Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Triathlon Questions

I asked on my blog's Facebook page, which you should like if you haven't yet, if people had any questions about triathlons. I received a few really great questions, so here are my responses to them. Keep in mind that I am not a professional and that I still have a lot of learning left myself!

Do you always do a transition run after rides?

Ever since Mike and I have started training for triathlons, our first sprint tri was last June, we have always incorporated brick workouts into our training. We do not always run after a ride, some days it just isn't possible, but we do try to have a least one bike/run brick a week.  Some sprint training programs, like the one we used the first time, don't start to incorporate bricks until the middle of the training plan after you have had some time to build up your base in all three sports.

Transition during Flower City Du

With that said, next year as we start to train for our Ironman, I would like to incorporate more short runs off of the bike after a long ride. We will have to get used to running after riding 112 miles, so this will be a necessary part of our training next year. 

How long do they need to be to serve their purpose?

This will vary for what you are training for, but I think in general as long as you run for about 20-30 minutes or at least 2-3 miles off of the bike that it will serve a purpose.  The longest that Mike and I have run off of the bike, not including during a race, is 4 miles. 

Finishing up my longest run, 13.1 miles, off the bike

Next year we will probably do some double and triple bricks, which would be bike/run/bike/run and bike/run/bike/run/bike/run. We already like to do run/bike/run bricks, which are also helpful for practicing your transitions. 

Is there a temperature where you HAVE to wear a wetsuit for safety? I'm doing a November half ironman and am a strong swimmer who doesn't want to invest in a wetsuit. Is it something I should consider?

In general, I don't think you have to wear a wetsuit. However, there are some triathlons, such as the Lobsterman Triathlon, that require participants to wear wetsuits because of the possibility of extremely cold water (it is an ocean swim in Maine in September).   

The coldest water temp that Mike and I have gone without wetsuits is about 61 degrees. It was definitely cold and it does take your breath away in the beginning, but you will warm up. As strong swimmers, as well, we didn't need the wetsuits for the extra buoyancy but they would have been nice for warmth.  If the water temperature had been in the 50s, we would have borrowed or rented wetsuits. 

Keuka Lake sprint tri last year

We did get wetsuits, and wore them, for our 70.3. The water temp was about 72 degrees and while they weren't necessary for warmth, they did help us go faster and save our energy for the bike leg. We weren't wetsuit believers until we finished our swim legs at Musselman. There will be times that we won't wear them, Ironman Louisville will most likely not be wetsuit legal, but we are going to use them more often for sure.

 Ready to go in our wetsuits

I would say if you want to go without a wetsuit, you probably will be able to. The water temp shouldn't be too bad and if you are a strong swimmer you can successfully complete the swim without it. However, if you are planning on doing more triathlons in the future, you might just want to make the investment. You can find deals for wetsuits online, we got ours for about $100, and then you have it in case you need it. There is also the option of renting, if it comes down to that. 

If I am not sure whether I will continue to do triathlons, what are my options for clothing for competitions?

All you need to have in order to complete a triathlon is a bathing suit, bike, helmet and running shoes. There are people who will do an entire sprint tri in just a bathing suit and throw on their running shoes for the bike and run portions of the race.

 Our friends, Sarah and Mark, before their sprint tri

Again, there are great deals online for tri tops and tri shorts, you don't need to get a tri suit (and personally, I don't like them because of the logistics involved). You could even wear just a sports bra and tri shorts for the swim portion and throw on a shirt or tanktop for the rest of the race. 

I don't know whether I would want to give up just "running" so how do you balance training for races and for triathlons without overdoing it?

Mike and I are a different breed of triathletes, for now, since we still primarily do road races. You don't need to give up road races in order to do triathlons, in fact, we have found that because we train for three sports that it has helped us become more fit and relatively injury-free. 

 Doing all three sports

Our racing can be broken up into three different chunks: the beginning of the year we do road races because we live in Western New York and there aren't any triathlons that time of year, once summer rolls around we are focusing on multi-sport events (but we still do road races) and then the end of the year has been about marathon training the last two years.

 Mike racing on New Year's Day

We were training for our spring marathon, the Cleveland Marathon, and Musselman at the same time for about 9 weeks. We weren't biking as much while training for our marathon and then we increased the distance and intensity for biking and swimming and cut back on running once we were solely training for our 70.3.

Finishing the Cleveland Marathon

It's definitely possible to do both, you just have to know your limits and be realistic about what you want to accomplish. Also having an "off" season is helpful, ours is November-January because there aren't as many races. Next year we won't be racing as much, in general, because of Ironman training and what races we do participate in will be primarily triathlons or used as training workouts.

Would love to hear your feedback on road bike vs tri bike. You trained mostly on road right? Big difference in having less tired legs for your run?

We bought our tri bikes about three weeks before Musselman 70.3, therefore, the majority of our training was on our old road bikes.  The tri bikes, I believe, made a huge difference in how efficient we were on the bike leg of our 70.3 and also helped reduce leg fatigue during the run leg (though it is hard to know for sure since we both walked a lot due to the heat).

 Mike on the bike leg of Musselman

Mike's bike leg during Musselman was close to 19mph, something he would not have been able to accomplish on our road bikes. However, we had very low-end road bikes and it is possible that you could achieve those speeds on a higher end bike. Road bikes can be configured to simulate a tri fit, as close as possible, with the help of aero bars and changing the positioning of the seat, handlebars, etc. Due to the geometry of the seat post, you will never be able to get into a true 100% tri fit on a road bike.

 The only thing that's the same is the helmet

Road bikes are more efficient at climbing and making lots of turns than a tri bike, which is why in the fall Mike and I will be making more bike purchases. You can't always train on a tri bike, if you are doing an extremely hilly ride, the road and weather conditions, etc. so having both for training is a huge plus.

Tri bikes are more efficient at going fast and saving your legs for the run portion of a triathlon. Again, the positioning of the seat post causes less fatigue to the rider's quads, which in theory should allow for a better/faster run leg.

And if you are planning on doing triathlons for a long time, I think that a tri bike is definitely worth the investment!


  1. Just a quick FYI on wetsuits:
    You never *have* to wear a wetsuit, but here are the USAT rules

    If temp < 78 = wetsuits are cool
    If 78 < temp < 84 = wetsuits are optional but can't get awards
    If temp >= 84 = no wetsuits allowed

    Here is the letter of the law... :-)

    "4.4 Wet suits. Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit."

    1. Oops and by temp I mean water temp... :-)

    2. True, on Lobsterman Tri's website it does say "required" so my assumption is that they wouldn't let you race without one, but I could be wrong. Most other triathlons I've seen say "recommended" because of the potential for really cold water temps.

  2. Never knew anything about road bikes versus tri bikes cool to learn. I am rocking a 20 year old splatter painted mountain bike:)

  3. This is great info! A sprint tri is on my bucket list for 2014!

  4. Just the sheer amount of info that I feel like goes into a tri stresses me out! Thanks for all the answers, friend. And I will probably be all up in your business with questions once I get serious about tri training next year! I promise to at least send cookies with my questions. ;)

    1. You can send me any questions, with or without the cookies :)

  5. One of my teammates is a huge advocate of the bike-run-bike-run ... brick workouts. He says they're tough, but super helpful, especially in terms of long-course events.

  6. Great questions! And I love the collection of pictures present :)

  7. Such a helpful post! I had so many of the same questions before my first tri- especially the wetsuit and what to wear- so confusing!

  8. You are a wealth of knowledge. One of my goals next year, post-baby, is a triathlon, and I know I'll be picking your brain!

  9. Thanks for the awesome post that helped me to choose my triathlon shorts and wetsuit that is really amazing.