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Mentoring FAQ

Popular questions and self doubts assailing triathletes.

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No matter what I do - my friend is faster

SZ: The answer to this really depends on your goals. Are you just doing tri for the fun of tri? Or are you really competitive and right now at a plateau - not getting better no matter what you do ?

In the first case: be aware that people are different. Some people naturally bring endurance, resilience against injuries, speed; some people get by with very little training while others are naturals. Focus on your own improvement, on your performance, no matter who else is in the game. Your goal should be to be the best you can be with your set of genes and with your talents, your "tools". Use your tool set as well and efficiently as you can.

The second case is different: You will have to shake up your routine, change your training. You should not make changes so radical that you get injured, but e.g. instead of regular long runs you include fartlek (random speed work) into your runs, instead of short, quick bike rides you practice acceleration or join a spin class with a focus on power development. You might really benefit from a coach who can help you to enter new and different ways of training to soar above this plateau.

My biggest obstacle right now is work! I am working so much that it is hard for me to get some good training time in. (I am writing this email from the Boston airport.)

SZ: You are not alone. Most athletes have to balance between job and training, kids and training, job, kids and training, social obligations and training, etc. It does help to have a plan: Put your major workouts on your schedule like you would put a doctor's appointment there, or a child's soccer game. If something comes up, you may move your appointment but not delete it. Your training is important for you. We mothers often forget that it is only possible to be a good mother when we are happy. Taking time for yourself is not egotism (even if it may feel like it sometimes) but the assurance of your sanity and your ability to be a calm and patient mother the next day. Business people often forget that the company does not benefit of an executive who is stressed out and full of adrenaline.

After you have your major workouts on your schedule, find little time slots for the minor workouts: 15 minutes of running in the lunch break, 5 minutes core training before bed time, the 30 minutes while waiting for a music lesson to end, all these are times we may waste. Take the bike for small errands if you can. Maybe commute by bike once or twice a week (depends on traffic and shower facilities at your destination). You might have a pool close to your work place - use it in your lunch break and later eat at your desk (Never omit eating, though - when you are active you do need calories).

Use a running stroller or bike attachment to get some fresh air to your kids while you are running/cycling. Use the stairs whenever you can. Get help with the children - many gyms have free kiddy care for the time when you work out. Start your runs and rides from home - you can count the way to and back from the trail toward your training.

There are many ways to be creative to save time, just do not save time on your food (eat regularly and eat well - which might include cooking your meals from scratch) and leave enough time for communication with your spouse (and kids).

How do you keep yourself motivated to train?

SZ: Personally, I am quite self motivated and disciplined - maybe that's my Prussian genes. However, now and then there are those little voices trying to persuade me that there are so many more important things than my training. So, how am I fighting those voices? A major point for me is to change my routines ever so often. If I do the same bike ride over and over again, it will become boring. Now I do not have too many alternatives in my urban environment but I try to change the route by going the reverse way, by building in extra loops, by spontaneously exploring side streets etc.

Modification also can be a change of speed, borrowing a bike from a friend and taking it for a spin, taking a spin class, testing out group workouts, joining a team or having a reliable training partner or coach and fixed training times.

For the water by now I have an mp3-player which I just love - in beforehand I played math games on my longer swims, observed the swimmers next lane, raced them without them knowing, did a lot of drills, etc. Workouts in a binder is a cool resource for swim- and stationary bike training. Just select a workout fitting your schedule and do it.

And finally - I have races all over the year. Sometimes I am weary and wish I hadn't signed up, but then - I have and paid and of course I go. It feels good to accomplish something you originally were reluctant to do and this good feeling transfers to the workouts you do in the next couple of weeks.

My main question is do you have any advice for my swim training?

SZ: I used to be annoyed by lane-sharing because it stops me from swimming butterfly. But my training usually inclues somewhat around four laps of butterfly and that's it. Not all as important (though good core training). By now I actually like sharing: It comes close to the real thing: being perched in a narrow space, having somebody splashing water into your face just as you take your breath. Having to swim straight is a factor, too. So, even if you do not like sharing with strangers, you might want to collect some friends and practice swimming all in one lane. You can also practice drafting which is perfectly legal in triathlon. Swim in the bubbles of a friend.

Another practice for open water is just closing your eyes while swimming and swimming while breathing to both sides. Both drills help you with finding a straight line and with navigation. Swim a couple of laps while closing your eyes underwater, but then look out to the front (maybe to your water bottle) every 6-8 strokes. In open water you will then find a building, a tree, etc, to focus on - instead of your water bottle. Also swim a bit without goggles to prevent you from panic in case somebody accidentally catches yours during the swim.

Last not least: using different strokes is no shame. You may breaststroke in a race, you may turn on your back if you get out of breath - all is legal. You even may hang onto a life guard's boat if necessary - they just may not transport you anywhere.

I always was a swimmer growing up around lakes. Yet, in my very first ever race, an open water swim of 2 miles, I panicked directly after the start and after 400m I thought, I could just get out of there and walk home. And then I thought about my family who had gotten up early, how disappointed the boys would be etc, rolled on my back, stuck around a bit, breathed a bit and moved on. I was dead last but finished...
Have a panic plan. THink about why you are where you are. You are doing triathlons for yourself, but maybe also for somebody else. Know what thoughts will pull you back if you panic.

Where did you learn how to fix your bike?

SZ: I learned it as a kid before they had quick release. But some stores offer bike maintainance clinics - check your local bike stores or REI. I have a document explaining the process, too. The key is to have it done before a race. If you can, find a spare wheel and practice with it. Tire off, on, off, on, etc. I do offer tire changing clinics - hands-on, and this is also something one can do during a coaching session.

Am I allowed to do a combination front and back stroke for the triathlon?

SZ: Yes. If you insist you may do the butterfly...

I am most concerned about bringing everything that I need to the race and preparing for transitions.

Check out my tri list This is a list-of-all, you might very well cut down on items. You will be well prepared for your transitions if you practice in beforehand. Attach a short run to a bike ride and lay out everything you need to switch. You can do this at home - in your garage or mudroom, or you can abuse the trunk of your car to set up your transition area. You even can practice the swim-to bike transition by setting up everything before your bike ride and simulating the swim part by doing push-ups wearing goggles and a swim cap, then run to your designated area and get ready to ride. You find more practical advice in the Training-FAQ.

How can a gal like me learn to love running the way I do swimming and biking?

SZ: By bringing variation into your run. Go on a grass field and run barefoot. Skip around like you did as a child. Play tag or soccer with your kids, dogs, nephews etc. Do spontaneous speed-ups in your regular runs. Carry good music and change regularly. Or listen to podcasts (that's what I do) which always are new.