Swimming is 90% skill. Find a good coach.

Triathletes swimming, Tony Coaching

Swimming is 90% skill. If you are a weak swimmer then your number one expense for race preparation should be paying for swimming lessons from a good coach. So many triathletes are willing to spend thousands on faster bikes and nothing on good swim coaching.

You have a choice when it comes to swimming. You can get out of the water tired and drained or you can get out fresh and ready to ride. The difference is in your swim technique. Good technique allows you to slide through the water with less effort. A swimmer with bad technique overcomes this deficit by expending much more energy and usually swimming slower.

For your first race, you just want to make sure you can swim the distance. If you get out tired, you will take it easier on the bike until you can go  faster. But if you are able, get some personalized swim lessons from a good coach.

You may hear people talk about joining a Masters swimming team. This is fine if that’s all you have, but Masters swimming is all about go go go and there is little patience for slow unskilled swimmers. If there is a Masters swim near you, find out who the coach is and see if you can book a few personal swim lessons. You need a coach who is looking at your swim and suggesting drills and technique changes often. A go go go coach that is barking out swim orders to twenty swimmers will get you stronger but wont help at all with your swimming.

When I joined my first triathlon club, one of our first swims was to figure out how fast each athlete was so we could be assigned lanes based on our speed. Well, I have a big problem when I am put side by side with other athletes and told to race. Even worse is when we will then be placed in lanes according to our speed. My problem is that I go all out. I may be dead at the end of it, but oh well. So we did this little test and I was placed over with the fast athletes with a coach that just barked orders and never looked at anyone’s swim.

I swam with the fast swimmers for a while and noticed that the slower athletes were actually getting more coaching on the other side of the pool. So I snuck over with the slower swimmers. I did that because I wanted to learn how to swim well. I knew I could go fast for a short time. But I also knew that speed wouldn’t last over a long swim.

My point in telling you all this is that you need to advocate for your own training. You need to find the coach who will help you with your swimming technique and not the coach who will tell you to go go go. Get your technique down first, then you can go fast for a long distance.

The best place I have found for learning how to work on your swim technique is Swim Smooth (http://www.swimsmooth.com). They have animations showing you the proper technique, apps, and articles every week on good technique. I could go on and on but it would never be as good as what you will find at Swim Smooth. Go there, sign up for their newsletter and  you will get valuable lessons sent to you every week.

Training

Me and some friends pretending like we are working out and not just goofing off for the camera

Before you do anything, check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have any health conditions that will be made worse by exercise. I can’t believe there are many health conditions that cannot be improved by exercise but I have to tell you that just in case. Be sure you explain that you are NOT doing an ironman distance race. Not yet anyway. 🙂 You are training for a sprint, which is a 500-700m swim, 16 mile bike ride, and then a 3 mile run/walk. Your goals with this are to get into better shape and finish your race with a smile.

You need to be able to run. Don’t worry; if you can’t run very far, you’re reading the right book. This workout will slowly build your running up until you can run about 3-4 miles, walking when you need to. Your goal is to finish with a smile, so we will plan the walks so you can run with a smile, walk, and finish looking fresh, slapping high-fives, and smiling brightly.

You need to be able to ride a bike and carry nutrition along on your rides. You don’t need an expensive bike or an aero helmet. Use what you have for your first race.

You also need to find a local pool and be able to swim in it. You should be able to freestyle swim the width of the pool without stopping.

That said, you are not going to be racing the Kona Ironman. You are going to be racing a sprint distance race. There is no need to do a strenuous workout. You are getting fit enough to participate and finish your race, that’s it. You will push hard for short intervals of time, but you will then slow down and rest, bringing your heart rate down as well as normalizing your breathing. During the race, you will keep your effort steady but never push as hard as you do in training.

There are chapters later in the book on everything from swim equipment to water bottle maintenance to bike purchases. Feel free to skip straight to these if you are considering a big purchase or if you just want to be informed about what you need and what you should buy. For now, there are a few things you will need:

Things you will need

  • Running shoes. Get a good pair of name-brand running shoes.
  • Running socks, shorts, shirts, sports bras. You will need at least two of each so you can clean one while wearing the other.
  • Swim shorts, goggles, swim cap, towels, shower soap.
  • A place to swim. A local pool with lap swim hours will be fine, a gym with a pool, or even a lake if you live near one.
  • Water bottles
  • Bike. Start with what you have. If you need to buy one, get road bike that fits your budget. Don’t go crazy thinking you need a triathlon bike. You don’t. Buy from a local bike shop so you have somewhere to take the bike when something goes wrong.
  • A smart phone with Strava and Facebook, or a journal to write in.
  • Sports drinks like Gatorade or others. I like Gatorade, always have.
  • Sports Gels and bars. Clif makes my favorite bars to eat on a long ride and Powerbar makes great tasting gels to help power your workouts and race.

The Training Plan

chart of CPtT training plan
This is a twelve week plan. Each week is explained in detail in the coming sections, but this shows an overview of all the weeks.

Feel free to print the above graphic and put it on your wall as a calendar that you can cross off training days you complete. This is a great way to graphically see the progress you are making as well as know where you are within the entire program.

If your race is sooner than twelve weeks away then I suggest you cut weeks from the end of the first month of training. For example, if your race is ten weeks away, do the first and second week of the first month and then skip the rest of that month and start the second month. This will get you on track for your race. I wouldn’t recommend cutting your training down to anything less than ten weeks though unless you have a base of fitness from regular swimming, biking, or running already.

During any of the weeks, feel free to move the workouts around to fit your schedule. The order throughout the week is not important. However, the first few weeks are designed to work you hard and then rest you a lot. Running is the hardest on your body. Swimming is the easiest, so in a training sense, swimming and rest days are both rest days. Yeah, you’re rolling your eyes right now if you are not a very good swimmer. Don’t worry, there will be actual rest days. Swimming is great exercise because it works your body in a non-damaging way. Biking is kind of in the middle. It’s still easier on the body than running, but there is much bumping of the arms along with strain in the back, neck, and knees that requires recovery before repeating. There is also butt pain that will get better as you ride more. Keep this in mind as you plan out your week.

For any of these workouts, if you have a better start than your average couch potato in either of the three sports then please go further than the prescribed workout. Same if you are struggling with any. Go easier if you have to and don’t feel bad about it. You’ll get there. You will improve.

Week One Training

You don’t need to shop for a bunch of equipment or do an epic ride today. You just need to get started. Put some running shoes on, some shorts, or whatever is comfortable and go out for a walk/run. Do not think about speed or distance, your goal is to listen to your body today.

You must always listen to your body.

If you have a smart phone, download Strava. Strava can measure your runs, rides, and swims if you have a swim watch (which you don’t need). You can then post your rides to the CPtT Facebook page or join the CPtT Strava group to get encouragement from me and others.

Week 1 Day 1
  • Walk a bit to get moving.
  • Run until winded. Remember this spot.
  • Walk until breathing and heart rate normalize.
  • Repeat Walk/Run twice more for a total of 3.
  • Walk back to start.
  • Post or journal your results, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Start by walking. Walk at a brisk pace. Walking is a great way to get your heart beating and your muscles working and warmed up. Whenever you are ready, transition into a jog. Today you may feel like dying after a twenty feet or a quarter mile. It all depends on where you are starting from in your fitness.

When you feel like stopping, it is time to walk. Your heart rate should be elevated and your breathing should be fast enough that you could not carry on a conversation very well.

Remember where this happened. Near a certain tree, sign, or house. Take a selfie at this place and share it on Facebook. Let me and others know how you felt. This place will be an important landmark for all future training. When you pass this mark in a month or so and you are not even warmed up, you will know you are making progress.

When I started training, I went for a run at the marina near my house. There is a Par Course there with distance numbers all the way around. I started my run worried that everyone out there was looking at me, judging me. No one cares, believe me. Anyway, the loop is about a mile. I felt like I could run that. I got to the 1/4 mile mark and felt like I was going to die. Defeated and dejected, I walked about the next half mile of the course re-evaluating my goals. Maybe I couldn’t do it? Maybe I should just go home. Red-faced and embarrassed, I decided to push on. I ran some more only to stop again after another even shorter distance. I walked around to the finish of the course and sat down on a park bench.

You are going to do exactly what I did. The difference between what I did and what you are going to do, is that this is your training plan. In this first run/walk we are setting a benchmark for where you are starting. Do not try to push past the point where you feel like stopping, you will do that later, I promise. This point will be a reference point for much of what you do later.

Also, do not feel negative about where you are in your fitness or how terrible you feel. There is nothing but positive in what you are doing no matter how little you ran or how terrible you feel. You ran, you walked, you sweated, you’re alive! That’s all positive stuff there. Don’t allow yourself or anyone else turn it into a negative.

image showing day one workoutStart your workout with a walk, then run until you are winded. Remember this spot. Then walk again until your heart rate and breathing normalize. Repeat this walk/run cycle two more times. It doesn’t matter how far each run/walk segment is, it depends on you and the signals your body are sending you. You are learning how to listen to your body.

When you are done with three total walk/run segments, mark your location in your mind. Tomorrow you will go this far again. Take a picture, post it when you get back and let me and your friends know how you felt at this point.  It’s ok, actually it’s great if you feel worn out. Don’t feel defeated. You are so much better off now than you were just a half hour ago.

Walk back home or to where you started. This walk back is a recovery walk. Your breathing and heart rate will normalize, the sweat will dry and cool your body. You can look around and enjoy where you are and what you’ve just done. The recovery walk is an important part of any run workout as it’s the transition between hard work and rest. You keep the blood pumping and the muscles working as you walk. You also increase the total distance of your workout!

When you get home, post your workout for me and everyone else to see and give you kudos for. You’re awesome and you deserve praise for what you have done. Seriously, a seasoned athlete can do so much more and so much faster. But they are trained for it. It’s easier for them. What you’ve done today is a greater accomplishment. Tell us how far you went for that first run segment, how you felt, how far you got before you walked back, and something that you were thinking during the workout. Do you have any questions? You may find the answers in this book or someone online can answer them. If you don’t do Facebook or Strava, write this all down in a journal.

Week 1 Day 2
  • Walk about the same as yesterday.
  • Run half way to where you were winded yesterday.
  • Walk until breathing and heart rate normalize.
  • Repeat Walk/Run until you reach the point you reached yesterday.
  • Walk/Run once more on the way back.
  • Walk the rest of the way back.
  • Post or journal your results, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Today you will go the same distance as yesterday but at an easier pace. You should notice some soreness in your muscles due to yesterday’s run. If you have been idle for a while, your body is now shocked by what you just did to it and all kinds of things are happening internally. You should not feel pain, just a tightness in your legs or a slight soreness. If anything hurts, you went too hard yesterday. If so, today may be a good day to just walk. Walking is still moving. You are way better off than when you were on the couch a few days ago.

If you are feeling pain at any time during any workout, walk or rest. If the pain persists while walking or moving slowly, stop and call someone to pick you up and take you home. Rest until you can move pain free. There is no need to workout while in pain as it can lead to worse injury.

image showing day two workout

Start the workout by walking. Carry a bottle of water so you can get some fluid in you and maybe listen to your favorite music. Take it easy today.

Walk about the same distance as you started with yesterday and then move into a jog when you feel ready. When you get about half way to the place where you were out of breath yesterday, start walking. You are deliberately not going to where you were out of breath yesterday. Walk to that place.

When you get to your place, start to jog. Jog slow and steady. Breath deep and keep your knees high in each stride. It’s ok to run like a marching band member, you are training and a nice high knee will put some pep in your stride and help you later when you tackle hills.

Jog slow and easy trying to keep your breathing even and at a level where you could hold a conversation with someone running with you. If you have a friend along with you, talk. If your breathing becomes such that you could not hold a conversation with someone or you feel like stopping, walk until your breathing slows and you feel comfortable again. Once you feel comfortable, enjoy your surroundings a bit. Look around, enjoy what you are doing, and smile.

Walk/jog repeat until you get to the place where you turned around yesterday. Once you reach yesterday’s turn around point, turn around and do one more walk jog interval on the way back.

Walk the rest of the way to your starting point. Enjoy the walk back, you earned it. You have done the same distance as yesterday but did more running today. This entire training plan is a trick we are playing on your body to get a little further, a little faster, and keep you rested and uninjured while you do it.

Post your walk/jog to Strava, Facebook, or your journal. Write down how you felt starting out. Were you sore? Did you feel like you could have or should have done more? This is a common feeling and it’s one you have to get used to.

Athletes need to learn to trust the plan. This plan will gradually increase your fitness until you are ready for more. Then you will do more, then you will rest. You will never push beyond your limits because you should never do that. You should feel ready to do more when you are done with a workout and never ruin tomorrow’s workout or rest because of what you did today.

When you get home be sure to eat some protein and drink some water. Remember that rest and nutrition are what builds muscle after you have stressed your muscles and cardiovascular system with a workout.

You will not run for a few days. This is by design because running is the hardest on the body. Also, it turns out there are two other sports in triathlon and it doesn’t do you any good to be a great runner if you can’t swim and ride. Having a good two day break from running will allow your ligaments and muscles the time they need to heal. Your cardiovascular system will start to change as well. Your heart will become stronger and your lungs will change to allow more oxygen to be absorbed per breath. Capillaries will grow to bring more oxygenated blood to your muscles.

Your body will start to change immediately and it needs rest and good nutrition during this time. Be mindful of the tightness in your core, the soreness in your legs. Notice the changes in your body. Use this as motivation to keep training.

Tomorrow you swim.

Week 1 Day 3
  • 10×25 w/rest after each 25
  • Swim up and back 10 times.
  • Do more if you are feeling good.
  • Do at least one up and back as a cool down.
  • Post or journal your results, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Today is your first swim workout. Swimming is different than running. It’s not as hard on your body so it’s really hard to do too much. However, what you don’t want to do is swim to when you are so tired your swim form becomes sloppy. It doesn’t help you at all. When your swim form becomes sloppy you further engrain sloppy swimming into your technique. It can also lead to injury.

So, just like with running, you need to listen to your body. Be in touch with what’s going on and rest when you are tired. That’s what today’s workout is all about.

Swim to the other side of the pool. When you get there, rest for about fifteen seconds or as long as it takes for you to catch your breath and breath normally. Then swim back across the pool.

Swim ten lengths of the pool and then assess whether you are done or not. If you’re not a strong swimmer then this will be enough for the day. If you only did five, that’s fine too. You know where you are with your swimming. If you feel like doing more, then go for it.

When you are done, take a couple more laps doing random strokes and enjoy the water a bit as you cool down. This is like your walk home after a run. You can float to the other side, dive to the bottom, kick easy on your back, or do a slow breast stroke. Your job during this cool down period is to enjoy the water, feel the water, splash a friend! Just days ago you were sitting on the couch wishing you could do something more with your life. Today you are swimming!

If you feel like doing some more, go ahead. Try five or ten more laps. If your pool is 25 meters or yards across (you will want to find out), then 10 25’s add up to 250 m or 250 yds. If you did a cool down lap up and back then your total swim was 300 m or 300 yds.

In swim workout speak, you are doing “10×25 w/rest after each.” This means you are swimming ten 25s with a rest after each.

Week 1 Day 4
  • Ride 4-8 miles
  • Start easy and build to a good pace.
  • Drink water or a sports drink on your ride.

Today is the day for your first bike ride! Like the other workouts in this first week, this ride is about setting a benchmark for where you are right now with your bike riding. Unlike running, where you can walk back from wherever you are, if you get tired on the bike you have to ride back unless you have someone to call to pick you up.

It’s a good idea to have some go-to phone numbers for friends and loved ones that are willing to drive out to where you are in case you have a mechanical problem or a couple flats in a row. It happens, so be ready. Today we are staying close to home so save those favors for later when you really need one.

For this first ride you should plan to stay near home. Plan out a loop that is about 2-4 miles around and you will never be more than a couple miles from the start. If you need to skip to the Planning a Ride section to learn how to plan a ride with Google Maps. If you can, try to plan right turns (if you live in a place where cars drive on the right) because you have to cross traffic for every left turn.

Start every bike ride slowly and build to a comfortable speed that you know you can sustain for a long time. You should not be pushing hard, but your heart rate and breathing should increase a bit. You want to feel a bit like when you are running a slow jog but you want to keep a consistent pace.

If you plotted out a 4 mile loop, do one loop. If you feel good after this loop, go ahead and do the loop again. Bring at least one bottle of water or a sports drink with you along with a nutritional bar. Drink every mile or so. Eat when you feel hungry. If your butt starts to hurt, that’s normal. It takes seat time to get your butt and back into being able to ride long distances. It’s really not about the legs. The legs can keep going. It’s your butt, your back, and your shoulders and arms that usually send you the signal that you are done.

How far did you ride? If you use Strava you can see your route as well as how far you rode. When you get back, let me and your friends know how far you went and how you felt. This isn’t a competition, so however far you rode we are with you and will celebrate your ride. The distance that you went today is another benchmark that you will use to gauge your future rides.

If you’re sore, have no fear. Tomorrow’s a rest day.

Week 1 Day 5&6
  • Rest and read

Today and tomorrow you rest. Like I said before, rest is an important part of training and you ignore it at your peril. If you’re like me, rest days are more difficult than workout days because you feel like you should be doing something. Do some walking if you feel like this. You can also take some time to stretch the parts that are tight and sore.

You may have two days off from training, but you have some work to do. If you have not signed up for a race yet, find and sign up for that first race. If you’re thinking of buying a bike, a wetsuit, or any other piece of equipment skip ahead to the chapters on it. You have now gone out on a run, a ride, and a swim. If there is anything you need go get it.

Week 1 Day 7
  • 2×25 warmup
  • 8x25s
  • 1×50 cool down
  • Total: 300 yards or meters.

Day  7 is a swim workout. Do two 25s as a warm up. Do whatever stroke you want and just get used to the water. Then do eight 25s. For these eight 25’s, swim across the pool fast, rest for 10 seconds, and then come back slowly. Catch your breath as much as you can on the way back and then rest for 10-20 seconds or until your breathing comes down to a level that you could hold a conversation at. Do some more if you feel up to it or do some cool down laps.

Congratulations, you finished your first week of training!

Don’t Get Caught In The Gear Game

Image of my gear at the MTS TriathlonTriathlon is expensive. You need a wetsuit and a good pair of goggles for the swim. But you also need swim shorts to train in and access to a pool. This means you need a gym membership or you can pay pool fees.

You also need a bike, a helmet, bike shoes, cleats, etc. But for your first sprint race you should ride what you have. If you don’t have a bike, get an inexpensive road bike. You don’t need a carbon fiber bike or aero this or that. Just get a nice comfortable bike with clip-in cleats and bike shoes. If you can’t ride with cleats yet, don’t even try.

I know the picture above is not at all what I am saying here in the text. That picture was taken was taken during my fourth race, not my first.

The run is probably the cheapest part because you just need shoes, shorts and a shirt. But your legs and feet are important, so you don’t want to skimp on your shoes. You want a good pair of shoes from a reputable shoe company.

After all this, even the socks start to feel expensive as you need more than one pair. You will be spending a lot of money on this new obsession of yours. Do yourself a favor and keep your spending to only what you absolutely need.

If you read the websites or triathlon magazines, you will quickly get the message that your equipment will determine how well you do in the race. But let me tell you what few magazines will: how well you do in the race is 98% determined by your training and your attitude and none of that 98% costs a penny. There are no corporations out there making a profit off of your effort, so you wont see any glitzy ad campaigns encouraging you to work out, unless they are telling you to work out with their product and the message is always that your workout will be more productive if you do it with their product. Don’t believe it.

Your equipment could make up the other 2%. If you are going for the win, you can and should spend all the money you can afford to get that extra 2%. In a long race, that could be five to ten minutes! Jumping up five minutes with no more effort is huge for a competitive triathlete. For the rest of us, don’t get caught in that trap. Your benefit will be less that what an elite athlete enjoys, and in your eight hour race who cares about five or even twenty minutes?  In your first sprint race, the difference will be nil. You do want a decent bike, good shoes, and a comfortable wetsuit but you don’t have to spend a lot for any of those and you surely don’t need the latest technology so if you have to buy a bike, get a used one or get last year’s bike on sale.