Why Do YOU Do Triathlon?

A few years ago, Ben Greenfield asked an interesting question of all of us crazy 3-sport idiots. It was a seemingly simple question, but the more I think about the question, the more annoying complicated it becomes. The question is this: WHY do you do triathlons?

Simple at first, but then maybe a bit more complicated as we try to answer Ben’s challenging follow-up…essentially “I don’t want the bulls**t logical answers like ‘I want to stay healthy’ or ‘it’s fun’ – I want you to dig DEEPER”. Deeper? Is there a deeper?

Ben breaks it down into the rational vs. the irrational, and gives a great example here: A rational answer is “my clothes fit better”, but ask WHY do you want your clothes to fit better? Maybe because you don’t like the way other people see you now. This comes back to a self-esteem issue, or maybe you just want to be able to get a better-looking girlfriend… 🙂 We get back to what Ben calls “irrational” answers for pursuing triathlon, but I think he just means “real”.

So take a look at Ben’s article by clicking here: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2009/05/why/#idc-cover

…and then you can read my shameless but real reasons here:

  1. it took me a while to figure this out, but it’s the fear of dying at an early age. My family has a history of high cholesterol and a lot of other ailments, and I want to live a happy, healthy life without all that crap
  2. triathlons are like Type A conventions – nowhere else on earth is there a larger gathering of motivated and intense people. There are no victims in triathlon
  3. the challenge teaches me how to beat my limits into submission. i used to think a 5:30 half ironman was out of reach, and then i trained my ass off and hit 5:17. triathlon gives me confidence
  4. i love looking good naked. Triathlon is the fix for that (in my ever so humble opinion 🙂 ). Though i’ve learned the hard way that a beard can really ruin that…
  5. saying “i’m a triathlete” is fun, and crossing the finish line rocks my world
  6. there is the hope for constant improvement, and there is nobody that can hold me back from doing more and doing it harder and faster but ME. Nobody says “slow down” in triathlon unless it’s intended to make you suffer for a longer period of time
  7. it’s just not possible to be bored of triathlon. I’ll never beat Macca’s 2010 win in Kona, but being an age grouper, Kona is still possible and a better AG finish in reach
  8. the mandatory alone time makes me a stronger person
  9. the prospect of living the last 20 years of my life in a prison of my own body is TERRIFYING – i want to be active and healthy when I’m older, and this is the best sport to keep that a real possibility
  10. the bikes are f**king awesome

Now go back to Ben’s article (here), and read all the real reasons for doing triathlon that other people have posted there. If you’ve ever wanted to see other triathletes from the inside-out, Ben definitely seems to have drawn it out here.

What are your real reasons for doing triathlon? Let us know by posting in the comments.


Road to Ironman South Africa – 20 Weeks To Go

A brief training update here…

Ironman South Africa is just about 20 weeks away now, and life is good.  Weekend rides are sitting at about 3 hours on the indoor trainer, and I’m keeping things around an average of 125-135 BPM depending on variances in intensity.  I’m happy with the way things are going this far out – I’m just developing my base on the bike, which even at 135 BPM average is carrying me 56 miles in 3 hours, which feels very comfortable.

One annoyance has been getting back into calculated nutrition.  I do wish I had kept closer notes on what was working in my IM Louisville prep, because now I’m working from memory – and not always a great one.  I’ve got the basic components – remembering past numbers while responding to my current body composition, and using the longer rides to narrow in on combinations of products and timings that work.  The product elements will remain constant – Gu gels (always Strawberry-Banana…so good), Ironman Perform in 3x concentration for 3 hr bottles, and water.  This is for the bike segment, but things obviously get more complex off the bike and as I begin focusing on the broader race.  I have concepts and memories of the past, but it will take a few trips to Dubai and some long rides in the heat to really zone in.  It’s the need for patience in this regard, though, that has me slightly stressed…I’m just not good at waiting.

My run is coming along nicely, as you may have read that I’ve switched from heel striking to fore/midfoot striking.  So far so good, just with minor complications.  Achilles stress is par for the course in this transition, and that’s just an issue to manage and be cautious of (at least that’s how I’m envisioning it right now).  There is still some soreness around the stress fracture/bone bruise on my left leg, but MUCH less than I had with heel striking – I just don’t think it’s going to go away completely before IMSA, and I’ve come to terms with managing it.  The run just doesn’t concern me for my first Ironman, regardless of difficulties caused by missing workouts due to bone strain.  At the end of the day, I can hobble if needed.  If I die on the bike, though, I’m done.  I have no question of my ability, with a solid foundation in endurance fitness, to gut out the run.

The swim – well, that’s coming along as well as it can on dry land.  I had one swim in a real pool in Afghanistan, and the water was around 55 degrees – RIDICULOUS.  My ears hurt for 2 days after even with a thick swim cap, and I just won’t do it again (especially since the 1 pool has since been closed…).  So I’m stuck to dry land and am on a swim-focused lifting routine – 60 intense minutes 2x/week.  Also 2x/week, I’m doing a swim-immitative resistance band workout that is meant to mimic the water resistance and the exact movements, and I can feel that I’m hitting all the right muscles.  I’m happy with it, but nervous to hit the real pool in December when I’m out of Afghanistan for a few days to see how it translates.

Time will tell!  So 20 weeks away and I’m on 7-8 workouts a week and feeling pretty good.  And the biggest positive of all – which came WAAAAY out of left field and was completely unexpected – is that I have absolutely loved every trainer ride! (see previous post about this same phenomenon).  Strangely enough, I just can’t wait to hop on in the evenings and on weekends…good thing to, because I really don’t have a choice!



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What I Learned in India

I had a full week off for yet another Afghan holiday last week, and decided to sneak in some quality, low-cost outdoor time by flying over to India for a few days (no seriously, low-cost…it’s only a 90-minute flight from here).  Since I can’t run outside at all in Afghanistan (or bike, or walk, or do anything outside), I figured I’d see how my indoor training was stacking up to an outdoor, real-world environment.

Just 3 weeks ago, I quit running heel-toe almost cold turkey, and I wanted to see if my new form would make the grade when I didn’t have the controlled environment of the treadmill to keep me safe.  I started adapting my form by letting my body decide exactly how it would shape up, and all I would consciously change would be my strike – I would strike on the balls of my feet now rather than on my heels.  I found my body shifting forward, but not enough to compensate (at least on the treadmill) for the new angle of my foot striking the ground, and so I found my foot smacking loudly at every pace.

I DID notice, however, the following: with heel striking, I have major pain in the area of my bone bruise/stress fracture on the inside of my lower left leg after EVERY run (nagging for over a year now…), and long runs would put me out for 2-4 days (super annoying when trying to build volume).  BUT…with forefoot striking, all of that pain went away.  And I mean ALL of it.  Even on longer runs, I was ready to go again right away.   The only problem was the huge pressure that this new style of running was putting on my Achilles tendon – not something I want to abuse since I have a full season of treadmill running coming up (notoriously hard on the Achilles).

So what did I do?  I went YouTube shopping for a nice half-way solution that would (hopefully) give me the best of both worlds.  And what did I find?  Well, I think just that!  “Midfoot” striking.  Awesome.  Check out the video below that explains this form of striking quite well.

India was all about testing this out in “the real world”, and it worked!  The highlight was an 65 minute run at an 8:30 pace in which I tweaked and experimented – all just getting my body position and my foot striking where I wanted it, and all within the structure of “good form running” as described above.  Not only did I finish the run with zero pain on my chronically crappy lower left tibia, but the pressure on my Achilles compared to forefoot running seemed to cut way down.  A few subsequent runs taking advantage of the vacation from indoor training proved the same, and I was left to bask in the sunshine and natural beauty of Rishikesh well dreaming of a much-less-painful return to training.

Rishikesh, India...not a bad getaway, eh?

So all in all, I learned the following about my running form – and running in general:


  1. Heel strike running hurts my bones and jolts my lower back
  2. Forefoot strike running hurts my Achilles tendon and strains my calfs
  3. Midfoot strike running doesn’t hurt my Achilles nearly as much, but still takes the pressure off of my bones


  1. Leaning forward and focusing on striking my foot directly below my body provides an extra bit of seemingly “free” propulsion
  2. As this blog (LINK) points out, midfoot striking “lessens injury, because landing on your heel ‘opposes the natural way your foot lands when you run’. When you land on your heel, your ankles and knees have absolutely no chance of minimizing shock…When you run midfoot, your foot has a chance of minizing impact. Your calves act as shock absorbers. Your ankles and knees suffer less impact.”
  3. Reading on a few forums, the consensus seems to be that midfoot striking is faster.


  1. With forefoot and midfoot striking, I found that in the early-going, a loss of focus can mean slamming your feet with more of a jar to your bones than heel striking
  2. Going cold-turkey away from heel striking is painful – doing it again, I probably would have been more gradual about it (building up over 3-4 weeks maybe
  3. I am still trying to figure it out, but it seems that midfoot striking saps more energy than heel striking.  This may be a make-or-break at the Iron distance (or maybe just have to build strength there).
  4. Do NOT run with a banana through a gang of Langur monkeys.  Tried it, and I was left nutrition-less on my run because of it.  Next time, I’m sticking with Gu – much lower street value (I swear those monkeys had intimidating tats and brass knuckles).

See what I mean?! These guys are hard asses!!

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Our Anti-Rest Culture – Excerpt from Macca’s “I’m Here to Win”

The following is an excerpt from Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack’s book I’m Here To Win (p. 147-8), which I found especially interesting.  The guy has raced almost 2 dozen times each year at peak levels – in the last decade or so including multiple Ironmans in each of those seasons – and he’s never been substantially injured in his entire career.  Among other things, it seems, this comes from his mentality towards rest and recovery.  Read on…

An Anti-Rest Culture

A lot of the problems with triathletes’ training arise because they don’t address flaws in their training when they’re younger.  When they age,  their training is built around that “more is always better” idea, and injuries become inevitable.  You have to adapt your training as you age – not just in terms of your repetitions, but your entire approach.  That’s part of the advantage of experience.

It’s not easy to get other athletes to try my way, though, because ours is an anti-rest culture.  Heck, Western civilization is mostly anti-rest!  The sport has always been fearful of the word recovery, as thought needing to recover means you’re a big wimp who can’t take it.  If you know anything about fitness or exercise, you know that when you work out, no matter how tough you are, you tear muscle fibers and cause inflammation in joints and connective tissue.  Recovery lets those things heal.  Without it, you’re gonna get hurt, period.

If you are paying a coach to get you ready for a big race, then you are going to make that coach justify the cost of hiring him.  So if he says, “Today, you’re going to swim five kilometers and do speed training on the track, then tomorrow you’re going to rest,” you’re probably going to lose it.  “What?  Rest?  I’m paying you to tell me to rest?”  Too many athletes feel the need to justify themselves by how much they work.

It’s okay to rest.  I’ve said this in speeches and gotten standing ovations.  But in the modern world, that’s just not a popular idea.  Outside of sport, in business, people boast about getting only two hours of sleep and still going into work.  They’re stressed, they’re not sleeping, and they wonder why they feel like hell all the time.  It’s like the less you sleep, they more hardcore you are.  Translate that to the triathlete world and it’s “Look at me, I ran twenty kilometers yesterday after riding for six hours.”

That’s the monster that’s human nature.  We train to look good to other people, to look good to ourselves, to justify the cost of a coach, or as some sort of inoculation against the fear that we won’t have what it takes on race day.  But we rarely train for the only reason that matters: to be the best we can be in body and mind, and deliver our finest possible performance on race day, regardless of the result.

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Winter Training Tips for Triathletes

My friends back in the US told me that it SNOWED on the east coast today, and it’s not a whole lot warmer here.  So now that winter is clearly upon us (a bit early, I might add…), I thought I’d kick off the sudden change in seasons with some tips from some already-decent triathlons, runners and coaches.  If you have tips of your own for winter survival, please feel free to tell us under the comments:

  • “Always make sure you eat within 20 minutes of any winter training session, for ultimate recovery. My favourites are cherry-chocolate Mega-Burn bars – ultra-healthy so I don’t feel guilty eating them.” – Michelle Dillon (Two-time Olympian & winner of 2007 London Triathlon)
  • Strength & Training – Make sure you get advice around your strength training from an expert but focus on periods, with the first period about getting the technique right (6-8 week), then adding some weight and increasing the intensity and finally a power phase. This will help for all 3 of your sports. – Absolute Triathlon Coaching
  • “Enjoy the odd break, enjoy the temptation of the winter months. You are a triathlete, so any weight will soon come off when you’re back to full training. Eat healthily and sensibly, but allow yourself things you like; otherwise, life isn’t fun.” Steve Trew (Olympic coach and Commonwealth Welsh team manager)
  • The best way to keep up your fitness over the winter is to be crazy. Crazyness can be learned if you practice it. I would love coming home from a 6-7 am run in January with ice on my eyebrows right when my room-mates would be waking up. The crazy workouts are the workouts you remember. – Grant Lerdahl

  • Go Mountain Biking – During the winter spend time on doing some mountain biking, this will not only improve you riding but also help with gear selection and keep you off the roads in winter. Remember never go out on your bike in icy conditions – it just isn’t worth it. Absolute Triathlon Coaching
  • “Don’t change your diet radically, but remember you do have to eat more when it is cold outside.” Will Clarke (Olympic Triathlete & 2006 under-23 ITU World Champion)
  • “Tell yourself that training in the miserable winter makes you a mentally stronger athlete. In the Madrid World Cup last May, athletes from hotter countries suffered with the rain and cold, whereas us tough Brits stuck it out.” – Hollie Avil (2008 Corus British National Champion)

Triathlete Kevin Izzard Training in the snow.

  • One trick to avoiding winter burnout is keeping a long term mindset. It’s hard to do long endurance rides on indoor trainers all winter long. What helps me was to remember that I was doing the long slow rides all winter so I could do spring speed work. Building endurance first then speed is the proven method for endurance sports. Don’t think about your races in March or May when you are training in December, it’s simply too far away to get me excited. What does work is remembering you are training your endurance, so you can train your speed, so you can race. – Grant Lerdahl
  • Training too hard during the off season will make you feel burnt out when you want to perform your best. This is why it is best to take a fun and learning approach to training during the winter months. – Coach Jay Marschall
  • Don’t over do the indoor bike sessions, remember to get outside!  …there are various options for shortening bike and run sessions to still get effective training during the winter, but there is no real substitute for getting outside and putting the miles in! – Garry at Intelligent Triathlon Training
  • There is no such thing as inappropriate weather, only inappropriate clothing. – “Avoneer”
  • The system most used for energy in endurance sports like triathlon, is the aerobic system. In fact ,95% of an Olympic distance triathlon is done aerobically. This is why during the offseason months(Oct- March), the majority of your training should be done at an aerobic heartrate. The best way to do this is with the use of a heartrate monitor. Coach Jay Marschall
How will YOU be training this winter??
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The Top 10 of Indoor Ironman Training

The common line of thinking is that indoor training for triathlon – be it a sprint or an Ironman – is a punishment.  I’ll never survive the next six months with an attitude like that!  Thus I give you The Top 10 of Indoor Ironman Training…
  1. Winter training is just as easy to plan as summer training
  2. Wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to bed?  Why not hop on the trainer for a few hours?
  3. Heating the house is much cheaper – from what I can tell, 5 minutes in my room equals about one degree Fahrenheit.
  4. Constant resistance.  1 hour on the trainer = 1.5 on the road…More free time!
  5. Not being on the road for the changing seasons.  It keeps me from dumping money into more gear every day (with a bike shop at mile 5 of my rides in NYC, I swear every ride cost me a minimum of $30).
  6. The bike constantly cries for attention – it’s very hard to ignore there, basically sitting on the couch next to me, so missing workouts is much harder.
  7. No 5:00 a.m. wake-up calls to get a swim lane.
  8. Forget something on a bike ride, and only realize 15 miles in?  For me, it’s still only 15 feet away.
  9. Hot and humid race venue to prep for?  No problem!  Just close the window.
  10. Catching up on TV has never felt so healthy

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New Way to Kona and One Gutsy Performance

Two pretty cool stories have come out of the aftermath of the Ironman World Championships in Kona.  The first is that WTC, the governing body (read: the private equity firm that owns the brand) for branded Ironman events around the world, has just announced a new way for age groupers to get their foot in the door at the World Championships – a dream for most everyone who races the 70.3 or full IM distance.

Ben Hoffman riding the famous lava fields of The Big Island

According to this article, now it seems that the long-termers who commit themselves to qualifying but can never quite get fast enough to make it to The Big Island will now have a back-door to the promise land – but you REALLY have to want to get there.  How’s that, you ask?  Well, apparently ALL you have to do is complete 12 full-distance Ironman-branded events and you’re there!  Pretty cool incentive, I must say.

ON ANOTHER NOTE, did you see Chrissie Wellington‘s crazy win at this year’s Kona en route to her 4th Ironman World Championship in just 5 years (I have to say that it would have been 5 in 5 years if she could have raced last year)???  Having crashed her bike just a few weeks from starting at Kona, she risked not competing for the second straight year because of health issues.  This time, she told the Twitter universe and her blog readers that a crash brought her some pretty nasty road rash.

Chrissie's road rash...there's more than meets the eye.

Not that it wasn’t true…there’s just MUCH more to the story.  Hiding the true nature of her injuries from everyone – including her closest competitors – in the lead-up to the race, Chrissie got all hard-core on us and worked through some serious stuff.  Apparently in this little crash incident, she also tore her intercostal muscle and her left pectoral – some key muscles when it comes to swimming, getting aero on a tri bike, or really moving without pain in any way.  Just a few days before the race, Chrissie had to stop just 1 km into a swim workout, in tears from the pain.  T-minus 5 days to the race, and she’s in the hospital trying to figure out how to make it through the  day.

But lo and behold, being the hard-core yet perpetually jubilant kick-ass triathlete she is, she toed the line on race day.  Usually a lead swimmer, she exited the water 10 minutes back, and then spent 112 miles on the bike between 12-14 minutes behind the race leader – another very unusual situation for Chrissie.  And this is where it gets cool.  Noticeably in tremendous pain, Chrissie guts out a 2:52:41 marathon through a bruised hip and elbow, torn muscles in her upper body, and some nasty road rash to pass EVERYONE ELSE in the women’s field, taking her 4th world champion.  As she said in her own blog post right after the incident, “it’s not a race, it’s war” – and she won.

Read about the whole incredible story chronicled by Competitor here.

Chrissie put it all on the line - including her undefeated Ironman record - to take her 4th IM World Championship in gutsy fashion.

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