When Carole Sharpless did her first triathlon 15 years ago, she had little training after being sedate and overweight for years. She didn’t own any running shoes, and she rode a rusty bicycle with pedal brakes and a basket holding milk and Oreos that she nibbled and sipped along the ride.
Even so, “I just loved it,” said Sharpless, now a professional triathlete who lives in Boulder and is coordinating a wetsuit spray-down station at the Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure.
Still, she and others wouldn’t suggest being so brash when it comes to the body-taxing triad of swimming, biking and running – training should be an integral part of any triathlon.
That said, though, coaches advise not getting ahead of yourself at first.
“The most important thing is balance, keeping it all in moderation,” said Coreen Lauren of Falmouth, a running coach with SheJAMs, an all-female, 120-member, Portland-based triathlon training group that will have about 40 women competing in the Tri.
If you miss a workout, let it go, because “life happens,” she said.
Ultimately, it’s better to have fewer, more efficient workouts, rather than working out every waking moment and quickly burning yourself out – a point on which Sharpless wholeheartedly agrees.
Don’t get over-zealous – increase distance and duration slowly, she advised, and at your own pace.
“Start at your current ability,” said the 40-year-old, who works for SBR Sports and is preparing to retire from the professional triathlon circuit.
Because ultimately, “it’s about the journey for each person,” she said. “There’s no competition with anybody but yourself.”
Meanwhile, a training partner is “invaluable,” she said. It’s a person to whom you’re “accountable,” making you “less likely to bail.”
And when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details of training?
First, to prepare for the third-of-a-mile swim, practice getting in your wet suit in the water, swimming in your wetsuit, and swimming in open water, said Lauren.
Her fellow SheJAMs coach, Kelsey Abbott of Freeport, also suggested practicing sighting so you know where you’re going, as well as bilateral breathing, or breathing on both sides.
Meanwhile, on race day, try to get in the water before start time so your body can get used to the cold – or at the very least, splash some water on your face, Abbott advised.
Being anxious is “normal,” she said, so put your face in the water, slow your breathing and heart rate, “and find your groove.”
Meanwhile, to get ready for the 15-mile bike leg, make sure your ride is a good fit, your tires are well-inflated, and your chain is greased, said Lauren. And as you approach the final portion, the 3.1-mile run, move around, “get up out of the saddle,” said Lauren. “You want to move your legs around while you’re on that bike.”
That’s because at first, the transition from pedal-pushing to hitting the pavement can be shocking – quads and calves can feel “like bricks,” she said, although the feeling usually passes in minutes.
And how to know if you’re over-training?
Test your heart rate the moment you get out of bed every morning, Lauren advised – no equipment needed, just a clock and a finger pressed against your vein. Your resting heart rate should be the same every day, she said. If it’s more than 10 beats per minute above normal, that’s a sign your body is fatigued, and you shouldn’t work out, even if you feel OK, as you can put yourself at risk for injury.
“You have to listen to your body,” said Lauren, who’s been doing triathlons for four years, and has a goal to do an Ironman next year.
When it comes down to race day, lay out everything you’ll need the night before: equipment, food, water bottles, racing bib.
And hard as it might be, “stay calm,” Lauren said.
As for some logistics: Carpool if you can, because parking becomes an issue, she said. Also, try to arrive a couple hours before the race, to avoid traffic and to have time to prepare yourself.
“There is no way to know everything, and it sounds trite to say, but just keep it fun and enjoy it,” said Sharpless, who has competed in more than a dozen Ironman events.
Abbott agreed, stressing that, “even seasoned triathletes were once newbies.”
Something Sharpless knows first-hand – yet on that first day competing in the summer of 1996, she felt an unrivaled sense of support.
“The first person gets as much applause and recognition as the last person,” she said. “The energy is palpable. There’s nothing like it.”