Strength training is a key component of a well-developed triathlon training regimen, providing not only increased power generation but also enhancing muscle recruitment and encouraging proper technique. And yet, few triathletes make strength sessions a priority. Today's episode discusses how to balance strength training with swim, bike, and run sessions as well as tips for implementing this important part of training into your weekly routine.
TriDot Podcast .19:
How to Incorporate Strength Training into Your Weekly Routine
This is the TriDot Podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We'll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let's improve together.
Andrew: Hey everyone, welcome to the TriDot Podcast. The tri podcast is dedicated to talking all things swim, bike, and run. Which is exactly why today we are talking about none of those things. I mean, we kind of are. Today is all about strength training for triathlon. In our sport, heading on down to the local gym can help us with all this swimming, biking, and running. And so our experts today are going to talk us through the best ways to incorporate strength training into our tri training. First up is Pro Triathlete and Coach, Elizabeth James. Elizabeth came to the sport from a soccer background and quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot, from a beginner to a top age grouper to a professional triathlete. She's a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, welcome to the show.
Elizabeth: Thank you, Andrew. It's always great to be here. Over the past couple years, I've really grown to love strength training and the role that it plays in my training and race performance. So, I've really been looking forward to sitting down with you for this discussion.
Andrew: Next up is Coach, John Mayfield. A successful Ironman athlete himself, John leads TriDot Athlete Services, Ambassador and Coaching Programs. He has coached hundreds of athletes ranging from first-timers to Kona qualifiers and professional triathletes. John has been using TriDot since 2010 and coaching with TriDot since 2012. John, welcome to the show.
John: Thanks. 10 years and I'm still around.
Andrew: 10 years, he just won't go away. I'm kidding. We love John. And who am I? I am Andrew, the average triathlete, voice of the people, and the captain of all of you in the middle of the pack. Today on the show, we are going to warm up by talking about on course spectator signs. Then we'll get into our main set conversation about strength training for tri. Then we'll cool down by hearing a TriDot athlete share the story about his first Ironman. It's going to be a good one. Let's get to it.
Time to warm up. Let's get moving.
Andrew: As triathletes, when we are deep into the bike or run portion of a triathlon, nothing can lift our spirits quite like a good on course spectator poster. Some posters make us roll our eyes and others make us smile or even laugh. But they all help get us through the day and to the finish line. So, Elizabeth, John, for our warm up today, what is the best poster you have seen on the racecourse? John, we'll start with you.
John: So, I raced Ironman Louisville a couple months ago and there was an It themed poster. [crosstalk]
Andrew: Like the clown movie, It clown?
John: Yeah. And he had a balloon and it was by the gutter. And I don't remember exactly what all it said, but I was in the middle of racing Ironman, so I don't remember all that much about it. I just remember it was clever, there was a balloon, there was the gutter. And--
Andrew: I mean, at that point like it almost doesn't matter what it says. [crosstalk] Like that placement is already brilliant.
John: It was nice. But I will say I am a sucker for the kids with the power up It here sign. My kids are older now. They’re junior high, high school age, but I certainly remember having them out there on the course when they were little and cute and still liked coming to races.
Andrew: They had the little posters that said, “Tap here to power.”
John: Yeah. So, I love doing that, every time I do it and love the high five from the kids and all that. So--
Andrew: Listen, if you're out there and you go by those signs, like if you're like competing for a podium and you're just in the zone and you ignore those signs, okay, sure. But if you're the average triathlete like me in the middle of the pack or farther, like hit the sign, give the kid a high five like don't be haughty about it. Don't be too good to hit the power up sign.
John: Podium guys can hit it too.
Andrew: Yeah, they just hit a little quicker than we do.
John: Don't hit the kid.
Andrew: Just hit the poster. Elizabeth, what about you? What is your favorite on course spectators?
Elizabeth: Oh, gosh. There's a lot of well-intended encouragement out there on the course and when spectators say “You're almost there.” They mean well-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: Like a mile run of the marathon.
Elizabeth: Right. In reality, you still have hours of racing it to go. So, I saw this sign and I mean, sorry, mom for the language here. It said, “You still have a shit ton of miles left.”
Andrew: So, it was the honest version of that sign.
Elizabeth: Yeah. And I really appreciated the honesty of that sign. That would probably be my favorite.
Andrew: Did it make you laugh like while you're racing?
Elizabeth: Oh yeah.
Andrew: Just caught you off guard?
Andrew: Yeah, that's great. Well actually, the one I'm going to pick for today is Elizabeth, Jeff Raines and myself we're on course supporting all the triathletes at Ironman Arizona this past year. And John Mayfield was out on course racing and I saw by the waterfront there was a little girl holding a sign that said, “Hey dad, mom would be going faster.” And I was like that's hilarious because one, that means mom is a bad A, and that's awesome that she has a great role model in a fast mom. But two, I mean, like if my wife did Ironman races and I saw that sign like I would laugh, I would appreciate it and that would charge me up a little bit to see my daughter holding a sign that was calling me out for as I'm struggling through the marathon for “Hey, just keep in mind mom would be doing this way better than you are.” And I don't know, I hadn't seen that one yet. You know, you see a lot of the same posters over and over again. And I hadn't seen a little girl or boy holding a sign kind of sparking their parents that the other parent would be doing so much better if it was them on the course. So, it made me laugh, made me smile and hopefully, it made that dad smile too when he saw it.
On to the main set. Going in 3, 2, 1.
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On race day, our sport might primarily be swimming, biking, and running, but in training, there is so much more we can do to grow as multi sport athletes. A key addition to any triathlon training regimen is building our strength. Now, there are a ton of benefits to spending time getting our muscles stronger, but with three sports to train for at the same time, logistically fitting in strength can be a challenge. So, consider today the 411 on introducing strength training into your regular routine. Now, John, Elizabeth, it might seem obvious to suggest that strength training can help take our fitness to the next level, but a lot of triathletes I talked to seem to slip in strength training, maybe like occasionally at best. Talk to me about why hitting the gym can be beneficial for the triathlete.
Elizabeth: Just in this first question, Andrew, you've already touched on two very important things. So, one, while there is a better understanding of the role that strength training plays within triathlon training, I'll still frequently talk with triathletes that have never done any strength training at all. So, first, it's important and definitely needs to be included. Then two, you mentioned that even if a triathlete understands that they should be doing this, they may only be occasionally getting in a strength session. And I mean, I get it. You're balancing swim, bike, and run training. And now you have to fit in a strength session too and some proper recovery modalities, it is a lot. But neglecting strength training would certainly be a mistake. Strength training is critical not only for building muscular strength, but also and sometimes even more importantly for injury prevention.
Andrew: So, you mentioned a couple different purposes for strength training, and one of them you just mentioned was injury prevention, which I think also goes to exercising some of those underutilized muscles set. So, I'm glad that came up. And let's start here because it gives me the chance to remind everyone that prehab is way better than rehab. Am I right? John, do you do normal weightlifting sessions help us prevent injury or do we need kind of more specific sessions for injury prevention?
John: So, your injury prevention sessions are going to look different than some of your other sessions at the gym. So, largely, you can divide them into power building sessions. This is where you're working out to build strength to get stronger-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: And probably what people typically think of when I think of strength training, right. Yeah.
John: There's a lot of people at the gym that are there for that reason, your injury prevention is going to be a little different. So, you want to have specific intent when you go to the gym. And we really want to target some of these areas that are prone to injury. And also we want to increase durability in those areas that we're using. So, think of the muscle groups that you're using in the training, so your swim muscles, the bike, and run muscles as well. And then also be cognizant of those areas that are prone to injury. So, those are great opportunities to target and work on those to strengthen the instability in there, imbalances, muscular imbalances in there, those can often lead to injury, and then the ones that are used often. So, we have very common overuse injuries in the sport. So, what are the areas that are prone to injury, target those areas strengthen not only the big muscle groups but the little muscle groups as well, the things that are supporting and those are some of the ones that are more prone to injury.
Andrew: What it reminds me of is years ago really the last injury I had was my left knee was bothering me and you know, went in saw an orthopedic doctor and did the X-ray, MRI, whatever it was, I'm forgetting now. But he was able to see that my kneecap was actually pulling to the left a little bit. And it was causing some bruising on the socket that holds your kneecap. And to make a long story short, but what he explained to me was, he's like, yeah, I see this a lot in runners and cyclists because in running and cycling, think about what you're doing, you're going in a straight line for a long time. You're not doing a lot of lateral movement, you're not doing a lot of back and forth side to side and so that can cause certain injuries. And so exactly what you're just talking about, we as triathletes, we have muscles without realizing it, we're fit, we're doing all this exercising, but we have muscles that we're not utilizing on a regular basis, that need to be strengthened as well. And so that's what you're talking about, right, just going to the gym, you have specific sessions knowing you know, I know, once or twice a week I need to work on my, the certain leg exercises he gave me. And ever since I've had zero problems with those underlying utilize muscles that were causing my knee issues. So, people, usually if you have a certain overuse injury or certain muscle imbalance that is causing a problem, once you learn how to exercise it, it can really do a whole world of good. So, here's my question though, can building power, so kind of that the strength going in, lifting weights, kind of stuff; can those kind of sessions and injury prevention occur in the same trip to the gym, or should we keep those types of sessions separate?
John: So, they can be combined for efficiency, and sometimes that can make for a good set. If you are doing those specific actions to build power, and then maybe it's one of those exercises and then it's moving something, so lifting heavyweight, maybe doing squats or something like that with intent to building power in the legs. And then the next exercise is something that's body weight, that's more of a functional movement to strengthen the stuff in the lower legs, type things. So, it just again needs to be intentional, needs to have purpose, needs to be well thought out. And then, of course, the different movements, different exercises need to be complementary one to another to where we're doing this to prevent injury, we certainly don't want to get injured in the weight room by doing the strength training wrong. And that can include all sorts of things like too much weight, improper movements, those sorts of things. So, just as a word of caution, make sure that you know what you're doing in the gym because there are certainly opportunities for injury in the gym, as well. And that most often comes from either lifting an improper amount of weight or lifting the weights in an improper way.
Andrew: Yeah, that's probably where either having a coach could come in handy or referencing the resources we have at TriDot out where you can see different workouts and how to do them, where they probably come in handy, making sure that you're doing those workouts right.
Andrew: So, Let's kind of just go kind of point by point because what we're talking about, we'll certainly have podcasts in the future where we really get into the nitty-gritty of the science behind building strength in our muscles for different things. But I just kind of want to talk through for the swim, for the bike, for the run, what are things, what are muscle groups, what are movements we can be doing to strengthen ourselves for these specific activities? So, let's start with a swim. The swim leg of a triathlon uses very different muscle groups than the biking and running. Elizabeth, what are the muscle groups that we should be targeting in our strength sessions to get stronger for the swim?
Elizabeth: So, yeah, there certainly is a heightened focus on the upper body for the swim in comparison to the strength sessions for the bike or the run. But there's some overlap here as well, such as the importance of a strong core and how that impacts each discipline and then the coordination between the upper and the lower body, which is why I'm a big fan of training movements, not just muscles in isolation. But without going into all of that yet, and getting way too technical in our introduction to strength training. And since you have specifically asked about important muscles for swim strength training, you've got the lats, you've got the pecs, I mean, those are two big ones and triceps are important. I've already mentioned core. So, the lats, those are your middle back muscles. And these muscles play a large role in your ability to pull. So, you use your lats from the point that your hand enters the water all the way until your hand is just past your chest, at which point, then your pull really becomes dominated by your tricep. So, then your tricep muscle is used to finish the pull in the freestyle stroke and kind of giving you that final push allowing you to complete a full stroke. And so I mean, that's why that's important to work as well. The pec muscles are going to stabilize your stroke, and then I mean you have your core muscles to stabilize your body as well and that plays an integral part in your body position in the water. You know, with a weak core, you would be unable to hold yourself on top of the water, kinda creating some unwanted drag. And so that's going to allow for better efficiency in your stroke, better propulsion through the water. So, I guess that's kind of a long answer to say lats, pecs, triceps, core, I would say those are kind of a big, big focus for the swim.
Andrew: And it's so interesting that so much of that is back and core related as opposed to arm related, right? Because you would think like oh, I need to really work on my-- When you're new to the sport, what you see is you see swimmers arms moving at a rapid rate, and so you think your arms have to be a certain strength. But once you start swimming, you realize very quickly, the muscles that are tired when you exit the swim session are your core muscles, not necessarily up and down the arms. So, let's move on to the bike and run. Now, do we target similar muscle groups for these? Or do both of these sports recruit dramatically different muscles?
John: Largely, the same muscles, obviously, we're getting power and efficiency on bike and run from the legs primarily. So, it's obviously a different half of the body than the swim. So, they are complimentary. But I think the strength training is approached in a different way. So, as Elizabeth mentioned, there's a lot of that goes into the swim. And even as you alluded to, it's very form-centric, it's-- your biggest gains and speed are going to come through form and a lot of that has to do with having these muscles doing the right things. It's not so much about overcoming the water, you don't want to power through the water. You want to move through the water efficiently. That's not so much the case on the bike, the bike is really about generating power. You are in a fixed position as a rule, assuming you have a good bike fit. And from there, it's basically you verse, gravity, and rolling resistance and wind and elevation gain and that sort of thing.
Andrew: I feel like gravity will always win, John.
John: Gravity will always win, but we can put up a good fight. And so doing these strength exercises can help in that battle to overcome all these things that are out there, basically opposing you as you are riding the bike. So, your strength training will be more so about generating power. So, this is the opportunity to do some of the heavier lifting. More things like the squats, the lunges, those kinds of things to increase the strength in those major muscle groups in the leg. But we also do want to pay attention to the smaller muscle groups as well. Cycling is less prone to injury. Again, assuming you have a proper fit and you're doing the right amount of training, the right intensities of training, chances are you have a pretty low risk of injury on the bike. So, it's a great opportunity to spend some of that time focusing on generating more power. So, you're going to get the most gains out of your specific cycling training. But there's definitely opportunity to increase the power of those muscles that are being used, as well as things like recruitment so your muscles are more efficient. So, you've built the power, now you want to be able to use that power that is there, and that comes through recruitment, and that will also come through the strength training workouts.
Andrew: Now, Elizabeth, how do things change when we start strength training for the run?
Elizabeth: A good reason to lift weights as a runner is to help maintain good running form, even when fatigued. This is something that I see frequently as we're traveling to races. At the end of the Ironman, you can see form breakdown. You've got people leaning sideways, doing shuffle-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: People leaning in every sort of direction.
Elizabeth: Yes, yeah. And when you run longer distances, in particular, it is important to have good form when fatigued because this is going to be your injury prevention. So, as John mentioned, unlike the bike where there might be more of a focus on power generation, and I'm not saying that this isn't part of it, strong legs are important, but the focus here for the run is more likely going to be on the prehab and the injury prevention, since running does carry the highest injury risk. Kind of an interesting thing here, running was once thought to be performed in just a sagittal plane. So, that forward plane in motion, however, we now know that there is you know, some frontal plane movement due to weight shifting from one side to the other as well as some transverse movement through the torso when your shoulder and opposite hip kind of link up and rotate. So, it's very important to address those small stabilizer muscles.
Andrew: That sounds like exactly what I dealt with in my knee. It was those small stabilizing muscles that I wasn't working at all, moving laterally, that he started having me work on and now just long as I do that, I stay fairly injury-free.
Elizabeth: Yes. And working in those lateral movements and that hip stability work. I mean, they Jane Fonda, seriously. And then incorporating some core work, that is going to be incredibly beneficial. So, we need to think of this from kind of like that prehab standpoint that you mentioned at the beginning.
Andrew: First, Jane Fonda reference on the podcast, note that John.
Andrew: Elizabeth slipped it in, not you. All right. So, let's move on to this. I actually fairly recently added strength training into my TriDot weekly calendar. And what it did was it added two sessions a week. What should I be looking to accomplish in those two sessions?
John: So, in adding two sessions, or if two sessions is all that you can get in, the priority in these sessions is going to be to prevent injury as well as increased durability. So, as I mentioned before, the body is put through a lot in 10, 12, 15 hours a week of training; all these miles and we accrue over the weeks and months. So, the focus of this primarily needs to be injury prevention and durability that’s setting you up to successfully execute those additional hours of training that you're going to be doing. As I mentioned before, your biggest gains in the swim bike and run are actually going to come from swimming, cycling and running. So, whatever you can do to continue to successfully [crosstalk] swim, bike, and run is of critical importance. So, from there, if you have the opportunity to spend additional time in the gym, that's where you can begin to incorporate some of these things that are more we talked about the strength building, power building type things. But again, you're going to get your gains, actually swimming, cycling and running that very specific training. So, the first priority in strength training are the injury prevention and increased durability.
Andrew: So, that being said, we're focusing on that in two sessions, do you guys feel like these two sessions are enough or for athletes out there, should they be doing more beyond those two sessions to continue improving their strength fitness?
Elizabeth: So, when you say enough, I'd say that enough strength training is going to be very dependent on your goals in the sport and your past and current injury risk. So, as John mentioned, these sessions that are on the TriDot training plan are going to prioritize injury prevention and durability, and everyone can and should be doing two 30 minute sessions per week. Beyond that, there is an opportunity for more, and that's where an athlete should consider the time that they have available to train, their experience in strength training, and their injury risk. So, athletes may want to seek the advice or guidance of a personal trainer for a specific strength program tailored to them. They may have a prior injury and they need to work with a physical therapist or do some exercises at home. So, is it enough? Quite possibly. Is there an opportunity for more dependent on that individual athlete and their goals and their injury risk? Absolutely.
Andrew: So, this next question is straight-up 100%, totally for me. And if anybody else out there listening also happens to benefit from it, well then great, but this one's for me. It seems like no matter what day I try to fit in my strength training, my bike and run sessions the following days suffer from soreness and fatigue. What can I do to reap the benefits of strength training without sabotaging my upcoming tri sessions?
John: So, that's important, as we mentioned just a second ago. Those sessions, your swim, bike, and run sessions are going to be where you make your biggest gains on race day. That's why we do the training so that we can perform well on race day. We want to do the swim, I can run sessions well so that we can race well. So, we don't want these other sessions taking away from the swim, bike, and run. So, they are intelligently scheduled. They will be prescribed on days that are complementary to this. So, typically they're your lower training stress days. What you would not expect to see is a day where you have a whole lot of say zone four threshold work on the bike, and then an off the bike run and a strength session. Now, it can happen, just kind of depends on preferences and that type of thing. But generally, you're going to see your strength training sessions prescribed on a day where your overall training load is lower. So, you have that extra capacity for the work to be done. So, if you're having soreness and fatigue in these sessions, that's indicative of a weakness. So, when we struggle with something, that's oftentimes a great indication of what we need to concentrate on, and what we need to work on. I compare this a lot of times to the zone two running. It's very common to hear especially from new TriDot athletes that say they simply cannot run at their zone two heart rate or their pace is significantly slower than their easy run pace in order to maintain that zone to heart rate. And what that's indicative of is a lack of cardiac efficiency. So, we need to do that so that we can develop that cardiac efficiency so that over time the body can adapt and then maintain that easy run pace at that zone two heart rate. So, if you're having soreness and fatigue from these relatively simple strength training sessions, that's indicative of an inadequacy. So, it just reveals and shows, demonstrates that it's that much more important to do these sessions. And in time-- [crosstalk]
Andrew: So, I should double down and do them even more, right?
John: Not necessarily, but we definitely want to be consistent in them, and maybe even prioritize them and know and understand that this is an area of focus that is important. And if you’re having perhaps even excessive fatigue, excessive soreness, that's going to be indicative of injury risk as well. So, if you're having that, prioritize those sessions, identify those areas that are sore, and again, understand that there's need there. In time, it will go away. Generally, it takes a couple of weeks to get used to a new regimen. And so I would say within a couple weeks, you'll be able to complete these sessions and be fine. That fatigue and soreness will pass relatively quickly.
Andrew: So, some folks might already have a membership to a good gym. But for those that want to get their strength in at home, what equipment do they really need?
Elizabeth: Even having a good gym membership, I still do about half of my strength work at home. So, it doesn't take much equipment, it's super convenient, and then basically you have a no excuses situation, ensuring that you're going to get that strength work again. So, bodyweight exercises are great, no equipment required there. And I might add that they're also very appropriate for traveling. So, again, no excuse situation. But if you are making some purchases for at home strength, I'd recommend some resistance bands, a good set of dumbbells, maybe a stability ball or BOSU trainer as well would be some great items.
Andrew: Now, is it beneficial to incorporate more strength sessions in kind of a triathlon pre-season, before we really kick up races and then maybe do less of this once we enter the race season, or should we be training for strength year-round?
John: So, one of the sayings we use frequently in TriDot is fast before far strong before long. And pre-season is a great opportunity to especially incorporate strength training if it's been neglected in past years, it's a great time because of the opportunity. So, the overall volume is down. There's not a pending race coming up that changes the way you train. So, pre-season is a great time to incorporate this and begin to include it in the regiment. So, that's really what we want to do is not just have a time in the pre-season where we're doing the strength training, but take advantage of the opportunity of the pre-season to begin to incorporate it, and then maintain throughout the year throughout the season.
Andrew: So, some folks out there really enjoy things like CrossFit and Fitness Bootcamps, Zumba classes, Pilates, yoga; all sorts of these different classes and ways to get more strength and mobility type of sessions in. Can they serve as good ways to strengthen us for triathlon?
Elizabeth: So, CrossFit and bootcamp are going to have a different focus and will likely take away from your swim, bike, and run sessions. Now, I would say that yoga and Pilates would be much more complimentary. I know we talked about earlier how introducing some strength work a few sessions may be compromised, but we don't want to limit your overall ability to swim, bike, and run. And I really think that this is what athletes need to evaluate as is this something that is adding to or is it taking away from their other training?
Andrew: Is it working some of those complimentary muscles that we don't work when we just run straight that we talked about? Is it helping us build up those smaller muscles, the functional muscles, or is it just totally just draining our main muscle groups and leaving us just depleted for the next day's runs is probably the best way to look at it.
Andrew: So, Elizabeth John, final question. This has been, I'm sure it's been super helpful for me just to kind of hear the ins and outs how to get strength training in, when's the best way to do it. It is beneficial in a lot of ways, it's beneficial especially for kind of the complementing muscles, the underutilized muscles, keeping us injury-free. It's definitely something that triathletes can and should fit into their regimens. But we can't close without this last super important question. When you guys, Elizabeth James, and John Mayfield are in the gym, sweating it up, just tearing it up, pumping iron, whatever you do, what is on your playlist, musically to get you through those raging sessions? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: For me, it is Panic At The Disco. That is what I’m loving right now.
Andrew: I never would have guessed Panic At The Disco from Elizabeth James. I don't know what I was expecting, but--
Elizabeth: But that wasn’t it?
Andrew: I would not have painted you as a Panic At The Disco fan. So, I actually saw Panic At The Disco, not in concert. We got tickets to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon one year and we were in, went to New York, made a little fun weekend out of it, and Panic At The Disco was the musical guest on the Fallon Show that night, and it was pretty cool. He's really good.
Elizabeth: Oh, it's phenomenal. I actually went to the concert last year.
Andrew: The full out concert?
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah. It was great.
Andrew: What's your favorite panic zone?
Elizabeth: Oh, gosh.
Andrew: This is the most I've seen Elizabeth James think about any question I've asked on the podcast.
John: Finally stumped her.
Elizabeth: Yeah, ask me, swim, bike, run, strength training. Oh, favorite song, that’s tough.
Andrew: John, while she thinks about it, what is your go-to music?
John: So, I went to high school and college in the 90s, which I would argue is perhaps the greatest decade of music.
Andrew: Of all time, of all the--
John: It was a good decade, yeah, but certainly musically. So, Alternative Metal Metallica, Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, even a little gangster rap like we had in the 90s. Lots of good stuff came out of the 90s. So, if I'm at the gym, something from the 90s is on the playlist.
Andrew: Very good. Very good. Elizabeth, I gave you about 40 seconds to figure out your favorite Panic At The Disco Song. Were you successful?
Elizabeth: Well, it is tough to pick. But I would say Hey Look Ma, I Made It, that's the go-to right now.
Andrew: I would say for me that the two and even-- So, I use Spotify to stream music and Spotify at the end of the year, one of the cool things they do is they'll highlight for you, the top five bands and the top like 10 songs or something like that. It's your year in review as a Spotify user and it really shows you what you listen to all year long. And some of the things you see you're ashamed of and some of the things you see. You're like, “Oh, that makes sense.” So, two of the things that were pretty high on my list, two of the songs were the Killers, I love the Killers. My favorite Killer song I think was like number three on like most played songs of the year, When You Were Young. I just jumped anytime I hit like a zone four, zone five interval, I'm either clicking to the Killers When You Were Young or 21 Pilots Chlorine. It's kind of a chill song, it's not like super upbeat but something about it like just gets me rocking side to side and gets me through those hard sessions. So-- [crosstalk]
John: Andrew, that sounds a lot like my freshman, high school daughters’ playlist as well.
Andrew: I have zero rebuttal for that. I have nothing to say-- I've no defense against that.
John: It's true. Just saying, just an observation.
Great set everyone. Let's cool down.
Andrew: Guys, I am really excited about today's cool down. While a lot of triathlon media focuses on big name pros, I never get tired of hearing the stories of everyday triathletes. The people just like you and me out there trying our best at the sport we love. Now that our podcast is up and rolling, a big focus for me is to get athletes from our podcast family on the show to hear your insight and your accomplishments in the sport. So, today we have TriDot Ambassador, Christopher Bruno sharing his story of finishing his very first Ironman. Several of us from the TriDot team were actually in Arizona and had the chance to cheer Chris on during his race. Afterwards, I asked if he would take a few minutes to walk us through his experience out on the course. Well, that few minutes turned into a nine-page memoir of Chris's race. And it was so good, and it was so informative that Chris and I both really had a hard time trimming it down. So, what I did is I had Chris record the highlights from his race experience. And for those of you who want the full play by play, you can read the full manuscript at TriDot.com/Blogs. The blog includes the main lessons Chris learned out from the swim course, the spreadsheet he concocted to tell him minute by minute what to eat, and how he 3D printed a pop tart holder for his bike, and just many, many more stories that I encourage you to go read. As someone who is preparing for my first Ironman, reading all of Chris's thoughts, and the lessons he learned, it was just invaluable to my race prep. So, once again, you can find Chris's full story at TriDot.com/Blogs. And for now for the highlights, here is Christopher Bruno.
Christopher: My name is Christopher Bruno. And in November of 2019, with the help of TriDot, I joined the ranks of Ironman finishers at Arizona. I've been racing triathlons for about 10 years. My first triathlon was right after my first son was born. It was a short off-road triathlon that I didn't really do a whole lot of preparation for. But after that, I was hooked. In my subsequent races, I learned that I was much more disciplined about staying on a regular exercise routine if I signed up for a race early in the season So, for the last 12 years, I've used triathlon as a way to motivate me to stay in shape and really maintain a consistent exercise routine. Around 2012, I got the bug to start working towards some longer distance races. As long as I can remember, as far back as college, I've wanted to complete an Ironman, not so much as just a bucket list, checkbox item to finish, but really as an experience to push hard and do my best at. I completed Half Ironman races in 2013 in 2015. But both times I started that race with a running-related injury. Mentally, I was pretty dejected after each of these races because I thought that I was just simply too fragile a runner, that I would never be able to finish a marathon. And in my head, I believe that I needed to complete a marathon before I could even consider signing up for an Ironman. But about one and a half years ago, I started putting more effort into learning about best practices for long distance endurance training. At around the same time, we had some people in and just outside our circle of friends and family that experienced some pretty tragic health issues and injuries. So, after some discussions with my wife, I decided that I was going to sign up for an Ironman race while I was still healthy, and my family was in a position to support me.
I picked Arizona for two main reasons. The first was scheduling. I wanted about a year of training under my belt and needed it to be before the winter. That left Florida and Arizona as my two choices, both of which are considered generally good first-time races. Ultimately, I chose Arizona because through reading of some of the race reports online, the general takeaway was that Arizona weather was generally predictably comfortable, and that it was a more interesting course than Florida. So, I pulled the trigger and signed up. At that time, I was still working out on my own and starting to think through what kind of training plan I wanted to use. There were a few programs I was researching. And then I found the Pre-Season Project at TriDot. That looked like a really interesting trial option because I could get a couple of months free to see what the program was all about. So, why wouldn't I sign up, right? After learning about my previous mistakes of overdoing the intensity side of the training, I was already on board with TriDot’s approach of doing the right things right, and not just blindly doing a lot of really hard training. While I was initially a little skeptical that I would be faster with a lighter training schedule, I did like the idea of prioritizing a lighter training load and at least starting the race injury free.
Being the engineer that I am, I very much appreciated the connection between TriDot’s algorithms, and all of my training data. I like the ability to have those automatically synced together. And I thought that the idea of the train X score was a good way to motivate me to keep working hard to finish the workouts as prescribed, as opposed to modifying them, which was something that I found myself doing frequently when I would try other workout programs. My stretch goal from the beginning had been to finish the race in 12 hours. So, I will admit I was pretty excited when I entered my first assessment data and TriDot’s initial projections were putting me at around 13 and a half hours. So, I thought I was pretty close, and then those projections got even better as my assessments improved, and that was something that I found quite motivating. over the course of the training. My training went pretty smoothly over the year, I didn't actually participate in any other triathlon races. I was really just training and focusing for Ironman, Arizona. So, on race week, everything starts to feel quite real. On Thursday morning that week, I went down to Ironman Village and registered, pumped up my bike tires and spent my first fistful of money on Ironman apparel in the Ironman tent. And that night was our first team meeting, that we got together for an evening run to get familiar with parts of the run course.
Meeting the team was really fantastic. It was great to start putting faces to the names of all the people that I had been interacting with on the forum. And I got to meet Jeff and John and Elizabeth in person for the first time, and that was really nice. We had a fun run as a team and got familiar with some of the areas of the course that became really handy during race day because at that point, I had a pretty good idea of where to expect the aid stations, especially on the backside of the course. The next day, Friday was our group ride out on the B line. You know, as you read all the race reports, you hear people talking about the wind on the B line. But that Friday morning, I got to experience it for the first time. Initially, the thing that I was worried about most for the race for myself was the water temperature. On Saturday there was the swim practice, it was the only day that we were allowed to get in the water ahead of the race morning. So, I suited up, I wore a wetsuit, the swim cap, and the booties and I found that I wasn't too cold. So, that was good. It was a little reassuring, I wasn't too cold in the water. But the water was very choppy from the wind that day and the water in Tempe Town Lake was quite murky, murkier than I had even imagined from reading the race reports. So, my nerve shifted from the water temperature to general choppiness and visibility.
Race morning came and I went in finished prepping my bike and my transition bags and then I seated myself in the one hour and 10 to one hour and 20 minutes swim time group. And I suspected the cold water did end up having a little bit of a negative impact on me. I had some trouble early on in the swim just getting my breathing under control, which was really frustrating because I was a competitive swimmer earlier in my life, and it was a little frustrating not being able to employ my skills. So, I did throw in even a little bit of backstroke there at the beginning just to get my breathing and heart rate under control. After not too long, I was back in my routine, and definitely back on my normal pace, but I knew I had lost a little bit of time at the beginning. In the end, I finished the swim in one hour and 16 minutes, which is about six minutes slower than I was really aiming for. But I wasn't too upset about it, all things considered. My suggestions for anybody that does sign up for Arizona, prior to the swim, splash some cold water on your face and maybe pour some warm water down your wetsuit. I had meant to do both, but I forgot to bring extra water bottles that morning. And I think both of those things probably would have helped me keep my breathing and heart rate under control earlier on.
When I first got out of the water, the first couple of hundred yards or so I saw Elizabeth. And then another couple hundred yards later, I saw my wife, and it was really nice. I knew that I was a few minutes behind my pace goals. And in those first few friends and family that are cheering you on, they really pump you up and they get you going again. The long run in between, in T1 transition, it's about a little less than a half mile, four tenths of a mile or so. And so by the time I got to the change tent, I was already into transmission about five minutes or so. So, I took all this time getting my wetsuit off and putting on some dry clothes and it cost me like another 11 minutes or so. So, my T1 time was really not very impressive. It was like 16 minutes. Out of all of my splits for the day, that's probably the one I wish I could go back and change the most. But I decided to not make a change at the race moment, I wanted to stick with my plan, and make sure that I wasn't too cold on the bike. So, I got out on the bike and immediately got to eating my first pop tart. And my custom pop tart holder worked terrific. And after getting in a little bit of food, I just tried to settle in and stick to my power numbers. And for the first eight miles or so everything was right on track, no issues whatsoever. And then when I got into the first area where the B line sort of turns upward, just a little bit, that was when it became clear that the wind forecasts for the day were definitely not very accurate.
The wind had been predicted to be around four to five miles an hour and it was obvious that it was quite a bit higher than that out on the B line on the way to the turnaround. So, I found my speeds going up to the turnaround even lower than I was expecting despite staying on my power requirements that I had on the pacing plan. At the turnaround, I got to stripping off a couple of layers of clothing that I didn't need anymore. And so at that aid station, I tossed the clothes and took a minute to use the porta-potty. And then I think little items like that were the main difference between what I ended up riding that day and what my race X predictions were. I did decide to use the wind at my back and push on the downhill instead of easing off, and then I basically just repeated that three times. By the last loop, I was definitely feeling uncomfortable, all those hours and arrow and pushing against the wind was starting to take its toll. So, I got back to transition exactly five hours and 50 minutes into the bike, which was about 20 minutes slower than my race expedition. Considering the cold air at the beginning, the temperature changes throughout the course of the ride, and a couple of stops that I took, it wasn't a terrible time. I did make note to myself that I hit the century mark at five hours and 15 minutes. And so I was pretty stoked because that was officially the fastest century bike ride I'd ever done by quite a long shot. So, I was okay with that.
I actually had a pretty reasonable T2 transition. It was right around five minutes. And so then I hit the trail and started working on the run. What I noticed initially was that my pace was too high. My race X pace was supposed to be right around 9:45, but I was looking down at my watch and it was telling me that was running in the eights. So, I had to force myself at the beginning to slow down. By about mile four, that wasn't a problem anymore, and I was kind of right on pace and I was using my watch to make sure that I was staying on pace and instead of forcing myself to slow down with that point. My plan from the beginning was to walk every aid station. Being my first marathon, let alone my first Ironman, I figured running in between aid stations and then walking the aid stations would help make sure that I wasn't overdoing anything. And that worked really good for the first 18 miles or so. And then around 18 miles was when I started struggling to get myself running again at that trash can at the end of the aid station. The TriDot tent was set up just at the run exit. So, you run by it on your way out of T2, and then again after the South East loop it around mile three, and then two more times on the second loop. And what was awesome was every time I ran by that spot, I got this great cheering section with my wife and the TriDot crew, Jeff, Elizabeth, Andrew, and Bill and the rest of the gang, and everybody was so encouraging and positive.
After the race, a lot of my friends and family commented to me about how in the pictures that my wife was sharing, I appeared to be so happy and I was always smiling. Admittedly, I did make sure I was smiling for the pictures, but I was genuinely happy to be there. And especially where my wife was taking the pictures was in that TriDot tent section where I was getting all these high fives and it was really just picking me up. I'll never forget the shot of adrenaline I got every time I ran by Elizabeth and she would just shout with this enormous smile how I was crushing it. What was also awesome was Elizabeth, Jeff, and Andrew ran across the bridge to keep cheering us on, on the other side of the course on the backside. So, you'd get another awesome pick me up right before you got into the aid station just under the bridge. During my 12 months or so of training, I kept imagining what it was going to be like to cross the finish line. During some of the really tough running or cycling intervals, I would imagine myself crossing that line and what it would feel like and then the pain of that interval would invariably subside momentarily. And as I was finishing that last mile, I was realizing that all of those times that I was imagining it was about to actually come to fruition. And so after imagining it for 12 months when you finally do get there, it's really pretty awesome. My wife was there at the finish line. I saw her and waved to her as I ran down the chute, and I'm pretty sure that some of my finished chute pictures showed me holding back some tears.
After crossing under the arch and getting my metal and finisher swag, I went over to hug my wife and I got my picture taken in front of the board. And it wasn't until I went to sit down in the grass to eat that I realized how sore and fatigued I was. Very awkwardly, I made it down into a sitting position on the ground and I was having some of the food and chatting with my wife, and she was showing me all the different Facebook posts that people had been making throughout the day. I had a quick phone call to my children and then I found that I was starting to get pretty cold. I was starting to have this shiver, this uncontrollable shiver starting. So, I made my way back over to the massage tent, signed up for a massage and sat down in front of the heater to warm up. And while I was in there, I ran into our fearless leader, John Mayfield, who as it turned out, beat me by 11 seconds. We actually finished in consecutive places overall. I think he was 6:09 and I was 6:10 or something like that. So, the best part of the whole week aside of obviously finishing this goal that I had set out for was getting to meet all the TriDot members, coaches and racers and the camaraderie from the team. Having people there cheering you on and just infusing you with this energy really was quite inspiring. And it just gave you a tremendous amount of confidence to get across the finish line. That was really very special.
It was funny because there's this trial cocktail hour that we did Friday night. And there was a whole bunch of TriDot Ambassadors and coaches and other racers came down and we got together. We're just chatting and it was funny how many people there that I met when they found out that it was my first Ironman. They're just so excited for you. And it's funny because every single person reacts as if you're getting married or having a baby, you know, everybody's just so excited for “Oh, my God, it's your first Ironman.” And you know, at that point, all you can imagine is how nervous you are because this really hard thing that you're about to go do, and you don't understand why people are so excited for you for your first Ironman. But once you cross that finish line that first time you realize where they were coming from. So, I think if there was maybe a one bit of advice that I have for people that are looking to do their first Ironman, especially like, particularly for people that aren't runners or aren't coming from a running background like myself, is if you're worried about not being able to do one because you've never run a marathon before, don't let that hold you back because the marathon running and an Ironman is not the same as running an open marathon. And it really doesn't need to be an obstacle for somebody that wants to go out and complete an iron-distance race by any stretch.
With that, I'll wrap it up and just say thank you to my wife and boys for putting up with my training schedule for the past 12 months, as well as a big thank you to all the TriDot coaches and the other TriDot members on the forum that helped answer my questions as I was going through my year leading up to the race. Now, as an ambassador myself, I really look forward to being able to pass along some of the knowledge that I've gained and the experience that I have now to the other TriDot members.
Andrew: Well, that's it for today, folks. I want to thank coaches John Mayfield and Elizabeth James for helping us work strength training into our routines. Thanks to Christopher Bruno for taking the time to share his first Ironman experience. And shout out to TRITATS for partnering with us on today's episode. Enjoying the podcast? Have any questions or topics you want to hear us talk about? Head to TriDot.com/Podcasts and click on submit feedback to let us know what you're thinking. We'll do it again soon. Until then, happy trading.
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