Two HUGE steps toward the dark side

It was inevitable I guess.  From the first time I successfully got from one end of the pool to the other (without “hydrating” along the way) up to seeing the finish line at the completion of my first triathlon, everything has just kind of “come together” for me as a triathlete.  I am the first one to admit that I’m no threat to podium any time soon, but that’s not the point.  From that first jump into the water as a competitor, I knew I had found my sport (too bad THAT didn’t happen 20 years ago…!).

My first year wasn’t without it’s challenges.  Learning to swim, fighting ill fitting equipment, crashing my bike, learning the sport at the same time I competed in it, open water, and so on.  But I did several things that I never thought I would.  I completed 5 triathlons, lost 25lb, not only learned to swim but swam over a mile… by myself… in open water.  For those that don’t know me, this is akin to someone with severe Acrophobia (fear of heights) base jumping off a mountain… alone.

I learned the sport well enough to start to identify my strengths and weaknesses.  While it will just take time and practice to get better in the water (now that my fear of it is pretty much gone), the swim is not my biggest weakness.  My run times were fine in 4 of the 5 triathlons I completed and I know that as I get lighter, my run splits will get better.  But the most glaring weakness in my triathlon “game” is the bike.  I just didn’t do as well as I thought I would, with my fastest bike split just barely over 20mph.

I identified two big keys to getting better on the bike and I am making the bike my major focus this year.  The first key is I have got to set my schedule so that I can consistently put the time in on my bike that is needed to get stronger.  If you look at the percentages of time that a sprint distance triathlon dedicates to each discipline and convert that into training time spent, my hours and mileages just didn’t line up.  What I mean is, let’s say that you complete a sprint distance triathlon in 1:15:00.  Of that time, I, personally, would spend roughly 12 minutes in the water, 40 minutes on the bike and 21 minutes on the run (allowing a minute per transition, which was my average).  In percentages, this equates to 16% of the race in the water, 53% of the race on the bike and 31% of the race on the run.

I used these percentages as a base to compare the amount of time/mileage I was training and was surprised by what I found.  I ended up spending about 30% of my training time in the water, 30% of my training time on the bike and 40% of it running.  My mileages bore that out as well because I nearly ran as many miles last year as I biked…!  About 925 miles running to 1230 miles riding. 

Now I agree that this isn’t a clear or singular determining ratio for your training, it shows me that I didn’t ride nearly enough last year and my splits bare that out.  So that first big key is that I need more seat time on the bike this year.

The second key, albeit not nearly as critical as the first, is equipment.  I took a cyclocross bike, rubbed a couple of hundred dollar bills on it and magically turned it into a triathlon bike.  This worked marginally well, but I am a firm believer in using the right tool for the job and my old cross bike is just not the right tool.  I didn’t worry about it last year because I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to do triathlons until about May so it didn’t make much sense to dump a bunch of money into a new ride and then abandon the sport after a year.  So I made due with what I had.

I have been considering a lot of things since Club Nationals.  First, there is no question I love triathlons and they are the best thing I can do for myself.  I consider it a health insurance policy and I pay my premiums in race entries (if only you got a t-shirt or a mug for going to the doctor…).  It took me a while to work out what to DO with that decision though.  To keep going would mean a continued investment in training time as well as a substantial financial investment in a triathlon ready bike (one of the more expensive pieces of sports equipment out there…  second only to an F-1 car…).  Another consideration was that I really love to run and wanted to do at least one half marathon next year… just because I LIKE it… as sick as that sounds.  I also felt like I wanted to do longer races next year.  Olympic distance at a minimum and with one half Ironman distance at the end of the year if possible.

In the last few weeks I have finally begun to make a plan to meet all of these goals.  Some friends are running a half marathon in June that I am going to run with them.  I decided that one of the easiest ways to get in more bike time is to commute to work by bike.  It’s 11 miles to work and I can just take a more winding route home to get an extra 10 or 20 miles in.  If I do that 3 days a week and then get a long ride in on Saturday or Sunday, my bike leg should improve.  But I tried bike commuting last year and hated having to wear a backpack when I rode, so to that end I posted to our club list that I was looking for a rack and paniers.  In less than 10 minutes I had everything I needed.  I gathered everything up and put it on my ‘cross bike (including fenders!), put the bigger, knobby tires and light back on it and it’s ready and waiting for the first 50+ degree day after the first of the year.  Until then, I do spin classes or ride a stationary.

But the down side to the transformation of my Kona to a commuter bike is now I have no bike to race on.  Or, that is, I HAD no bike to race on.  Late last week I was in my favorite bike shop and the owner/triathlete/crazyfast cyclist made me a pretty amazing offer.  After a test ride of a bike like we were talking about (which I secretly hoped wouldn’t fit… but it did… perfectly.), a deal was finalized on this:

This is a Specialized Transition Pro.  No, it’s not this exact bike, but close.  It IS the frame, etc.  We are working on the rest of it.  To say that this bike is better than I am is a monster understatement.  I’m going to need to ride for YEARS to get as good as this bike is.  But the most important thing about this bike is that it was built to do as much or more than I will ever do.  A purpose built tool and the elimination of any excuses.  Now it’s time to shut up and ride.

So my first step towards the darkside, meaning a complete commitment to triathlon as a way of life…  was deciding it was the right thing for me to do.  My wonderful wife is, thankfully, very supportive of my sickness sport of choice and encouraged me to make this commitment if at all possible. 

The second step was to bite the bullet and get the right equipment so that the only limiting factor in my performance is simply me.  The pressure is now squarely where it should be.  It’s nobody or nothing’s fault but my own now if I don’t do well.  I have the right tools, the right attitude and a decent plan.  I’m feeling MUCH better than I was a month ago…!

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