Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tips for a First Tri

If at first you don't succeed, tri tri again...

Going into my first sprint triathlon, I consulted a lot of endurance sport buddies for tips and suggestions.  I purposely picked the Sullivan Civic Center Triathlon because I knew it was small, laid back and would be okay if I made some mistakes.  After completing the tri, I realized most of their tips were right on and I also learned a few lessons to carry onto my next event, which is the more competitive, crowded, and actually sanctioned Chicago Triathlon in late August.

Tips and Lessons Learned:

Be prepared to be kicked, scratched and swam over in the swim.  Even though the swim leg of the Sullivan Tri was in a pool, it didn't stop the faster swimmers from bull-dozing any slower swimmers in their way.

  • Take your time in the transition from swim to bike.  Taking an extra minute to fully prepare yourself for the bike is not going to have that big of an impact on your overall time.  And come on, if it's your first tri, you're probably not going to win anyway, so take your time for this important transition.
  • To speed up the transition, you may want to invest in a tri suit.  This is a one piece suit that you can wear for the swim and continue to wear for the bike and the swim.  Otherwise, like me, you'll be attempting to change behind a towel with people watching you in transition and wasting time when everyone else is just putting on shoes, socks and helmets and are on their way to the bike.
  • Lay out your towel, shoes, socks, energy gels, and anything else you may need by your bike for the transition.  Roll your socks, so that they'll easily slip on when you're feet are wet after the swim.
  • Invest in a decent bike.  I invested in my first road bike and was so glad I did!  It made me feel a lot more competitive even though there were still triathletes making me jealous speeding past me on their tri bikes.  It probably would have helped if I went on a few more long rides rather than just relying on my Express Spin class at my gym to carry me through the 12 mile bike.
  • Check out the bike and run routes prior to the race.  It will help you plan how much effort you want to burn throughout the legs, and will keep disappointment out if you have to do the bike lap twice to get to the mileage needed.  It will also help you avoid doing extra mileage in the run if you miss the turn to the finish  ;)
  • Going from the bike to the run will feel weird!   My butt hurt, my legs felt like lead, I definitely recommend practicing that transition prior to the event.  It wasn't until mile 2 during my 5k that I felt like I was running normally.
  • Don't forget to take you bike helmet off before the run!  
  • Just because it's a sprint, doesn't mean you can blow off training.  I'm training for a half marathon right now, and I grew up a competitive swimmer, so I knew that no matter what I would muddle my way through the event.  I definitely wish that I would have actually went through a formal training program to prepare myself.  Completing three competitive events in a row is a lot different then training and racing them separately.  Train hard and practice back to back workouts by going straight from a swim workout to bike workout and bike workout to run.
  • Celebrate being done with the first tri!  You deserve it!

What other tips do you have for a first tri?

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Savings was Just Converted to the form of a Road Bike

When I made the decision to switch from marathons to tri's this year, I knew that I was going to have to spend some dough.  To train for road races, the biggest investment you're going to make generally is your shoes, which can be pricey (but are worth it!)  With triathlons, I knew I was going to have to not only ensure I have those quality shoes for the run, but also a tri suit, a wet suit, and the biggest investment of all, a bike.

With each stage of my life, I've rode a bike to signify the times.  In my carefree toddler days, I ruled the neighborhood with my sweet big wheel.  Then it was a tricycle, training wheel bike, 2-wheeler, and then for a really special teen birthday, my mountain bike.  I've been riding that tween Huffy mountain bike for the last 15 years, but now that I'm stepping up my game from leisurely rider to serious competitor, it was time to invest in a mature road bike.

I asked several triathlete friends on recommendations on bike makes, models, specifics and stores.  I truly felt like I was buying a new car, which considering the cost of some bikes, could be an almost equal experience.

I scoured the internet for recommendations, but just like a pair of running shoes, I knew I needed to go to a specialty store, see and get fit by the experts.

I stopped by a bike shop in the West Loop because an Ironman had recommended the shop to me.  I was going into the experience completely clueless thinking that a nice associate would help me with this huge purchase.  The only thing I knew was the price that I was not willing to go over.  Unfortunately, Mox was a complete waste of time and I left feeling more confused than when I arrived.

The one associate working basically showed me 2 bikes and told me I had to choose one or the other because those were the only 2 in my price range.  He did not tell me why one that was $350 more than the other was any better, but simply told me to take each out for a test ride and to let them know which one felt better.  Because he was apparently the only associate that could help with bike sales and was busy when I returned from my test rides, I talked to the associate working the cash register who told me that I needed to do my own research on the two bikes because they didn't want to force me into buying anything.  When I told him I was confused by the difference in the bikes, he said that he couldn't explain it and I again just needed to research it on my own and then come back the next day to let them know which bike I wanted.

Needless to say, I never went back.  Instead I journeyed up to Old Town to Village Cycle Center which I had heard mixed reviews from triathlete friends about. Immediately when I walked in the door, a sales associate asked if I needed help with anything.  I explained the fact that I was going to be doing my first two triathlons this summer and needed a road bike for them but knew next to nothing about road bikes.  Tim, the sales associate, spent the next 2 hours helping me find the perfect bike.  He carefully explained the difference between each of the bikes in stock that were around my price range and why each was less or more than the next.  I learned about the parts, make and quality of bikes.  Because Village Cycle Center's associates don't work on commission, Tim was pressuring me to buy a top of the line bike, but instead I felt he was truly trying to help me find the right bike for my needs.

I was fit on two different bikes and had up to 3 associates at one time assisting me with this purchase.  I eventually picked a wonderful Trek Lexa SLX.
Although the bike was slightly above my price point, I felt comfortable with the purchase because I knew why it was a better bike and that it would fit my triathlon needs.

For anyone else buying their first road bike, I would recommend going to a few different bike stores to truly gain a sense of what you're buying and more importantly, why it's the right bike for you.  Make sure that you spend time with the associate and that he or she fits you to the bike.  This is an investment and you want to make the right one!

Race Review: Sullivan Civic Center Triathlon

I participated in my first mostly outdoor sprint triathlon this past weekend in lovely Central Illinois.  The Sullivan Civic Center Triathlon was a great introduction into the world of triathlons because of it's size, laid back atmosphere, and best of all, the swim was in a pool.  For hard core triathletes, this competition would probably disappoint you, but for the newbie I am, it was perfect!

-No wet suit required because the swim is in a pool
-Plenty of easy, parking in the Civic Center parking lot
-With the registration cap at 300 participants, you have a great shot of earning a medal and coming in the top 5 for your age group
-Laid back atmosphere and competition
-Chip timed event
-Midday race start time
-Friendly Sullivan residents cheering you on through the long stretches of country road on the bike portion

-The winds on the bike portion in the middle of the country
-Disorganized running route with lots of twists and turns without clearly marked mile markers and path.  I ran an extra 1.5-2 miles because the turn to the finish wasn't clearly marked and I ended up doing a portion of the run twice.
-The race is not sanctioned

Know Before You Go
-You begin the swim in a single file line with the fastest entry time starting at about 12:25.  The start is literally "5...4...3...2...1 ready go" for each of the 250 participants individually.
-There are locker rooms available for you to change in prior to and after the race.
-Check out the maps of the run and bike posted on the Civic Center's door when you arrive to get a sense of direction for the two legs
-Half of the run is on a wooded nature path and the other is on a road, so plan your footwear appropriately
-Spin City Cycles is on hand for any day-of needs, including tri suit, new bike tires, a bike pump, energy gels, and more
-Stay for the awards ceremony that occurs in the picnic area after everyone has completed the race.  Monte, the race organizer, will pass out medals to the top 3 finishers overall and top 5 in each age division, and with such a small competition pool, you'll probably walk away with some type of hardware.

Overall, I would highly recommend this race for beginners and people just looking to do a triathlon for fun!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Last Minute Nutrition Tips before the Half

With the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon right around the corner, I wanted to share some tips I've found for a great race this week. 

Here are eight last-minute nutrition tips for enhancing endurance from

1. Carbo-load, don't fat-load.
Carbohydrate-rich foods include cereals, fruits, juices, breads, rice, plain baked potatoes and pasta with tomato sauce. Lower carbohydrate choices include donuts, cookies, buttery potatoes, ice cream, cheesy lasagna and pepperoni pizza. These fat-laden foods may taste great and fill your stomach, but fat does not get stored as muscle fuel.
2. No last-minute hard training.
By resting your muscles and doing very little exercise this pre-event week, your muscles will have the time they need to store the carbohydrates and become fully saturated with glycogen (carbohydrate). You can only fully carbo-load if you stop exercising hard! You can tell if your muscles are well-carbo-loaded if you have gained 2 to 4 pounds pre-event. Your muscles store 3 ounces of water along with each ounce of carbohydrate. (This water will be released during the event and be put to good use.)
3. No last-minute dieting.
You can't fully carbo-load your muscles if you are dieting and restricting your calories. You will have greater stamina and endurance if you are well-fueled, as compared to the dieter who may be a few pounds lighter but has muscles that are sub-optimally carbo-loaded. Remember: You are supposed to gain (water) weight pre-event!
4. Drink extra fluids.
You can tell if you are drinking enough fluids by monitoring your urine. You should be urinating frequently (every two to four hours); the urine should be clear-colored and significant in volume. Juices are a good fluid choice because they provide not only water and carbohydrates but also nutritional value. Save the sports drinks for during the event.
5. Eat tried-and-true foods.
If you drastically change your food choices (such as carbo-load by eating several extra bananas), you may end up with intestinal distress. Simply eat a comfortable portion of the tried-and-true carbohydrates you've enjoyed during training. You need not stuff yourself! If you will be traveling to a far-away event, plan ahead so you can maintain a familiar eating schedule despite a crazy travel schedule.
6. Eat a moderate amount of fiber.
If you stuff yourself with lots of white bread, bagels, crackers, pasta and other foods made with refined white flour, you may end up constipated. Include enough fiber to promote regular bowel movements — but not too much fiber or you'll have the opposite problem! Moderate amounts of whole-wheat bread, bran cereal, fruits and vegetables are generally good choices. (If you are concerned about diarrhea, limit your intake of high-fiber foods and instead consume more of the refined breads and pastas.)
7. Eat the morning of the endurance event.
You'll need this fuel to maintain a normal blood sugar level. Although your muscles are well-stocked from the foods you've eaten the past few days, your brain gets fuel only from the limited amount of sugar in your blood. When you nervously toss and turn the night before the event, you can deplete your blood sugar and, unless you eat carbs, you will start the event with low blood sugar. Your performance will go downhill from there.
Plan to replace the energy lost during the (sleepless) night with a light to moderate breakfast as tolerated. This will help you avoid hitting the wall. Stick with tried-and-true pre-exercise foods: cereal, bagels, toast, fruit, energy bars and/or juice. These carb-based foods invest in fueling the brain, as well as staving off hunger. If a pre-event breakfast will likely upset your system, eat extra food the night before. That is, eat your breakfast at 10 p.m.
8. Consume carbs during the event.
During endurance exercise, you'll have greater stamina if you consume not only water, but also some carbohydrates, such as sports drinks, gels, bananas or dried fruit. You should target about 100 to 250 calories/hour after the first hour to avoid hitting the wall. (For example, that's 16 to 32 ounces of sports drink/hour.)
The slower you run, the more you need to fuel yourself during the event. Some athletes boost their energy intake by drinking diluted juices or defizzed cola; others suck on hard candies or eat chunks of energy bar, animal crackers and other easily chewed and digested foods along the way. Your muscles welcome this food; it gets digested and used for fuel during the event. And hopefully, you will have experimented during training to learn what settles best.

Copyright: Nancy Clark, MS, RD 3/03
Nancy Clark, MS, RD is nutrition counselor at SportsMedicine Associates (617-739-2003) in Brookline, MA and author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook ($23) and her Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions ($20). Both are available via or by sending a check to Sports Nutrition Services, 830 Boylston St. #205, Brookline MA 02467.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Quote for the Day

"If you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or how far. It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run."
-John Bingham

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread with a Surprise Ingredient!


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 banana (the riper the better)
  • 1 can of black beans


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8x4 inch loaf pan.
  2. Drain and puree black beans, with banana.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Add egg whites, pureed black beans and bananas; stir just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Turn out onto wire rack and allow to cool before slicing.