Diary of a Triathlete
Author : Kaitlin Switzer
What does it mean to be a triathlete? The actual definition of this word is an athlete that completes a three-sport race of swimming, biking, and running.
Many people often swim, bike, or run to stay in shape, but the triathlon was created to push one’s body to the limit. To the novice swimmer, biker, or runner, the idea of combining all three activities into one sport, stretching them out over a long distance, and completing it as fast as you can seems... well... downright insane. But to those who train hard and learn how to transform their bodies into the type of condition required to complete a triathlon, the rewards come well before they ever cross the finish line for the first time. This is my sport. Let me tell you a bit about what it means to be a triathlete.
Training is the most essential part of being able to successfully complete a triathlon regardless of the distance. I adhere to a very strict weekly workout regimen. Designing my workout is the easy part. I simply prepare for the most challenging race of the season. For instance, this year I’m preparing for the 2016 ITTU World Triathlon in Cozumel, Mexico. If I base my training around that race, all the other races leading up to it should only prepare me all the more. At the end of each season, I tend to relax for the rest of the year. I try to run every day to keep my body in shape, but nothing too intense or demanding. But once that ball drops to reign in the new year, it’s time to start executing next season’s workout plan.
In the South and throughout the Midwest where I’m from, my season doesn’t start until spring, so there’s no sense burning out early. January through March, I shake off the cold and ease back into training by only running 4 times a week. I gradually begin adding some sessions of biking and swimming at the local YMCA. My city has a sports complex with an indoor Olympic size pool – very convenient. In April, I start adding two-a-days. A typical full week of training for me looks something like this:
Monday- 3-4 mile run & 1/2 mile easy swim
Tuesday- 100m repeat swims & 20-25 mile bike in the evening
Wednesday- Track workout: anything from 200’s – mile repeats
Thursday- 50m repeat swims & 25-30 mile bike in the evening
Friday- 4-5 mile run& 75-mile easy swimSaturday- Long Run 6-8 miles
Sunday- Long Bike 30-40 miles
Everyone develops their own training routine that works for them personally. It doesn’t just come overnight; it takes time, research, effort and motivation.
What motivates me
It’s that time of year! There is snow on the ground, the wind is blowing viciously, it’s 15 degrees outside, and it’s getting dark at 5:30 in the evening. During the winter months, it can be a challenge to put on my running gear and force myself outside. But to achieve the goals I have set, there is no way around it. Old Man Winter is a fierce opponent. Nonetheless, I pull up my compression socks, tie my hair back, cover my ears, zip up my running jacket, plug my headphones into my iPod, press “play” and go. There are many days I wake up, go to work, think about the training I need to do that day, and just absolutely dread it. One thing I try to focus on that helps me is the idea of taking it one running stride at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. Then, eventually, one race at a time. Thinking about training sessions as a bulk of work that I need to accomplish is, quite frankly, incredibly overwhelming. But just like the act of running, I set my pace on the first day of training and focus entirely on that day. Once that day is over, tomorrow is just the next step in my stride. By the time I finish my first race, I’m ready to beat that time in the second race. And when I do? The hard work finally feels like it’s paying off and that alone is enough motivation to work even harder on the next race.
When it comes to heavy triathlon training, fueling your body with the correct ingredients is one of the essential keys to success. Getting the proper nutrition helps your body recover after long, hard workouts and preps you for another day of great training. Without this help for recovery, you may never be fully prepared for your daily workout sessions. I always make sure to eat at least three nutritional meals a day. I do throw in snacks or protein drinks as well. Here are some examples of food items I will eat for each meal:
Breakfast- oatmeal with berries, boiled eggs, bananas, cereal with almond milk
Lunch- salad with chicken, tuna, turkey sandwich
Dinner- stir-fry, broccoli with rice and chicken, pasta, white fish Snacks- apple with peanut butter, cheese and crackers, protein shakes
Those are just some examples of what my three meals will consist of. Don’t get me wrong; I do splurge on the occasional chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, and Kit Kats.
Note: splurge, not binge.
One of the most wonderful things about the triathlon at the amateur level is that people of all ages and skillsets are racing toward one thing – the finish line. Competing in a triathlon is essentially competing in three sports. The skills you acquire in one sport don’t exactly carry over into another. You might consider yourself an above average long distance runner. Fine, but how well do you bike? How well do you swim? You might have a world of experience as a swimmer, but once you get out of the water and onto your bike, if you haven’t put in adequate training on that thing – how to mount, when to dismount, how to draft off of other cyclists – you’re simply going to get passed by everyone.
I speak from experience. I ran track and cross country in high school and college. Needless to say, I felt quite comfortable in my running shoes. Swimming wasn’t exactly my forte. I hardly knew the difference between a backstroke and a breaststroke. So I began to study freestyle swimming. After that, I started biking. Again, the biking world was somewhat alien to me. I watched YouTube videos, trained with other triathletes, and asked a million questions. To date, I’d say the biking portion of the race is my weakest. But I can somewhat use this to my advantage. If I’m aware of another racer that happens to be a good cyclist and can keep up with them, I know I’m doing well. After all, the last portion of the race is running. Once I’m there, I know I’m in my element.
Racing for the Win
Despite what they say, winning ISN’T everything. I have learned through my years of competing, if I go in just wanting to win the race, it usually doesn’t turn out the way I had hoped. Personally, I believe if winning is the ONLY thing you care about, then you are doing all this for the wrong reason. Last year I competed in some races against hundreds of other triathletes, and some races with four other triathletes. In some of those races, I performed much better than I had initially anticipated, and in others not so much. The most rewarding feeling is when you compete in a race, trust the hard work you’ve put in, and end up doing better than you could have ever imagined. Until you know your own strengths and get to know your competitors, you should be racing against yourself. Then when you end up winning your division for the first time, alas! Sweet victory. But in this sport, unless you’re competing at a professional level, placing in your division is just the icing on the cake.
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
Steve Prefontaine said this and it’s always been my favorite quote to read before a big race. It’s absolutely true. I want to go out there and give it my all every single time. That high I get when I’m sweating and panting after the finish line... there’s just nothing like it. Though I’ve competed in many races at various levels, it feels like I achieve the impossible every time I finish. Once I stop racing, look up at my time, and realize I can stop racing now, I finally get the sense of why I worked so hard all year. I admire sports of all kinds and the athletes who compete in them. Some people just run, some people just swim, some people just bike, and some people jump off of mountain ledges for some reason. Running used to be my sport. Now I swim and bike too. And when I tie all three of those things together as fast as I can and someone hands me a medal for doing it... well, there’s just nothing like it.
About the author
Kaitlin’s Races Won:
USAT Mideast Regional Championship- Muncie, IN 2015
Clark Lake Triathlon- Clark Lake, MI- 2015
Be A Beaver Triathlon- Bluffton, OH- 2014, 2015
Napoleon Triathlon- Napoleon, OH- 2013, 2014, 2015
Robert Huntley Memorial Triathlon- Coldwater, MI- 2013, 2014, 2015
ITTU Team USA World Triathlon Qualifier- 2015, 2016
USAT National Qualifier- 2013, 2014, 2015