April 26, 2016

New Season – First Race!

HELLOOOOOOOOO TO THE LARGEST, MOST FUN, MOST ENERGIZED GROUP TRIATHLON TRAINING PROGRAM MEMBERS ANYWHERE IN THE CIVILIZED WORLD.   Civilized world being defined as (but is not limited to) Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Washington DC, Herndon, Sterling, Reston, or Fairfax.   In general – Northern Virginia, Maryland, and DC.   Sometimes I find myself inserting key words which will help me find my posts in google searches some day!   🙂

HERE IS THE REAL MEAT OF THIS MESSAGE!   Welcome to the 2014 Triathlon Racing Season.   We kick it off at the Kinetic Triathlon this weekend, at Lake Anna Va.

I have a few reminders I want to share to help calm the nerves of our newest members, focus the minds of our vets, and set the tone for another weekend where Team Z leaves a mark on the local triathlon community!   This is long, it took me a long time to write.   PLEASE READ IT!

More on weather as the weekend approaches and the details are more clear.   But what we can say as of now is that once again – this will be the hottest weekend of our year so far (and by a mile).   You are NOT adjusted to the heat yet.   You WILL be affected by the heat.   You can NOT disrespect the heat and think that you are immune.   You must slow down.   You can’t race as fast in 80+ degree weather as you can in 60 degree weather when you have not seen a day warmer than 50 in 12 months (a little sarcastic, of course).   All of this is fine, though…and “why” you may ask?

Because – each of you are going to SET YOUR MINDS RIGHT as of now.   Yes – this race is called a race.   One of the races is even called a sprint.     But we are going to treat this race like what is intended to be on your training calendars.   PRACTICE WEEKEND.   This is just a practice.   A quality brick workout being held in a beautiful place, surrounded by your teammates, and with tons of food and fun associated.     Your “race” this weekend is an opportunity for you to set a baseline for yourself for the season.   This is an opportunity to test YOURSELF against this course.   You are NOT testing yourself against others.

Our season is VERY young right now – and I seriously hope you can all relax a little bit and set yourselves up for success by level setting your expectations.   You are not tapered. You have not even rested at all.   None of us have raced in 6 months, and some of you have not even done one race yet!   Your goal for this weekend – practice your equipment lists, race plans, nutrition – have fun – and smile all day long.

In this post:

 (Another post on pacing/packing/prep to come shortly).

  1. Come to the race, bring your family – racing or not!
  2. Reminder about sportsmanship, and the Team Z Colors.
  3. Reminders, Tips, Suggestions for Open Water Swimming – calming those nerves (fast people and new people alike).   I use these same mental preps – and I swam “for a living”.


1.   First thing is first.

Zs not racing:   YES YOU CAN COME.   Not only is this ok, it is somewhat of a tradition.   Our race weekends are soo much more than just “about the race”.   I promise. You will have fun.   If you are new, you will learn!   If you are new, you will swear that you won’t let another race weekend pass you buy b/c of something silly like “nerves”.   Relay, relay, relay.   Three awesome words!   If you have a significant other or family, consider bringing them too.   Pack up the dog and a frisbee, come and picnic with us.   Everyone is welcome, and encouraged to come! Mom’s, Dad’s, Siblings…bring them all. 🙂


2.   Sportsmanship

Not all Triathlon Group Training Programs ARE created equal.   Team Z was once an up and comer and barely on the radar for anyone in this area.   There was a time when no club or team brought tents to races.   Then, we showed up and had one.   A 10 x 15 tent, 15 chairs, a tarp, and a “road trip grill”.   People started to turn their heads.   Not because we are so damn pretty – but because the hamburgers smelled so good and they were jealous.

Flash forward eight years:   We are now a cornerstone of the mid-atlantic multi-sport community and are even noticed on the national level.   Seriously.   US Masters and USA Triathlon CEO’s know who we are and have begun reaching out to us to find out “how we do it” (Common Focus, Education, Fun, Burgers).   The two top officials in the sport know who we are (they lean on us b/c we provide 50% of the officials in the mid-atlantic).   Race Directors recruit us to come to their events because of our energy, presence, enthusiasm (and numbers, of course).

I remember when we race IM USA a few years back, and the announcers made public statements of surprise about the number of athletes in the field from Virginia.   The next time we raced an IM event, “We have Team Z back in the house from Northern Va”.   Even the big bad evil empire knows us! Everyone knows who we are – period.   Some of them like us, some of them love us.   Some of them unfortunately DO NOT LIKE US (They just want a hamburger).

  • We are unique. There are no other organizations like this one anywhere – I promise you.   When we go to races, we are “center stage”.   When you wear our jersey you represent your teammates, coaches, and the family members and friends of those people on our team.   From podium finishers to final finishers.   We are one big family – and we want to make a positive impact on this community!
  • On Team Z, we cheer for everyone.   Not just our teammates.   We wait at the finish line until the last person comes home – Zr or not.  If we think everyone is finished, and we are lounging in our tents eating some good food, and a person comes down the hill to the finish line – we get out of our chairs and go line the finish chute and we cheer for them.   High Fives down the line.   We ring cowbells, we blow green stadium horns.   We wish luck to people around us in transition, and at the swim start line.   We ask them where they are from and why they don’t come train with us instead of by themselves.   We wish people congratulations when we race them to the finish line, and we lose.   We stop and offer help when needed.   We are not measured by the same standards as a normal triathlete.   Everyone will know who we are by the end of the race, and we want them to speak highly of us.
  • It is ok to race hard, and take your race seriously.   But you must always take the high road.   Do not get into arguments with “meat heads” in transition.   Do not fuel a fire, or poke fun at anyone for any reason.   It is so much more fun to be “in the right”.   And, simply – it makes you feel good.   Please watch your language and think about how you would like someone to see you as a person when you leave the race venue.   Think about how you’d like to see yourself, or think about yourself and the way you carried yourself when you reflect on your race experience days, weeks, or months down the road.   Do the right thing – it makes you feel good.   Promise.   I remember seeing one of my friends stop his race at Eagleman one year – he helped an elderly racer change her flat tire.   That was one of my first races and that image has stayed in my head ever since.   I was really proud of him, and almost jealous that I did not have the opportunity.   And wondered, would I have stopped?   Now I know I would.   But given the chance on that day?   I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a Zr say that someone from another team made a smart ass or negative comment about them as they were passed in a race. Do not let them get in your head.   Do not respond negatively, instead say something like “Have a great race!”   Or “wow you are super fast!”.
  • Everything gets back to us as coaches.   I promise.   After race weekends we get emails from all over the region from people thanking us for the energy we provide to races.   I’ve had people emailing me trying to find the name of the person who helped them, so they can send a thank you.   I have even gotten emails from people who were lent spare wheels, tires, helmets, etc – from Zrs who just happened to have extra gear “in the car”.   And, unfortunately, I have also received emails from people who wanted me to know about the negative behavior they witnessed in transition from a person wearing our jersey.   We get way more positive emails than we do negative, but those negative ones certainly do sting.

Do the right thing, and have fun.   That is what racing is all about. Make us proud!


3.   Reminders/Tips/Suggestions:

These are things that we discuss at each transition clinic/race strategy discussion we have – so it will be a reminder for many of you.   This is just a brain dump which will hopefully help many of you get your heads in the game and start the season off right!   Please come and find Alexis, Ryan, Myself, or one of your swim coaches before the race if you have questions or need a pep talk.

  • How you approach the start of the race mentally, and how you physically execute the start of the race is very important and goes a long way to “setting the tone for the day”.   This is true for “good swimmers” and “newer swimmers” alike.
  • When the race is about to start one of your biggest enemies can be the pre-race energy/nerves and adrenaline.   But this can be managed easily if you just remember what you have learned and repeat your brand new mantra OVER and OVER and OVER again inside your head.   “Keep my head DOWN.   Swim in super slow motion.   Breathe every stroke”.   Swimming in a lake is just like swimming in the pool.   Do not forget what you have learned.   Head down, breathe, relax.   JUST LIKE WARM UP AT YOUR LOCAL POOL.   Head down, swim super slow motion, breathe every stroke.
  • At the start of ANY wave you will see a zillion triathletes start out swimming FAST.   Arms are flying, legs are kicking, and everyone is fighting to “be the best they can be”.   This is ALWAYS a mistake.   Even for veterans.   The only people who should start a triathlon swim FAST are those that are competing for a podium spot in their age-group, has experience, and for whom “two minutes” really and truly matters.
  • Prove it to yourself if you don’t believe what I write here.   This is not some coaching “BS”.   I promise you.   IF you test yourself – you can swim 800 yards in a pool HARD/ALL OUT, and get your time.   If you then immediately swim 800 yards easy, and get your time again – you will note that your times will only differ by 1 minute, or even less.   In the swimming world this “one minute” is a VERY big deal.   In the triathlon world – it is NOT A BIG DEAL AT ALL (not in a 2, 3, 4, or 12 hour race).   Unless you are competing for the win – you need to swim Zone 2 – just like every Tuesday morning workout.   EVERYONE.   The energy cost of swimming in Z4 (or WORSE Z5) is NEVER worth that 1 minute, or two minutes if swimming a mile.   NEVER.   If you swim easy, your FIRST TRANSITION will make up that minute alone.   Because you’ll be able to run through it fast, change fast (with a clear head), and start the bike fast.   IF in Z4 or Z5 during the swim, your transition time alone will be slower, and you will have to spend time on the bike going SO SLOW to recover – you get the point.   You can only spend a matter of minutes in Z5 before you CRASH.   If you notice that you are swimming to hard, tired, tense – get in your own head.   SLOW DOWN.   Flip on your back and breathe.   Relax.   Setttle Down. Start over.   Head Down, super slow motion, breathe every stroke.
  • SO – approaching the swim.   With race adrenaline pumping – you want to swim the first 200-400 yards feeling like you are in SUPER SLOW MOTION.  I promise you this works – even though I swam in college I did the same thing at the start of every race to help me set the tone for the day.   IGNORE everyone else, no matter how hard they are swimming and kicking.   SWIM YOUR RACE.   “Head down.   Super Slow Motion.   Breathe every Stroke”.   If you do this, then in 5 or 6 minutes, you will notice that the adrenaline burns off and you start to feel more comfortable. The key is to stay 100% aerobic on the whole swim.   100%.   EVEN THOUGH THE RACE IS CALLED A SPRINT TRIATHLON DOES NOT MEAN YOU EVER SPRINT (until the end of the run).   THIS IS AN ENDURANCE EVENT.   In Zone 5 – you can only last for a matter of MINUTES before you will bonk.   IN Zone 4 – a well trained athlete (like winning the AG) can last for 60 minutes, or more if they are experienced.   THIS IS A Z2 EFFORT FOR ALMOST EVERYONE – UNTIL YOU GAIN EXPERIENCE.   IF you swim and bike well, then you can race the 5k or 10k as hard as you want.   Just stay aerobic until you gain knowledge!
  •  IF you ever find yourself gasping for air on the swim, totally out of control with the breathing.   RECOGNIZE THIS IMMEDIATELY AS A MISTAKE.   Flip on your back, float and recover completely. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will recover.  Repeat.   “When I start swimming again, I am going to swim with my head down, super easy, and breathe every stroke”.
  • Starting – if you are nervous – DO NOT get in the front of the group or in the “mix“.   When the gun goes off, you can and should just WAIT.   Let everyone else “race the start” – you are smarter than that.   Right?   When the gun goes off – BREATHE DEEP AND EASY BREATHES, and repeat your mantra.   Head down, catchup drill (you know who you are), super slow and easy, breathe every stroke.   Start swimming when you are ready.   And sooner than you think, you’ll be passing those other people that are FRIED from doing an 800 yard swim in Zone 4/5.   It may not be until the bike, but you’ll get them.   🙂
  • Boats – you are allowed to hang on them and rest – this is not a penalty.   Just grab the nose or tail, not the side (so you don’t flip them).   Say hi.   Talk to them.   Rest, and continue.   They are helpful, and compassionate people and they’ll be your biggest cheering section.
  •  Walking the swim is legal – walk when and where you can and want.   Its slower than swimming – but it is allowed!   You can walk the first 50-100 yards of the swims at Lake Anna with no problem – and it is allowed.   USE IT to calm down.   Let the crowed/mass go – forget about them and focus on yourself.
  • DO NOT SWIM WITH YOUR HEAD OUT OF WATER OR “UP”.   IF you can’t put your face in all the way – switch to backstroke, side stroke, or breast stroke until you are relaxed.   Then try again.   Swimming with your head out will crush you – think back to your initial swim clinic!   Head DOWN.   Imagine the black line and look for it.   Sight occasionally – but not every stroke.   After sighting – put your head back down!
  • WARM UP.   Take the time to let the adrenaline burn off.     The water is cool – it is about 15 degrees cooler than the pools you swim in (worse case).   With the water being cool there is a risk of “cold shock”.   You know the feeling.   That “water is cold in the shower” feeling. It takes your breath away.   So get in the water as soon as you are allowed to and go “all the way under” and get it over with.   FAST.   Get some water in your suit, and then float on your back and BREATHE deep relaxing breaths.   The cold shock will go away in a minute or two – it always does.   But it takes time.   Expect it to happen, be ready for it, know that it is “ok” and expected – and that it will go away.   BREATHE DEEP AND LONG BREATHES.   If this has you nervous, come to the race site the day before so you can experience it.   Trust me – it goes away.   But do not wait until that last minute to get in the water and deal with this – and the pre-race addrenaline at the same time!
  • Even with warmer water and less “cold shock” risk, the pre-race adrenaline and hype can be enough to cause that “out of breathe shocky feeling” for EVERYONE.   Like when you feel like you are taking very short and shallow breathes.   It happens to everyone – and it goes away in 3-4 minutes.   So it is important that you try to get in before your wave starts and get “used to the water” and warm up a bit.   I try to time it so that I get in 10 minutes early.   I swim easy for 5 minutes and let that initial pre-race “shock” go away.   Then I get out and walk to the swim start with 5 minutes to spare (or just swim over).   “IT” will not happen a second time – only the first.   IF you do not get in the water before your wave starts and you are nervous.   Then when your wave gun “Starts” – walk out to waste deep.   Take your time when starting – and swim SUPER SLOW and BREATHE.

TAKE YOUR TIME.   BREATHE.   SWIM EASY.   Take a mental picture of what it feels like to swim warmup at the pool – this is how you should feel and visualize yourself when starting this swim.   SWIM SLOW!   If you want to race the swim – wait until the second half!   START EASY!   I can’t say this enough!   Remember that this is for fun, and the only way to gain experience is to put yourself out there. Have FUN.   Do your best, and be happy with the experience. You are racing YOURSELF and nobody else!   “Head Down.   Catch up Drill.   Super Slow.   Breathe Every Stroke”.   🙂



Faster Swimmers:

You should start the SAME WAY.   I MEAN IT.   START SLOW.   After the adrenaline settles and you start to “Feel loose and in control” – then you can start to ramp up the effort.   But I promise you – if you try to swim your 200 pace at the start of this race, you’ll pay for it at the end of the swim/etc.   Even if doing a relay.   Swim the first 3,4,5 minutes “easy”.   With adrenaline you’ll still be going faster than you should!   SUPER SLOW motion.   IGNORE the other people around you.   They will fade at the 400.  They’ll be fried.   Promise.