Columbia River Olympic Triathlon
AKA: the Newb's tips on being a Triathlon Newb
August 14, 2021
The start of our Swim leg! 1,500yds of a swim (barely under a mile).
"you're hard to catch"...
... said a runner passing me on the last leg of my first ever triathlon. I laughed, knowing that I was certainly mid-pack at best, and said, "Haha, thanks! You're kicking butt too!" I looked around at my fellow runners. Since this was an out-and-back course, people ahead of me were already past the turn around, and now were running towards me, and I don't think I have seen a group of humans more tired than all of the athletes out on the course that day. It was fantastic to see, and comforting to see runners exhibiting facial expressions that I was feeling as well.
Training for this race had been so much fun. Cezanne and I had pretty much decided to just do each sport twice a week, and slowly build up time spent on each. We utilized Seattle's beautiful lakes and parks to get our training in and man, it felt fantastic to travel around the city using so many different modes of transportation!
Throughout this training, both of us had so many people say, "Wow, that sounds so fun, I've always wanted to do a Triathlon!" And I am here to tell you friends - you can indeed do a triathlon. I thought I'd hop on here and give you this Newb's tips on being a Triathlon Newb. Starting is the hardest part! But here's some information that will make it more digestible and hopefully less intimidating:
The biggest road block that I hear people talk about with triathlons is that they don't have the right gear. But here's the thing - you don't need a ton of fancy gear to do a triathlon. Sure, when you make certain goals for yourself it helps to have better gear, and yeah, that dude in a slick Tri suit with a TT bike is probably going to cycle faster than you, but if you just want to DO one - you likely can largely do it with the gear you have around you. Bikes are maybe the biggest gear question mark, but we'll get to that later.
My transition station for my race.
Cezanne and I trained open water only. Mostly because COVID had closed all of the pools down, but also because we loved exploring. We trained in our swimsuits, goggles, a swim cap and a swim buoy. During the cold months (October thru May-ish) we swam with wetsuits. The best piece of gear I purchased by far for this training was that buoy, just because it gives me so much more confidence swimming open water. I primarily use it to keep boaters from hitting me since it is an obvious visual signal (though we did have one time where we had to yell at a jet-skier to keep them from hitting us...) but I also use it as flotation in case anything goes wrong. I don't like to be the person suggesting that people buy gear just because I say so, but if you are going to swim open water, I'd suggest getting a buoy as a safety precaution. And heck, only being $20-30, I'd say it is well worth it for the peace of mind. Mine even has the ability to carry stuff, which I use for longer swims where I want to bracket for bailing! This way, I can have my shoes in my buoy and walk back to my starting point if needed.
My other open-water training tip is to ideally swim with another person! This not only makes you easier to see in the water (because there's more of you), but it also gives you a safety buffer in case anything goes wrong.
Ultimately, I do want to note here, if you have access to a pool to do lap swims, this is going to be more beneficial for training purposes! Just in the same way you gain strength and technique faster while gym climbing over outdoor climbing. Starting in a pool is also a good way to gain confidence for the open water.
Favorite Seattle Swimming Beaches:
Cezanne and I both lived on the south end of Seattle when we were training for this, but we swam all around Seattle! Here are our favorite spots:
Pritchard Beach - We loved this one because the entrance and exit was easy to access, and you can park close to the water. Downside is that you are swimming past houses the whole time, but this can be entertaining as well! This was where we swam the most.
Colman Beach - This was our second favorite beach to swim at. The entrance was nice, and we got to swim past a park instead of houses.
Seward Park South - A great option! Though often busy with human and boat traffic in the summer. Can feel chaotic.
Seward Park North - An okay option if swimming solo simply because it is more protected. In the summer it is often full of boats, however, and there is large green algae blooms there often, which are kinda icky.
Magnussen Park - A great option for North end folks! The swim is nice along the park, parking is close, and the water is often shallow which is both a plus and a minus depending on if you want to see the bottom or not ;)
Green Lake - A great solo option! Very safe from boat traffic. Warm.
Sunset Beach at Lake Sammamish - Really wanted to like this option more! I'm sure there are times when it is great. When we were there, there was a lot of boat traffic, and to the West was a large lillypad field, and to the East there were many people fishing.
Seahurst Park - A great option for getting in the Sound on the South end without going to Alki! Swimming is along a park, and we swam with a cute lil' seal there.
"Secret" Beach - Really just a boat launch, but I went here a lot as a kid and this is what my family called it! A great option for a quiet put-in and take-out. Swimming is along cute little beach houses at the bottom of the bluff.
Worried about water toxicity? Turns out, the county measures that! Check out this website to make sure your lake water is good to swim in.
Below is a map of the beaches we swam at for our training. There's a lot out there!
Being a runner at heart, cycling honestly has never been my favorite, just because all of the gear is sort of overwhelming! However, during my race, I think this was the leg I had the most fun in. The thing that really gets me about cycling is that it is the one sport of the three where it really does make you faster if you can spend more money on a bike. Which I really dislike. However, like most expensive sports, there's a lot of options out there.
Ultimately, if you already have a road bike, I'd say, ride that for your first go at a tri! Bikes can be super fancy, but they don't need to be. The bike I had before I trained for this happened to be an old hybrid gravel bike, and I had been wanting to upgrade anyway. I found a cheap tri bike off Craigslist (no, somehow that isn't an oxymoron), and I loved my little Cervélo!
In training for the cycling portion, Cezanne and I did most of our rides along Lake Washington Blvd. which was GORGEOUS. Never got tired of that. We also did some rides along the Cedar River Trail, and out to Alki Beach. King County has a ton of great bike paths though, and there is a lot more to explore! (Hello Burke Gillman, Sammamish River Trail, the Interurban, and the Chief Sealth!)
Running my bike into the finish of the 23 mile cycling leg. One more leg left!
Okay, so I've been a runner in some capacity since I was like 6 years old, and as a sport, I genuinely love it. But these. six. miles... were some of the lowest of my life. I had pushed really hard in the swimming and cycling legs, and as I was runnning out of the transition trying to gag down bites of a Cliff bar (why did I choose this as my mid-race food?!) I realized it was going to be a mentaly hard six miles. The course was a flat, straight, sunny out-and-back course, and by this time of the morning, temps were already in the mid 80's, creeping up to 90's. I'm a heat-weenie, so those temps aren't my cuppa tea, especially on a course like that.
Exhausted and hungry, I went back in my head to a time when I was feeling this way before to try to remember techniques I used. Right away my run on the Loowit Trail popped in my head. "If I could run the Loowit, I can do this." And just like I did on the Loowit, "I know what 6 miles feels like," I said in my head, and once I had ran another mile, "I know what 5 feels like... 4.. 3..." until I saw the finish line. Once the finish line was in site, I didn't hold back. What was there to loose?! I crossed the finish line with pure joy, gave Dan a big hug, and with complete exhaustion sighed, "That was really hard".
Cezanne and I were so happy to have been able to train for and do this triathlon, and it was the perfect way for us to train and race without burnout. I had a pretty dang rough spring this year, and what I needed was a sport where I had no previous personal records. I needed to stop beating myself up for not being as fast as I "should be". I needed a fresh slate. Triathlon training gave that for me. I am super happy to have new skills and loves from training for this race, and I am looking forward to my next race in the future!