An Austin-based coach and triathlete finds out how local tri shops wisdom can newbies get a head start.
By Carrie Barrett
Forums are buzzing. Podcasts are downloading. Wheels are spinning. The 2013 triathlon season upon us and triathletes are slowing emerging from their trainer caves, spin classes, and treadmills. Gear companies are releasing their new lines of product, and multisport stores around the country are stocking their shelves with the latest and greatest in apparel, equipment and nutrition.
I visited my local triathlon shop to check out what’s new and find out what common questions they receive from shoppers and athletes on a daily basis. Former Kona Inspired winner and employee, Mike Thompson, was there to discuss what everyone is talking about.
“Right now most people are either coming in to upgrade their bike or start their journey into triathlon,” he said. Regardless of level, though, he hears many of the same questions each day. (Triathlon rookies should take relief in knowing that even the veterans don’t have all the answers!)
Here are some of the FAQ’s at your average, friendly neighborhood triathlon store, and Thompson’s answers.
1. What is the difference between a triathlon bike and a road bike?
The two main differences are the geometry of the frame and the addition of aerodynamic extensions with shifters on the end. A triathlon bike is designed to put the rider in a more forward, or aerodynamic, position. “If the bike fits properly and the rider is efficient, he’ll likely ride faster and save the larger leg muscles for the run.”
Let’s face it. Those shiny, light, flashy triathlon bikes sure do look good in the races, but as Thompson points out, you do not have to have a triathlon bike in order to compete. Many people race on traditional road bikes, hybrid bikes and even mountain bikes. Until you decide you love the sport (and who doesn’t?), comfort is always king. Also, Thompson cautions, always test ride many brands and styles before making a final decision. Buying a bike that doesn’t fit properly can be a costly and painful mistake.
2. Where can I find a group to train with for my first triathlon?Many cities are fortunate enough to have at least one training triathlon training group nearby. Some are simply a group of people that enjoy swimming, biking and running together, and are mostly self-supported. IRONMAN recently created the new TriClub Program, which now includes over 500 registered clubs. There are also official organizations with hired coaches that create training programs for specific athletes. Many of the Charity Partners associated with the IRONMAN Foundation also offer a training component. Many triathlon and running stores also feature their own free or paid training programs. For a list of registered USA Triathlon certified clubs, visit usatriathlon.org.
3. What do I wear? Do I keep the same clothes on the whole time?The days of having to run in your Speedo are long gone (unless, of course, you are Faris Al-Sultan). Triathlon apparel companies have come a long way in designing shorts, tri tops, and speed suits made to wear the entire race. Gender specific apparel also limits chafing and awkward sizing. These days, there is something for everyone. Thompson adds that depending on the climate and race conditions, you may choose to change clothes in transition. IRONMAN races, for instance, have private changing tents for male and female racers. Most shorter races do not, so it’s easiest and most efficient to wear the same suit for the entire race. Bottom line? Comfort. Go with what feels right.
4. Where can I find a list of upcoming races?Thompson recommends staying connected to your local running/triathlon store through Facebook, Twitter and even their website and store bulletin board. New, local events are always being posted and promoted. Ironman.com is home base for worldwide IRONMAN events. Your national/ regional triathlon association will likely offer a calendar on its website, too.
5. What do I eat while I race?
This varies depending on race distance. Going all-out in a super sprint may require only a few sips of water, while an IRONMAN requires more than a day’s worth of calories. This is all based on preference and what your body can tolerate. Keep track of how many calories you burn on longer runs and rides. Knowing these numbers can make or break your race day, especially if you’re going long. For instance, if you burn 500 calories per hour on the bike and you ride for three hours, your body is now in a 1,500-calorie deficit. The reason most people have poor runs off the bike is because they didn’t take in enough nutrition to sustain their efforts. Thompson recommends trying a few different nutrition products before you start getting into tougher training. (Remember that at IRONMAN races in the United States you’ll find PowerBar Perform along with Bonk Breaker Bars and Gu Energy Gels and Chomps out on the course. In Canada the full-distance events offer PowerBar Perform along with Honey Stinger Gels.) The earlier you dial in your nutrition, the better.
6. Does all of this fancy equipment really make me faster?Aero helmets, race wheels, carbon fiber bottle cages, speed suits, power meters, fast laces…the list of products and gizmos designed to give you “free speed” is endless. The biggest bangs for your triathlon buck include a solid training plan, consistency, and the willpower to get your body in the best race shape it can be. (It’s much cheaper to drop the extra 10 pounds on your body than it is to lighten your pedal weight by a few grams.)
That being said, aero helmets really do look cool.
Carrie Barrett is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Her articles have appeared on Livestrong.com, TrainingPeaks.com, “Austin Fit Magazine,” and the recent triathlon anthology, “The Meaning of Tri.” For more information on her coaching, speaking and writing, visit fomotraining.com