The sport of triathlon is deceptive. Given the name, you’d assume that it’s made up of just three piddly little sports, but let me tell you, there’s more to it than just swimming, biking and running. Lots more. By my count, about 10 total things, give or take a couple. Do you agree?
1, 2, 3: Swim, Bike, Run
I mean, let’s not discount the main events. After all, this is the stuff that the majority of your finish time will be based on!
This really isn’t even an exaggeration — when you get your race results, your times are broken into swim, T1 (first transition), bike, T2 and run. And sure, you’re not going to make up, like, 20 minutes with an efficient transition, but a bit of practice and planning can be the difference between a five-minute transition and a 90-second one. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make up that time there than by having to actually run faster.
You can get away with doing a 5k, a 10k or maybe even a half marathon without too much attention paid to what you’re eating and drinking before and during. Sure, you’ll perform better if you give yourself better fuel, but you can still finish. But with triathlon, even the elite athletes take close to an hour to finish the sprint distance, and as the distances double and quadruple and more, you start talking about a lot of time and energy, and that requires an actual nutrition plan beyond trying to grab some sports drink and maybe a gel at some point on the run course.
No, triathletes are picky about nutrition, partly because we want to stay strong all the way to the finish, and partly because, umm, there aren’t many porta potties along the bike and run courses. If we eat something weird and it doesn’t agree with us around Mile 15 on the bike, we are in a world of hurt. (As is anyone who’s downwind.)
6, 7, 8: Stretching, Foam Rolling, Massage
So, sure, this doesn’t necessarily take place during the race, but I’d be willing to state for the record that few endurance athletes compete without incorporating this into their training in a big way. All those repetitive movements can create incredible tightness, particularly through the shoulders and hips, and if you don’t work it out a bit as you train, eventually, it catches up to you.
Oh, and when I say “massage,” I am not talking about those sumptuous spa experiences where you might fall asleep in the middle because you’re so comfy and relaxed. I’m talking about sports massage. You know, the kind that makes you wish you’d brought a strap of leather to bite down on because OH MY GOD, it would be less painful to just rip my IT band out through my belly button than to manipulate it like that.
Triathletes love their ice. We take ice baths, cover painful areas with ice packs, and even use groovy ice compression thingies to make icing easier. I can say with certainty that there are at least four races I could not possibly have trained for and completed without dedicating an hour or two throughout the week to icing shit down. True story.
(And I still hate doing it, for the record. Ice baths never feel good … until 20 minutes after you’re done, anyway.)
Everyone recovers differently, but after serious training days or big races, we all do some sort of recovery. Some folks take naps, some are cupcake fiends. Drinking to celebrate and snuggling dogs, as my friend Patrick and I did after TriRock Clearwater, is one of my very favorite ways to recover, personally. Highly recommend it.
Honorable mention goes to the following: Putting on a wetsuit, taking a wetsuit off, and, of course, tracking every detail of every workout because isn’t that how all triathletes roll?
Fellow endurance athletes, anything you’d add? —Kristen