When I joined the latest iteration of the Cobra Ironman 70.3 held in Cebu, I noticed there were lots of new faces in this event. While there were still a heapload of veterans who signed up, I would say that a considerable amount of first-timers/newbies joined this time around. This is definitely a good sign! I love to see the sport growing; it’s more far-reaching than ever before. With the registration date 1 week away, I’m sure tons of newbies are thinking of registering for this event. As a service to the community, I want to help out those who still apprehensive because they don’t know what to expect. Truth be told, oftentimes, the hardest part is signing up.
As a newbie 6 years ago, it took me several months before deciding to join the race. To give you a brief background on myself, I had absolutely no athletic fitness before 2008-2009. I was a typical geek/nerd/couch potato who spent most of his time studying, watching TV, or playing with my computer. I was, quite literally, the last person you would think of who would sign up for such an event. I didn’t know how to ride a bike nor swim. I did some running during my final year in college but it was recreational (it helped me cope with stress from my thesis). When I encountered the Cobra Ironman 70.3 (it was still in Camsur back then), I knew how long the event was but I didn’t know how to prepare for it. Being in the dark was the main cause of my anxiety. What was I to expect? How can I prepare for this? Can I even finish it? These were just a few of the thoughts running in my head during that time. Let me enlighten you a bit with some personal tips:
If you want to join a Half Ironman or a shorter distance race, what should you expect?
You will need to…
focus on your swim technique and fitness.
Most people neglect the swim since it’s the shortest leg among the three. The idea that “I can easily make up for lost time in the swim during the bike and run” is a really risky mantra to have. Case in point, during this year’s swim leg in Cebu, a lot of people got cut off because of the really bad swim conditions. A lot of these people trained hard for this yet unfortunately, they still came up short. This would be an even bigger problem for someone who completely took proper swim training for granted.
Tyr (pronounced like "Tier") is one of my favorite swim brands because of their attractive designs and high durability.
handle your bike really well.
When I was learning how to ride a bike, I had really bad handling skills. I was stiff, nervous, and tentative. I didn’t know what to do while riding in traffic, let alone during emergency situations. Yes, I crashed a lot; I have the scars to prove it. Yet, I never gave up since I knew it was part of being a cyclist/triathlete. I built up my mileage and rode more often. Sooner than expected, I became more confident and courageous.
be efficient with training time.
Most people have limited time to train. Work, family, traffic etc. take up a huge chunk of our day. To make the most out of our training, we have to learn how to train indoors to maximize our time. Using the bike trainer and treadmill gives us the most bang for our training buck as it takes the overhead of travel, gas, traffic etc. out of the equation. It will also add quality to our training program (i.e. no more stoplights, pedestrians, bad weather etc.) We can focus on getting fitter in the least amount of time.
buy several pairs of rubber shoes.
Shoes get worn out every 700km or so, replacing it beforehand will prevent injuries. In addition to this, shoes tend to get dirty or soaked especially after a hard race or a morning shower. Having an alternative pair will keep your feet dry without interrupting your training. I also like to use a lighter pair during races to help me run faster. However, I make sure I still put in a few miles on them during training (to help get accustomed to the fit).
My mileage shoe: The Newton Kismet and My Race Shoe: The Newton Distance S4
train at least 9 hours per week.
Training hours vary from person to person more so on the event they’re preparing for. More athletic people can do away with less, others, may need a lot more. On the average, training 3x per week per sport is what’s recommended for a beginner. Cycling often takes the largest chunk of the weekly volume percentage. Needless to say, focusing on one’s weakness means dedicating more time and effort to that particular skill or sport. During peak mileage for a 70.3 (not necessarily during the same week), you need to log in 3km swims, reach or extend beyond 3 hours on the bike, run up to 2 hours or 20km.
This doesn’t refer to the typical bodybuilding strength program most people are used to. Functional strength work is supplementary to the three sports we focus on. It prevents injuries, addresses muscle imbalances, and helps develop efficiency and fatigue resistance. Body weight exercises like squats, lunges, bridges, and planks are a few of my staple workouts.
look beyond the swim, bike, and run.
Training doesn’t end once you remove your goggles, helmet, or running shoes. Nutrition and recovery are very essential aspects that are often neglected. It is said that we don’t get stronger in the gym (or pool, bike, track in our case). We improve as we rest/recover. Be wary of binge eating and faddish diets as they are in opposite extremes and can definitely wreak havoc on your system. Nothing beats eating a balanced and healthy diet (lean meat, healthy carbs, vegetables etc.) Visit your Physical Therapist (PT) for preventive treatment. Once an injury occurs, it will take an exponentially longer time to recover. Try to get a massage once a week if your schedule/budget allows it as well.
find a group to train with or join.
Triathlon may be an individual sport, but it’s also a social sport. Having friends and training partners will help reduce boredom and even fatigue. Just make sure you keep them on board with your training regimen or program. I’ve seen lots of athletes throw away a key session for the sake of chismis. Training needs a lot of focus; there’s time to chitchat after the session.
be wise in your triathlon-related investments.
We often get caught up with fancy gear and gadgets that we tend to neglect whether we are really benefiting from such purchases. When I joined my 70.3, I used an entry-level roadbike worth 30k. It had an 8-speed drivetrain, cheap and heavy wheels, an chunky aluminum frame, and weighed close to 30lbs. The Ironkids even had nicer bikes than I did. While I fully support anyone who would want to purchase nice gear for the sake of having extra pogi points, I wish to emphasize that it’s not completely necessary. One can survive and even do well with cheap equipment. However, if someone were to ask my opinion, I’d personally recommend buying gear like power meters, heartrate monitors, and GPS watches before purchasing the most aerodynamic wheels, slickest trisuit, or lightest bike. These devices help us be smart with training; it helps us improve our engine. In turn, this results in greater returns in training.
Definitely one of my favorite bikes. If you want great value, The Trek Speed Concept 7.5 costs around Php200k (complete bike). It comes from the same mold as the Trek Speed Concept 9.5 shown here.
My best investment EVER! I started using power meters way back in 2011. I was one of the first people in the Philippines to take advantage of such technology. It helped bring my tri career to a whole new level.
have a smart training plan.
One of my favorite quotes goes like this: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” By plotting out the season ahead of you, and by structuring your workouts to help you reach your goal, you are giving yourself a greater chance of success. Tied with structure, proper execution is also key. I personally advocate lactate testing for all triathletes (for both beginners and veterans) as it eliminates a lot of guesswork. Aside from knowing the training zones one should focus on during training, the data one gets from such a test also helps determine the kinds of workouts one would need to improve. Think of it as a way to “profile” your body; by understanding your body, you learn about how to become stronger and faster.
With proper zone training (via Lactate Testing), you won't go into sessions blind. By training with zones, you get to manage load, fatigue, and stress to help give you the best returns in training.
ask for proper guidance and sound training advice.
Back when I was starting out, I kept on asking people about what I should be doing in training. I often had polarized answers and a lot of times, I ended up confused. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t listen to some tips which were merely anecdotal and lacked any scientific background. Remember to always be analytical when on the receiving end of tips. Not everyone, despite meaning well, may be right. Seek the help of a qualified coach or athlete who will guide you properly.
love the smell of sweat, chlorine, and sunblock.
Let’s face it, triathlon will take up a large part of your life. I’m careful not to say that it will run your world, instead, I can predict that it will be a lifestyle for you. You’ll start sleeping earlier. You’ll wake up before sunrise. You’ll start wearing finisher’s shirts, compression socks, and even race bracelets to the mall. Swimming, biking, or running will be common topics during gatherings. You’ll have weird tan lines and you’ll get used to “Ang itim mo na!” as a form of greeting from relatives or friends. Other people may look at you differently and think you’re weird or crazy for participating in such an event but at the end of the day, you’ll be in the best shape of your life. You will have newfound energy, enthusiasm, and vigor. More importantly, despite all the hardships, challenges, and trials, you will be happy because you’ve achieved something great.
My fastest 70.3 to date (4hrs 39mins) was because of smart training, proper equipment, and great time management. I actually trained 30% less for this race but improved by 7 minutes!
“A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”