The transition to triathlon
April 22, 2015 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I've played rugby for almost ten years and after all this time, I want to mix it up a little and do a triathlon. My issue: overweight and not just a little intimidated.

I've been floating around and trying different sports and exercises for awhile to fill the tackling void, but it's hard for me to stick to something without a specific goal. I hate classes and I can't afford a personal trainer. I like running (but not a marathon), I like cycling, and I like swimming: so why not a triathlon? The information out there is vast, though, and seems to cater pretty exclusively to people who are already fit and enthusiastic about running forever, so I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. I'm looking for people who are either non-athletes who jumped into triathlons, people who would are/were considered overweight and have done or are doing triathlons, and anyone who would like to boost my confidence.

I have seen this Couch to Sprint program and am interested, but don't know anything about it beyond the description. I currently do Crossfit, but pretty intermittently now as the culture is starting to wear on me.
posted by thefang to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hey there,

As a former rugbyhead myself, I hope I can give you some encouragement!

As long as you have reasonable fitness (ie can run 10k and swim for ca. 40 minutes), I think the bike part you can just do it at your own pace and see where that lands you. Get ready for an enormous endorphin release when you complete your first tri (I came johnny last in my first Olympic distance (45km bike) in the inglorious time of 4 hours)...10 years later I am at 2h 30min and even getting placed in my age group (40-45). The weight doesn't come off immediately but I think with average effort after a few years you really notice the difference and your eating habits will improve gradually as well.

I know there is tons of info out there but I enjoy the podcast of coach Joe Beer, I think its called the SMARTcast, its a good listen when you are pounding the treadmill or whatever. Also if you can, join a local tri club, they will have group rides and maybe swim coaching available....a word of warning though, all this can be quite expensive (bike, wetsuit etc. ) but if you are committed you will definitely get it back in spades....all in all go for it and good luck!!
posted by pairofshades at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm overweight/obese and I did that Couch to Sprint on BT and did successfully make it through my first sprint tri (not in last place, even!). You might check out the Athenas and Clydesdales forum (tri parlance for those of us on the heavier side) on BT as well -- lots of people in a similar position. I find BT lots more welcoming than Slowtwitch (the other major tri forum), which can be a bit elitist and weird.

Before I ran my first race, I volunteered at a couple local events. I found it really helpful to see that there were lots of people with my body type out there putting the hammer down; it's definitely not just svelte gazelles. If there's a "try a tri" event near you that can also be great. My local try-a-tri is about 50% beginners and folks coming back from injury, and 50% folks who want to just redline it for an hour, which is kind of hilarious. You can chill out with folks who are more laid back and kind of spectate the people who are taking it more aggressively.
posted by dorque at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2015

A couple of my friends who were not particularly athletic (but had sports background and good training habits) have done triathlons with the Team in Training fundraising system. I don't know if that model would interest you, but a) it is out there to explore and b) what you have in mind can definitely be done.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2015

I have seen many overweight people at triathlons. Seconding dorque about volunteering and try-a-tri's. I volunteered at the race I was interested in and it helped me make up my mind to sign up. For me I was intimidated by my weak swim and not being a hardcore cyclist. But I found the atmosphere very friendly and swimming was something I could work on. I guess you could just go watch too, but volunteering gets to places where you can ask questions. Sprint tri's typically have only a 5k run so they really don't require being able to run "forever." Or form a relay team and take the leg that you are most comfortable with to get a feel for the event, then move up to a full tri.
posted by bread-eater at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2015

Best answer: My weight has held constant at around 230 lb since I started racing triathlons in 2006. I'm a 2x Ironman (ChesapeakeMan and Lake Placid), and I'm headed back to Maryland for my third go-round in October. Historically I've had decent bike fitness, moderate swim fitness, and just enough leg left over to keep moving through the run (standalone marathon times are 5:20-5:50, and 6:50-7:30 as part of an Ironman). Some years I did really great at olympic distance and sprints, some years not so much. Last week I took 2nd in my age group (M4044) at the local Y sprint tri (only 6 finishers in my AG, but hey, it's a podium finish).

I'm sure there are dicks out there who disparage fat slow barstards like myself, but I've never heard them. I've seen people with plenty more adipose tissue than me cross the finish line with the entire crowd cheering and applauding. My body composition is considerably different from the stereotypical picture most people have in their head of "triathlete", but I'm a triathlete nonetheless.

Look around you for a sprint tri (typically 1 km swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run). You can race that in normal clothes with a mountain bike and whatever footwear you run in (swim in bathing suit, pull on a shirt with your number pre-pinned to it, pull on shoes and hop on bike, then run). You don't need a wetsuit, tri bike, tri clothing, bike shoes, HRM/GPS (although helmets are mandatory). You do need to be able to swim the distance in whatever body of water you're in, but you don't need to fight it out (wait 10-20 s at the start, and pretty much everybody will be gone, and you'll have plenty of room).

So, yeah, that's it. Go try one out. Then message me and let me know how it went.
posted by disconnect at 12:44 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm a kinda fit woman who's 50+ pounds overweight, and I've loved the sprint triathlons I've done. Last year I didn't even train, other than crossfit. I don't recommend that, because swimming is Really something that is best done when one has done some training. But choose a shorter sprint (I liked the 1/2 mile swim), 5k run, 12 mile bike and do some training and you should be Great. People usually are cheering just as hard for those of us who are clearly carrying extra weight.

The other recommendation is to see if there's a local sprint tri that's a fun fundraiser sort. They tend to have fewer uber-competitive folks who'll swim over you (but still, unless you're a strong swimmer, aim to be at the back of your wave on your first one). Mostly, do it! Training is a great way to galvanize your fitness.
posted by ldthomps at 2:43 PM on April 22, 2015

My experience with events like tri's, marathons, distance biking,is that the vibe is very encouraging, and the folks who volunteer, tend the water stations, line the course and surround the finish line don't give a damn about your weight or your fitness level, they are happy you are participating, and want you to finish strong and enjoy the event.
Go for it!
and if you really want to mix it up, I play ultimate (the frisbee game) and know a number of rugby players who play. it's great for sprint fitness, spacial awareness and because it's team oriented has the benefit of external motivation. it is non-contact, so a bit more friendly to your longevity as well. just sayin'.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:23 AM on April 23, 2015

Best answer: When I started triathlon (as someone very new to running and not at all athletically inclined up to that point), I found Caitlin Boyle's "So You Wanna Do a Triathlon" blog post series helpful and encouraging. N-thing the recommendations to start with a sprint tri, to look for a "try-a-tri" (in my area, "beginner wave" or "friends and family wave" is the best search term—instead of starting the swim with your age/sex group and getting steamrolled, you start at the end, with all the newbies and/or people who intend to race side-by-side for moral support), and to volunteer or spectate at an event before you race.

If the race you choose involves an open water swim, you should make sure to include a couple of open water swims in your training. Look for open water swim clinics (some races offer these in the same body of water a few weeks before the race, which is ideal), tri club open water practices, or other ways to get in water that isn't clear/doesn't have a black line painted on the bottom.

You don't need a fancy bike or a wetsuit or a tri kit for your first race, especially if it's a sprint in decently warm-ish water. Whatever swim shorts + t-shirt (or swimsuit top + quick-dry running shorts, as applicable) you have will be fine to wear, and whatever bike you have will be fine to ride.

Other advice: make sure you practice your transitions (swim->bike and bike->run) at least a few times during training so you can efficiently switch your gear. Make sure you schedule a few back-to-back "brick" workouts (particularly bike+run) so you get a sense of how your legs feel going from one sport to the other. And sign up for a late summer race! You have plenty of time to train for an August event.

Last bit: if you happen to be in the New England area, the Cranberry Trifest is an awesome, beginner-friendly race.
posted by rebekah at 9:24 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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