Tri 101: So You Want To Do A Triathlon?

I get a lot of questions from friends and clients who are thinking about doing a triathlon, but don’t think they can do one. Of course you can! Anyone can do a triathlon!

First, let’s back up and start from the beginning. The sport of triathlon is actually a multisport competition of three consecutive sports: swimming, biking, and running. There are a few variations of the sport though, such as duathlons (run-bike-run), aquabike (swim-bike), and Xterra [swim (sometimes kayak)-mountain bike-trail run].

There are several triathlon race distances:

  • Sprint – 750 meters (~0.5 miles; can vary) swim, 20km (~10 miles; can vary) bike, 5k (3.1 miles) run
  • Olympic – 1.5km (0.93 mile) swim, 40km (25 miles) bike, 10km (6.2 miles) run
  • Half-Ironman or 70.3 – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
  • Ironman 0r 140.6 – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run

The first modern-day triathlon event was held in Mission Bay, San Diego, California, on September 25, 1974. The race was sponsored by the San Diego Track Club and had 46 participants. The first modern-day long course event, later named Ironman, was the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. The idea of the Ironman was conceived shortly after the 1977 Oahu Perimeter Relay race with many participants from the Mid-Pacific Road Runners and Waikiki Swim Club, whose members would often debate if swimmers or runners were the most “fittest” athletes. US Navy Commander would sometimes argue that cyclists were the fittest because recently Sports Illustrated declared Belgian cyclist, Eddy Merckx, had the highest maximum oxygen uptake. Collins, who participated with his wife in several of the Mission Bay triathlons in San Diego, suggested they settle the fittest athlete debate through a race combining three exisiting long-distance competitions: the Waikiki Roughwater 2.4 mile swim, the Around-Oahu Bike Race (115 miles), and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles).

On February 18, 1978 fifteen men started the first Ironman race and only 12 men finished. Gordon Haller became the first Ironman by finishing the race in 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds. The first woman competed in 1979. Ironman and the sport of triathlon really became big after Julie Moss crawled across the 1982 finish line on national television to take 2nd place.

Triathlon debuted in the 2000 Olympics at the Sydney Games. Simon Whitefield of Canada and Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland were the first man and woman to win a gold medal in the sport of triathlon. Paratriathlon will debut at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The sport of triathlon has boomed in recent years and will continue to grow in future years. Just this past fall, triathlon became an official NCAA sport for women!

Next post: Equipment

~ Happy Training!

Winter Training Blues…




I live in Maine. It snows a lot. And it’s cold. This winter has been no exception. I can’t complain too much because I choose to live here. If I really hated the cold and the snow then I would probably move south or to California. I will admit, I’m definitely thinking south or west coast for graduate school in a few years! Wouldn’t it be fabulous if I could ride my bike year-round outside instead of spinning in place for countless hours!?

Triathlon training thus far as gone well; but, I’ll be honest; I’ve missed some workouts and/or moved some round due to weather. I’ve found that it’s hard to swim when all the pools close early due to storms! It’s hard to run on ice! And it’s hard to get out of bed in the early mornings when the temperature is -20 degrees!

Excuses, excuses! This is has been a hard winter for training. I’ve discussed this with multiple athletes and we’re all in the same boat – spending countless hours on the trainer and/or treadmill! I’m beginning to feel like a hamster – around and round on a hamster wheel I go….

I’m lucky that I live in Maine where we have miles upon miles of trails that I can cross-country ski or snowshoe on. There’s plenty of ski mountains for downhill skiing and several fabulous hot yoga studios to warm up in afterwards. You know what they say… when life gives you lemons, make lemonade…

This past Fall I was out for several months with yet another hip-related issue where I wasn’t allow to run (or really do anything). I was finally able to resume running again around Thanksgiving. Winter began early this year in Maine and I soon found the roads too snowy, icy, and cold. Okay, perhaps I’ve become a total wuss this year!

Due to my injury, I’ve been taking my run training slowly. I’ve missed quite a few runs this winter due to icy roads and have done many on the treadmill (or as I affectionately call… the dreadmill). As much as I love running outside, I’ve decided to be smart and not run if the conditions are bad. I don’t want to risk injuring myself now as I just come back from an injury. It sucks, but I hope in the long run, it will pay off. Instead, I’ve spent more time on my bike than I have in a long while during base training and also strength training.

Oh, have I missed strength training! I’ve been participating in one or two circuit classes at Zone 3 Fitness (where I teach spin classes!) and a Pilates class once a week. In just a few short weeks I have already felt a difference in strength, especially in my core and hip region.

Source (Photo by Francis Bompard/Agence/Zoom/Getty Images)

Source (Photo by Francis Bompard/Agence/Zoom/Getty Images)

Here are a few of my tips to get through this cold and snowy winter:

  • Can’t run? Try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing!
  • Feeling weak? Add strength training into your training program. You can hit the gym or try out various strength-focused classes at a gym or studio.
  • Cold? Try a hot yoga class. Your muscles will thank you and you’ll warm up fast!
  • Bored on the trainer? Try watching a movie or listen to podcasts. Also add intervals into your workout to break up the time and for a more productive workout. Check out three workouts that I posted a month ago: A Few of My Favorite Indoor Trainer Rides!
  • Tired of the same ole’ routine? Try something new. Have you always wanted to try boxing? Or martial arts? Do something to keep you motivated and moving!

Spring will be here in about 6 weeks. At least on the calendar it will. Who knows when all this snow will melt though! Sometimes you just need to embrace the “suck” of winter and stay active. Just remember, athletes are made in the winter months! It may be cold and snowy, but there are plenty of ways to get in shape for the summer season.

~ Happy Training!

How to Conduct a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test

Power meters are becoming the new standard on bicycles today, especially for competitive athletes. They are certainly an expensive investment, but a worthwhile one if you’re serious about training with data.

Powermeter = LOVE!

Powermeter = LOVE (somedays)!

I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that I have a love/hate relationship with my power meter. Heart rate-based training on the bike is a great training metric, but it can only do so much. I always liken my power meter to a truth-meter because it does not lie about my current bike fitness and riding abilities.

Power meters are extremely effective tools for training and racing. For long-course triathletes, like myself, I find my power meter acts as a governor for my bike leg because I know if I go out too hard, it will only be time until I blow up.

Most triathletes love spending money on new gear, whether we truly need it or not. A lot of triathletes want fancy race wheels because they make our bikes look fast and cool. Race wheels can easily set you back a couple of grand and the same with a power meter. Now if you had to choose between a power meter or race wheels, what do you choose? A power meter should probably be the correct answer and here’s why:

  • A power meter can help you build your engine. Sure, race wheels can shave a few seconds to a few minutes off your time, but an effective and strong engine (aka YOU) can shave even more time off your bike leg!
  • A power meter can help you monitor your efforts over time and keep you working within your correct zone. For example, if it is extremely windy out you will work harder (i.e. push more watts) than if there was no wind. If you have a power meter, you know you are working harder and thus not fight the headwind by pushing a faster pace (i.e. speed) like your competitors sans power meter.
  • A power meter can give you a highly accurate measurement of your bike fitness over a season. A power meter can be used for benchmark testing unlike a lot of heart rate testing that can have multiple variables with results.

There are various metrics that you can measure over a season with a power meter. I won’t get into that today because the terms can be confusing. If you work with a coach or train with a power meter regularly you are probably familiar with the terms such as normalized power, functional threshold power, critical power, etc.

Today I want to discuss Functional Threshold Power (FTP) because it is often used as the main benchmark testing for bike fitness.

Functional Threshold Power can simply be defined as the wattage an athlete can produce and maintain over a 1 hour time period without fatigue. FTP is relative to nearly all cyclists. It is important for an athlete to test their FTP at the beginning of their base training cycle to determine the correct training intensity zones and also to determine the benchmark for the season. Athletes should periodically re-test their FTP to compare against the benchmark test to observe fitness.


You might want a Puke Bucket!

You might want a Puke Bucket!


FTP Test Protocol:

  1. Warm-up: 20 minutes at endurance pace/easy to moderate pace; 3 x 1 minute fast pedaling (100+rpm) with 1 minute rest between; 5 minutes easy pedaling
  2. Main Set: 5 minutes all-out effort; 10 minutes easy pedaling; 20 minute time-trial
  3. Cool Down: 10-15 minute easy pedaling


  • Keep cadence normal (i.e. 90-95rpm) throughout the test
  • Pace yourself during the 20 minute time trial – it helps to break the time into small sections
  • If you are conducting this test outside, try riding up a steady climb or into a headwind

How to Calculate Your FTP:

  1. Download your data. TrainingPeaks is my preferred software program.
  2. Figure out your average power for the 20 minute time trial. In TrainingPeaks you can highlight the 20 minute interval and it will show average power for that time period.
  3. Take your average power number and multiple it by 0.95 for your FTP number.

Note: The reason you multiple your average power number by 0.95 is because you are subtracting 5% from it. A true FTP test would involve an athlete holding their highest average watts for 1 hour, but since most of us cannot focus that long, we shorten the test to 20 minutes. The 20 minutes is a shorter time period, and thus the athlete generally uses more of their anaerobic capacity and this skews the wattage data by about 5% over a 60-minute effort.

Now what? You know your FTP number and now you can use it to calculate your power-based training zones. The zones are below:

  • Active Recovery – Less than 55% of FTP
  • Endurance – 56-75% of FTP
  • Tempo – 76-90% of FTP
  • Lactate Threshold – 91-105% of FTP
  • VO2max – 106-120% of FTP
  • Anaerobic Capacity – 121-150% of FTP
  • Neuromuscular Power – N/A (maximal number of watts you can push for less than 30secs)

Most triathletes will train predominantly in the endurance and tempo zones, but it is important to include the other training zones in your training plan as well. A coach can help you better plan this type of work with your training plan.

It is important to periodically re-test your FTP to see improvements. If you don’t see improvement over time, it’s probably time to change-up your training routine!

~ Happy Training!

Monthly Training Recap: January

Hello bike trainer!

Hello bike trainer!

The first month of 2014 is already done! Whew… time does fly. January 1at marked the official beginning on my Annual Training Plan (ATP), although I really began base training in December. As I mentioned in a few of my posts, I decided to coach myself this year. I decided this for two main reasons: 1) I want to save some money, and 2) I wanted to try new training methods on myself before I “prescribe” them for my athletes. One of the biggest rules of personal training… never have a client do an exercise that you have not tried yourself.

So far things are going well. I had a decent start, but have missed some workouts due to weather and making changes to my schedule because of my teaching schedule. Let’s recap each sport:


I only swam once in January. Not a good start in this department! I get a corporate discount to my local YMCA through work and thus decided to wait to begin swimming until my membership at the Y began. My application got held up a bit in the office and thus my membership began two weeks later than I had hoped for. Yes, I could have swum at other pools but I didn’t want to pay the $3-$5 pool fee each time I went. My first swim went well though! I swam once in November since IMLP and that swim was a complete disaster. I really thought I was going to drown; it was that bad. However, I was completely fine and was hitting about 5 seconds slower than my normal 100 yard pace.


I spent A LOT of time on my bike and also a spin bike. I taught four spin classes in January and will be teaching at least 7 in February. I include these workouts in my training plan because I am participating in class on a bike. However, I do prioritize my own bike workouts outside of spin class. I generally aim for 3 rides a week, but sometimes only get 2 in depending on Junior League meeting schedules. My main triathlon goal this year is to rebuild my power on the bike and I believe that I am on the right path to do so. I was supposed to complete my first Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test this past Wednesday, but I wasn’t feeling well and thus have decided to postpone it until next week. I have been training on the bike based on HR and feel for the past two months while I regained some cardiovascular fitness and now I plan to transition to power-based training.


This winter has plain sucked for running! I’ve discussed this numerous times with my Chiropractor as she is training for the Boston Marathon in April. Since I am recovering from yet another hip issue, I decided to be smart about my run training. If the roads are icy and it’s super cold out, then I hit my bike trainer instead. I have gotten in a few quality short runs. I haven’t been cleared for running more than 5 miles at a time, so I’ve been focusing on taking it easy and just running in my endurance zone. My pace is extremely slow! Like 11-12 minute miles! Back in my peak running shape in 2012, I was running in my endurance zone at a 8:45-9:20/mile pace. Urgh! Patience my dear!


I’ve been strength training like a boss! This is the area that I have really excelled in lately, which is good for me because I miss strength training and my hip needs the strength gains. Since I began teaching at Zone 3 Fitness, I have access to all their classes, which are awesome! If you live in the Greater Portland (Maine) region then I highly recommend you check them out. There is a free Seven Day pass on their website HERE!

The Base Training phase is a perfect time to focus on one's weaknesses within the sport of triathlon.

The Base Training phase is a perfect time to focus on one’s weaknesses within the sport of triathlon.

Goals for February:

  • Swim 2-3x a week – My goal is to swim at least once or twice a week during my lunch break if my schedule allows and once or twice a week in the evenings or the weekend. If I can swim a 4th day that would be awesome. My focus is mainly to get comfortable again in the water.
  • Run at least 3x a week and build up my mileage – My main goal here is to do it injury free and thus I need to be careful with building my miles up slowly. My body has already built some leg strength again running, so I know it will come with time. I want to build a solid base here and thus must embrace the idea of slow and steady!
  • Continue with strength training – My body adapts quickly and well to strength training. I find that my body loses weight more quickly when I strength train on a regular schedule and therefore I will include it in my schedule at least twice a week with added specific hip and core focused work as well.
  • Train with power on the bike – After my FTP test I will train using my power zones on the bike to increase my FTP and my bike fitness.
Here is a butt-kicking full body workout for you!

Here is a butt-kicking full body workout for you!

 ~ Happy Training!

Periodization Basics: Base Training

The Base Training phase is a perfect time to focus on one's weaknesses within the sport of triathlon.

The Base Training phase is a perfect time to focus on one’s weaknesses within the sport of triathlon.

Periodization is generally broken into 4-5 phases or mesocycles: base building (general preparatory), strength, speed, racing & maintenance (competition phase) and recovery (off-season).

Base building is one of the most important phases of an athlete’s annual training plan because the base phase sets the stage for the year. The major goals of this phase are:

  • Build cardiovascular and muscular endurance
  • Improve VO2max
  • Build base mileage and distance of long workouts

Joe Friel once said “As much as 80% of race-day fitness comes from the base period.” (Ch 25; Triathlon Science)

The amount of time spent in the base phase can vary depending on the athlete’s goals and fitness, but generally lasts between 12 to 16 weeks in duration. The base phase is mainly about training for time and mileage to build cardiovascular fitness, but not for speed.

The first and most important step for any athlete in the base phase is to assess their “limiting factors,” i.e. their weaknesses within the sport. Perhaps the triathlete is a weak swimmer or lacks power on the bike. What ever the athlete’s weakness may be, the base phase is the perfect time to focus on those weaknesses.

Once weaknesses are determined and goals are set, the coach and/or triathlete must determine how much time in the athlete’s life can reasonably be devoted to training.


Most triathletes tend to be weakest at swimming because swimming is very technical. For athletes looking to improve in swimming, frequency of swimming becomes arguably the most important aspect of training. Usually a minimum of three 60-minute sessions per week is recommended for skilled swimmers. Novice swimmers might need shorter and more frequent sessions to see improvements.

The energy systems that the coach and/athlete choose to focus on during the base phase are unique to the individual needs of the athlete. However, they generally include improving the aerobic capacity, developing anaerobic power, maintaining aerobic and anaerobic endurance, and improving stroke technique and mechanics.


The intensity and duration for a large majority of base phase training can be described as relatively low intensity with increasing duration. It is important early in the base training phase to determine proper intensity through field or laboratory-based testing. Field testing is most often utilized for the everyday athlete. Athletes who train with a power meter should undergo a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test to determine proper power zones while athletes training with a Heart Rate (HR) monitor should undergo a HR test to determine proper HR zones.

During the base training phase, triathletes should spend about 50% of their total weekly training volume (hours) on the bike. This normally translates to about 3-5 workouts per week. One to two workouts will be steady-state endurance, one workout will address power and/or neuromuscular development, and then one or two workouts will focus on race-specific demands.

Steady-State Training – Generally longer rides performed nearly exclusively at the aerobic base intensity that is defined as 55-75% of FTP (power-based training) or 60-70% of maximum HR (HR-based training)

Neuromuscular Development – This type of development is generally achieved through either sprinting or big-gear work. Neuromuscular training in cycling is all about recruiting the maximum number of muscle fibers to produce peak force and power.

Race-Specific Demands – Each race an athlete competes in has certain features that make it unique, such as big hills, long windy flats, etc. Athletes should focus on training for these conditions. Also, distance is important, such as Ironman vs. sprint distance.


The classic base training protocol for running is to perform low intensity, high mileage; however, exercise physiology research is still debating if this method is best for athletic performance. Some newer research has suggested that athletes should spend 80% of their training at or below aerobic threshold and 20% of their training at higher intensity. Most triathletes train using HR for running. A widely accepted training concept for run base training is designed around running in the aerobic endurance zone, which is generally defined as 60-70% of maximum HR. Phil Maffetone, a legendary endurance sport coach, suggests subtracting your age from 180 and using that number as your maximum HR during base training. For example, if you are 40, your maximum aerobic HR would be 140bpm. Over time, your running speed will increase at the same HR because your cardiovascular fitness has improved. Another age old training protocol is increasing training load (volume – either time or mileage) by no more than 10% each week. Science has yet to support this concept, but incorporating rest or recovery weeks is key to a good periodized training plan to reduce injury potential.


  • Builds cardiovascular and endurance fitness
  • Improves VO2max
  • Intensity is generally performed at low intensity (55-75% of FTP and/or 60-70% of  Max HR)
  • A good time to focus on weaknesses in each or one particular sport

~ Happy Training!

Launch Party Specials!

In honor of the official launch of Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training I am offering a few discounts to new clients! The offers are good through the end of the month! So check them out and contact me through the “Contact Form” below. I hope to hear from some of you! 🙂


~ Happy Training!

A Few of My Favorite Indoor Trainer Rides

Hello bike trainer!

Hello bike trainer!

If you live anywhere where it snows in the winter chances are you are quite friendly with your indoor bike trainer! Many of us spend countless hours spinning to nowhere in front of the tv watching trashy shows (okay, maybe only I do that. New guilty trainer ride show: The Bachelor)!

I’ve had a few inquiries about what kinds of workouts I do while on the trainer. Trainer rides can be quite boring as you can imagine. However, triathletes are made during the winter months. This is where you build that big aerobic engine. One of my goals this year is to rebuild my power functional threshold (FTP) again. In early 2012 it was about 180watts (although I’m sure it was higher at the end of the summer, however we never tested again) and early 2013 it was about 150-160watts. A huge drop that I was never able to recover during Ironman training. Note: FTP is relative to an athlete. It can depend on a bunch of different factors, such as weight, bike setup and, obviously, fitness. It’s best not to compare with other people. I learned that the hard way! 🙂

Here are a few of my favorite rides:

Cadence Pyramid

  • Warm-up: 10 min – Build up to Z2 HR every 3 mins, easy 1 min spin before MS
  • Main set: (1) 95-100rpm 1 min, easy 1 min, (2) 95-100rpm 2 min, easy 1 min, (3) 95-100rpm 3 min, easy 1 min, (4) 95-100rpm 4 min, easy 1 min, (5) 95-100rpm 5 min, easy 1 min
  • 5:00 easy 90-95 spin
  • Repeat pyramid in reverse starting from 5 min
  • Cool down: 5 min easy spin

I work a lot over the winter months on my cadence. I used to be a really bad gear grinder, meaning I would spin a harder gear at a lower cadence. I had very strong legs from this method, but it killed my running off the bike. Working with a coach in 2012 helped me break this nasty habit and I continue to work towards comfortably pedaling at a cadence of 85-90rm.




These are just a few of my bike trainer workouts that I have in my workout library. If you are interested in more than please consider hiring me as your coach! I have a few openings left for 2014! Check out my coaching options HERE! 🙂

What are your favorite workouts?

~ Happy Training!