The Iron Partner

There is an oft-forgotten hero in many Ironman sagas.

This person sacrifices movie nights, relaxed weekend brunches, and any hope of having dinner made for them without any of the social media bragging rights that come with long training rides and hard runs.  They give up a normal life for months, all culminating in a day that is nearly as hard as an Ironman race, but without any of the glory or accolades that come from being pronounced an Ironman.  They make all these sacrifices with no prospect of personal gain and for the sole purpose of seeing someone that they cares about achieve a personal milestone.

This person is the Iron Partner.

These Iron Partners often do not receive nearly enough credit in the triathlon world.  For every Ironman, there is someone who helped make it happen, whether that be a significant other, a parent, a child, a roommate, or a close friend.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.  And tensions can sometimes run high during peak weeks.  There’s a joke in long distance triathlon that if you’re still married at the end of your training cycle, you didn’t train hard enough.  Relationships have ended over triathlon, which goes to show you just how hard Ironman training can be on the would-be Ironman’s closest supporters.

For the Ironman—Make time for your support system.  Be willing to inconvenience yourself to participate in things that matter to members of your support system.  You are busy training, but make an effort to carve out time for your loved one(s).  For me, this has meant doing things like skipping church one Sunday to go see a movie with Rob or taking him out to breakfast that one time I didn’t have a long ride or run on a weekend morning.  He’s making a lot of sacrifices for me without asking for anything in return, so I’ve tried to make sure I don’t totally neglect him.

For the Iron Partner—Be honest about your needs.  There is a lot of power in the words, “This is really important to me.”  These words should neither be avoided nor overused.  A few weeks ago, I was stressing over a wedding in Rob’s family that I was going to have to go to.  Rob saw I was stressed and told me I didn’t need to go… it wasn’t that important to him.  So I stayed home that evening instead (and I needed it!).  When he says that something is important to him (or, more likely, when I know it’s important even though he hasn’t said it outright), I make an effort to be there for him.

For the Ironman—Give your partner time to shine.  Don’t put your support system in the position of constantly supporting your goals.  If that means not doing an Ironman every year or only doing one Ironman, then so be it.  It’s different for every relationship, and there aren’t hard-and-fast rules.  But if you look back over the past 2-3 years and see that you have not been an equal partner for most of it, you might have a problem.

For the Iron Partner—Don’t pick up big, hairy goals during the Ironman training cycle.  This is dependent on the tip for the Ironman above.  If your Ironman is not constantly enmeshed in an intense, life-consuming training cycle, then time your own big goals so that they don’t conflict with your Ironman’s training.  For instance, now would not be the time for Rob to apply to grad school or move to a new state.  This kind of scheduling isn’t always possible, but if those types of things are on the table, I think it’s best to wait a bit so that your Ironman can take a turn offering you the support you need.

For the Ironman—Try not to be too crazy.  I know it’s hard.  I know Ironman consumes your life.  But set some boundaries for yourself.  This has the added benefit of letting your support system know what to expect.  For instance, try to take at least one evening off a week.  Or set a limit as to how early you will wake up (mine is 4:00am for training… I refuse to set my alarm earlier than that unless I’m racing).  Or set up other boundaries.  Whatever works for your situation.

For the Iron Partner—Try to adapt to your Ironman’s schedule.  Well, somewhat.  You don’t need to get up at 4:00am.  But recently, Rob shifted a bit closer to my schedule and started cycling in the mornings.  Even though we don’t live together, this has still been really helpful.  We typically eat dinner and spend the evening together, so now that he goes to bed earlier, he tends to be ready for dinner around the same time I am (i.e. early).  I can go over to his place early on a weekend and enjoy some coffee with him on the porch before heading off on my long ride.  He goes to bed not long after I leave in the evening, so he’s not spending evenings alone with nothing to do.

For the Ironman—Realize when you are being ridiculous. For me, it was when I decided I just wasn’t going to eat dinner because I didn’t think salad (the menu item for the night) had enough calories, I was too tired to make something for myself, and I didn’t feel like eating “snacks,” as I put it.  The second I started saying these things, it hit me that it was completely over-the-top and ridiculous.  And I apologized profusely and made fun of myself mid-breakdown.  This kept the situation from actually getting heated.  I was hangry, I knew I was hangry, and Rob knew I knew I was hangry.

For the Iron Partner—Let your partner be ridiculous (sometimes).  I mean, obviously, if I were having breakdowns over dinner every day, there would be a problem.  But in this case, Rob could tell I was tired and worn down and overwhelmed, even if I wasn’t quite able to articulate that.  So, he finished eating his salad and then just went out and bought me KFC (I had been craving fried chicken for months).  This little gesture made my day and clearly meant a lot to me since I’m still mentioning it now.  Which leads me to…

For the Ironman—Be grateful.  Don’t forget the sacrifices that your support system is making to help make it easier for you to achieve this dream of yours.

For the Iron Partner—Be patient.  Your would-be Ironman is tired and exhausted and likely not always thinking clearly (see above).  If they were a kind, considerate partner before Ironman training, be willing to forgive a few peak week snafus.

Training for an Ironman isn’t easy.  And supporting someone who is training for an Ironman isn’t always easy either.  I’m lucky that Rob is supportive and is totally on board with the whole Ironman thing (though he has said wistfully, “I can’t wait until this is over…” several times).  Though there have been moments of tension (usually stemming from my tendency to catastrophize when I’m tired or overwhelmed), it’s mostly been smooth sailing… which is mostly due to Rob’s patience and understanding.

So here’s to Iron Partners everywhere, and here’s to mine!

IronPartner

 

Advertisements

Heat acclimation

It’s summer, and that means dealing with the heat.  When it comes to avoiding the heat, runners have it easy compared to triathletes.  Races can be started early in the morning, and longer races (like marathons) tend to be held in the spring or fall and not in the hottest months of the year.

Because of a little thing called “the swim,” however, triathlons, are typically held in those hot months to ensure that the bodies of open water are not too cold to swim in.  Additionally, triathlons are typically longer than running events with the sprints lasting from 1-1.5 hours (compared to a 5k which will typically last between 20-30 minutes).  Because the run is at the end of the triathlon, triathletes typically run later in the day than runners.  The end result is that when triathletes are competing in the run, it tends to be quite a bit warmer than when runners are competing in running races of similar distances.

One of the first things I did when it started heating up in Salt Lake City was look up the historical average high temperature in Coeur d’Alene on August 21st.  The average was 83° which was better than I was expecting, but, of course, that’s only the average.  It could be much higher.  Last year, it was well over 100° in June.

Because I know I’m likely going to be running a marathon in over 80°, I know I need to get used to running in the heat.  So I’ve been doing my best to embrace afternoon workouts.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to do runs in the afternoon instead of carefully crafting my schedule to avoid all evening runs (which I’ve definitely done in the past).  We’ve been going through a hot spell in Salt Lake City, so I’ve had some runs in the upper 80s and one in the upper 90s so far.  In addition to my runs, I’ve been cycling in some warm weather as well.  That just doesn’t stand out as much because cycling in the heat is much more pleasant than running in the heat.

Hot
It’s been hot here…

Really, all I knew about heat acclimation was “Run in heat.  Get used to heat.”  So I wanted to do a little research and learn more about it (in other words, make sure I’m doing it right).  It turns out that “Run in heat.  Get used to heat” covers the basics pretty well.  However, I found some interesting more scientific explanations and advice in this article: Consensus recommendations on training and competing in the heat

Essentially, when you exercise in the heat, your body adapts, and its cooling mechanisms become more efficient.  Your body becomes more efficient at sweating (in other words, you learn to sweat more).   The blood flow to your skin increases which allows your body to release more heat (basically, your hot blood gets pumped to your skin where it can lose some of its heat).  You begin to maintain a more efficient fluid-to-electrolyte balance.  All these things help you perform better in the heat.  Of course, when I’ve been acclimating to the heat, I haven’t noticed any of these adaptations particularly (except maybe the sweat one…), but I have noticed that I feel more comfortable in the heat than I did three weeks ago, and it doesn’t sap my energy to step outside like it did when the temperature first spiked.

I was surprised when I read just how quickly heat acclimation happens.  Athletes can gain benefits of heat acclimation within six days, and it usually only takes a few weeks of daily exposure to reap the full benefits.  While this theoretically means I could avoid afternoon runs for another few weeks, I’d rather play it on the safe side.  I’m not exercising in the heat every single day, and adaptation doesn’t occur as quickly when you are not out in the heat each day.

Really, heat acclimation is pretty simple.  Is it hot outside?  Then go for a run/bike ride/whatever!  While the article I read specifically lists certain durations, frequencies, and intensities of the workouts in certain studies on heat acclimation, it also stated clearly that continuing your regular exercise regimen (but in the heat) is an effective way to acclimate to hot weather.  Ultimately, the effectiveness of heat acclimation depends on how often you exercise in the heat, how long your sessions are, and how intense the workouts are.  Personally, I’ve been electing to limit my hot runs to short-to-medium length runs of moderate intensity.  I do longer and more intense bike rides in the heat.  It’s a little more complicated if you are training for a competition in a climate that is much hotter than the climate in which you are training.  However, if you find yourself in this position, creating hot conditions indoors can serve as a reasonable substitute for exercising in the heat outdoors.

One important point to keep in mind as you begin acclimating to the heat is hydration.  You will be sweating more.  You will need more water.  Strangely, there isn’t a consensus as to when dehydration while exercising starts to affect your performance.  The studies don’t agree.  Some say that losing as little as 2% of your body weight in water is enough to limit your performance.  Others have found that losing up to 4% of your body weight in water still doesn’t negatively affect performance.  However, regardless of exactly how much water you consume while exercising (whether that be “some” or “a lot”), it’s important to start your exercise fully hydrated.  So drink during the day.  Drink water with your meals.  Make sure that you are hydrated going into your hot workouts because that’s probably more effective than trying to reach a fully hydrated state during your hot workouts.

I’m not an expert on heat acclimation, of course.  I’ve been working on acclimating myself and I’ve done some reading on the topic.  If you’d like to read more, I’d suggest starting with the article I posted earlier.  It’s peer-reviewed and discusses a lot of the current research on the topic and covers some of the controversy and disagreement among researchers as well.  Although many of the studies it references are not free online, some are and others have a free abstract online.

(Also, just an extra pro-tip: If you really want to get used to suffering in hot weather, just get a really old car without a working AC and drive home for thirty minutes every day in 90° weather.  Suddenly, 80° will feel refreshing!)

Car

 

Quitting right.

I quit two workouts this week.

I planned for them, got dressed for them, traveled to the appropriate location, and started them only to quit partway through.  This is an anomaly for me and my borderline-obsessive need to follow my training plan.

On Tuesday, I was going to do a speed workout—eight 800s.  Since it was a warmer day (40°) and had rained a decent amount the night before, I hoped the snow on the high school tracks in the area would have melted.  For some reason, I decided to go by optimism instead of common sense, so after work, I headed to a high school track instead of the local indoor track.  After arriving at the school, I walked up to the track and saw it covered in a blanket of pristine snow.

Crap.

TrackSnow
In case you are wondering, that strip with melted snow that looks pretty okay to run on is not the track.  Much to my disappointment, it was a little strip of concrete inside the track.

Not one to be deterred by good decision making, I bullheadedly decided to do the workout anyway.  After all, there couldn’t be more than an inch or two of snow on the track.   So I started jogging my warmup.  And the snow was deeper than I expected.  It must have been at least four inches deep on the backstretch of the track.  I started readjusting my paces in my head.  There’s no way I’ll hit 3:20s in this snow, but maybe I can hit 3:30s. During my second warmup lap, I tried to step outside my previous footprints so I could clear pack down as much snow as possible.  And then, as I was finishing up my second lap, my thinking changed. This is actually just stupid.  I don’t want to be here.  I’m going home. So I finished up that lap, packed up my stuff, and drove home.  I briefly considered saying “screw it” to any sort of workout, but on the drive home, I decided to do the five mile tempo run I had scheduled that week instead.  I ended up having a very successful and encouraging run.

On Friday, I woke up to some wet snow on the ground and more coming down.  I drove to the pool, fully prepared to do whatever workout the masters coach had planned for us, despite being somewhat worried about the roads and traffic I’d face on my way to work afterwards.  In the locker room, I heard rumors that the roads and snow were worse further south (i.e. where I would be driving to get to work).  And then, the coach was a no-show!  I felt the already-wavering motivation drain out of my body.  My lane-mate and I did the typical warmup and then decided on starting our workout with five 100s.  As I was finishing up those 100s, I thought about the snow, the traffic, and the fact that I could get out on the roads 15-30 minutes earlier if I cut the workout short (and those are a big 15-30 minutes, traffic-wise).  So after the 100s, I apologized to my lane-mate for quitting on her but explained I wanted to avoid any problems on my commute because of the weather and stupid drivers.  And then I hopped out and added another quit-workout to the books for the week.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realize I had quit two workouts in a single week, which is really almost unheard of for me.  And yet, despite that, my obsessive self didn’t feel even a tiny bit of guilt for doing so (okay, maybe I felt a teeny-tiny bit for the swimming one).  I thought about why I didn’t feel guilt for that when I had to convince myself to have an unplanned rest day when I was struggling with a bad cold just a week before.  And I think it’s because of how I quit.  I quit right, if I do say so myself.

I should note that I don’t always quit right.  A couple months ago during a morning at the pool, I mentally quit on a set.  I finished it, but I took it easy for no other reason than mentally giving up.  Last winter, I spent a lot of time skipping workouts and never getting around to things I planned on.  I just didn’t get out the door.  These are the kinds of experiences that I regret, even if it’s just for a day or two.  I spent some time thinking about what was different between those two different types of scenarios, and I came up with a “rule” about quitting and skipping workouts.

Make a decision.  Know why you are making that decision.  Own your decision.

It’s so easy to not make a decision about mentally quitting a workout or skipping a workout.  I think that’s why people so often advise you to go start a workout and leave if you aren’t feeling well.  Once you are at your workout destination, leaving forces you to actively make a decision instead of just falling into the same situation after answering “yes” to Netflix’s infamous “Are you still watching?” question one too many times.  It’s easy to just procrastinate on whatever your workout for that day might be.  It gets harder and harder to leave, and then suddenly, it’s dusk and you don’t want to bother finding the lights for your bike.  Or you’re doing mile repeats, you’re tired, and on the final repeat, you just cruise through the middle half-mile when your legs start to burn and finish 10 seconds over your goal pace.

Neither of those situations is inherently bad.  It’s not bad to skip a workout or miss your pace.  It’s not even bad to cruise for the last repeat when you really could have hit the pace if you had run harder.  I just think it’s best if those skipped workouts are decisions instead of non-decisions.  Know why you are quitting a workout, skipping a workout, or taking it easy.  For instance, when I quit my track workout, it was because the track was covered with snow and I wouldn’t have gotten a quality workout.  I could have driven to the indoor track and done my repeats there, so I also quit because I was tired and didn’t want to be out that late when I hadn’t been planning on it.  And that’s okay.  A few weeks ago, I did some 1600 repeats on a treadmill.  I did them slower than my previous speed work predicted, and I knew afterwards that I could have managed to run them faster.  I decided to set the treadmill pace conservatively because I was still new to treadmill speed work and I knew I’d be racing a 5k two days later.

I also want to add that sickness, injury, and tapering are not the only “right” reasons to take it easy or skip a workout altogether.  The right reason is whatever you decide on—just be honest with yourself about those reasons.  If you are feeling mentally burned out and you know that taking an easy weekend will help, then, by all means, do it!  If a social opportunity comes up and you would rather see that friend or watch that movie than go for your after-work run, then skipping it very well might be the right decision.  But after you make that decision, own it.

“I was supposed to do twelve 400s, but I did ten.  It was later than I thought, I was tired and hungry, and I wanted to get back in time to watch Supernatural.  So now I’m going to sit down and watch TV guilt-free.”

“I was going to go for a run after work, but that cute guy just texted me and asked me out for drinks.  So I’m going to do that instead.  That is definitely the right decision here.”

CouchSlug
Sometimes, this is more important than working out.

I’ve found that actively making a decision (whether it’s related to working out or not) makes it easier to own that decision and deal with the consequences.  You can approach whatever path you take with gusto, whether that’s finishing up your last few reps or going home to ice and spend time with your cat.  If you do feel like you made the wrong decision later, you know what to do differently when you find yourself facing a similar decision sometime in the future.

I know most of the actual examples I’ve mentioned involve someone quitting or skipping their workout.  However, I’ve found that if I practice making the decision instead of just falling into the decision, I typically don’t decide to quit.  Several weeks ago, I was sitting around avoiding a bike ride on a Sunday afternoon.  I thought about not going and considered why I would be skipping the workout.  The truth was, I was feeling more depressed than burned-out (the difference is subtle, but I can generally recognize it).  I went out on the ride and felt much better when I came back.  Even last week as I prepared to go to the indoor track on Thursday morning to do the speed work I skipped on Tuesday, I didn’t want to go.  I did some mental fishing for a good reason to skip, and there wasn’t one other than knowing the workout would be hard and would make me really tired.  So I went.  And the workout went surprisingly well.  When I know in advance that I will need to own the decision I make, I’m much less likely to make a decision I feel bad about later.

One last benefit (for me, anyway) of actively making and owning decisions to skip or quit workouts is that it helps me recognize patterns.  After I realized that I had quit two workouts last week, I took a look at my attitude throughout the week and realized that I had wanted to quit more.  In fact, I had spent much of the week actively (but reluctantly) deciding to work out when I would have rather spent that time playing ChronoTrigger or watching Netflix.  Something felt off because, while I don’t typically look forward to hard runs, I don’t typically have a hard time motivating myself to do them.  I felt kind of burned out but didn’t quite know why.  It wasn’t a particularly hard week.  After I spent some time reflecting, I realized it was likely due to a plain ol’ lack of sleep.  The last few weeks have been full of earlier-than-usual mornings, but I haven’t been going to bed as early as I should to make up for that.  Sure enough, after sleeping in a bit over the weekend and making sure to get to bed early (like, before 9:00pm) on Sunday, I felt much better and much more motivated starting out this week.

Actively making the decision to work out or not work out kept me on track this week when my motivation was flagging.  It also allowed me to give myself a break when I needed it and encouraged me to recognize why I was struggling in the first place.  So if you find yourself floating through your schedule without actively making decisions, give it a shot.  You may give yourself a break from an overwhelming workout schedule.  Or you may end up getting up when you would have hit the snooze one more time.  But hopefully, your experience mirrors mine, and whatever decision you end up making will line with what you need much more than if you had made a non-decision instead.

Winter weather training tips

Winter arrived in Salt Lake City this past week.  Thus far, it’s been a mild fall and winter with no snow in the valley and temperatures remaining firmly in the 30s.  I still don’t have much to complain about in regards to winter weather, but snow (a little!) finally arrived last week, and there were a few days where the temperature never made it out of the 20s.  For the first time this year, I’ve really had to consider the weather when thinking about my workouts.  Last year, my winter was a little tragic in regards to working out.  I don’t want to repeat that performance this year, and with my Ironman next summer, I can’t afford to even if I wanted to.  Another important element to working out in winter (for me) is a complete distaste for working out inside.  Bike trainers or stationary bikes are miserable for me, and a treadmill is even worse.  So, like every blogger in the history of the world, I’ve got some winter training tips.  Specifically these are techniques that I’m using to keep myself swimming, cycling, and running throughout the winter and avoiding cycling and running inside as much as possible.  Keep in mind that these tips are fairly specific to my geographical area and personal preferences.  If you love the treadmill, you should run on the treadmill.  And if you live somewhere that experiences non-stop snow or sub-zero temperatures in the winter, this won’t be all that helpful either.  Winters in Salt Lake City can be cold and snowy, but not in the same way that, say, Massachusetts or Minnesota are.

1. Have a plan. This is where I messed up last year. I moved to Salt Lake at the beginning of December to begin a new job.  I was (understandably) overwhelmed and just trying to deal with all the changes I had made.  There was no plan to my workout schedule.  So I ended up running about 15 miles a week, cycling about three times total, and not swimming at all because I hadn’t found a gym yet.  It was really easy to put off any hard efforts because it was the off-season, after all.  If I had actually been serious about creating a plan and some goals for that time, I would have been better about working out.  My main goal/plan for this winter is pretty hefty (train for a marathon), but goals don’t have to be that intense.  One of my other plans this winter is to do some cycling every week.  I know if there is a very nasty week, I may only be able to do one short ride inside.  Other weeks, I may be able to do a few nice rides outside.  But knowing that I will ride my bike at least once a week will keep me from letting it slide for several weeks in a row.

2. Reduce volume. It is the off-season, after all. Rest is an important part of training, and I’d rather rest when the weather is awful and I don’t want to be outside anyway. While it’s important to keep active and not let your training slide (see the point above this one), I like taking winter a little easier.  Even though I’m training for a marathon this winter, I’ve only been training 5-7 hours a week compared to the 10-18 hours a week I’ll being doing once I start officially training for the Ironman.  I’m only working out once a day, and my Saturday mornings include a healthy mix of coffee, television, warm blankets, and a long run instead of 4-5 hour long bike rides starting at 6:00am.  I know that, so far, the reduction in volume I’ve had this winter is giving me a mental break that I really need before starting a tough training program in the spring.

3. Watch the weather like a hawk. This is kind of obvious, but it bears mentioning. I always check the weather as I’m making my tentative workout schedule on Saturday or Sunday.  If the weather is supposed to be very cold over the weekend, I’ll plan to get a longer bike ride in during the week.  If it’s supposed to be very cold during the week, I’ll plan to skip the weekday bike ride in favor of another day of Masters swim team.  And I watch the weather during the week, too.  If a predicted storm system moves up a day or two, I adjust my plans accordingly.  I do the same if its arrival is postponed.  I always have at least four cities in my weather app—Murray (where I live), Salt Lake City (where Rob lives), Lehi (where I work), and Nampa (where my family lives).  That way, I can always check the weather of the specific city where a particular workout will occur.

WeatherWatcher
Okay, so this is hardly winter weather.  I promise it was in the 20s a week ago!

4. Have a floating rest day. Even if you watch the weather, nothing is 100% predictable in the winter. Just last week, I wanted to go on a bike ride. The temperature wasn’t horribly cold, but the wind was cold and strong and shifted the conditions from “go for a short bike ride” to “stay inside and watch bad television.”  It wasn’t a huge deal because I had already been swimming that day.  But if I had been forced by the weather to take a rest day or work out inside when I had been counting on an outdoor ride, I would have been disappointed.  A floating rest day helps alleviate some of that pressure.  There’s two ways you can do this.  You can work in one non-negotiable rest day and then allow yourself one more “off” day if the weather doesn’t cooperate (if the weather does cooperate, you get a bonus workout!) or you can place your rest day towards the end of the week and allow yourself to take it earlier if you need to.  That’s what I do.  I typically take Friday as my rest day.  But if the weather is particularly bad any other day of the week, I can take that day off, completely guilt-free, and shift my workouts accordingly.  (Being a triathlete, I have a little bit of an advantage over pure runners or pure cyclists.  If the weather really is terrible, but I want to get a hard workout in without resorting to a treadmill or trainer, I can hit up the pool.)

5. Wear appropriate clothing. I mean, duh. But this is where I get to show off all my fun exercise clothes.* When it comes to working out, I run really warm.  During off-season winter practices in college, my coach was always trying to get me to put on some long pants because I’d get through the warm-up and then be in my shorts and t-shirt doing sprints in cold weather.  So keep that in mind while I discuss my typical clothing choices.  For running, my top of choice is a jacket from Costco.  Seriously.  It’s the Kirkland Signature™ Ladies’ Full Zip Active Yoga Jacket, and it’s great.  I love that it’s long and that the sleeves have a little cuff that can flip over and cover your hands.  I don’t run with gloves (it creates a weird sensation for me that I can’t handle), and I have long arms, so long sleeves (to cover my hands) are a must for me.  I used to run in sweatshirts that were too big for me so I could pull the sleeves down.  Now I just wear this, by itself if the temperatures are in the 30s and with a second layer if it’s colder.  I don’t wear anything fancy on my lower half.  I wear my cycling tights with the option of adding another pair of running tights or a pair of regular sweats on top.  I double up on socks for my feet and use my cycling headband to keep my ears warm.

12276790_1707013276177086_1308964446_n
My classic running garb.

Cycling in cold weather is a little more complicated.  My most recent test was a short (and sunny and dry) 28° ride.  For a cold-weather jersey, I will sing the praises of the Castelli Gabba jersey until I take my last breath.  It’s wind-proof and water-resistant, and it’s amazing.  I was perfectly comfortable in just my Gabba jersey and my Craft base layer riding in 28°.  The real beauty of the Gabba, though, is its versatility.  I have worn the Gabba in temperatures up to 40° and have been comfortable.  When I hit those higher temperatures, I wear it by itself, open the side vents, and unzip it slightly.  It’s really expensive (I got mine as a gift), but since the technology has now been around a few years, other companies are coming out with their own versions of it that may be cheaper.

GabbaJersey
Castelli’s Gabba jersey
BaseLayer
My Craft base layer

My legs thus far have been fine with a pair of fleece-lined cycling tights over cycling shorts and knee warmers.  Again, when I wore this on my 28° ride, I felt comfortable and like I could have gone on a much longer ride and been fine.

TightsWarmers
Tights and knee-warmers.  Mine don’t have any high-tech windstopper material, but if they did, they would work in even colder weather.

Really, extremities are the hardest to properly protect in cold weather rides.  Your core and your legs warm up as you ride because of the effort you are exerting, but your head, feet, and hands don’t.  So far, I’ve only used a head band to keep my head warm, but in the future, I’ll probably some sort of full cap and something to keep my neck and face warmer.  Full disclosure: I will probably not buy these things.  I will probably borrow them from my boyfriend.

BeanieBeard
My boyfriend’s cycling beanie and neck/lower face warmer.  Apparently, the little puff ball on the hat sticks right up through your helmet and makes you look adorable/like a total dork.

My hands were fine with my winter gloves, but if I wanted to ride in much colder weather, I’d probably have to get lobster gloves.  Lobster gloves are pretty much cycling specific.  They put two fingers together in each finger-pocket (I honestly have no idea what word to use, but hopefully you understand what I mean) to help produce more warmth.  Full mittens would be warmer but are not realistic when you are cycling and need to shift gears and have some dexterity.

EarsGloves
My gloves and headband.  Headband is lined with a soft material and is super comfy.  Gloves are also very comfortable.

Toe covers for your shoes won’t cut it in the winter.  You pretty much need a full booties to ride long distances in the cold weather.  I will preface this by saying that I haven’t tried them yet, but I do have a pair of neoprene shoe covers that just arrived in the mail.  I’m waiting for a nasty day to try them out.  With a good pair of booties and a warm pair of wool socks, you should be set for some reasonably long rides in sub-30° weather without any issues.

ShoeCovers
My new shoe covers.  Hope they are as warm as the reviews say the are!

Winter here in Salt Lake has been quite mild so far, and because of that, I’ve been handling it like a champ.  I’ve only had to do one indoor workout (besides swimming) so far, and that was because of timing/logistics and not because of the weather.  The real test for me will come as the weather gets colder (and it likely will get colder in January and/or February) and I increase my training volume.

*No one paid me money or gave me anything to mention their gear.  It’s all just stuff that I use/love.

Triathlete on a Budget

I don’t know if you know this, but triathlon is expensive.  Like, stupid expensive.  And I’m kind of stingy frugal.  Not only that, but while I am forever thankful that I make enough money to live, save, and have a little fun, I’m hardly raking in the dough with my two literature degrees.  In fact, I’ve yet to break into the middle-class according to Business Insider.  These factors merge to create a situation where I am unable (or, rather, unwilling) to pay for some of the finer aspects of being a triathlete.  In other words, I’m a triathlete on a budget.

Currently, I fund my triathlon hobby on $100 a month (and then some).  The “and then some” refers to extra income that I often split between fun expenses and practical expenses.  For instance, I put some of the money in my tax return this year into my fun savings account and some of it into my emergency savings account.  Or if I have some extra money at the end of the month because gas prices were low or I didn’t burn through my spending money and if my other accounts are looking well-stocked, I can put that extra money into my fun savings account.

While you don't need to know the details of my budget, I thought a visual representation of the amount of money I spend on triathlon vs. my total income might be useful.
While you don’t need to know the details of my budget, I thought a visual representation of the amount of money I spend on triathlon vs. my total income might be useful.

Essentially, I’ve had to set my priorities.  First, I try to remember that triathlons are not the most important thing.  Seriously.  As big of a role as they play in my life, I need to remember that they are just a hobby.  It would be great to get a TT bike, but my 401k needs to be more important right now (much to my chagrin!). And I’m not in the financial position right now to choose both of those.  However, I also recognize that I do need to prioritize the hobbies that are important to me, and triathlons are important to me.  I looked through the withdrawals from my fun savings account, and with a few exceptions (birthday and Christmas presents, mostly), every single transaction for the past year is for triathlon stuff.  This isn’t to say that triathlon is the only fun thing I will ever spend money on, but it sure has been recently.  And that’s okay.  If I tried to spend money on travel, triathlon, gourmet food, and the trendiest clothes, I would be the kind of person that rode to an artisan coffee shop once a week (in a cute little hipster outfit) and spend the weekend in St. George once a month.  In other words, I might be more interesting, but I wouldn’t be able to devote much to any of my hobbies.

Setting my priorities gives me my baseline budget, but it doesn’t help me get all the stuff I need want on that budget.  So for anyone who might be reading this blog who is also an underfunded triathlete (or even just an underfunded participant in another hobby), here are some techniques that I’ve either used or considered using to help keep the spending under control.  (I feel obligated to mention that Rob works for an online outdoor recreation retailer.  I get pretty good deals through him for larger-ticket items, so certain tips below like buying used aren’t really all that applicable to me anymore because I can get things cheaper there than used.)

1. Think about buying used. Now, this isn’t always possible. You won’t ever get me into used bike shorts, for instance.  But for some of the bigger purchases (your bike and wetsuit, for instance), it’s pretty practical.  A lot of this is common sense, and you’ve read it about a million topics in a million places.  Buying used is fairly simply if you know what you are looking for.  If you know bikes, you can pick out a good deal when you see it on Craigslist or eBay.  It’s a little more difficult when you don’t really know the gear (like me).  You don’t want to get screwed and end up wasting money by spending it on something that turns out to be crappy.  So try to find a reliable source for the equipment.  Most shops that rent out wetsuits will periodically sell off their stock and buy new ones so that they have really high quality wetsuits that are in excellent shape.  These sales are a great opportunity to pick up a good used wetsuit for a good price.  When it comes to bikes, see if there is a local bike shop that sells used bikes.  I know that the Boise Bicycle Project is in that business in Boise and the Flynn’s Cyclery does it here in Salt Lake.  I suspect that there are shops like this in most cities.  If you tell them what you are looking for, they may even keep an eye out for you and let you know if something comes in.  If those options aren’t applicable for you, try to enlist the help of someone you know who is knowledgeable about the gear in question.  They can help you differentiate between the wheat and the chaff and find a great bike/wetsuit/whatever you’re looking for.

2. Race smart (financially). Racing can be expensive, and races can eat away at a limited budget.  See what you can do to minimize the cost of your races in a season.  Sign up for a 10k and a local sprint tri instead of two Olympic tris during your training cycle.  Or do whatever you can to lower your racing budget—local races, discount codes, etc.  If the sole purpose of a race is to practice racing or transitions, see if you can mimic that with a race-effort workout or transition practice in your garage.  I know, I know.  Nothing completely simulates race day.  But nothing can completely simulate money in your bank account when you have a leaky radiator, either.

3. Enlist family and friends. Not through GoFundMe, but through Christmas presents and birthday presents. I’m pretty difficult to buy for, so my family is always asking me what I want for my birthday or for Christmas.  So I give them ideas for triathlon stuff.  For instance, this year, my parents offered to get me new running shoes for my birthday (and I’m counting down the days because my current shoes are in bad shape).  I may ask for some cycling socks or elastic laces this year for Christmas.  Or a few more water bottles.  There are plenty of relatively inexpensive things that add up when you are purchasing them all yourself, and Christmas and birthdays can put a dent into those.  (And yeah, yeah, yeah.  Asking for water bottles and shoe laces for Christmas may be the most boring thing in the world, but I’ve never pretended to be interesting.)

These shoes have, like, 1,000 miles on them. I have no idea how I'm not injured. This is not recommended.
These shoes have  over 1,000 miles on them. I have no idea how I’m not injured. This is not recommended.  Sometimes, I am irresponsibly stingy.

4. Shop at discount store. This is only if comfort allows it. Cheap shoes are not worth shin splints and a cheap swimsuit is not worth chafing.  But if you don’t need to worry about chafing or foot injuries from decent-but-not-great shoes, check out Ross, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx.  For instance, I’ve never struggled with chafing while running.  So I get cheap running clothes as much as possible.  However, I do splurge for a high-quality swimsuit because they are more comfortable and last so much longer.  Of course, this bit of advice can apply to life and not just triathlons.  I love buying stuff at Ross and feeling like I’m getting an amazing deal.

I got these shorts at Ross for cheap, and they've become some of my favorite running shorts.
I got these shorts at Ross for cheap, and they’ve become some of my favorite running shorts.

5. Cut non-triathlon expenses. I find it far too easy to waste money due to laziness. Researching and deciding on a new cell phone plan can be an arduous process.  Meal-planning is really easy to put off until it’s too late for that week (I’m terrible at meal-planning, by the way).  But I know that giving myself permission to put any extra money from budget categories towards triathlon often motivates me to make the financially responsible decision because the thought of being that much closer to aero bars is way more fun than the prospect of putting $50 in my savings account.

6. Make difficult (but wise) decisions. This is the part that isn’t fun. Sometimes, you just have to say no, even to things you’d like to do.  I had to make a tough call this year.  When I did the Emmett’s Most Excellent Olympic Triathlon last year, there was a lackluster field and I ended up winning my age group.  I was taken aback when, a few months later, I received an invitation to the Age Group National Championships for the Olympic distance.  Competing in that race honestly sounded like a lot of fun, and for someone of my caliber, it really might have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I liked the idea of traveling there and having an experience that I would be able to look back on forever.  But… I wanted to do an Ironman in 2016 and knew that meant signing up in 2015.  I knew that Ironman races are expensive.  I knew that flying halfway across the country with my bike and staying in a hotel would also be expensive.  So I had to choose, and I wanted to do an Ironman more.  Signing up for my Ironman recently took my triathlon fund down to under $100, so I definitely wouldn’t have had enough money to do both.

I know (from experience) that skipping out on races, asking for socks for Christmas, and saying “no” to that really great thermal jersey you’ve seen on sale three times can be tough.  It’s frustrating to see people whizz by you on TT bikes and wonder just how much free speed you’re missing out on because you don’t have one (and probably never will).  However, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of either spending way too much money on triathlons or feeling like you are missing out because you don’t have unlimited funds.  And that’s not entirely true.  Money helps in triathlon, just like it helps in life.  And being a triathlete involves some measure of financial privilege.  But it’s not as much as people make it out to be.  Despite my modest job and modest earnings, when it comes down to it, I’ve been able to get everything I need for triathlon.  I’ve got a solid bike that will last for years, a wetsuit, a spot in Ironman Couer d’Alene, and I’ll have a brand new pair of shoes once my birthday rolls around.