How a Triathlete does.. The top 5 questions for triathletes, answered.

Some good information, a little too much information, and "how triathletes do". 

Every once in a while, as I talk about my affinity for endurance sports to complete strangers who are always eager to hear every detail of my life, I run into someone who actually responds back with a question. These occurrences can oft catch me off guard as what seems so normal to me, isn't very normal at all, especially when it comes to triathlon. As entrenched in the sport many of us become, it's easy to forget just how sparse participation is in the grand scheme of things, especially when compared to other sports. So it's not crazy that some questions veterans of the sport might view as rudimentary, are complete foreign concepts to new comers. 

Here we have it, the TOP 5 inquires *How do triathletes ____*


 Q:How do Triathletes train? 

 

A: I think it's more complex than that...

One of the most legitimate questions I encountered during my research. Triathletes have 3 sports to juggle not to mention other life obligations like work, the mountains of laundry triathlon training spawns, a social life... or non social Netflix binging. Point is, it is easy to see why this question ranks number one amongst googlers. This is a question I'm sure many an experienced athlete have pondered as well, aside from rookies . Being the most involved question on the list, the answer can be as complex as you desire. Many athletes, coaches, and triathlon legends have written books on this very subject, I am no legend and this is no book but if you're asking, I'm answering. 

Lets dive into the mixed bag that is tri training and discuss a few key components on how a triathlete trains. For now, lets take a "slightly more obsessed than average" age grouper's training regime so we can hit the foundation as well as a few specifics. You can expect most athletes battle plans to contain all these critical ingredients. 

-TIME FOR ULTRA MEGA GENERALIZATIONS:

  • Balance: I am putting this first not only because it is the most fundamental component of a good training plan but because it is also the one that those whom are asking the question will get the most out of. With three disciplines, focus too hard on any one and the others will crumble to pieces like a poorly made gluten free dessert. Gross. Keeping things in tact by finding balance in training is a highly personalized endeavor and requires some creative thinking. Generally speaking (ultra mega-ly), given an athlete who is injury free and equally proficient in all 3 areas, the training time dedicated to a discipline should reflect the time demands of the race. Meaning more time needs to be spent on the bike than running, and more time running than swimming. An athlete who is particularly weak in one discipline might spend more time becoming proficient in that sport during the early phases of training (while still remembering to not entirely neglect the other 2, remember, crumbly is bad). Needless to say if you blew out your knee running down a snowy mountain-scape on New Years day trying to best your mates, you might be spending extra time in the pool *cough* me *cough*. An athlete who is particularly weak in one discipline might spend more time becoming proficient in that sport during the early phases of training while still remembering to not entirely neglect the other two. 
  • Consistency: There have been athletes who focus on one sport for a spell, then switch and focus on another, putting the others in "maintenance mode". Maintenance mode does not mean neglect, but to only do the amount of training necessary to not take penalties in fitness for that sport. Most triathletes and coaches approach improving all 3 simultaneously. This means getting in 2-3 workouts of each discipline in per week (this is optimal but not always logistically possible, I realize that some of us have other things in life to worry about other than triathlon, but really, 6-9 workouts a week isn't that far out of reach for anyone, I pinky promise). Balance plays a key role in finding consistency in your training. Being consistent in training will do more for an athletes progression then any magical workout or special formula. I've said it before and I will say it again, hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. Okay Kevin Durant said it first. Consistency will always ALWAYS reign over science. You can write yourself the most incredible workouts, and read all of the "try this one weird trick to run faster" articles your aerobically fit heart desires, but there is no replacement for doing the time. 
  • Periodization: A fancy word but a simple concept. Best way to think of periodization (if it's new lingo) is like a well written novel or movie. The plot moves itself along with rising action, falling action, and a climax. The climax being the athletes A race with falling action and the conclusion being transition/rest periods. A yearly training plan (macro-cycle) will contain smaller blocks of similarly structured training on a smaller scale (mesocycles and microcycles) A periodized plan will break down into bite size phases that will allow the athlete to reach peak performance when the time is right. Each macrocycle will be built into phases of different types of training that are as follows:
    • Base Phase: The first and longest phase. This time period is reserved for building general aerobic capacity and endurance. You will typically see long, easy workouts with the overall training volume increasing through the phase. Although aerobic endurance is the focus, speed should not be neglected. A few short sprints in each discipline will help keep fast-twitch muscle fibers from atrophying during this time period as well as aid in improving form. 
    • Build Phase: Welcome the sweaty stuff. For most athletes this is time to start building anaerobic fitness and muscular endurance. Training in the build phase starts to get more race type specific. Workouts will include strength intervals as well as hard effort intervals. For example run workouts will start seeing some hill repeats and threshold work. A time to get strong and a time to get fast. 
    • Peak/Race: Growing ever closer to the race, workouts get increasingly more specific. This phase of training for athletes racing short distances can include multiple races, but for long course or ultra athletes it will probably consist of a multi week build, followed by a taper and then the key race. Workouts seen in this phase will include longer intervals at goal race paces, tempo effort, and sharpening of race specific skills. It is crucial in this phase to keep the easy workouts easy so the body is ready for the more race specific workouts. 
periodized chart.jpg

Periodization: Visualized

Blue = Volume; Red = Intensity


Q: How do Triathletes Pee?  

 

a: With great difficulty. 

"If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis." 

This is a topic more geared towards the long course triathletes. Sure, It's a thing in shorter distances too, but when you are in the middle of a race that last 6-12 hours (give or take) and sucking down water like a guppy, you are going to pee. How and where? Well if you ask me I say "wherever and however", with the exception of  "on the podium", no need to make a mess up there (that's what champagne is for).

Obviously the best time to relieve yourself is soon before the race. Most organizers have a line up of lovely plastic rooms that come in all sorts of colors as various as the aromas they contain. Getting to the race venue early as possible is always a bonus so you don't have to stress about the little things. After your wetsuit is on, it's game over. No way you will pull that back off for a potty trip, you are committed. 

During the race tho? If no one else will say it I will, when you are standing in the water (or floating) waiting for the gun to go off, that is the easiest time to make your bladder gladder. It's also a perfect opportunity because you not only warm up the potentially cold water but it's also directly before race start, giving you the bast chance of not needing to go again soon. After that the best time to tinkle has to be on the bike. Your poor, poor bike. This is no easy task. Seriously, It takes practice. 

Graphic Personal story time: (YAY!)


2015 Oceanside 70.3 I tried to relieve myself for the better part of 15 minutes before deciding it wasn't going to happen. Coasting on the downhills, taking it easy, standing up, daydreaming of waterfalls... nothing could get my juices flowing, and I was losing valuable time. 

I decided to try again in T2 after I racked my bike, this time with success; although, as the *ahem....* dripped down my calf towards my sock I decided this might be a bad idea (soggy socks are never okay) and held off for a transition area porta-potty. That... was the longest 90 seconds of my life. Ever. 

Moral of this insightful story: Don't plan on things going smoothly unless you have tried during training. Learning to relax to the extent you can empty your bladder takes time and patience, and isn't something for everyone (go figure).


Q: How do Triathletes change from swim to bike:

 

A: By spinning so fast you become an indistinguishable blur in an old school phone booth

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Multi-task like bad ass

The Wetsuit is stripped upon water exit to make for an effecient T1

Alright, time to ruin the magic. Changing from swim to bike is actually a super simple process. This process can be as simple as putting on a helmet in some scenarios. Triathletes have a special, superhero skin tight suit. These triathlon suits are purpose built to be swam, cycled, and ran in. Over the years these suits have increased in body coverage as well as fabric technology with words like hydrophobic (something a lot of new triathletes might have in common I think). What used to be a form fit crop top paired with an overly (depending who you ask) revealing bottom is now a full body suit complete with sleeves and a zipper. This is worn from the start of the race, and on the frequent occasion that a wetsuit is worn, the wetsuit goes over the top of the triathlon suit. Meaning all that is needed for a swift transition from swim to bike is a little practice stripping out of body hugging neoprene, and by body hugging I mean body contorting. There are a number of tricks to making for a fast transition time which I will save for another day. The time spent switching from swim to bike (known as the first transition and often abbreviated as T1, is included in the overall race time so efficiency is important. 


Q: How do Triathletes go to the bathroom? 

 

A: I feel like I just went over this..

Unless of course you mean the "other" bathroom.. in which case the answer is relatively simple..

1. By sitting on a porcelain throne, sans pants. 

Alright I'll do you a solid and give you some more insight and a backstage pass to a triathletes bathroom tendencies (which can consist of 4 times the morning of a race). 

Taking a pre race load off your mind is a weight reducing, stress relieving necessity.  No one wants to be in a position of some questionable gut rumbling at mile 3 of the run, even if it is a sprint.  There are a number of things an athlete can do to make sure race morning rituals go smoothly

  • Eat an early dinner
  • Drink a morning cup of coffee (coffee has proven to stimulate the distal colon) although if you drink coffee routinely it could lose its potency as "go juice"
  • Eat breakfast a few hours before race start. 
  • Get to the race venue early to make sure nothing is rushed.

The body is an incredible thing and will learn your habits Race morning bathroom stops will become "second nature" in no time.


Q: How do Triathletes make money?

 

A: Define money...

I hate to be a buzz kill.. but most triathletes make money the normal way. They have jobs, working away like the rest of us at a job that sucks up the majority of our waking hours.

Truth is, the amount of money involved in the sport of triathlon (despite what you might think given the high cost of participation) is only a fraction of that of other sports. In fact, most professional triathletes need to supplement their income with part time jobs. Let's look at some simple data. 

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Ah. A lovely pie chart, and pie is better than cake. 

 

Lets break down this pie chart shall we? What we have taking up over 50% of the slice is the NBA, following the NBA, the NFL takes a decent chunk.  The next largest (large? I mean.. next in line, not the smallest) is Triathlon. 

Here is where things get saucy. The dark area is one NBA player alone. Mr. Stephen Curry bringing home over 32 million dollars. The light teal area is also one player. The highest paid NFL player for 2017-2018 season Derek Carr, bringing home an annual average of 25 million cajones. The third slice of the pie? Pretty wimpy in comparison. What if I told you that was the combined earnings of more than one professional triathlete? More than 5? Try higher. 

That geenish-grey slice (has to be a better name.. faded jade? Thats better) is the combined prize earning of the top 30 triathletes for 2016. You read that correctly, 30. Three dash zero. The tiny gold sliver of pie belongs to Florra Duffy, who bagged the most prize earnings for 2016. This does leave out several factors such as olympic bonuses, sponsorship deals, and a few other items, so it is by no means 100% accurate, but the scale does put things in perspective. 

Now on with your question! (You thought I was never going to answer). Professional triathletes earn their money through a number of ways. The most recognizable is prize money from races. Only the most elite in the world make enough in prize money alone to support themselves as a professional athlete, and even then if forced to live on prize earning alone would not be glamorous. Pro athletes also make money through sponsor deals and marketing themselves through side hustles like coaching, guest appearances,writing books, and other endeavors. 


There you have it. The top 5 (according to google) *HOW DO TRIATHLETES...* 

Hopefully you learned at least one thing about triathletes, and one thing about peeing. If only the later, thats fine with me.