The best birthday gift is warm weather in March and a ride with Phil. We headed out after a leisurely breakfast and made our way down to the Philadelphia Museum of Art before heading to Manayunk for coffee at Volo. This is an easy ride to do with Martin Luther King Drive closed to cars for the time being. Usually, it’s only closed May-October on weekends for cyclists and runners, allowing more room than the Schuylkill River Trail on Kelly Drive that tends to be filled with people.
With temps in the mid 50s, on a Wednesday, it wasn’t too crowded. Recent snow melt and rain filled the Schuylkill and there was the usual headwind throughout the ride. The sun was shining, and it’s always a good day when you’re on a bike.
If you’re interested in rethinking MLK Drive in Philadelphia, check out the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia’s post and sign the petition at the bottom:
I started running in 2010 when we moved back from Japan, even though I dabbled in the sport while doing run/walk intervals along the Odakyu Line that stretched out from the center of Tokyo to Kamakura. It was the only flat road, and I would go back and forth from our house to the local playground. Phil would run with me when we started, offering encouragement, even though I ran/walked super slow. If he ran ahead for a mile or so, he would come back to check on me before heading father once again. By the time we moved back to Florida, I ran my first ever 5K race without walking.
Since then I’ve added triathlon when my friend, Cathy, found out I used to swim in high school. She wanted someone to go to the pool with her because she knew that if she made plans to meet me there, she would show up without fail. It was a 50 meter indoor pool, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim there, being a much better swimmer than runner. We would go twice a week and swim 1600 meters for the swimming gods before hopping out. I also ran with her every day at 6:00 AM and the whole 6@6 group, and after many runs, she convinced me to get a road bike since I was already swimming and running–why not add the third sport of cycling?
And, that’s just what I did. I bought a used road bike for $500. I then went on my first road ride with Cathy and Gene to the Norfolk International Airport and back and just about died trying to keep up. Within a week, I got myself a pair of road shoes, clipped in, and proceeded to fall a few times while practicing in the apron of our driveway. The kid came out and drew chalk outlines of everywhere I fell so that our driveway looked like a crime scene.
I’ve managed to stay on my bike more often than not, and have kept up with swimming and running, but it’s way easier to get out there when you have friends waiting for you in the cold, pre-dawn hours. Marianne is that friend. We typically run at 5:00 AM to beat the traffic, the heat of summer, or crowded streets during COVID, and she’ll ride with me for miles in winter as we chase the sunrise to the city and back. One thing we always do is get coffee afterwards, which makes all of that hard work in the cold, the dark, the windy, the rainy, the snowy, totally worth it. We’ve talked about just meeting for coffee at 5:00 AM, but I’m still asleep at that hour because it’s the running or the cycling that wakes me up so I can really enjoy the coffee.
Throughout my time in this sport, meeting my friends in person or virtually has helped me get out of bed when I would rather hit snooze. Because most days, I’m not motivated to be getting up at 4:30 AM, and there are many times I hope to see a text from Marianne before 4:30, saying she can’t make it. I often stare at my messages with one eye open, hoping to see that cancellation text that will never come. So I shut off my alarm and get up for the run or ride before coffee.
The road calls–the wind in your face, the long downhill to the river, the curling country road winding through trees. My wheel traces the line to the left of the shoulder on smooth tarmac. This is why I love riding. It’s mediation in motion.
But, at the forefront of my mind is when will a driver approach me, how fast, how close? Will the driver be distracted on the phone? Are they speeding? Do they hate cyclists? I checked my lights before leaving, so I know I’m seen if a driver is looking. I got my wallet, my keys, and my phone for emergencies, a fully stocked saddlebag, and my helmet is secure. I also have incredible hearing–just ask my former students about how I knew they dropped the f-bomb on the other side of the room during group work time. Yes, I heard it. Yes, I will acknowledge it and let you know. Yes, I’m emailing your parents about your language in the classroom.
Even with all of this, it’s really hard to hear if a driver in any vehicle is approaching me from behind until that driver is right there, whizzing by me too close, the slipstream nearly pushing me off the road. Yikes. That’s happened too many times to count and almost gives me a heart attack every time. Too many of my friends have been hit by drivers who say “the cyclist came out of nowhere!” Umm… we’re on the roads. A bike is a vehicle. I have lights. I signal where I’m going. I follow all traffic laws. And yes, I ride in the lane, three feet over from the shoulder line to avoid all kinds of debris and rough pavement in the shoulder.
The newest device I’ve added for extra safety is the Garmin Varia Radar. It won’t prevent a car from passing too close, or heaven forbid, from hitting me, but it alerts me that a driver is coming fast or slow before I can even hear or see that vehicle. Seriously. If the car is moving at a normal speed, I will see an orange ball of light move closer to me (I’m the light at the top of the display) until the driver passes me, and then the light will go green. If the driver is speeding like a bat out of Hades, the ball of light flashes red, so I can move my ass over to feel better about it and pray they’re not distracted.
I decided to purchase the radar and display even though I have a compatible bike computer (Garmin Edge), so that when Phil rides with me, he will use the display, and I can use my bike computer for one radar that’s on the back on my bike. The radar only picks up Phil or another rider if they are really close behind me and riding fast. If I ride next to Phil or he’s ahead of me, my radar will alert both devices so I don’t have to call out “car” all the time because he gets an alert too.
Always ride with lights (the rechargeable ones so they are bright), helmet, a stocked saddlebag, phone and emergency information, and add the Garmin Varia Radar for even more safety. I won’t ride on the road without it. Ride on.
Here’s a link to the Garmin Varia Radar, which just so happens to be on sale. It doesn’t include the display, but if you have a compatible bike computer, you don’t need it anyway. I bought mine from Bike Closet, and got the radar and display for $200, regular price is $300 for both the display and the radar.
A few of my athletes are racing some smaller triathlons that weren’t canceled in 2020, but transitions are always good to practice because transition time is free time.
Make sure your area is neat and organized at the wheel of your front bike tire and always rack your bike by the nose of the saddle. Take no more than a foot of space and use a bright towel to place your gear on. See the video for how to set up your stuff:
Walk through the transition area from the swim to your bike, from your bike on the rack to the “bike out”, from the “bike in” to your spot on the rack, and from the rack to the “run out”. Know where your gear is inside transition at all times.
Preview the courses whenever possible. Most bike courses are open to traffic, so knowing where road hazards and intersections are located is a good thing.
Study the swim course and know where you will start if it’s a mass or wave start, or where you will seed yourself if a few swimmers enter the water at a time.
Make sure all your gear is in good working order and that you get to transition early.
All of your nutrition for the bike should be placed on your bike when it’s racked.
Practice putting on your gear and taking it off. I like to tell athletes to get dressed from toes to head or head to toes so that nothing in forgotten.
That’s about it! I hope you enjoyed the video with the cheesy paneling and the view from the floor. I’m mostly off to the side, which is where I like to be.
Anyone who’s been around the fitness industry knows that before and after pictures are powerful advertising tools, as in, look how great Brittany looks since she’s lost weight, or look at Bill who now has six-pack abs! Well isn’t that fantastic? Yeah, but (you knew there was a huge but coming, referring to the conjunction, but not a big ass), what about the athletes who alter their nutrition, train, and do awesome things, but are essentially the same afterwards and don’t fit the definition of what most people think an athlete should look like? Where does that leave them? And what about the Brittanys and Bills before they lost weight or started training? Does that mean they were somehow not as good as their new and improved selves?
Look. Training and proper nutrition doesn’t “fix” people. In fact, most people don’t need “fixing” because we’re all on this journey called life (insert eye roll here), and everyone is simply doing the best that they can do with what they have right now. Consistent training and eating properly does provide overall better health and sleep, but it’s not going to “fix” an athlete. That work is done in your brain and by you.
The story I want to hear right now is the story of the busy mom who runs every day but never races, the IRONMAN rocking a dad bod who skips a long ride to be with his kids, the cyclist who rides an e-bike to and from work every day and gets others to ride too, and all the athletes who don’t seem to fit inside that athlete box because some arbitrary expectations say they don’t look the part.
That’s the story I want to hear right now. Because it’s my story too. If you are training for events, training for a healthier life, training because that’s how you make friends, but you’re essentially the same lovable you at the end of the day, spreading the joy, I want to hear from you.
Email me your story to be included as a series in this blog about how you got to be where you are today. Here are some guiding questions to consider (thanks, Jamie!):
How did you get started in triathlon?
How has triathlon contributed to you life?
What has been your experience as a triathlete in regards to performance and self image?
How can the sport of triathlon be more inclusive to all athletes of all backgrounds?
What motivates you to get up before dawn and do a workout?
Which of the three sports is your favorite and why? Don’t forget the WHY.
Here are the details:
1000-2000 words, or enough for a “chapter” (or the standard 500 words is OK too)
Names are changed to protect others’ privacy, but the story is true.
I have your permission to publish the story on my blog and edit for grammar, spelling, or clarity. You’ll see the final copy before publication on the blog.
I also reserve the right to not share the story on my blog if it’s inappropriate.
If you have a totally awesome story, I’ll send you some swag. I have shirts and hats, and in a year with very little racing, free stuff is the BEST!
Please email your story me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With pools opening back up, here are some useful reminders about pool etiquette in case you didn’t know. And if you don’t know, now you know.
Many triathletes come to the sport by way of running or cycling, and there seems to be a knowledge gap when it comes to the pool with most triathletes who generally train alone. Here’s some swimming etiquette if you haven’t had the benefit of ever swimming on a team or didn’t grow up around a pool.
As a triathlete, the pool is a chance to recover from the long days on the bike or run, so first things first: know the pool size. Most pools in the States are 25 yards long, one way, or short course yards (SCY), but some are 25 meters (SCM), and others are a whopping 50 meters long, otherwise known as an Olympic pool or long course meters (LCM). Your swim activity app on your watch should have a option for you to select the pool size for proper counting. If you’re not sure if the pool is 25 yards or meters, just ask.
That leads me to another issue: the definition of “lap” as it refers to swimming. Some swimmers say a “lap” is two lengths of the pool for “there and back”, others will argue that it’s one length of the pool. Avoid all debate and just say “length” instead of “lap”. Problem solved.
Lane lines are important too. Lane lines are solid 5 meters out from the wall (flags are placed above where the solid color ends and the broken colors begin). This is so you know how far you are from the wall while doing backstroke since you count your strokes to the wall before turning. When breathing to the side for freestyle, you’ll also know that the wall is coming up is you see a solid color. There is also a red colored marker on all lane lines 15 yards out from the wall, which is an long as you can legally stay under water after pushing off the wall. Everyone swims faster under water and good swimmers use this to their advantage, so streamline and get that free speed off the wall.
We haven’t gotten our toes wet, but before entering a lane to swim in, get permission from the swimmers already there. Hopping in and assuming they will see you is not a good idea because more than likely another swimmer won’t see you until they swim into you. Not a good day in the pool. If there are only two of you, decide if you will circle swim or split the lane. If you split the lane, you will stay to one side of the lane at all times. There is no need for a collision resulting in a concussion.
When circle swimming, swim counter-clockwise, keeping to the right of the black line. If you need to pass, tap the swimmer’s feet. Once at the wall, the swimmer you are passing will move to the far right to let you turn and keep swimming. Do not pass up the middle since the swimmer you are passing might not see you, and if you both get to the wall at the same time, that’s not OK. If you are doing the same workout and leaving the wall at the same time, give the swimmer in front of you space. Wait until their feet are past the solid color on the lane line to provide for adequate spacing while swimming.
When swimming in a masters group, talk to the coach and find out what the swimmers are doing, what the sets are, and where they are in the set. Take turns leading and give a few seconds in between swimmers to prevent swimming at their feet the whole time. The lead swimmer should know the sets, times to leave, etc. If you switch leaders in a lane, the new leader should understand all of this. When arriving late or leaving early, talk to the coach and the other swimmers in your lane so everyone knows what’s going on.
Wall know-how:if turning or finishing at the wall, move over to the far left to leave room for other swimmers to turn and push off and stay clear of the T on the wall. Lead swimmers start on the right and enter the swimming lane on the right of the line. All other swimmers will follow the lead swimmer and enter from the right of the lane.
If possible, swim with swimmers who are close to your speed, leave enough distance between you and other swimmers, and make sure you talk to everyone to ensure smooth swimming. In other words, know your pace per 100 yards–the pace you can swim for a long time. If you’re in a meter pool, add 5-10 seconds to that time, and in a 50 meter pool, add a few more seconds. So, if you are swimming at 1:30 per 100 yards, but the swimmers are at 2:00 per 100 yards, it will be tricky to circle swim with them. Find swimmers closer to 1:40 or 1:20 per 100 yards or +/- 10 seconds from your pace.
You’ve made it this far, so here’s some unsolicited advice for ALL TRIATHLETES:
Do flip turns. They strengthen your core, keep your swimming speed up with less resting which translates well for open water swimming when you don’t get a big breath of air on the wall because there are no walls. Flips turns also help with getting you under the wake you just created from swimming to the wall (free speed!), they will keep your HR steady since you didn’t just gulp a huge breath of air for an open turn, they will enforce a better breathing pattern, and, best of all, you’ll shave 4-8 seconds off of each 100. Just shut up and do them.
Learn all the strokes. Breaststroke is good for sighting in super choppy water, backstroke works your shoulder flexibility and actually makes you a better freestyle swimmer, and butterfly is unmatched for upper body strength needed for open water. Do all four competitive strokes, please, but build them in gradually and do them properly. Join masters swimming while you’re at it too. You will swim faster, get used to swimming with other people, and get coaching on your form. And if you do bust out the butterfly in a triathlon, I want to see that.
Sure, keep track of your swim with your watch, but use the pace clock. For example, if you are doing 6x100s on 2:00, you will leave on the top of an analog clock or on the :00 of a digital clock. Finish each 100 in 1:50 for 10s rest. If you’re doing 100s on 1:45, you will leave on the :00, then the :45, :30, :15, etc. Use the clock, not your watch.
Don’t just swim forever in the pool. You’ll just get better at swimming at a stupid slow speed. Do a workout. Print it and stick it in a baggie. Or take the paper and stick it to a wet kickboard. Just clean up the pool toys when you’re done.
And for the love of all things swimming, KICK. It will help you maintain good swimming form. Do a two-beat kick to keep those legs up. You’re not fooling anyone by not kicking when you say you’re saving your legs for the bike and run because you’re only wearing yourself out more by dragging those legs in your wetsuit and all. Kick, kick, kick.
There are times when things need to be cleared from the calendar, and the pandemic has certainly seen to that, turning everything upside down. But the one thing you can do is to be consistent through it all.
The problem with that is if you are stressed out with stay at home orders, whether or not school will happen for the kids, whether or not you’ll be working full time, etc., consistency is hard. With the athletes I coach, the ones who are most consistent have the biggest payoffs. Yes, there are days I tell them to take the time off after looking back at heart rate data, training intensity, and other times I’ll adjust the intensity or duration of the workout or both. However, most of the time, if they just start the workout, they end up doing the whole thing anyway.
That’s consistency. Making the time to do the training the right way. Even if time is limited, just doing most of the scheduled workout is beneficial. If you find that you’re taking too many rest days, or you’re too tired to train on most days, then I would start looking at the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting and whether or not your fully hydrated (I’m not saying to drink tons of water so that you’re peeing every 15 minutes, but drink enough so that you’re not thirsty).
Consistency is often boring. Be boring when it comes to your workouts, and you’ll thank yourself later. So that’s my mundane thought for the day: be consistent with your training and save the lack of a plan for later.
Indoor pools may still be closed in our area, most races are postponed, or simply won’t happen, BUT open water swimming season is BACK (as well as some outdoor pool swimming)! Here are some places you can go right now in the Philadelphia area:
Once you buy your passes, an email is sent out every Monday at noon for you to select the days and times you want to swim. This way, social distancing can be maintained on the small beach at Camp O. ETA offers swims on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
This is a link to French Creek Racing’s Facebook page where you’ll find information on open water training swims, open water racing, and pool swims. For pool swimming, French Creek Racing has practices on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the Upper Merion Township Pool, which is an awesome 50 meter LCM pool. It’s outside, and you can watch the sunset while you swim. That’s a perfect evening to me! Preregistration is required and will be limited to six swimmers per lane.
Why isn’t more being said about how the sport of triathlon is so incredibly silent when it comes to addressing the inequities and lack of diversity? Worldwide, BIPOC make up almost 1% of the sport of triathlon. The burden is not on BIPOC to join the sport, but the burden is on the sport of triathlon itself to figure out how it can adapt and attract more diverse athletes.
The sport of triathlon is uniquely American, getting its start in Mission Bay in San Diego in 1974. John and Judy Collins, who moved from California to Hawai’i, wanted to create a competition for endurance athletes. In 1978, the Around the Island Triathlon took place, and the race was 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling, and running with the winner called the Iron Man. IRONMAN gained even more popularity in 1980 when the Wide World of Sports filmed the event. Since that time, the sport of triathlon has grown, but it is still mostly wealthy, older, white men.
I am in a minority in this sport and as a coach since I’m female. Some of my athletes are too, but we’re all still white and participate in much greater numbers than BIPOC. Female participation is at 30% for triathlon and 37% for cycling.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there are organizations for Black athletes, but there are only a few of them. For most women, one of the largest groups is Women for Tri, sponsored by IRONMAN, and it’s the one I’m having the most issues with right now because the moderators are actively silencing posts about Black Lives Matter and other political posts, citing the rules that it’s not “triathlon related”.
Excuse me? How is being a black athlete NOT triathlon related? Black athletes face a whole bunch of issues I don’t even have to think about when I go for a solo run or ride. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while on a run. Black athletes who train solo are not first assumed to be training, but to be up to no good or running away from something. Really. I know athletes who won’t run alone because they have been stopped on their run and asked what they are doing with the white person who stopped them threatening to call the cops. For real. So, to say that being black is NOT triathlon related is racist, and Women for Tri can do so much better than that. But, no. They aren’t. I recently checked in on the group’s page to see a post about “what is the best way to carry a firearm while cycling” (seriously, wtf?). Another post about “how do I look in my swimsuit” (again, how does this advance women’s rights?). Whatever.
The admin just updated to clarify that political posts are not acceptable (or hashing out political discussion will be deleted), which is subtext for: don’t post anything about race or Black Lives Matter. But, carry on about complaining about “Runners’ World” articles and how women are treated in them (how is this not political?). Carry on about which tri kit to purchase (how does this not promote a business?). Carry on about how beautiful your open water swim was (bragging when some of us are still on stay at home orders). But, when you carry on like that you’re leaving behind so many people. You are leaving behind BIPOC athletes, and I’m done with that.
I put my money where my mouth is and will be donating miles to the NAACP through the Civil Rights Race Series posted above. I am also running a virtual 5K to support LGBTQ+ youth. We need more diversity in triathlon with BIPOC athletes and more LGBTQ+ athletes too. Because only together, we are strong. That’s what the V Formation means. And that’s what I stand for. Always.
I’ve been struggling to find the words to express my outrage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, but words fail me. For so long, the black community has been ignored and treated as second class citizens. For those who are shocked or surprised at the recent protests, you haven’t been listening. I hope you can hear their voices now.
Listen up. Advocate. Take action. Use your privilege to affect change. Because if you’re in the sport of triathlon, you are privileged indeed. Include more people in your endeavors and make them feel like they are part of the community. Black athletes only make up .5% of triathletes (women make up 30% for reference). Why? Because of a legacy of racial injustice from the historical lack of access to swimming pools to institutionalized racism and the poverty that comes with it.
So, will there ever be justice for George Floyd? For Ahmaud Arbery? For Breonna Taylor? Can we all do enough to affect change? What can we do to make things better when it all seems hopeless? You are responsible for your actions and how you interact and treat other people. Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Injustice stops with you. It stops with me too.