What craziness could have possibly possessed me to start training for a triathlon at the age of 43? If you know me then you know that I’ve been a fitness fanatic for many years. While younger I preferred to play team sports (football (soccer), basketball etc) as I grew older I started focusing more on weight training and doing things on my own. I like the freedom and control of what, when and where. I’m a master of my own fate, with all the flaws and issues that come with it.
Over the past few years, I built a decent home gym that contains most of the equipment I need to be train. Squat rack, bars and plates, dumbbells, platforms, pull up bars etc. Training has been good with a steady progress and I’ve managed to hit some good numbers across most of the major lift. Nonetheless, there is only so much you can achieve with training for 1hr, 3-4 days a week. My goal has always been to be fit and healthy to enjoy life. I’ve never idolized size or the strength that comes with it. Functional strength and flexibility do real-world activities without running out of breath is nice. Also, working out allowed me to be more liberal with my diet and eat “unhealthy” sometimes - as to enjoy life. I mean, I’d love visible abs and a 6-pack like everyone else but
- Sustaining a < 10% body fat in real world is hard / unreasonable
- I like my food
- I have too much hair to even show a six pack, LOL
Ok.. enough with weight training, although if you are curious and want to discuss, hit me up
Why triathlons then?
Back to my original question… how did I get here? Last summer (Jul ’21) in the middle of the COVID pandemic I picked up David Goggin’s book - Can’t Hurt Me. David is an insane person and his book is definitely worth the read. He’s incredibly motivational and inspiring although some (many) of his methods are extreme and dangerous (please seek advice from your physician and trainer if you’re going to embark in David-style training - seriously). Regardless of methodology, the book offer some great gems of wisdom and it spoke to me. So much so that before I even finished the book, I signed up for a triathlon!!! At least I talked myself out of an IronMan because that would have been crazy :) A triathlon was something totally out of my comfort zone. I’ve done weight training for the past 15 years with very little cardio, apart from the occasional weighted HIIT. So this was an opportunity to reinvent myself, find my limits and push past them. I chose something that was within my grasp yet far enough and challenging to make me (and my family) question my life choices - LOL
What is a triathlon
A triathlon (as the name indicates - if you’re Greek then you know what I’m talking about) is 3 sports in one all happening sequentially on the same day:
Depending on the event, the distance for each differs. And if you’re ready for a bigger challenge, then you can graduate to a half or full IronMan.
Did I mention that I hate(d) all of the above sports? Yes, I hate running with a vengeance and yet if you ask me today to go for an 8mi run, I can do it without an issue. I also sucked at swimming because I didn’t know how to swim. Swim lessons are your friend no matter your ability. Swimming is absolutely awesome once you’re comfortable in the water. I went from barely being able to do one length in the pool without running out of breath and feeling like I did a 100m sprint to being able to swim 2500m in open water unbroken or racing for 1mi. Cycling - I hadn’t been on a bike since 2007 and I didn’t even own a bike before starting triathlon training. I can now put 50-60mi where I can average 20-22mph and still be able to go for a run right after it.
Training / Coaching
I made the best decision of my life to hire a coach - my coach is Paul Rakness and he's simply awesome. I wanted a certified and successful coach to guide me through the experience. Yes, I could have done it myself. There are plenty of programs available online but for me my coach has been invaluable on this journey. Besides scheduling everything for me and touching base regularly on how I’m doing, we continuously adjust and adapt my program to fit my work and family needs. So if I’m too busy with work one day or I have to skip a workout due to traveling or illness, he adjust my schedule so that I can hit my milestones. Paul is a fantastic coach not so much for the programming (although he’s ace at that too) but because he takes the uttermost care to keep me healthy and fit to continue my training. This is vitally important because it’s easy to go too hard and too fast and injure yourself, especially if you’re old like me. At 43 I’m feeling that my recovery has slowed down and progress is slower. In the past 10 months, despite Paul’s best efforts, I did hit a few health snags that required an MRI, two specialist visits and multiple physiotherapist sessions to nurture me back to health. This meant that Paul had to work around my physical limitation and keep me on track despite the fact that I couldn’t run for an extended period of time. It’s also worth mentioning that Paul really “hates” me and sometime I can tell based on my workouts. Like - this guy really wants to kill me!!! If you’ve done an FTP, then you know what I’m talking about. Joking aside, he’s helped me push myself while being supporting and encouraging every step of the way :D
My coach has also been an important advisor when it comes to nutrition and equipment - because both can be expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing. More on this in a bit. In any case, if you plan on starting Triathlon training (or any other sport) get a qualified coach, it will be the best money you spend.
In addition, paying for training creates accountability which itself enforces consistency. Finally, there is a second element of accountability: reporting. Everything I do gets recorded and reviewed by Paul. Therefore, if I miss a session there better be a good excuse!! More than money, knowing that Paul expects me to hit certain goals means forces me to stay on track. It sounds funny but I don’t want to disappoint my coach or myself and this is a great incentive…
Paul, when you read this, now that I’m extremely grateful for having you by my side along the way and for helping me get closer to my true potential. I would’t be here without you!
No matter what sport you choose to participate in, you have to spend some money. Now imagine signing up for 3 sports at once! I’m lucky my wife hasn’t divorced me yet with all the new equipment I had to buy. I will explain my approach below but everyone’s different. At minimum you need a bike (any bike - although a good bike does make a difference), running shoes and a swim suit. Let’s break it down:
I bought a second hand Specialized gravel bike for my triathlons. I then put some intermediate tubeless tires (big mistake) and power pedals. Before spending serious time on the bike, I also got a bike fit. There are specific shops that can fit the bike to your body type and needs. I spent nearly 4hrs finding the right saddle as well as repositioning everything to fit my body and style of cycling. Again, if you are serious about this, I would highly recommend getting your bike fitted. Solid advise from Paul. I also bought a Wahoo Element bike computer to track my cycling when outdoors. However, 90% of my training has been indoors, spent on a bike trainer, the Wahoo Kickr. Why? Because I live in the PNW where the weather is awful for the majority of the year and having a trainer allows me to be more flexible with my schedule. I can wake up at 5.30am and hit my workout from the comfort of my garage. No rain, no cold, no special lights, no danger getting hit by cars etc etc. A trainer also allows me to work off the raw power output (Watts) and target my workouts on specific targets to build stamina and strength. Without power pedals (which I had to hold off buying for nearly 9 moths) a trainer is perfect. It is a costly investment but totally worth it, especially if you don’t get nice weather or have nice bike tracks where you live. There is an associated cost for Zwift which is the app that allows you to virtually cycle anywhere in the world and connects with the bike trainer to adjust resistance based on altitude etc. Again, I happily pay for this for the convenience and safety that it offers. Finally you need clothes. You know, the cycling, lycra type ones that are super tight and less flattering. But they come with padding and help with absorbing sweat with clever pockets to put phones and nutrition so, highly worth the investment. There is a price range and you need to find the ones that fit you best and make you feel comfortable on the bike. And let’s not forget the shoes - the ones that clip on the pedals. I tried several pairs and since I have wide feet it took a bit of research. I spent the first 9 months with numb feet on the bike. I pushed through it thinking it’s fine until my first race T-run ( a transition run from the bike to the run) where I could barely run because I couldn’t feel my feet. Stupidity comes at a price. I exchanged them the next day for a pair that actually fits my feet.
Running is much easier. All you need is a good pair of shoes and some comfortable clothing. But you also need something to track your runs and your fitness. My shoes are Nike. I’m a Nike person and no matter what else I try, I always come back to Nike because I’m either used to them or they fit me the best. In any case, I run best on Nikes. For tracking my runs and fitness, I went with the Wahoo Rival watch. I finally ditched my Apple Watch after 5 years of dutiful service. The Wahoo watch is great. Price wise comes at mid-range (when compared to the high-end Garmin ones for example) at $329 and can track Triathlon activities, including races. And even though it’s optimized for Triathlons it works for most other sports as well and has a great companion phone app. It provides enough smart elements to allow me to stay connected with my phone as well through txt messages and phone calls - which is really all I want from my watch anyway. I also picked up the Wahoo Tickr HR monitor from Wahoo as the watch is not perfect at tracking my HR and when I’m on the bike trainer I don’t use my watch (double tracking) so I needed a way to reliably and consistently track my HR. I also sweat a lot so I got a head band (like Rambo) to keep the sweat from getting into my eyes. I look silly but I don’t really care about appearances anyway :) For longer runs, I have a water bladder in a backpack to keep me hydrated as I run hot and I need water and electrolytes
Swimsuit, googles and a gym with a pool (or your own pool if you’re wealthy). Speedo seems to be the de facto one for swimsuits so I got that. For goggles, I started with off the shelf stuff but I now love my Magic5 which are built around your face. I just ordered a second pair since I lost mine after my last race :( . Most of my workouts take place in the pool, either solo or with my team. However, endless hours in the pool cannot replace OWS (open water swims). I hated swimming and I hated deep water. I had a fear of the unknown and not being able to see what’s below me. I grew up swimming in Greece where most of the beaches have crystal clear water. As soon as I lose that I literally panic and swim back to the safety of the clear water. Fear of the unknown is also accentuated by the lack of skill. I mean, if I can barely do a length (25m) in the pool without running out of breath, how the hell can I feel comfortable swimming in open water - ALONE???
My first open water experience was 1 month into my training with my coach. We were supposed to do 400m in one of the nearby lakes in early October. I accepted the invite because there is no way I can say NO to Paul! We arrived at 8am, I put my wetsuit on and got in the (cold) water. The wet suit, which I was wearing for the first time in my life BTW, did a great job job in keeping me from going hypothermic but, on the inside, I was freaking out. As soon as I got submerged, I started hyperventilating, I couldn’t see a foot ahead of me, it was dark, rainy and cold. Further more, I didn’t know how to do sighting (watch where you're going) and I could barely swim. As you can imagine, this went great!!! LOL Fast forward 7 months and I can now jump in any lake (yes any lake) and swim a mile comfortably on my own. I do have an inflatable buoy with I attach to my waste and drag behind me, in case I get a cramp or I need a break. For reference, I’ve only used it once to stop and adjust my goggle. A 1500m OWS is now pretty standard and I feel that I can hit much longer distances with ease. I’m still working on improving my form and getting better and more efficient but based on my last two races, apparently the swim is my strongest suit even at this shitty, less efficient form. Back to the equipment bit, you need a wetsuit (I was lucky to get a good second hand one) and a buoy if you plan on doing OWS regularly on your own.
Joining an IM/Triathlon team
Initially I wasn't convinced but after a bit of persuasion from my coach, I decided to join my local team (PR Performance). The team consists of some amazing coaches and athletes all focused on similar goals so it’s a great place to be. The team does many activities together, including organized swims and running track workouts. When time permits it, I try to join these as I get invaluable advice and new challenges to help me improve my fitness level and form in these sports. In addition, as a team we get discounts for gear from major IM brands so every little helps. Finally, it’s not uncommon for many team mates to show up at the same event which I find nice as I have a familiar face to talk to. After being with the team for 10months, I could recommend that you join a team as well, if that’s something available to you. Optional, but highly beneficial.
Nutrition and diet
An average workout burns about 1000 calories! I haven’t been extremely careful with my diet. I haven’t counted calories, micro or macro nutrients and yet, it’s the first time in my life I feel and look better. My weight has dropped down a bit (and could drop even further if I focused on my diet) but at the same time, I haven’t had to sacrifice anything and I can eat whatever the rest of the family eats. Carbs are super important and has been a big focus during my training and races. This is great because every other diet hates carbs and overindexes on protein and fats. For the past 10 months even been eating normally and I feel great. During training, I have to consume carbs so energy gels, bananas and bars are always in my fitness pantry. The problem is that it gets expensive quickly so you have to find the stuff that works for you and buy in bulk to save money. Another important thing you need in your diet is electrolytes and salt (tablets). Drinking plain water won’t cut it so you need to also invest in decent electrolytes and salt tablets to ensure that you stay at peak performance throughout the workout or the race. Talking about racing, nutrition is a bit of a thorny subject for me since I cannot intake all the food I need. Pre-race I only have some light solid carbs to get my digestive system working and ensure I have a #2 before I leave the house. This works great. But once at the race ground and during the race, I struggle to intake enough food as I’m so focused on the race and my stomach can’t tolerate much food especially since everything is SO SWEET. I need something with blunt taste that I can down easily and I’m still searching for it! This is something I definitely need to work on.
I signed up for a Tri race without knowing what to expect. Lake Whatcom did not disappoint! After putting the work for 10 months, I was able to complete my first Olympic Triathlon in 3hrs and 11mins based on my watch and I’m still waiting on the official race results. I went from not being able to do any of the 3 sports well (or at all) to competing with 100s of other people, but mostly competing against myself. I didn’t finish top at the event or my age group this time around, but it was a major accomplishment to be able to race without suffering any major injuries or a DNF (Did Not Finish). I learned some important lessons about what we need to do in my training going forward to improve overall and I had a lot of fun pushing myself. Taking inspiration for David Goggins (what started all this) I was able to overcome physical and mental obstacles to finish strong! This was my 2nd Triathlon, with Lake Wilderness being my first, albeit a Sprint one and the 3 competitive event overall. I did run my very first half-marathon in March. A lot of firsts this year. A lot of opportunities to learn, grow and improve.
Triathlons are very different! In comparison to my weight lifting training, I always feel great after my triathlon workouts. I rarely feel in pain (unless injured) and I can spend the rest of my day being productive instead of having sore, broken muscles from lifting heavy things. After 10 months of consistent training, I have to admit that I enjoy this type of workout over anything else - to the point that I’m selling off all my old gym equipment. If you’re near Sammamish, WA and want to do a local pickup, let me know and I can send you a list of all my immaculate gym equipment that is sitting idle in my garage feeling unloved :D. This was the “little” bit. It takes a lot of consistency and effort. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been training 6 days a week for 10 months non stop. OK, Paul will say that Training Peaks says otherwise and I will agree that I have been known to miss a day here and there, but for the majority of time I try really hard to stick to my schedule, with all the changes and tweaks that real life dictates.
I need to get better at working out early in the morning. Early mornings during the summer are easier but getting up at 5.30am on a cold winter’s day is somehow infinitely more challenging. I would say that for the majority of my workouts, I manage to do them before 5pm and I rarely workout after 8pm as it’s not good for my body. Running and cycling are easier as I can do them at home or near my house but driving to the pool is what kills me. I think I need a pool in my back yard….LOL
I'm always wet!! I sweat too much during my workouts, I’m in the water swimming or I'm taking yet another shower - some days have double workouts. There are gym clothes hanging to dry ALL THE TIME, but at least I don’t burden my wife with this task. She’s already tolerating too much of me and my hobbies
It’s an expensive sport, despite my coach claiming I have spent the least amount of money of anyone that he knows in this sport. If you’re clever you can save some money by getting second half stuff but certain things you need to buy new. Like a decent bike etc etc. Start small and build up. This is what I’ve been doing in the past year but I would say overall I’ve spent around $5-6k so far. Next year I’ll probably spend more as I need to get a better bike
Family support is extremely important. It’s hard enough to have to fight with yourself for motivation. It’s much harder having to fight with family for the time needed for all this. Training for a triathlon requires a lot of hours away from family. This is another reason why early morning workouts are great - you don’t have to sacrifice time with family.
I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am today without the unending support and understanding of my family. My wife, beyond not complaining about all the new gear I had to buy, has been incredibly supportive of my goals and has been there with me every step of the way. If there is something I look forward to at every race is seeing my wife and kids waiting for me at the finish line. No medals or recognition can beat that - a massive thank you and all my love to my wife and kids for believing in me!
Looking into the future, I definitely want to get better at competing in Triathlons and eventually move up to a half-Ironman, assuming my body is aligned to my plans. If you've made it this far, I hope you enjoyed reading this and that it will inspire you to pick your own challenges (mental or physical) to get you out of your comfort zone and push you beyond what you thought was ever possible. And don't forget to have fun while doing it!