Friday, September 21, 2012

Ain't No 'Round of Golf

In addition to being a multisport coach I also work at a bicycle shop in town.  I wear many hats there, but some of the more interesting roles I assume are bike fitter, triathlon specialist, and assistant buyer.  I share these roles with a few other colleagues, but see a wide range of diversity within our client base.  In our preliminary interviewing questions before we fit someone on their new bicycle, we ask questions like: "what will be your primary use for the bike; do you plan to do any racing with the bicycle; will you be participating in any multisport events with the bike-i.e. triathlon" and so on.  Of the clients I work with at the shop I would guess at least 75% of the individuals I fit have some kind of interest in triathlon, most of whom have only participated in a sprint distance race or competed as a leg of a triathlon relay.

Droves of individuals are taking on the challenge of completing a multi-disciplined competition for the accolades of friends and family and/or identity of "triathlete" or "ironman."  Among this immigration there are numbers of peoples who are leaving inactive or sedentary lifestyles for the pursuit of accomplishing something great…something they’ve never done before that stretches them beyond the limits they had previously set for themselves.  Although many of these athletes-in –the-making should get a gold star for tenacity and motivation, many of them have not considered the prior approval and permission of a licensed healthcare professional to participate in such an event.  

All this to serve as a preamble to sharing the experience I had competing in an event, this summer,  in which one participant did not cross the finish line; this individual an active person by all friends' account was an avid cyclist and runner certainly one who had prepared and trained for this event, but for difficult circumstances or freak cause of nature, did not make it to T1 alive.  My heart goes out to this family who lost their husband, father, son, and friend at such a young age.  Looking back on the event it has been sobering to think that while I was out there thrashing in the huge waves of this large body of water, there was also another man out there thrashing in what would ultimately be his last breaths.  I am still uneasy about all of this and have wondered about that day on so many levels, and from so many vantage points.

As a coach, I work with athletes of various ability levels and athletic backgrounds and see firsthand the variety of folks that attempt to compete in a multisport event.  In no way to I want to draw a direct correlation from the tragedy of this young man at the race I competed in, and my own experience with clients training for competition;  there are however some trends that I see which could save a lot of folks some hassle and help to make potential participants cognizant of the precautions one must consider in training and racing for a triathlon.

Triathlon is no round of golf; with necessary training and preparation however, it can be a fun and safe sport in which to participate.  Maybe this summer you participated in your first triathlon.  Possibly you didn’t even participate in an event, but were a spectator for a friend or loved one who competed in a multisport event.  Whatever your  level of participation or interest, this article is about thinking through some of the concepts that will move you in the direction of preparation and training for your future endurance efforts.

Some basic guidelines to consider as you recollect how this season went and how you will plan for future training and racing:

1) Hire a professional to help you assess what is reasonable for you, given your background, current health status, and plans for future competition.  I am bias in this area, because I am a certified coach and personal trainer.  I have worked with a couple clients that I have had to pull the reigns in on.  Last summer I had a client that was preparing for his first international distance competition.  In our interview and introduction consult we looked over his background and discussed any of his apprehensions about his goal of competing in an international tri.  One of his concerns was that this was his first triathlon competition and that by doing some swimming on his own, he wondered if he would be able to complete the 1.5kilometer swim that is required for an Olympic distance event.  Hearing this concern, we worked on not only continuous distance swims in the pool, but also continuous distance swims in a nearby lake.  We discussed the reality of possibly switching his entry registration from the Olympic distance to the sprint if necessary.  As race time approached I felt comfortable with his progression and gave him the green light on participating in the Olympic distance.  We admitted that he would likely have to do some backstroke and possibly some sidestroke, given his discomfort with rhythmic breathing, but that he had come far enough that it would be safe for him to race without anxiety.  Other athletes have not been in the same boat…in some cases we chalk it up for “next year” and advise the athlete just compete in the sprint and save the longer distance for the future.

2) Training intensity and modality should mimic racing conditions.  Two years ago I directed an indoor triathlon at the Downtown YMCA.  It was called the “Dip Ride & Dash.”  The race was a tremendous success and we had an awesome turnout including over a dozen participants that had never completed a multisport event.  One of the interesting conversations I had was with one of the dozen tri-newbie’s, a gal in her mid 40’s who looked like she was as fit as Paula Newby Fraser (multiple Ironman World Champion).  This lady thanked me for putting on the event and explained that the reason she had never competed in a triathlon is that she has an irrational fear of open water swimming.  Thankfully this woman knew her fear before starting an event in a lake.  Others have swam hundreds of laps in a pool only to put their foot to the line on a beach somewhere and discover 50 yards later that swimming in murky water with weeds, fish, and turtles is nothing like swimming in a pristine chlorinated pool.

3) Talk to your doctor before training, but especially before competing in a triathlon.  Most multisport coaches will require their clients to sign a waiver that acknowledges that risks and inherent liabilities associated with training and competing in triathlons .  This waiver will include a line that indicates the participant has received a physicians approval to participate in training and is not currently diagnosed with any condition that would limit their ability to stress the body beyond low level aerobic activity.  The inclusion of this kind of wording is not intended primarily to serve as a limiter in restricting individuals from participating or to limit liability that the coach might incur, but more as an encouragement that anyone who exercises on a regular basis should  be in routine dialogue with their primarily healthcare provider about the modalities they are using for exercise.

Working in the multisport industry, I am so encouraged at the numbers of people who are discovering the way that multisport training and competition can positively impact wellness and quality of living.  Working with athletes of all ability levels and intensities of competition, I am blown away by how inclusive the sport is and how a self-employed IT consultant couch potato can take a physician’s prodding seriously and get some coaching from a dietitian and tri coach and lose 180lbs over one year and discover a new way of life. 

Although results may vary, we all have come to the sport in part due to an ounce of intrigue and a little insanity.  With a little sage advice and some guided training one can lower their handicap and safely enjoy this different kind of stroke.