Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Contemplating your first tri? Read this.

If it seems like just about anyone can complete a triathlon, that's because it's true.

Take last year's Ramblin' Rose Sprint Triathlon in Charlotte: Nearly 750 women swam the 250 yards, biked the nine miles, then ran two more miles to the finish line in times ranging from as blisteringly fast as 44 minutes all the way up to a just-gettin'-it-done two-plus hours.

Of course, if the prospect of training to complete a triathlon seems intimidating ... well, that's because it can be. But knowing what you're getting yourself into is half the battle.

So, aspiring triathletes, listen up as we run through a series of frequently asked questions with the help of Christopher Lamperski (pictured at right), head coach and founder of Personal Records Coaching. The 27-year-old Charlottean is a veteran of 20 triathlons who's won several overall and age group awards; he also competed in the Duathlon National Championships -- clocking the fastest overall 10K time in 31:41 -- and the 2009 ITU Duathlon World Championships at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Q. What level of fitness do I need to have before I even consider signing up for a sprint triathlon?
I think that most people who are new to the scene come into a triathlon with expectations of seeing elite athletes with washboard stomachs and stellar figures. In reality, the majority of people participating in triathlons are everyday folks. In my opinion, just about anyone can compete in a sprint triathlon -- but they must first set out with a plan.

Q. What gear do I need before I start training for my first?
One of the most important things that you'll need is a proper-fitting pair of running shoes. Go get them from an expert at a running specialty store. Also, you'll need to get a pair of tri-shorts -- compression shorts with a minimal pad. This is a pair of shorts that you'll wear throughout the entire event, not to mention while training. A good set of swim goggles is key; try to get goggles that fit your face without even using the straps. If you've got suction before using the straps, they are much less likely to leak while swimming. The last step would be to at least borrow a bike if you don’t have your own, and you'll need a safety helmet.

Q. How far out should I begin training?
First things first: Make sure your doctor says it's OK to start a training program. Then, start REALLY easy on your initial training cycle. One common trend I see with new triathletes is that they train too hard too soon and become injured, which can decrease motivation in a major way. Remember that it takes your bones longer to adapt than it does your muscles. So even if you feel fine, take it easy and slowly add training. Traditional programs would ideally start with three months of full training to work up to comfortably doing the distance as well as possible, while allowing you to learn every aspect of swimming, cycling and running.

Q. How many days a week should I plan to swim? Bike? Run?
This is primarily dependent upon time considerations. It's not critical to perform all three of these activities each day. Plus, some of us have jobs! Try to make it a rule to do each activity at least once a week during training -- over time you will see where your weaknesses and strengths lie. Many folks work up to three days per week or more with running since it’s more convenient than swimming and biking. Swimming and cycling are lower-impact activities, so it may suit people with a history of injuries to cycle and swim three to four times a week to work on their fitness level while remaining injury-free.

Q. What distance should I eventually work up to for my longest swim? Bike? Run?
Just look at the distances required by the event. Make sure you can successfully complete the distances in training for all three components of the triathlon. While it may not be necessary to simulate the entire triathlon start to finish in training, it would be nice to know that you've got the fitness to exercise for the duration of the triathlon. For instance, if you think it will take about one hour to complete a race, make sure you're able to train for a straight hour before going to the race. Most people start out with sprint triathlons, so just doing up to or slightly over the distances in training would be the most appropriate. As an example, one of the local triathlons is structured with a 250-meter pool swim, followed by a 10-mile bike and then a 5K run. You need to complete at least these distances in a workout by themselves. If you can go a little longer while feeling good it will only increase your fitness level.

Q. How important are "bricks," and how often should I do them?
A brick is a workout that consists of two or more different exercises back-to-back. Example: Bike for half an hour and then immediately run for 15 minutes. I tell my clients to do a minimum of one brick each week, usually on a weekend when they have more time. This prepares your body to withstand the demands of a triathlon race while being fatigued.

Q. Do I need to do weight training?
Keep the weight training to a minimum, as time can be better invested by working on the specific events -- swimming, biking, and running. But I do recommend some minimal core strengthening because it relates to all three sports and assist in keeping you healthy.

Q. What are the biggest rookie training mistakes, and how can I avoid them?
The No. 1 mistake I see is people not following a plan. “If you don't know where you're going, how are you going to know when you get there?” The other thing that I notice is that people have a hard time setting clear and attainable goals. So to those out there who are going to do a triathlon: Set clear goals, and then write a plan and post it on your refrigerator or office desk, so it will help hold you accountable. One other thing I see people struggle with is nutritional supplements before and after working out. Oftentimes people don’t fuel well enough beforehand to keep their energy levels up during training, and after the workout a good combination of protein and carbs will really help muscle recovery for training going forward. But many people ignore or don’t know about the effects of improper nutrition.

Q. What are some good local triathlons for first-timers?
I have been referring first-time triathletes to the TrySports Triathlon Development Series. It's a series of triathlons designed for beginners. Usually 90 percent of the people at these events are doing their first triathlon, so it has a "we're all in this together" attitude. One good local triathlon I recommend is the Cane Creek Triathlon in the late summer. It gives the participant all summer to get ready for it. Another triathlon would be the Cool Breeze Triathlon in March because it is the shortest distance and also involves a pool swim, which would be more comfortable for first-time triathletes.

Q. Any other tips?
Get a coach or a support group. It's worthwhile to make a financial investment in either of these because they will help hold you accountable and make you more likely to achieve your goals. Also, have someone develop a personalized plan for you. Just because a former world champ used to do a certain workout doesn't mean that you'll get the same results by doing it as well. Have a plan that takes into consideration the following things: your schedule, structural and physical limitations -- bad knees, etc. -- and your goals. Finally, remember that triathlons are there for you, not the other way around. Remember, who's the boss. Trust me, when you're finished, you'll be glad you did it and will be ready to rock your next one!

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To talk to Christopher Lamperski about the range of training services available through his Personal Records Coaching, call him at 704-641-2254 or send an e-mail to


I Pull 400 Watts said...

" If it seems like just about anyone can complete a triathlon, that's because it's true. "

Unfortunately it is that thinking that has been getting people killed or injured in triathlons recently. People see it's only a short swim and then you jump on a bike and go for a short run, no big deal right?

Marathons are for more dangerous then shorter triathlons, however they seem far more daunting, so many more people who should not do them avoid the events.

I saw it a few years ago at a local sprint tri. It was colder out and a larger man who was a back of the packer was out there for a longer time and developed hypothermia after the bike and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Purely anecdotal by the way.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, you couldn't get anybody better to do an article on triathlons? An undedicated, inconsistent runner who is trying to start a coaching program...that's about all you got there.

Anonymous said...

Agreed about the comment - we have people in this area that have been doing triathlons for 30 years and this is all you can find to do the article?
Maybe look at the triathlon store that has been in business for 15+ years and is now the sponsor of the biggest series in North Carolina - Inside-Out Sports. Many of their employees have been doing triathlons longer than he's been alive. Plus they have multiple USAT certified coaches on hand to answer questions.

Anonymous said...

I pull 400 watts:

A) You don't pull 400 watts.
B) You're right, it's that kind of thinking (and that kind of thinking ONLY) that has led to recent deaths in triathlons. Sarcasm.

Seriously, how can you possibly make such a sweeping generalization like that? I know several people who have completed multiple marathons that are nervous about doing a triathlon.

You have to take into account that Chris - while saying "If it seems like just about anyone can complete a triathlon, that's because it's true" - meant that if you were PROPERLY TRAINED you could complete a triathlon.

Don't read too much into an innocent statement.

Also, you don't pull 400 watts. You're not Bjorn, or Torbjorn, or Ain-Alar, or Lieto.

Anonymous said...

Good Article Chris! It made me want to train for a Tri! I'm sure some of these guys' comments will be the best motivation you could ask for. Hey, if you guys are gonna bash him, put your name on it and don't hide behind a computer screen.


I Pull 400 Watts said...

Wow there is a lot of hostility around here. At least I thought it was a good article...

@Anonymous #3 - Thanks for telling me what I can and cannot do. And I did not say it was that thinking ONLY, thanks for putting words in my mouth as well.

Anonymous said...

Way to step up for your boy, Cody!
"Undedicated" and "inconsistent" are definitely not words that come to my mind when I think of Chris Lamperski. Is he not one of the fastest athletes in our area?
-Chris D

mainers said...

Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2. How did you guys get on at the world Duathlon champs last year? I looked up your names in the results but couldn't find 'Anonymous'. Funny that

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:55pm and Anonymous 5:02pm, way to bash Chris behind his back & behind a computer, as Cody said, and be spineless cowards by not even putting your names on the posts. For Chris, the dedication has been there. As for "inconsistent", it's been about him experimenting and trying to find the right training program through trial and error over the past years - it's exactly from those experiences that will make him an awesome coach and why he will be coaching me in 2010. - Sincerely, Billy Shue

jayholder8k said...

Strong opinions suddenly become very weak when they're not backed by a real person, but instead by some silly internet handle or even worse, by an "anonymous". Step up and put a name on your negativity.

- jay holder

Big Baller said...

Thanks for all of the negative and positive comments from this Theoden's blog post. The goal of this post was to inform people who are new to the triathlon world that it is not impossible for them to give it a shot, with proper advice and training.

I never claimed to be the supreme authority on every level but I have been educated by some the best athletes locally, regionally and internationally, just by getting feedback and putting together the pieces of the puzzle that make it work while remaining positive and staying injury free.

My hope is that the people who were seeking much needed advice take this and confidently sign up for a triathlon in the near future regardless if they seek my assistance or not. I wish everyone the best of luck in all of their training whether they are new or have been in the Triathlon community for 15+ years. Thank you sincerely for the motivation to achieve my own personal goals.

Chris Lamperski

aaron said...

LOVE all the comments good and bad! Gosh, so nice that we actually have a running/tri community in town that is debating/discussing thx to Theoden. And...all the passion folks have for their respective sports that they are willing to communicate in public. Good stuff! It does raise a great new topic for future blogs. Theoden has been mostly writing about running which is the focus on his blog and terrific. But in addition to Chris, there are a ton of really great TRI resources in Charlotte. I have just recently started to learn about some of the options available and I am sure others have too. While the TRI community is very well aware of all the excellent professional services, I have lived in this area 10+ years and have only within the past year realized how significant and successful the tri community is here in town. I aspire to dabble on the tri side and welcome any information to continue to allow me to make informed decisions based on a number of different options.
-- Aaron Linz

Anonymous said...

Please remove the comment for Anonymous 1. Chris is a great athlete with tons of potential and knowledge, all the best to you Chris and out of haste I posted that. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I think Chris nailed everything very well in his answers to the questions and in his comments above. Way to take the high road Chris and not let nay sayers get to you. I can't wait to see what 2010 holds for Chris in all three sports (running, duo's and tri's). Great things I am confident.

- Mark H.

lauren said...

there are a LOT of good tri resources (people especially) in the charlotte area. that's how i got sucked in as a novice last year... totally worth it.

chris may not be the MOST experienced, but neither are anonymous 1 & 2, who i am likely friends with. always someone out there that knows more than you do.

but chris knows A LOT, and i'm grateful he's sharing what he does know with us! i admire your dedication and willingness to learn, chris.

theoden, i believe there's a setting that would negate anonymous comments... could be worth looking into.

anonymous 1 & 2, if we are friends, you know i love you. and you must also know find your anonymity cowardly.

peace, lau.

James said...

As far as Inside Out Sports goes (and its employees), there's no way anybody other than Bob and Sharon have been 'competing' in Triathlons longer than Chris has been alive.

But I could be wrong.

I look forward to racing against you in triathlons Chris. Just don't race AG.

Allen said...

Always up for a good debate. Love it. L*O*V*E* it. I feel the need to put my 2 cents in. I know virtually nothing about triathloning. Triathleting? Trying? I know just a little about 1 of the 3 disciplines. But I have been around long enough to know a little about human nature so I just wanted to say the following. I would bet a large sum of money, a VERY LARGE sum of money that Chris Lamperski would, in a foot race, completely annihilate the anonymous who called him an inconsistent runner. Feel free to prove me wrong anonymous. That's all. Everybody have a nice day.

PS - Chris, are you sure you're not running Shamrock? I need more inconsistent runners like you on my team! Any other inconsistent sub-2:40 marathoners out there who want to be on our team?

ScottM said...

As someone who just signed up for their first triathlon, I really enjoyed the interview/article. Additionally, if Chris is undedicated and inconsistent and clocks 31-minute 10k's then I'd like to be undedicated and inconsistant as well! Where do I sign up?


Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to this discussion, but after hearing about it, I'd just like to say this: doubters can be great motivators. One of the best motivators in my running career was a coach who told me in person that I wasn't good enough to run for his team. I went to a different school. Three years later we ran against them head to head and I beat his prized recruit. It was a wonderful feeling. I wish Chris the best in his personal training and in coaching. None of us would be where we are if we let this kind of stuff bring us down.


Marcus Barton said...

Very late comment on my part. As an amateur triathlete, I can say that some of my fellow triathletes can be the most critical people with the biggest egos imaginable. It's usually those egos talking when negativity comes out like this.

However, for all you beginners or folks thinking about tackling a triathlon, let me be the first to say that if *I* can do it, anyone can. I'm usually not the fastest amateur out there, but I'm not the slowest. When I was first getting started, I wanted to learn from folks with my perspective: "What was it like to first get started". I didn't want to hear from the pros, because that seemed so unattainable. I most certainly didn't want to hear from the "holier than thou elitist wannabe" that spouted about how much better, how much faster, how much more experience and how much more wattage that he could crank out. Instead, I wanted to hear from someone who had recently started and had the initial hurdles figured out.

Here's where I think Chris is: he's done enough triathlons to figure the initial things out (that's apparent from his results). He's very approachable and quick to help in any way he can. Unlike other triathletes in his position (or better), he doesn't look down his nose upon you because you don't know what wattage means or because you wear socks in your bike shoes.

I think you picked the perfect person, Theoden. Great article.