simon: Great to have you again. So, you know, the first question for you is “How do I breath in the freestyle without my stroke completely falling to bits?”
Kevin: Right. That was the one I lead off with. I think that’s the most common question I get as a coach. Everybody seems to do pretty well at getting their freestyle together to the point where we add in breathing, and then everything just kind of falls apart. That’s where, I think, the most difficult thing in freestyle is adding in breathing. It starts, really, at the beginning with practicing drills, and then everybody’s kind of tired of hearing about how many drills you have to do. But, it is important to get that feel for the water and get the balance in the water first. That’s going to be your key to breathing. When you breath, you’re rotating to the side. What a lot of people do is they will lift their head to breath, and what that does is it allows your body to sink. So, you’re arm is going to drop in the water and you’re not going to get the pull that you need to get to have your body in the right position.
Simon: Okay, so Kevin, what is the number one drill you recommend for helping people to get the right body position for breathing?
Kevin: Actually, there’s probably two. I wouldn’t want to just go with one. The first one is just working on your balance. I would think just start out with kicking on your side and that would get you used to being in that position, being on your side. I always have people kind of exaggerate that, so actually having your hips at a ninety degree angle, which isn’t how you want to swim, but it gets your body used to that balanced position. The second thing is actually going to be the pull. A lot of people are used to kind of driving their hands into the water and then when they breath, they’re dropping the hands down even further so the propulsion is very little. So, they’re really not going forward in the water like they should. The second drill, I would say is to use that high elbow pull. So, a lot of people call it the “High Elbow Catch”. You want to extend your arm out, into the water straight forward. Then, you’re going to bend your elbow and it’s a high elbow pulling all the way back, not dropping your arms. So, if you focus on those two things. The first one is sort of an initial just getting used to developing your balance and the second one is more technical, where you’re actually setting yourself up for the right body position. The breathing will come a lot easier.
Simon: Now, Lance Watson, do you have anything to add to that?
Lance: Those are points well made. I think a lot of people’s stroke breaks down because when we learn to swim, we’re all so desperate to get air in. For a self-taught swimmer, a lot of us are rolling onto our back, almost looking up to the Heavens trying to get our mouth out of the water and suck wind. One common mistake with breathing that I see in novice swimmers is that they don’t actually learn to exhale when their face is in the water. I’ve actually even coached elite level triathletes who don’t come from a swim background and I’ll be a year into coaching them and suddenly I’ll realize one of the reasons that I can’t get them to stop over rotating their head to get air in is that they’re not fully exhaling underwater so that when their mouth comes out of the water, they’re ready to get some oxygen in.
The important thing with the head position, of course, is that your head is like a big weight. Every time you over lift or over rotate your head, there’s a chain reaction throughout the body.
Simon: Now, Luis Vargas, in your experience, have you been noticing similar things? Anything different?
Luis: Yeah, those are all very valid points that the coaches have made. Another thing that I have done, and I see some other swim coaches do is try to take away the fear factor of the breathing to get the athletes to practice their stroke. Because it’s easy for me to sit here and say “Do the high elbow and the catch” when the guy is gasping for air. Basically, you’re trying to survive while you’re swimming, so if you’re trying to survive, you’re going to forget everything else. So, one of the things that you can do is use the Finis snorkel. It allows you to swim and practice your catch and your pull without having to worry about breathing. This way, you develop a little bit of the balance, a little bit of the proper catch and you don’t have to worry about anything other than just breath through the snorkel and don’t turn your head. Then, you slowly take that out and do other things in order to then incorporate the actual breathing. But, it’s really difficult to teach people how to do it correctly when they’re gasping for air. Which is why it would be really easy to swim perfectly for a 50, but the last 50 of a 500 it’s really difficult to swim perfect because now you’re gasping for air again. So, if you can take that gasping for air factor out a little bit to teach other aspects of your stroke, then you might be able to gain something.
Kevin: I think also, a lot of athletes, particularly if they’re coming from a running background or a cycling background, they’re used to the equation that the more I put in the better the results come. With swimming, it doesn’t tend to be like that. It’s one of those sports that’s much more about technique. So, a lot of people come in and they try to do everything a little bit too hard and a little too fast and they’re gassed after 25 yards, which makes learning the new skill difficult.
Okay, so next question. I’m going to go over to Lance now. Your question “How do I survive the swim?”
Lance: I never seem to have a lack of interest in pre-race open water swim clinics, questions from novice athletes staring out at that vast open water in front of them before a race and you know, that’s when the nerves kick in on race day for sure. Breathing is a great place to start as far as surviving the open water swim. Having a little bit of a prerace strategy and a good warm up strategy really helps alleviate the nerves before you get into the water. So many triathletes you see, they do their master swim, they have a good warm-up, 500 meters, 1000 meter warm up sometimes, then on race day, their warm up involves walking down to the water’s edge, maybe splashing a few splashes on their face and then the gun goes off and they’re asking their body to go up to 180 beats a minute from nothing in a crazy washing machine, arms flailing everywhere kind of environment. So, taking time to do a proper warm up and figuring out what gets you loose and helps you feel activated in swimming in the pool and try to emulate that somewhat in a triathlon. The other things, too, is just spending some time with your buddies or ask the coach to even set this up in practice, just to swim in close proximity with other athletes. Because, you know, with novice athletes, I’ll put them in the pool and I’ll even put three abreast in a lane or four abreast in a lane. It’s amazing that the heads start coming up and the bodies flatten out and they get tight and rigid just swimming close to people. So, starting by slowing it down and getting used to swimming close to people in a safe environment in a pool lane with a couple of friends at the the same level. You don’t have to go fast at first and then gradually add a little bit of rhythm and then add speed and then add people into the lane as well. Make a bit of a game out of it and learn how to have fun swimming in and around people.
Simon: Excellent. they with your folks?
Kevin: In terms of the start?
Simon: In terms of surviving the swim.
Kevin: Surviving the swim. Yea, I call it surviving the start, because if you can survive the start, then the rest of it isn’t too difficult, typically, unless there are some conditions out there. Yeah, I think Lance made some really good points. I actually recommend the same thing, as trying to simulate that kind of race situation as much as possible. Nobody warms up. It’s amazing how few people like to warm up for triathlons. Or you’ll see some people doing a little bit of jogging, but I think that getting in the water for some reason is like this big barrier for a lot of people. I encourage a warm up. I would say 15 minutes, or as most people will get, if anything, like you said, they’ll splash water in the face. But, a nice warm up is good. Knowing the course beforehand is of course always a really important thing. Because if you kind of know somewhat of what the course looks like and where you’re going, you won’t be as nervous and it’s not going to affect you as much, when things happen.
The other thing is, just starting, no matter who you are, unless you are trying to win the swim, it’s better to start and have your own kind of clean water where you’re just doing your own race, so I would sacrifice a little bit of the distance. So if you start a little bit more to the outside where there aren’t as many people vying for that first buoy, it’s going to be a lot easier, you’re going to take the pressure off. You’ll swim a little bit more distance wise, but it’s not really going to affect you because you won’t be in that flailing pack and you won’t be getting hit. All that takes a toll and it wastes a lot of energy. I’m a decent swimmer and when I go into those races I hate that pack, I hate that whole experience. I don’t want to vie for that first pole position in the first buoy. So, I think of beginners and people that have just done a couple races, they’re going to want to, even more, swim their own race and not get caught up in that. That’s kind of what I tell people. Other than that, it’s really just a matter of doing. When you’re a beginner and you’re just starting out, do a lot of sighting because you’re not used to that kind of swimming in the open water and sighting is going to get you where you want to go, whereas just following people can often screw you up, which I’ve found. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I would say.
Simon: And Luis, what do you say to your folks about surviving the swim?
Luis: I think that all the points that the coaches made are similar to the same things I do. I got a trimaster swimming where we actually take a rope out and we have a wider lane so you get more than three, you get four abreast and I encourage people to tap each other’s toes and things like that so you get used to it. You have this personal space even in master swimming. The guy’s too close behind you, do you want to go ahead? Am I slowing you down?
Simon: Yeah, because the master swimmers, they hate the toe tapping. You notice that? You go there, it’s like the equivalent of riding with your error bars on a bike ride.
Luis: Yeah so I encourage it. I make everybody touch each other’s toes so you get used to it. I think only the Japanese are used to people touching them. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in Japan, but in the bullet train everybody’s just touching each other. Here in America, we don’t have that. We like our personal space. In a triathlon, there is no personal space and a lot of people freak out. A lot of people just basically stop. They hyperventilate. So, in addition to practicing, I always encourage people to go to a swim meet because there are other aspects besides the personal space that you’re not used to, which is the benefit of the race. How hard to I go at the start. So, usually, most beginner triathletes that are not coming from a swimming background have no idea how to do a swim race, much less with people. So, going to a little swim meet and just swimming the 50 or the 100 is actually something that they will, I don’t know if they’ll like it, but it’s something that they need to experience before they go in that triathlon.
Simon: Yeah, exactly. All three of you have mentioned that, that key need to go out and actually do it before rather than waiting until one or two days before the race and then calling up one of us coaches and saying “I’m a little nervous.” It’s hard to fix it then, right? Now, Luis, you’re first question was one I really like and I think a lot of people end up training this way, so I’m curious to see what you three experts have to say on this. “Can I do spin classes for the bike section of the bike training?”.
Luis: You’re asking me first?
Simon: It’s your question, buddy. You got to go first.
Luis: That’s a basic. I get that probably once a month from beginner people that want to do a triathlon. I think cycling is probably the least popular sport of the trade. So, I think most people either come from a swimming background or a running background and they decide “Okay, I’ll do a triathlon” and they contact us and they say “I don’t have a bike, can I do a spinning?” I think for a beginner, anything works. Spin bike. Road bike.Tri bike. Because we’re just hoping that they like the sport and develop some fitness. If I recall, I borrowed a bike for my first triathlon. So, so long as you get used to sitting and cycling and have some sort of a fit, even if it’s just traveling the bike, or whatever. The idea for a beginner is just to get out there and ride. In the winter, there’s really no options, so you kind of have to do as you can. We have people that go traveling. I have elites that travel sometimes and they can’t bring their bikes for one reason or another and maybe you don’t ride three hours on the spin bike, but ride one hour on the spin bike. It’s better than not riding at all. So, I think the spin bike is fine. I think that as you get a little more serious into the sport and you want to get your own bike, potentially a tri-bike and then you worry about the fit and then you want to make that fit be part of you so that you and the bike are one. Now, for a beginner, anything goes I think.
Simon: Right, okay, great. Lance, I’m curious to see whether you agree or disagree on that.
Lance: Well, you know I think spin bikes, spin classes, you have to look at the level of the athlete and what their goals are for sure. There’s nothing more specific for your training than to actually ride the bike that you’re going to race on and if you’re adjusting your muscle angles, your setup just a little bit, you’re not going to train as efficiently. So, I would always rather have an athlete put their own bike on a trainer rather than to get on a spin bike. Now, that being said, the winter can be long and people get a lot of energy going to spin classes and being with their peers and there’s music and there’s some excitement and I think that there’s a lot of value in that as well, as far as keeping you engaged and actually keeping you on a program, then I think the challenge as a coach is to create meaning out of what they’re doing with that session. So, whether it’s giving them a heart rate monitor and saying “Okay, well here’s your ceiling heart rate for that work out. Don’t go above it so we know what energy system you’re tapping into.” Or getting a sense of the general program of the class beforehand so that, “Well, you’re going to be doing some Zone 4, and some higher heart rate work in there, so we’ll make sure and account for that in your program and not have you do intervals the next day after doing something like that.So, yeah. I do think there’s a lot of value in doing that. Then of course, for the traveling triathletes, if you can’t bring your bike, and this is sort of more just getting on a gym bike. I’ll often have an athlete do short rides in a gym on their own, just to stay in touch with the actual movement of being on the bike. But, I typically won’t give them anything epic on your comfy cruiser in the gym.
Simon: No five hour rides?
Lance: I cap it at about four and a half.
Simon: You’re a good man.
Lance: I’m pretty sensible.
Simon: The calls are going to be rushing in to coach for Lance, only four and a half hours on the gym bike. You got to love it people, it’s a great way to start.
Lance: Yeah, coaching sign ups are way down this month, I don’t know why.
Simon: Alright, gentlemen, we’re going to take a quick break and then we’ll come back with more Lance, Kevin and Luis.
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Simon: Alright, you’re back with the Simon Gowen Triathlon Show and L.A. Talk Radio. The guests today, our panel, is Lance Watson, Kevin Koskella, and Luis Vargas and they’re helping newbies around the globe answer their questions and also what they should be talking about. We’re going to move into some of the “should ask” questions that our coaches have put together. Lance, I’m going to ask you one of yours, which is “How does someone coming into the sport set realistic goals for themselves?”
Lance: Yeah, I think that’s an important first step is for an athlete to kind of say “what do I really want to get out of this?” I get a lot of athletes that come to me for coaching because they’re looking at doing their first Ironman. I think there’s the fear factor of “If I’m going to do this incredible, epic, sort of journey, I better make sure and have some help and not just be winging it.” But, for me, the first thing an athlete has to really look at is “what is their sport background, how much specific work in the three sports have they done in the background, how healthy is their body, etc.” Also, what is their general life and lifestyle look like as well, and do they have buy-in and support from the important people in their life. If they’re going to go for something like an Iron man that they’re not going to derail their family life, etc. So, I do get athletes who will look me up and they’ve never done a triathlon and they’ll say “My goal? Oh, I want to win my age group in Hawaii.” And they’re serious about it. That’s when you sort of have to have the heart to heart and say “Well, we’re going to evaluate your level and let’s look at some of the specifics. What your power output and your threshold running pace are, and that kind of thing”and also say, “You know, maybe we should dial it back a level here and say lets make an initial goal of finishing a 70.3 half Iron man and then we can evaluate the next steps after that. It’s creating goals that captivate you, that grab your imagination, that excite you, because you know, on the rainy days, the winter days, the long training days, there has to be that dream that inspires you, but it’s also supplementing those dream goals with the realistic long term goals. The ones that are on the horizon, then those long term goals have to be in scale, or in relation to where you’re coming from, what your background is and where you’re at right now.
Simon: And now, Kevin, over to you. Can you talk a little bit about this concept when it comes to goal setting, about whether you’re going to go for a faster swim, or whether you’re going to go for an overall time. Tell all of us, as well, a little bit about the differences there.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s a good question. A lot of people will come to me and say “I want to get faster” and I always ask them “Do you want to get faster in the swim, or do you want to beat your triathlon time? Or is it maybe that you just kind of want to have more fun out there and not be so wiped out” because a lot of times people don’t know exactly what they want. So, swimming faster isn’t usually typically a really good goal for people, especially people that have not come from a swim background because the little that they could gain in terms of speed in the water and catching people and moving up in the pack is not going to pay off as much in the rest of the race as if they can conserve that energy and maintain a level of speed that will allow them to not fall back and get way behind, but to kind of keep up with people and to conserve the energy and then to get out of the water with enough left over so that they can do what they’re strengths are, really perform in their strengths. So, I think it’s a really good way to look at it is What exactly are your goals and what’s behind those goals. Because I’m kind of teaching sort of a hybrid of “Here’s how you can conserve energy and here’s how you can get faster. To me, the focus is a little bit different. You really want to focus on what your goals are so you can come out of it with what you want. That’s the way I approach it. It depends on the athlete. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all, but sometimes people do just want to get faster in the water and that’s it, so we’ll focus on certain things, but when it’s really just to have an overall faster triathlon, or to enjoy it more, there’s different things to work on in terms of swimming.
Simon: Now, over to you Luis, Lance talked about setting realistic goals based on your ecology, your environment and the demands of the sport, so can you just quickly give listeners an idea if maybe they’re contemplating a race for the first time, counting how many hours, roughly, are involved in training for a sprint of Olympic distance, half Iron Man run per week.
Luis: You’re asking me about how you’re going to set up the goals?
Simon: Lance was talking about when they’re setting up their goals, looking at the overall equation, and I just wondered if you wouldn’t mind just letting our listeners know, in your experience, how many hours per week are needed to train for either a sprint or say an Iron man? Let’s just do one end and then the other, just roughly based on your experience.
Luis: You know, for a beginner, a lot of people like to talk hours, obviously, because we only have so many and we all know how precious just a couple hours are for some people because they’ve got kids, family, job and now they’ve got to squeeze a triathlon in. I like to concentrate on workouts. I truly believe that in order to do a triathlon, you have to do at least each sport twice a week and perhaps some strength training. If you only do a sport once a week, all you’re going to do is make yourself sore. There’s going to be very little progress. So I truly believe you have to do eight workouts a week at the bare minimum for any triathlon. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sprint or whether it’s an Iron man. I have people do 13 hour Iron mans on 8 workouts a week. It’s not difficult if you do the right workouts. But for sprint too, it’s the same thing. You have to do the 8 workouts a week. At least the two that are for each sport. If you can’t do that, then it’s going to be really difficult. Obviously, there’s going to be people that come from a tremendous background perhaps and they just don’t have the time and they might still be able to do the race, but I truly believe that if you want to progress you have to do at least two workouts per sport per week.
Simon: Okay, great. Now in terms of the training, now– In terms of how you structure the training. Kevin, I’m going to ask you. How would you periodize your training for the swim?
Kevin: Well, it really depends on the level of that person, that the swimmer is coming in on, but I would definitely start with, they’ve got to get that feel for the water. That’s just so important with swimming. It’s so different from the other sports because we’re born walking around and a lot of us get on bikes at an early age and that’s pretty normal, but with swimming, it’s a totally abnormal environment. So, getting a feel for the water is so huge. That’s why I start with really basic drills. Let’s say we have a 12 week period to train for a race. We’ll start out the first week will be only drills. That sounds crazy to a lot of people because it’s like, if you don’t have a lot of time, you want to just crank out yards and get your endurance down. But, there’s specific drills that I do, even just treading water is a great drill to kind of get used to that feel. Then, moving that into a sculling drill, and then get to working on the balance and things like that. So, maybe the first week or so will be just drills and then we’ll move into adding in the yardage, building in more advanced drills and full circuit swimming and them maybe a couple two, three weeks down the line we’ll go to interval training, so adding in some intervals. That’s so important if you’re doing a triathlon. You’re going to want to do intervals. You’re going to want to get to interval swimming as fast as you can in your training, so that’s kind of the middle of your base period. Then from there, we just add the yardage and try to decrease the intervals and then get into the taper. Depending on the person, really, that’s maybe one to two weeks. That’s kind of how I do it, then I ratchet down the yards and then we’ll start doing a little bit more sprinting and things like that, get the heart rate up. There’s a lot more to it, but specific to swimming, that’s kind of how I would do it for an Olympic distance race.
Simon: Okay, now Lance, we’ve got a lot of people here who are starting out and maybe they’re coming into the sport for the first time and they may, for example, have done the workouts like the spin class, the sculpt class, the hour of power or whatever it might be, and they’re used to getting that adrenaline surge for the hour. And then they come into the sport of triathlon and coaches say “Well you’ve got to build your aerobic base and they’re doing the eight workouts a week, but they’re all at under 140 beats a minute.” Can you talk to that point in terms of importance for triathletes to develop that base when they may be just kicking in. What do you say to athletes who are used to sort of working out to the max and then they come and they’re encouraged to work out in a completely different way. How do you deal with that?
Lance: Well, I think you definitely have to spend that time putting in the miles and laying down some foundation. When I periodize a program for an athlete, I don’t start in January and do the long linear build of gradually building miles and then switch to threshold. For me, I’ll put the year into blocks and I use the entire calendar year and there’ll be three or four segments in the year, three or four month blocks within the year and I do emphasis or focus phases within the year. So, within the year, I will look at what does this athlete need to work on specifically. Where are their strengths and weaknesses and I’ll take a three month period and I will emphasis, particularly in the fall and then after the early winter leading into spring I will say “What does this athlete need to work on?” and the program gets built around the athletes emphasis sport. So they’re doing all three all year round, but we will then take time and lay down some foundation and threshold and speed within the specific area that the athlete needs to work on and tying in some goal effects. Whether it’s some fall road running races or cross country, or master swim meets, etc. Another point is that years ago I used to coach track and cross country at University of British Columbia and I had a really great run coach mentor there who is very well respected in periodization named Winn Betroski and he always taught that you should do sport specific movement throughout the year and I always kind of liken it to the bands on the old equalizers on your stereo, how you’re adding a little bit more treble at this point and a little more bass at this point. It’s the same with your energy systems. You’re training all the energy systems all year round. You’re just adjusting the emphasis within each energy system at different points within the year. So, when you’re in the wintertime, for sure, 80-85% of your work is going to be strength, endurance, low heart rate. I’ll explain to athletes that are your staying power in a race. That’s your ability to recover quicker between intervals when we get into more quality work, etc. But then they’re still getting a little bit of their endorphin fix, whether it’s just doing some strides in the run, doing some blasts, or a little bit of mid-race pace workout in the pool or doing some higher cadence or short threshold pieces on the trainer in the winter. In a roundabout way, I guess I answered your question there. The importance of base, absolutely for sure, but it’s also important to keep moving specifically as an athlete throughout the year and to break the year into pieces and make sure you create time to work on your other areas of need.
Simon: Now, going into a new sport like triathlon can be overwhelming for people. Luis, what do you recommend as a good support crew for a newbie athlete?
Luis: Good support crew?
Simon: Yeah, who do you recommend as the sort of advisors that people need. Should people just go and read a book? Hire a coach? If you were setting up your ideal triathlon crew, who would you have around you?
Luis: I think Lance brought it up a little earlier, but everybody’s got their own environment. Your family has to be supportive. I’ve had some athletes who were doing great, and all of a sudden everything went to pieces because they didn’t have the support at home. I think that that’s the most important thing. As I mentioned, for a beginner, it takes 8 workouts. Imagine how much it takes if you really want to win your age group in Kona. If somebody wants to move up in the sport, it’s sort of a selfish sport. It’s all about you, and you, and you, and you. So, unless your loved ones are going out there and training with you, they’re going to be doing something different and it’s going to create some conflict. I think the most important thing is that you have your life situation; you’re ready to take on this challenge, because although it is about you, you can’t do it alone. You need support. I think that’s the most important thing for a beginner also. I think the Wall Street Journal just had an article yesterday or the day before about this same topic about how exercise is breaking up so many marriages in America. Not just triathletes, but people obsessed with exercising and everything’s great for a little while, but then the thirty minute runs become two hours runs and your five hour bikes, seven hour bikes.
Simon: Yeah, I think what the recommendation is, is that you have to have a pre-nup with your exercises in it.
Luis: That works to I guess.
Simon: Exactly. On that serious note, Luis, your next question was “How do I go to the bathroom during the race?”
Luis: That’s a great question!
Simon: Let’s hear it! Are you going to go Euro?
Luis: You know, I had this conversation with my wife. I don’t know, she’s around here somewhere. When I met my wife, I coached her online, when we first started back in 2000 and now we have kids and she’s not racing anymore, so I know this whole process of training and somebody training and having kids, but when I first met her she was training for a half Iron man and she has a small bladder, she says. So, we’ll go out for a two hour ride, but we have to find about 6 bushes along the way. I said to her, you’re not going to do this on race day, are you? And she goes, “What do you mean I’m not doing this on race day?” Imagine how much time you’re going to lose if you stop to go to the bathroom, to find a bush, what if there is no bushes? So, you have to go on yourself. Ultimately, this is what all the elites do. They just go on themselves. I’ve done it. You get a water bottle, hopefully not full of Gatorade or whatever the race director has given you and you flush it down and you hope that there’s nobody behind. And then the joke goes, “well if somebody’s drafting, don’t move out”. For sure. So, basically, in long distance races that’s what you do. You go on yourself, unless of course you’ve got to do number two, and then you really have to stop.
Simon: Okay Lance, you just have to comment on that.
Lance: Do I really have to?
Simon: You get one buy in this show.
Lance: Let her rip baby. And as far as number two goes, if you’re racing for the overall championship in Hawaii, then…well…you’ve got a decision to make.
Luis: Yeah, actually I’ve seen that. Somebody just let it go a little bit because they weren’t going to stop.
Lance: You can definitely go number one in your wetsuit. That’s acceptable.
Simon: I think that’s sort of part of the race strategy, isn’t it? That’s to warm you up especially on the cold days.
Kevin: That’s great. I meant to talk about that and how I survived the swim leg, you know. Don’t forget that personal moment of warming.
Simon: Now listen, this is why we have these great guests on, to give you the essentials of what to do to survive the triathlon. Okay, I’m going to stay here with you Luis, because your doing such a great job. What do people wear? It sounds simple, but how do they stop the chaffing, what do you wear?
Luis: I think nowadays the best is to just buy a trisuit. A one piece suit you wear for the whole race. If you have to wear a wetsuit you could add a skin suit you wear over it, you could pin your number on it and you can do the whole race in a trisuit. I will practice on it a little bit, of course it’s not going to have a big pad or whatever. That’s the easiest simplest thing. But, as beginners, you can wear whatever you want. You can change, you can do whatever you want. This is one of those things that people are always emailing me about. I say do whatever is comfortable. A beginner will try to make sure that they’re going to love the sport, so I hate to go buy all this stuff for one day. So, I tell them “Do whatever you want.” Obviously if you’re going to change, it’s going to cost you some time, but then you’ve got something to look forward to for the next race. Even the next race, for sure, I’m going to go faster, even just in transmission. So, I’m not going to sit there and think about what you’d need to wear, but the most important thing is get the beginner out there and having some fun. If you’ve got to change, change. If you feel like you’ve got to wear your cycling outfit because you don’t want, whatever, then go for it. Just have fun.
Simon: Okay, good advice there. Okay the last question I’m going to throw out is going to be mine. This is a “should ask” question. For me, it’d be “What can be the best race and the best race venue for me to do my first race?” I’m going to answer it with a kind of “My Favorite First Race” and recommendation for you. There’s one locally in southern California, here. It’s the Catalina Island Triathlon. Why I say that is because it’s a nice swim in a harbor and when you’re swimming, it’s a wetsuit swim, the water temperature is normally pretty good and you can also see the fish when you swim. A lot of people would get scared in the oceans locally around California because they’re dark and you can’t see that far. But, in the harbor you can see, you can see the fish, which is nice. It’s all enclosed, no cars there and it’s on a Saturday which for me is a big factor because you don’t have to get up for work the next day and most people in their first race like to have a little bit of a party afterwards to celebrate and it’s a good place to bring the family. That’s going to be my number one choice for a first time race in the continental United States, so I’m curious to you guys. What do you think is your favorite first race? Let’s start with Kevin.
Kevin: I’m going to keep in in California and go with the Wildflower Sprint Triathlon, because it’s just an awesome race. It’s huge. It’s one of the biggest races in the U.S. And you get to camp out because there’s no hotels within close distance and you’re with just a ton of other people so you end up meeting people there and everybody’s friendly. It’s a really, really cool course. And, I would say start with the sprint because there’s two races on Saturday. I think it’s the sprint and the half Iron man on Saturday. So, you can relax and on Saturday night just hang out, drink beers or whatever while everyone else is getting ready because one of the biggest races there is the Olympic distance on Sunday morning. So, yeah, it’s just an overall fantastic time and I would say that would be my number one.
Simon: Okay, Lance.
Lance: Yeah, Wildflower is so beautiful. I was down there this year. I was out riding my mountain bike around the run course while the athletes were on the bike and actually not hyperventilating and having my lungs hanging out running, I could actually take a moment and really look around at that course and it’s just a gorgeous area. One of my favorite venues right now, and I just think a really nice experience for new athletes, is a race in Bamth Alberta and Bamth is like this little mountain jewel. You sprain your neck looking at the scenery it’s just so beautiful and the little town there is like your classic ski town, so it’s a really fun place to bring your family or to go with your buddies and try your first triathlon. You get to hang out for the weekend. The race is on a Saturday, so you can hang out Saturday night and maybe have a little bit of fun and maybe enjoy the nature there the next day. It’s got a sprint triathlon and an Olympic distance triathlon and the run is on trails. It’s just gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous race in Bamth, Alberta. Generally, it’s picking something that inspires you. It’s close to home where your friends and family can come and that feels like a safe environment and a doable distance. I think those are the key aspects.
Simon: Yeah, both you and Kevin have picked beautiful parts of the world, just great places to go and hang out and after the race you can even take a vacation if you’re traveling or if it’s local then you would enjoy having everybody nearby. Luis, where would you go?
Lance: Yeah, sorry. The post-race food in Bamth is the Eddie Burger comes out and grills you a custom hamburger. Custom gourmet hamburger, so that’s the deal sealer for me.
Simon: Yep. Sign up now.
Lance: It’s all about the food.
Simon: Okay Luis. Where are you going? Are you going to be in the United States or elsewhere?
Luis: Yeah, I think that the Chicago Triathlon would be a good choice because there are so many beginners. So, if you want to make a vacation, a trip out of it, I think that would be a great race to go and it’s got a big city. Huge, and tons, tons, tons of beginners, so you’re definitely not going to feel underclass or over-class or whatever. There’s going to be always people around you and it’s just a fun race. But, for beginner that wants to do something, I would go low key, actually. I think you guys mentioned some big races which are beautiful venues. I think also Lance mentioned, the key is you want to go low key, small race, no big hoopla, just do a little swimming, biking, running and see if you like that, see if you like that. Because the venue is not going to make the experience, it’s going to be yourself and whether you like this whole concept of swimming and then getting up on a bike and then getting up and running. If you go local then you support the small race director and you probably know people there so that also will help.
Simon: Absolutely, and I remember for me, I remember every heartbeat of my first race and I’m curious actually, because the people listening know you guys now. You’re experienced coaches, seasoned coaches, coached for many years and yet you had your first race too and probably made some good newbie mistakes, so in the last couple of minutes, I’m really curious if you can come up with the number one newbie mistakes made by experts here. Kevin, what have you done?
Kevin: I’m not racing triathlon now, I’m sticking with swimming, but as far as triathlon goes, this is probably one of the dumbest ones ever, but I actually was coming off the bike and I took my chin strap off the helmet right before I got of the bike and I got penalized 10 minutes in my race because the official saw me do it. So, yea, you’ve got to follow the rules if you want to beat your times.
Simon: Yeah, that’s rough. How about you, Lance?
Lance: Mine’s a beauty. My first triathlon I was 17 years old and didn’t have any advice on how to prepare for it, just was sort of figuring it out, winging it, so a couple things the day before the race I heard that bee pollen was really good for energy so I went to the health food store and bought this big bag of bee pollen and then I took the bee pollen down to the race course the day before the race and I did the entire course the day before the race just to make sure I could finish it. Then the next day in transition, I was stuffing bee pollen into my mouth in T1 and I had this yellow powder all over my face and all over my jersey. Anyway, I made it. It was a lot of fun. Actually, just one thing Simon, I wanted to mention, I know Luis is going to have something to say. In the May edition of Triathlete I just submitted an article and it’s going to be a twelve week training program for beginner triathletes to do their first sprint triathlon. So, look out for that in Triathlete Magazine.
Simon: That’s awesome. Thanks Lance.
Luis: Is it my turn?
Simon: You know it.
Luis: I crashed on my first triathlon because I bought a bike, and I don’t know if you guys have made this mistake before, you don’t know how to ride your bike and when you look to the side you don’t let go of your left hand. So, if you’re looking to the left, let go of your handlebars. So, when I looked, I also veered and I ran into somebody and I crashed. So, learn how to ride your bike I guess was my mistake. But the other thing I did silly was I put on my helmet before I put on my jersey. So then I try to put on my jersey and it wasn’t going through so then I had to take off the jersey and then take off the helmet. So my transition was, I don’t know, 5 minutes.
Simon: I think my biggest mistake was, unfortunately it wasn’t even my first race, I think this was about 8 years in, is that I didn’t do my gear check and I drove 60 miles to the race and didn’t have my bike shoes. Yeah, that blows right? Yeah, download the list online and check your race gear. I learned that one.
Kevin: Did you do it anyway though?
Simon: Yes. The only time I’ve not done a race was in the warm up when my bike seat broke and then the race director lent me a bike that was built in 1901 and for someone who is from a small tribe in the Amazon where the highest person is 4’2 and so I tried to bike, but I did about 4 miles but then my quads blew up. Well, I want to thank you. We’ve had Lance Watson on from Life Sport and we’ve had Kevin Koskella, Triswimcoach and Luis Vargas from Mark Allen Online. Thanks a lot gentlemen for your expert advice.
Kevin: Good talking to you guys.
Simon: Okay, talk to you again soon. And you’ve been listening to the Simon Gowen podcast show, we podcast on iTunes and next week we’re going to be going to Hawaii to catch up with the new racing team from team Malanali and find out what they’re up to. Thanks a lot for listening and have an awesome week. Train with passion.