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November 23, 2020

From Sprint to Ironman: The Long and Short on Racing Different Distances

What distance should you target for your next race? Whether you are ready to sign up for your first triathlon or you’re a seasoned athlete looking for your next finish line, TriDot coaches John Mayfield and Elizabeth James discuss considerations for your next race registration. Get answers to common questions like: “What is the best distance for your first triathlon?” “How many times should you race a distance before going longer?” and “How do you know if you are ready for a full Ironman?”

Intro: 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 Harley: Hey folks, thanks for listening! We are so glad you joined us today, it's going to be a great show. Hey, real quick, we would love you forever if you would just take a quick sec and subscribe to the show or leave us a review on the podcast listening platform of your choice. Super interesting topic today, we'll be talking through the optimal way to progress from race distance to race distance, answering questions like, "How can I tell if I'm ready for a longer distance race? Should I throw a half-Ironman into the training cycle of a full Ironman? If I do a full Ironman as my first-ever triathlon, am I totally insane?" Lots of great questions to be talked through today, and joining us for this conversation is Coach John Mayfield. A successful Ironman athlete himself, John leads TriDot’s 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 how's it going? John Mayfield: Very good, my man. Andrew: Glad to hear it! Next 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 top age-grouper to a professional triathlete, she is a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth thanks for joining us! Elizabeth James: My pleasure, Andrew, I love being here! Andrew: I'm Andrew the Average Triathlete, Voice of the People and the Captain of the Middle of the Pack. As always we'll roll through our warmup question, settle in for our main set topic, and then wind things down with our cooldown. Lots of good stuff, let's get to it! Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving. Andrew: Yeah, sure, triathlon is the greatest form of racing on the face of Planet Earth. We admit it, we're biased. But triathlon's race form supremacy doesn't mean that other types of racing are not intriguing enough to merit our time and attention. Standalone swim, bike, and run races are obviously the most mainstream, but things like Spartan races, Tough Mudders, Ragnar runs, and the swim-run series are popular amongst athletes looking for a different sort of challenge. So the question today to get us warmed up: John and Elizabeth, if you were to register for a less mainstream, non‑triathlon type of race, what event piques your interest the most? John, I'll have you go first today. John: So I guess the first answer would be the Eco‑Challenge. That's the new thing that's popular and cool.  I thought this looks great, this looks like a lot of fun. It throws in some of the aspects of triathlon like mountain biking and spending time on the water. But then I saw the distances that they do.  I could throw together a little kayak out of sticks and paddle it for 100 yards down the river. But then I saw they do like 20 kilometers down the river, and I'm like hold up, that's a long time. They're talking about being on this little stick raft for like 12 hours. Andrew: So what is the Eco‑Challenge, what are you talking about? John: It's a race, a point-to-point. It's in exotic locations, things like rainforest and different, very challenging environments, and you have to largely overcome all of these things. So it combines all sorts of different aspects like rock climbing, and it just takes all the terrain into account in these very challenging places. Andrew: So it's like a point-to-point traversing different types of terrain event? John: Yeah, and there are multiple days, so you're on limited sleep, you're going through the night, it's extreme. Andrew: Well, I've never heard of the Eco‑Challenge. John: So I want the glamping version. I want a three or four-hour version where I don't have to sleep in a tent, and I don't get bug bites or anything like that, but I want to go climb on some rocks and swim in the river. Andrew: I feel like that kind of defeats the point though. John: It probably does. Andrew: Elizabeth, what about you? What would your race of choice be, if it's non‑triathlon, non‑mainstream, something different and unique? What are you picking? Elizabeth: Well, John absolutely stole mine: the Eco‑Challenge. Andrew: The Eco‑Challenge, that's your answer too? Elizabeth: Yes, that is exactly what I was gonna say. Andrew: I've never heard of this, and both of you guys are saying this. Elizabeth: Now, I do have to admit that I just recently heard about this, but since that time I've already got my team established, and they've started training. So big shoutout here to Doug Silk, Charles Gerard, and this is embarrassing, I don't know his name but the Air Force instructor that teaches land navigation. Andrew: This is like forgetting one of the Avengers if you're an Avenger. Elizabeth: Yeah, that's pretty bad. I have not met him yet but I'm excited. And to that point I'm also relieved that I don't have to be the navigator for my team. We've got an expert in that role. But yeah, we've already got a team together, we've looked into this, and the endurance aspect and the long distances is an intriguing part for me. I'd say it would sound to be a little head-to-head competition there. Andrew: Team Mayfield versus Team James on the same Eco‑Challenge race? John: So I'm actually just now finding out that I was replaced. Andrew: On this team? John: Yeah, because my boy Doug was like, "Hey, come do this Eco‑Challenge race." Andrew: And now he's doing it with Elizabeth? John: Yeah. Andrew: There's some TriDot drama up in here. Elizabeth: Maybe I'm second pick here, I don't know. John: I'll just say good call. I don't blame him at all. Props. Andrew: That was a smart call. Yeah. Well, John, you might have had that idea first, but Elizabeth sounds like she's a little bit further along in terms of preparing to actually be on the starting line of an Eco‑Challenge. John: I'm still waiting for the short version, the sprint version. Andrew: For me, the one I've always wanted to do is one of the Ragnar runs, and those are getting more and more well known. The Ragnar relays, they're usually 180, 200 miles, and you're on a team of people working out of a van, where over a 24‑hour or 48‑hour period you'll have three legs in a relay.  Your first leg might be 6 miles, your next one might be 9 miles, and you have a couple hours in between each of your legs because there are so many people in your team taking a turn, because you're running for 200 miles. Those have always sounded really fun to me, I've always wanted to try one. I actually have a Ragnar-branded hat that I found on sale at a bike shop, and in my head I was like, "I want to try one of these, I'm gonna preemptively buy this hat so I can wear it when inevitably somebody invites me to do a Ragnar relay." Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1… Andrew: Today our main set is brought to you by TriBike Transport. If you are traveling for an upcoming race, let TriBike Transport ensure that your bike gets there race-ready and stress-free. TriBike Transport is the original fully-assembled bike transport service for cyclists and triathletes. I love traveling for a race. After registering, the first thing I do is book TriBike Transport for my bike. You start by using the easy online reservation form to guarantee space for your bike. Then, about one week out from the race, you’ll drop off your bike fully-assembled at one of their conveniently-located partner shops. Your bike will enjoy a smooth ride all the way to the race site where you will pick it up near T1 ready to race with your bike fit position untouched. Thousands of athletes have trusted their gear to TriBike Transport and you can too. Learn how by heading to TriBikeTransport.com and as a friend of the podcast, use coupon code TriDotPod for $25 off your next booking. When scouting race options for your next triathlon, there are plenty of races to choose from. You can do anything from a local sprint or Olympic race all the way up to a destination Ironman event. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, based on your ability and experience, what should my next race actually be? Today we will be talking with our coaches about properly progressing in our journey as triathletes. What is the optimal way to go from beginner to veteran, or sprinter to Ironman? How can we know for sure we are ready to take on each distance? So let's start from where people normally are at the beginning of their tri journey. You're signing up for that first race, you don't know necessarily what it should be. What is the best distance for someone's first triathlon? Elizabeth: I totally understand the purpose of this question, and to help give a more concrete answer I'm gonna say that my initial recommendation would be for athletes to begin with a sprint triathlon, with the caveat that every athlete is unique. Their previous sport experience, current level of fitness, the availability of races, etc. are still important factors in this decision too. But for the majority of athletes that are getting started in the sport, to tri/try (pun intended) putting three sports together in a shorter-distance event, the time and financial commitment is going to be much more manageable than it would be for a longer-distance event. See if you enjoy it before you make a mortgage payment or two or three on a time trial bike. John: So I think something to consider is many athletes that come to triathlon may have a background or experience in one of the events, swim, bike, or run. Andrew: They probably run, or might have been on swim team. John: Or they may just be fit. They may have done several years at CrossFit or just at the gym, and they're a fitness enthusiast and want to check it out. So the sprint distance is a great opportunity to utilize the background in swimming, cycling, running, or fitness, but there's not a huge reliance or need to be super proficient in those other two. Most athletes that come to triathlon don't have a swim background, and that's actually what keeps a lot of people out of triathlon. They can ride a bike, they can run, but they may not have that confidence in swim, especially to do an open water swim. So the sprint is a great opportunity for that. There are races that do have the pool swims, or if they are an open water swim, a lot of them are in smaller bodies of water, so less intimidating as opposed to an Ironman that's out in true open water. There's less training needed, so it's a good introduction into the sport. For the sprint you can train a couple hours a week and do very well.  You're not so much worried about having the fitness or the stamina to finish the event, as opposed to those longer distances. And I think something else that's important to consider is most sprint races are a very beginner-friendly field. There's going to be a large percentage of the participants that it's their first triathlon. Andrew: Or maybe the only one they do each and every year. They're very recreational at it, they're there on their entry-level road bike. I get what you're saying. John: So as you increase in distance, as a rule you're gonna see fewer and fewer first-timers in that as well. So again, you're gonna have a whole lot of first-timers in your sprint-distance races, you're gonna have very few first-timers at your Ironman. You're not going be the only one out there just figuring things out. So there's comfort in that, in knowing there's other first-timers, other beginners. And a lot of times people come in with a group. That's how I did my first. There was a whole group of buddies, and none of us had ever done triathlon, and one guy said, "Let's do it," and we were all, "Yeah, that sounds okay," and we did. Andrew: Why not? John: Yeah, exactly. That's how I got into it, and there was something in the water that bit me, and I've been coming back ever since. It's just a good opportunity to start there. Andrew: That wasn't literal, people, that was metaphorical. John: Well, both. Andrew: There is a crowd out there that just wants to dive into an Ironman. Whether they saw an ad, or they just love taking on sick challenges, there's people out there that just jump straight into it. "I'm not gonna do a sprint, I'm not gonna do an Olympic," maybe they've never even heard of that.  They just know what Ironman is and they want to do it. They wake up one day, they want a new challenge. What would you say to that crowd, the person that just wants to step in and go all out, a 140.6 miles Ironman event? Elizabeth: Is it doable? Yes. Would I recommend it? No, I wouldn't. But we're triathletes, and we can handle great challenges. It happens probably fairly frequently. I actually currently coach an athlete that did a full Ironman as their first-ever triathlon. You can certainly prepare yourself well to tackle the distance of a full Ironman event as your first tri, but I do believe that there is great value in the experience of previous race events. If those previous race experiences aren't part of the plan, then I would strongly advise working closely with a coach and/or a mentor so they can provide some of that wisdom and experience during those preparations. John: Something you'll see at all the Ironman briefings, where they have these meetings leading into the race, they'll say "Whose here first-time Ironman?" and you'll see lots of hands. Andrew: Woohoo! John: And the follow-up question inevitably is, "Whose first triathlon?" and there's always one or two, and of course those are the folks that get the "Good luck." Andrew: Everybody looks, everybody smirks. John: Yeah, so they're out there, and it's certainly possible. Is it the best route? Maybe, maybe not. There are certainly advantages to working your way up in the distances, but it is possible. One thing you mentioned is hopping on your mountain bike and doing the local sprint race. It's gonna be a very, very long day if you hop on your Walmart-bought mountain bike and try to ride 112 miles. There are certain things you have to do when racing Ironman. But to a certain extent, I think Ironman is largely unique in its distance, so it's much more about having the stamina, building the stamina, and executing that stamina. Whereas if you're really gonna be competitive in a sprint race, you're transition times are critical. It's complete feasible to win and lose a race based on your transitions, and this is where you have to work on things like your flying mount, flying dismount, where seconds truly matter. You're running in shoes without socks because you don't have time to put on socks, because if you put on socks you go from first place to fourth place, just like that. Ironman is different in that some of these technical aspects aren't quite as important, especially for the vast majority of athletes that are out there racing. You may have longer transitions. So being very precise and very proficient in transition is not as important when racing Ironman as opposed to racing a sprint race, or even some of the technical aspects of being able to corner and shave seconds off the bike course, because you're hitting the corners at a face pace. There are some of the technical aspects of racing short course that you don't necessarily have to have when racing Ironman, and a lot of those come with experience. Those are some of those things you oftentimes learn by doing. But as Elizabeth mentioned, there are critical components to racing Ironman, things like nutrition that are very difficult to figure out on your own, and very easy to botch, but that's where an experienced coach or group, experienced athletes that can guide you through that and help with that learning curve and learning process. I think it would be very difficult to totally go at it on your own. There's a lot of great resources, but there's a lot to learn that come along the way. But it's certainly feasible to do. Andrew: I think back to even just my first couple triathlons, and the way my legs felt by the time I got on the run. If I was encountering that during an Ironman for the first time... You kind of know what to expect when you've gone through that feeling at shorter distances, and you've been able to tough it out at the shorter distances, but I can't imagine your first crack at running off the bike being, "Now I have to run a marathon off the bike." But that's just me. I know for me personally, as a triathlete, I started with a sprint. I did three sprints in my first season as a triathlete, and then I slowly started working in. The next season I did two sprints and an Olympic. Then my decision for when to try a half-Ironman was, "Okay, I'm about to turn 30, it would be really cool to do a half-Ironman for my 30th birthday." So I found one that was the day before my 30th birthday. I ended my 20s doing my first-ever half-Ironman. Other than that I never personally had a rhyme or reason why I was choosing to go up to the next distance. When it comes to an Ironman, I had a personal goal of, "My first Ironman I wanna go sub‑12:00, and I'm not gonna sign up for an Ironman until I feel like I'm ready to (potentially, maybe, hopefully, possibly) go sub‑12:00." But for all the other distances I just kind of, "Yeah, sure, I'll try an Olympic!" How many times should we race a certain distance before we can know confidently we're ready for the next distance? Elizabeth: Uh, three. No, I'm totally just kidding there.I said that because I don’t know that it's necessarily a specific number of times that you need to race a particular distance before progressing. There's a lot of things to consider, one of those being what are your goals within the sport? Andrew, you just talked about this too, where you know before signing up for that Ironman you wanted to be able to go sub‑12:00. I think one of the things that athletes really need to reflect on is what is going to bring you, as the athlete, the most fulfillment in the sport, and possibly that next distance progression. Is it your desire to complete an Ironman by your 40th birthday? Do you want to be on the podium in the local sprint events? Do you want to go to the Olympics one day? Your personal goals within the sport are likely going to be a driving factor in helping answer this question about when you're ready to progress to a different distances. I know for me, after crossing the first triathlon finish line, which was a sprint-distance event, I automatically had this four-year plan. Andrew: Of course you did. That's so on‑brand for Elizabeth James. Elizabeth: Yep. I knew at that point I was gonna do my first Ironman in 2015, and so I progressed in distance each year. I did sprints one summer, Olympic distance the next, the next summer I was gonna focus on 70.3 events, and then 2015 was gonna be Ironman Wisconsin. So my goals during that four-year time period were very focused on learning the sport, progressing in distance each year. But after racing Ironman in 2015, I didn't race that full distance again until 2017. I kinda took a step back in race distance, and I wanted to take some time to build my speed, my strength, to be able to race faster. Andrew: You went out, you tasted the distance, you knew you could finish it, and now it's, "Okay, let's get good at that distance." Elizabeth: Yes. I want to race faster, more competitively when I return to this distance again. I raced Kona in 2018, but it's gonna be 2021 or 2022 before I race that distance again. One thing to consider here as we're talking about progressing up in distance is does a longer distance even intrigue me? Am I going to enjoy the training and preparations necessary to increase my stamina for that longer-distance event? Andrew: Yeah, I swore up and down that I would never do an Ironman. I like a half, that feels great, I feel accomplished at that distance. I don't want to run a marathon. I've never run a marathon. My first marathon will be at Ironman Texas in 2021, because I think that kind of distance is stupid. I can tell you what it was: it was reading Mike Reilly's book Finding My Voice, and I read the stories he was sharing about people who finish an Ironman distance, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I have to do at least one of these to round out the résumé." That was the way I felt, and until then I didn't really have a purpose or reason to do that distance. And some people might not. Elizabeth: Yeah, and it's not like you're graduating from one to the other, each race is unique.  So if you never go and do that, then that's perfectly acceptable as well. John: So to answer the question of how many times you need to race to move on to the next, it's an answer I give to a lot of things: it's as many times as it takes you to be proficient in one. It's one of those things where you're not really setting yourself up for success by increasing distance if you haven't at least been proficient. Andrew: If you bomb your sprint and are crawling yourself to the finish line, don't try an Olympic. John: An Olympic is gonna be rough, yeah. I don't think you're going to enjoy the Olympic distance race, and certainly not going there from the half to the full. So I give that answer a lot: How many open water swims do I need to do before my race? As many as you need to be proficient. How much time do I need to spend riding out on the road as opposed to my trainer? As much time as you need to be proficient. It's gonna be different for everyone. And what I've learned is that there's a half‑life on that. It largely expires. A couple weeks ago I went and raced my first sprint race in a number of years. I've done more Ironman in the last two years than I've done sprint races, and sprints is my go-to. Something we've talked about is, it's not all about just getting to Ironman. Ironman is a fantastic experience. It's unique. I get something from Ironman that I just don't at these other distances. But I will say that I am probably the best at racing sprint. That is my wheelhouse, I'm most successful in that. So for me, I looked forward to getting back to racing sprints.  And I was kind of schooled, that I was not as proficient as I thought. I thought I would just go back out there, I've done this, I've been successful at it, I know it.  But after five years of not really been competitive in the sprint-distance racing, I did not do nearly as well as I thought I would or as I'd hoped, and a lot of it had to do with being kind of rusty. Andrew: People glorify the Ironman, but there's a whole different type of pain in going all out, wall-to-wall, heart rate maxed out the whole time for a sprint. John: Absolutely, and so for me what I realized is I need to go do a few. That's what I used to do: I would race several times within the summer. I may race four, five, six sprint races within June/July, and I know within there I'd have a couple good races. I'd have one or two bad, but they each built on the other. And to come back, I was not as proficient as I needed to be to achieve the goal that I had set. So now that I still have that same goal, I know it's perhaps gonna take me a couple races. And every year it was like that too. I almost feel like every season I start over as a newbie, because we have this season, and we have these long breaks in between where we haven't done a triathlon in many months. Oftentimes it's six, seven, eight months from the first triathlon to the previous season, and you lose a lot of that experience, so it's kind of like almost starting over every year. So there's a certain bit of that, and know that as you progress throughout the season you'll get some of those skills back. You'll remember what it's like to be out there. You'll remember the importance of hydration and nutrition and all those different things. So year after year we improve, even throughout the season there's that progression as well. Andrew: As athletes are taking that great sage John Mayfield advice, and progressing when they feel ready to, and have shown themselves proficient at the shorter distances, does the background of the athlete and their level of fitness play a role in how quickly they can progress? For example, if someone comes into the sport of triathlon and they're an experienced marathoner, would they be more likely to progress faster in distance than somebody who maybe has dabbled in a few 5Ks? John: Absolutely. There's a natural propensity for that. Obviously, a big part of that is physical ability, so whether someone has that aerobic or anaerobic engine built. They have that injury predisposition already largely addressed, someone that has been running marathons for a number of years, their body is used to that pounding, that high volume. They're used to logging all those miles all those weeks. And it's not that their body's just used to it, it's their body has adapted to that. They've built the muscular structure, bone structure, all that to absorb that training load. So that's what we're looking to do as we progress in these distances, is prepare the body. There's a lot of preparation, but one of the very important things is preparing the body for the additional training load and additional racing load. For example a lot of times your swimmers, if you come from a swim background, swam in high school or college.  The vast majority of swimmers swim what we would consider very short distances. You may be a 100, 200, 400…that's sprint-distance racing, so those are gonna do very well in those short distances. Same thing if you come from a cycling background: it's different if you're racing crits versus road racing. Or if you're a track athlete in high school, college, or afterwards: are you racing 5Ks on a regular basis, or are you racing marathons? That's gonna determine where you start, and how quickly you're going to be able to progress from there. That's all from the physical standpoint, but there's also things like mental skills. An experienced marathoner is going to have a better propensity to go race these long races because they're used to going out there. They're used to being uncomfortable for long periods of time, as opposed to someone that swam the 100 in school. They went hard for one minute. Andrew: They're used to being extremely uncomfortable for a short duration as opposed to being a little uncomfortable for a long time. John: Exactly, and that's gonna take time to learn. But even things like time management: how do you fit this new lifestyle or activity into your family, your work? All of that, and then the cost as well. Obviously the physical is a very important component to this, but that's not everything. There's other things to consider as well. Andrew: When we go to make the jump to long course, and I think for a lot of folks that's their end goal, whether it's a half-Ironman or an Ironman, people want to get to that. When we make that jump to long course, 70.3, 140.6, is there any wisdom in using short-course races, whether it's a sprint or an Olympic, as tune-up events in the months preceding those longer races? Elizabeth: I think that there can be great value in shorter course events, as long as they're strategically placed within the training calendar, and entered into with a purpose. For example, an athlete might use a shorter-course event to practice their transitions, or as a high-intensity weekend workout session. John was just talking a little bit ago that progression throughout the season, and the experience and lessons we learn from those other races, and how they can be beneficial for races later on. So yes, there's great value there. The main thing, though, that we would want to avoid with some of these shorter distance events during that race preparation phase for a 70.3 or 140.6 event is that we don't want them to interfere with the necessary increase in stamina that must be built prior to the longer course race day. This is kind of an extreme example, but I've seen and heard about it.There's quite a few athletes that do themselves a disservice by racing short course events very frequently leading into their longer course race, and by doing so they're missing those long rides and long run sessions. Andrew: They probably think they're getting race experience, knocking off the rust, priming the muscles. Elizabeth: When truly they're missing some very key training sessions there. So I usually encourage athletes to race some of those shorter course events when the duration of the event would be similar to what would have been planned for that weekend training session. John: Something we see very frequently, and it's really even encouraged by Ironman, is doing the half-distance race three to four weeks out from the Ironman event. And oftentimes what we'll see is that the same venue will host a half-distance race three to four weeks from the full. Andrew: Yeah, for example 70.3 Arizona will be four weeks on the calendar before 140.6 on the same course in Arizona. John: So people on the surface say, "Hey, this is a great opportunity for me to go experience the course, and I can test my fitness." There is some wisdom in that. There are advantages in going and seeing the venue. Not just the race course, but the city and the lodging and the logistics of being in town. But the problem with racing a half-distance race three to four weeks out from Ironman is really the opportunity cost. You have a certain amount of time to prepare for this race, and the closer you get to race, the more valuable those training weeks, and especially those training weekends become. Oftentimes on the weekend we're getting in the long rides, long runs, and three to four weeks out those are critical. TriDot athletes are prescribed their race rehearsals two weeks and four weeks out, and sometimes we'll see that athletes want to use one of these half-distance races as that race rehearsal.  But there's a very big difference in riding 56 miles and 112 miles, a huge difference in running off a 56‑mile bike versus a 112‑mile bike. On the surface or at first glance it can be a good opportunity, but really what we see here is a very large time cost. What we'll typically see is the athletes will taper for about a week for the 70.3. It obviously takes all weekend to do that, so you're not gonna race one day and get a long session in the next day.That's gonna be your focus for the week, and then you're gonna be recovering for at least a couple days. So for most athletes, the cost of that 70.3 is somewhere of 7 to 10 to 14 days, and those days are very valuable training days and need to really be focused on that full-distance event, where you're getting some value in that training, but it's not necessarily a direct correlation to what you're gonna be doing on race day. What we really want to be doing in those time periods is dialing in the stamina, but also things like nutrition and hydration. Your hydration in a 56‑mile bike is gonna be different than a 112‑mile bike, and what may be working well in 56 miles may not work at 112. So we want to make sure that we're doing that. I would say especially for the first-timers, those are gonna be very valuable training weeks, so I advise for the first-timers not to do the 70.3. Now someone that's more experienced, I would say that there may be less of a cost of doing that. But really, ideally, you would work in these half-distance races somewhere further out, so like eight to ten weeks, where your training volume is matching those distances, where your long rides are somewhere in that 56-mile range. Andrew: You may not be on the exact same course, but if you wanted to do a 70.3 in the buildup, that's when you would do it. John: It's a great opportunity to kind of double up on the fitness. That's the thing, too, you're putting a lot of work into one race day, and I get the desire to milk that fitness and training for more than just one day. So do that eight to ten weeks out, when the training volume is matching that. Otherwise it's gonna be a dip, because you're not doing 56-mile bikes two to three weeks out. Andrew: You're doing more than that. John: Exactly. So do them further out when it's appropriate, when you're there. There's gonna be much less of a cost of doing that half-distance race eight to ten weeks out as opposed to looking at it three to four weeks out. Andrew: Especially when, particularly with TriDot at the Races events, or even just traveling to that full Ironman site a couple days before and driving the bike course, you can get most of the pros without having done that 70.3 four weeks prior. John: I'm a big advocate, if it's possible and feasible, to go to the race the year before. Volunteering is a great way to get some race-day karma and make a contribution before you go and take the next year. I'm a big fan of that, and I've learned an incredible amount by doing that. Even for me, as I've prepared for races a year out, as I did my training sessions I had it in my mind's eye of what that race looks like, as opposed to just going in and having no idea as to what to expect. I've done both, and I have a lot more confidence, I feel better, my mental game is better when I can visualize. So go and volunteer a year out, and then you'll have that benefit. And as you mentioned, we're there on site leading into the race. We definitely advocate for going and checking out the course days prior. So there are means other than racing the 70.3 three to four weeks out to check out the course. Andrew: So the biggest jump is to the Ironman distance. Because even if you've done a 70.3 before your first Ironman, you are doubling that distance on your first Ironman day. So what are the signs that we are ready, or maybe not quite ready, for a 140.6? Elizabeth: Signing up for an Ironman is so much more than just the physical readiness to train for a 2.4-mile swim, 112 on the bike, and the marathon run. Certainly the physical preparations and the readiness to handle that higher training load is important, but it's also going to require commitment, preparation, and an investment of time in that training that you are going to do to physically prepare yourself. A couple things that I would ask athletes are, are you ready to commit the time necessary for the preparations? Do you have good time-management skills to schedule those necessary training sessions into your current lifestyle? Are you willing and able to make the financial commitment to the event? Ironman registration fee is nearly $1,000, which truly in the end may be one of the cheaper parts of actually racing a full. Do you have the support of those around you for this large undertaking? It's not necessary to have somebody else on board, but it does make a huge difference, and I think taking the time to provide an honest assessment to these criteria is important to determine if you're ready to sign up for a full. Because everybody's going to think about the physical part and the training, but those are some things beyond the physical preparations that I also think are very important. Andrew: Yeah, they talk about how it can take a village to raise a child. It almost takes a village to get an Ironman to the finish line. Elizabeth: Yeah, a hundred percent. John: That's especially true.  I think one thing that may be obvious, but not as much as it should be, is getting the buy-in of the family. I think that's something that's critical, and making sure they know and understand everything that's gonna go into this, because it is a large time investment. It is not just the time on the road. You can look at a training plan and say, "I'm gonna peak at 15 hours of training, at 5 hours of cycling and 2-3 hours of running," but there's a lot more to it than that. There's the recovery aspect. When you go out and do a 5‑hour bike ride in the summer heat and do a run off… Andrew: You're done for the day. Elizabeth: You're not gonna help with dishes or laundry. John: You're done. That's not 5½ hours, that's 24 hours. You go and do that, chances are you're gonna be pretty trashed, and so your ability to go and spend quality time with the family, do quality chores around the house, that's going to be greatly diminished. I think you're really setting yourself up for success if your family and your support system is aware of that and willing to pick up the slack. That was definitely something I learned the hard way, just making sure that you have that support. You have that village, and not only do you have the support, but your village is educated and knows what's going into this. I think it's going to be an overall better experience when everyone is aware and on board. Andrew: I'm glad you brought that up, because I'm an example of an athlete who picks up minor injuries, aches and pains, things that take you out of your training rhythm for a week or two here and there, real easy. So when I started training for Ironman Texas much earlier in the year (before it got corona-ed) I was having to spend some extra hours making sure I'm rolling my feet on a roller to keep my little foot bones and muscles happy. I was having to make sure I was staying on top of my stretching more so than when I'm just day‑to-day training for sprints and Olympics. I was having to spend those extra hours that aren't on the calendar just to make sure my body was ready to absorb the training to get me ready for race day. Whether you're more injury-prone like I am or not, that time is going to be there and you have to be ready for that. I think you said it earlier, Elizabeth, you have to be ready for that time commitment because it's more than just the training. It's analyzing am I ready for everything that goes into training for an Ironman. And if not, there's nothing wrong with staying at distances a little bit shorter until you're really ready to go all-in on doing an Ironman. John: I think the more people in your circle, the more important that is. I would say the person that's single, no kids, has a lot more flexibility. You're pretty much 100 percent in control of your schedule. But then as you start to add a spouse or partner and then you start adding kids and all that, your responsibilities really add up, and your flexibility and ability to totally control your schedule are diminished. So from personal experience I would encourage everyone to really take those things into consideration, and really evaluate what is my availability, what is my commitment. And honestly, there's a chance you're gonna miss out on some things. You're gonna have to sacrifice something. Are you gonna miss a soccer game, or are you gonna miss a training session? There may be a balance to that, you simply cannot miss every training session every weekend. That would be one of those signs that you're not ready to bump up in distance. If you're willing to miss the occasional soccer game, okay. If you're willing to miss the occasional training session, okay. We can work around that. But if they're mutually exclusive where you can't miss any of either, then that would be one of those signs that you're not quite ready. Especially with kids, that's something for me. My kids were small when I started racing Ironman. Now my kids are junior high, high school age. I've got a lot more flexibility now. My kids are involved in school activities which are much more Monday through Friday, so I don't have a lot of those weekend conflicts that I did have when they were doing more community sports and that sort of thing. They were very weekend-dominant. So for some it may be if you don't have kids yet, it's a great opportunity to do that, because your life is gonna change when those kids come along. Or if you have the young kids, I will say that those weekends are very valuable, and maybe it's just putting off for a couple years until they are more involved in school. Or maybe it's waiting until the kids move on, move on out of the house, and it frees up time that way. Again, just make that consideration, that's one of the things I've learned from experience, both personal and working with other athletes. I think it's one of the most important aspects, is making sure that that village, that community, is on board, and they're part of this as well. Andrew: I think to that point too, we can encourage the parents out there. When your kid leaves for college, or their young adult life: their bedroom is now your pain cave. Don't keep their bed in there, don't keep the curtains and their dresser in there. Sure, they're gonna come home on holidays. They can sleep on the couch. That is now your pain cave, Mom and Dad. You earned it. John: That's great advice. Right now my trainer is out in the garage. It is hot. I need a kid to move on so I can bring all that stuff indoors. Andrew: From this whole conversation, I love the mindset that you guys have given me and hopefully our athletes listening, that at the point you’re stepping up to that 70.3, that 140.6, it's not just asking yourself are you physically ready for this stage? It's also asking yourself: does your schedule, your lifestyle, your family obligations, do those things fit the training and recovery and prep load that it takes to do those events? That is a great question for athletes to ask themselves. It wasn't in my head signing up for my first Ironman, and now I have that perspective, I hope a lot of people really grasp that. But tell me this: is it okay to never make the jump to long course racing? If an athlete just looks at the 70.3, the 140.6, the 15‑hour training weeks and the long miles and says, "No thank you!" Is it okay to never make that jump as a triathlete? Elizabeth: It is absolutely okay. Every distance has its own challenges. I like to think of it this way: nobody thinks that the Olympic sprinters aren't true athletes just because their event is shorter. Andrew: Oh, Usain Bolt, you haven't run a marathon? Lame. John: Only 100 meters? Elizabeth: Personally I don't like the sprint distance. I dread 5K races, the one‑mile time trials. Andrew: We are so different. Elizabeth: I would much rather race Ironman. But like you guys and some of my other training partners, they have that raw speed to just dominate in the shorter distance events, and they have the opposite opinion that I do. They don't have the desire to do five-hour bike rides and go run for three hours. They thrive in those shorter distance events, and I think this is another fantastic thing about the sport of triathlon, the variety of distances that are available to athletes. We're all triathletes. You're not any less of a triathlete if you choose to only race shorter course events. John: I mentioned before I love sprints. I'm good at them, and I've never felt like less of a triathlete because I've been most successful at the sprint-distance racing. I've never finished a sprint-distance race and felt any less accomplished. Now as I mentioned before, there's just something special about going longer. I think that's a unique experience.  But the Olympics, the greatest athletes in the world coming together, they don't race the Ironman distance. Now I think it'd be kind of cool that they did. Andrew: Then they couldn't call it an Olympic. John: Well, the live TV coverage would probably not appreciate that. And that's really why the Olympic distance was created was because of that. But those guys are insane athletes, and they're racing for less than two hours. But as Elizabeth mentioned, every distance is unique, has its own set of challenges, its own rewards. There is no right or wrong distance. Andrew: The training to take on races of each distance is obviously so different. For me, when I think back to the training for my first half-Ironman, it was very different than the training it took for my first sprint. What differences can we expect in our training as we start to prep for races of different distances? John: Short course racing is obviously going to have a focus on building speed. Typically your training is going to be sufficient that you don't necessarily have to focus on enough training volume, enough stamina so that you can finish the race. These sprint and Olympic races, typically anyone who is in good enough shape to go and race is going to have the endurance to be able to finish a sprint or Olympic distance race as a rule. Obviously when we shift over to focusing on 70.3 and Ironman, we have to shift training focus into building stamina to be able to complete that distance. But an important distinction here is when we're racing these longer course races, oftentimes the natural expectation is it's a long race so I need to do lots of high-volume training for a long time. The race intensity is lower, so the training needs to be a lower intensity.  That's a very common myth that exists in the triathlon space. But what we've been able to prove and demonstrate over and over is the saying of, "fast before far, and strong before long." What we really want to do is focus on building as much speed as possible before we focus on increasing that stamina. That's a long-term training approach, that we want to get fast before we increase the race distance, but also in the training phase and the training season, that's also integrated in as well. So in the time that we have available we want to make as much gain in speed, power, and efficiency as possible and then add the stamina. What takes longer to build are those increases in speed and power. What comes relatively quickly and easily are those increases in stamina. So that's where that saying comes from, "fast before far, strong before long." Elizabeth: Just to chime in here, I had mentioned earlier that I took a significant amount of time, about a year and a half, between my first and second full Ironman events. And that was because I wanted to race faster and race more competitively. When I raced Ironman Texas for my second full, I dropped three hours off of my Ironman Wisconsin finishing time. Andrew: Three hours? Sign me up for that training plan! Oh wait, it's TriDot! Elizabeth: Yep! You're good to go! So I didn't get faster at Ironman by racing Ironman. I greatly improved my race finishing times by focusing on increasing my threshold in each discipline. Andrew: Yeah, it really takes me back to Episode .10 of the podcast, the Power-Stamina Paradox. We quote that one so often because it's such a foundational episode to the way we do training design at TriDot, and the fact that you do work on getting faster throughout the year, and then once you start getting closer to that race event, that's when the stamina and endurance work really kicks in. Because you improve your stamina and endurance just by working out longer and longer each time, but the speed takes all those sessions of pushing your body at threshold and going faster and faster to work on the speed. You've got to do that farther out from race day. So if you want to hear the training approach that helped Elizabeth knock three hours off her Ironman time over the course of a year and a half, go back and listen to Episode .10 and hear TriDot founder Jeff Booher talk about the power-stamina paradox and why we do training design the way we do it. Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down. Andrew: In this wild 2020 year, there are a number of multisport companies and organizations that have done a great job at keeping athletes engaged even with fewer races. Some athletes have stayed motivated through their connection to TriDot or their local tri club, while others have enjoyed virtual racing. USA Triathlon recently had a super-cool event called the Virtual Tri Across America where tri clubs could form a team, connect their training device, and race 3,312 miles across the United States. TriDot Athlete Gregg Goolsby stepped up to the plate and created a team for TriDot called the TriDot Train, and we were off to the races! I'm happy to have Gregg with me today to talk about how it happened, how it went, and even how we were able to benefit charity through our participation. So Gregg, thanks for joining me today! Gregg Goolsby: Thanks Andrew, it's a pleasure to be here with you! Andrew: Gregg, you are actually a board member for the USA Triathlon Foundation, so you were well aware of the Tri Across America Challenge. What sparked the idea to create a TriDot team, and how did we do? Gregg: Yeah, I'm on the Board of Trustees for the Foundation, I'm actually the treasurer there. A little bit about me, I'm a veteran of our sport. I go back about 38 years in the sport now, so I've been around the block a few times. The Foundation for me, when I joined about a year ago now, is a way for me to give back to the sport. It's a great organization. It basically is dedicated to three major platforms, the three pillars we call them. First supporting young athletes or youth engagement, the paratriathlete program, and also Olympic hopefuls. But most of all we want to encourage our kids to lead healthy and active lifestyles through swimming and running. That's really the whole effort behind the actual event Triathlon Across America. It came about from former Major League Baseball player Eric Byrnes. He played for a number of teams and retired about 10 years ago, but he noticed that there were a lot of kids that were becoming more and more sedentary, sitting in front of screens for seven, eight, nine hours, and now with the pandemic, obviously that's become even more so. They're out of the classroom in a lot of cases, and at the same time schools have been cutting back on physical ed programs. Youth activity, I think we can safely say, is at an all-time low right now. So Eric decided that rather than telling kids about becoming more active, he decided to show them. He actually did his own Triathlon Across America, and there's a great video that we shared a clip with the TriDot team, which really encapsulates what Eric did. He actually did this event where he swam, biked, and ran literally all the way across the country from San Francisco to New York City, so a great accomplishment. Getting to the Foundation, our Board of Trustees decided to hold a bit of a competition. So each member developed their own team, and the idea was to have, even though it's not billed as a race, it became a little bit of a race and a little bit of a competition to not only race across the country, but to raise money for the Foundation. Andrew: Naturally we're gonna turn everything into a competition as triathletes, right? Gregg: Yeah, so with my involvement with TriDot, I thought this is a perfect group for a virtual event. Everybody already has devices, they're uploading data to the platform, they've got their Garmin accounts or whatever platform they're using, so it's just a simple matter of connecting that to FitRankings in addition, which is the platform that the virtual Triathlon Across America was using. So I said I'm just gonna throw it out on the Facebook group and see what happens. I put a posting – thank you guys for approving it, because I wasn't sure if you might throw me out or not, but fortunately the leadership supported it.  I thought maybe I can get 15 or 20 folks to jump on board what I call the TriDot Train. Well, the response was astounding. Quickly 15 became 20, became 40, it just grew exponentially, and people were all over it. I was just blown away. We quickly became the No. 1 team. In fact, I got a lot of heat from some of my colleagues, "Really, 180 people on your team? How fair is that?" But there were no limitations on team size, and it was all about having fun. At the end of the day it was more about getting more people involved, so I think we fit the parameters there quite well. The event got underway on October 15, and sure enough, we made the crossing from San Francisco to New York City in 36 hours. Andrew: Wow. Gregg: Unbelievable. In fact, we were the No. 1 team in terms of size, and we were in New York City before the second-place team even got out of California. That's how fast we were. Amazing. Andrew: As you said, just over 180 athletes on our team. We absolutely dominated. It was over so quickly. So you decided to keep the fun going. Along with some of our other TriDot athletes, you created a map around the world and turned our virtual tri across the country into a virtual tri around the world. Tell me how that idea came to be, and how did the journey go? Gregg: Yeah, so I was thinking about it in the early days before the race even started. I knew that 3,300 miles with 180 people was likely to go pretty fast. I figured a day or two, so it was pretty close to the estimate. I thought, "That's not going to be any fun, a day and a half or two days and we're done. Let's have some fun with it, we're a big team." So we decided to expand it to conquer the world, as we said. We took off from New York City.  I had three colleagues from TriDot who jumped on and helped me out. I couldn't have done it without them, honestly, I was quickly overwhelmed by questions. But it was fun, I did have some help from three colleagues: Nicole, who was our navigator, Michelle who was our communicator sent out nightly updates, and then Joann helped with our fundraising efforts. They were instrumental in getting this thing going and keeping it going with a little bit of guidance from me. We took off from New York City, and took a circuitous route around the world. We went up though Canada, across the ocean, across to Portugal and back up through Europe.  And along the way we were hitting different courses, Ironman courses or Challenge Roth and different places that were cool bucket-list-type destinations. Back down through Africa, down through the tropics, then down to Australia and New Zealand and back up through Kona, and then all the way back around to San Francisco. We covered over 53,000 miles as a team. Incredible, if you look at the circumference of the world is 25,000 miles. So we pedaled and biked and swam twice around the world if you're thinking in technical terms. Amazing accomplishment by this great group of TriDot athletes. Andrew: Logging the miles as a team was obviously great. Dominating the field was equally great. But the best part of the whole thing is the way you were able to use this event to raise money for the USA Triathlon Foundation. How much were we able to raise as a team, and what do those funds go towards? Gregg: Well, the donation page right now shows about $2,500, but we have a few hundred dollars more coming in in matching donations from people that work with corporations that do match for charitable gifts. We also have at least 50 people I know of that bought the finisher medal packages, so that's additional fundraising. So it's safe to say we're well over $3,000 raised for the Foundation, and in our case we've decided to earmark those funds for youth engagement. There's some exciting stuff that USAT is working on right now to engage youth and get more kids into our sport. That's in all of our best interests, including our kids, to get them more active. This money's going to go for a great cause to help fund some of these initiatives that we want to get underway and get kids active. Andrew: A big shout out to all of our listeners and athletes who participated on the TriDot Train. A big thank you to those who donated towards the USAT Foundation, and Gregg a big thanks to you for organizing it. Even though it was a short-lived challenge that you made a slightly longer-lived challenge, thanks so much for organizing and giving us all something fun to do for a couple days. Gregg: My pleasure, and I'll second that thanks to all of our donors. The donation page is still open, so for anybody that still wants to donate that hasn't. Please go to our page, I'd appreciate that. What a great community TriDot is. I thoroughly enjoy the engagement. The level of enthusiasm amongst the participants, and all the people in the TriDot community. It's simply fantastic. Thank you, thanks for providing the platform. Andrew: Well that's it for today, folks! I want to thank coaches John Mayfield and Elizabeth James for talking us through racing different distances. Shout out to TriBike Transport for partnering with us on today's episode. Head to tribiketransport.com to book transport for your bike for your next race. Enjoying the podcast? Have any topics or questions you want to hear us talk about? Head to TriDot.com/podcast to let us know what you're thinking. We'll do it all again soon. Until then, happy training! Outro: Thanks for joining us. Make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon crew. For more great tri content and community, connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Ready to optimize your training? Head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today! TriDot – the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.
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