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As a recovering college distance runner, getting older has been hard. I've put a lot of miles on my body and have not always been good about taking care of myself. In college, I had a difficult time making it through a single season at a time without sustaining some kind of injury. The cumulative effects of higher mileage, lack of previous injury prevention strategies, not managing my foot deformities before age 25 (functional hallux limitus and a limb length discrepancy) and general knucklehead behavior that comes with being a teenager/20-something have been adding up for a while. Recently I started training for triathlons at the urging of Dr Feldman and some other influential friends with the hope that I could stay healthy for longer periods of time. I would say this experiment has been a solid success so far. Below I'll discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of transitioning into triathlon training.
Variety is the spice of life: Training for multiple disciplines (running, biking and swimming) means that you'll work different muscles, in different ways, while still boosting your same cardiovascular engine. If I could jump in a time machine and tell college Ben a few ways to get faster, the first thing I would say would be to fall in love with cross training so he would be un-injured more often. Biking and swimming get your heart and lungs working without the associated pounding from running. This also allows for you to take a few days off from one discipline if certain small injuries start popping up, before they turn into big injuries. This was a huge boom for me as I was able to get incredibly fit with relatively minimal running. And when I did get out to run, I felt tired but it was an absolute delight.
The beneficiary of low expectations: Training in new disciplines removes your expectations. For me when I was only running, I knew how fast I thought I was "supposed" to be running. This was based on over 20 years of running history. But I have no clue how fast I should be going biking or swimming so this allowed me to learn to train based on my heart rate for the bike. Add in training based on power output on the bike (a measure or estimation of the actual forces being applied to the pedal) and you can tailor your workouts and schedule without all that baggage of how fast you're "supposed" to be.
Life should be fun: It's fun to try new things and meet new people. I've had a road bike for a few years but never rode it too seriously, never rode with other people and never took it out for more than 30 miles. It was really fun to start taking it more seriously and give myself a different challenge. I was new, but the triathlete community tends to be a very nice group of people with incredibly diverse backgrounds. Ability levels will vary greatly, but there is always something to talk to your fellow competitors about (what equipment they have, how their training block went, their nutrition plan, favorite routes, favorite races, etc).
No rest for the weary: Always being tired and hungry is part of training hard in any sport. Because muscle fatigue was historically the limiting factor for my running training, it was a new experience (see above!) when at the peak of my training volume with this cycle that I was always tired. Always. Everywhere. 430am bike rides so I could get all of time in the saddle before 7am start time in the operating room some days. In bed by 9pm, at the latest, or face the unforgiving wrath of the Sandman by midday.
Making sure to put enough fuel back in the tank is also important for recovery. Training hard breaks down muscle and in order to recover, you need to have the appropriate materials. Protein is important, but so are fats, carbohydrates, fiber and electrolytes. I tend to eat a balanced diet, so this just meant increasing the food budget.
The weary traveler: Constantly packing and unpacking is part of the sport as well. Towels and shorts for the pool, plus shower shoes, pool cap, goggles, then work clothes for after the AM swims. Water bottles, headphones, shorts, hat, fan and food for use on the stationary trainer for the bike. It's no wonder I have always enjoyed the simplicity of running. Shoes, socks, and the shortest shorts available was all I needed for most runs back in my prime!
I'll be writing a 2nd part to this blog about the other components of my experience with triathlon training. This will include some additional thoughts on strength training, coaching, nutrition, training plans and race planning.
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