Three’s the Charm: Triathlon Training Tips

The sixth Motor City Triathlon, held last June 12 on Belle Isle, attracted 600 participants. This year’s event is tentatively planned for June 17, meaning it’s time to start training. Need inspiration? Consider these tips from four triathlon veterans.
Photographs by Cybelle Codish

John Hoopingarner

20, assistant coach at Fraser Bicycle and Fitness.

Hoopingarner’s tips:

Check your equipment and pack your bag the night before the race. Bring fresh clothing for post-race festivities. Eat a good dinner, try to get a full eight hours of sleep, and relax. Try not to overthink. Remind yourself: “I’ve done all the work needed to get me to the race. I’m only going to be as good as I’ve been preparing, so race day is the day to enjoy your efforts from training.”

Keep it simple. Too many participants end up wearing too much in fear of “what-if” scenarios.

“The race is only one to three hours long. You’ll survive it without your thermo-solar-hydro-compression-coolant-carbon leg warmers.”

Triathlons are chaotic with a crowd of participants running around in spandex at 6 a.m. People are warming up, stretching, biking, and running all over while trying to get in the zone.

“As the swim starts, there’s a ton of splashing until you’re out of the water. While on the bike, there are people flying by all around you; the run is no different.”

Create a training plan for the upcoming season and decide how many races you’d like to do. Set goals, be open to guidance from people outside of the “tri scene,” and have fun.

It’s a flat, fast course, which makes it ideal for beginners as well as more experienced competitors looking to set a personal record. The swim section allows racers to first push hard and swim against the current, and then take a breather and float on the way back to shore.

“After your heart stops racing and you look back at the course and think about what you just accomplished, you’ll realize the chaos was totally worth it and that you’re ready for the next one.”

Brandy Woodall Ritter

41, a member of Infinite Multisport triathlon club and five-time Motor City Triathlon participant who placed among the top three in her age group in each. The wife, mother, and office manager has been involved in the sport for 12 years.

Although she experienced severe hypothermia in last May’s Ironman St. George race in Utah, she participated in the Motor City event one month later and placed first in her age group and among the top-10 females.
Ritter’s tips:

It depends on current fitness. Shorter distance races can be prepped for with a 12-to-16 week training program. Ritter generally puts in an hour a day and two hours per day on weekends.

Lay everything out the night before. “Like a pilot before takeoff, I have a mental checklist that follows the order of events. That way, I don’t forget anything.”

What you eat matters. Eating as clean as possible leading up to the race can make a difference.

Pay attention to race-condition reports. A race director will post updates on weather and water temperatures in the days leading up to the event.

Ritter typically wears a race top and race shorts throughout. She adds a wet suit for the swim and brings a few backup items to leave at transition points if there’s a chance of conditions changing.

The Detroit River has a particular current and can make for a tricky swim. Getting knocked off course is easy if you don’t do any open-water swim training.

“Pools are awesome, but nothing will prepare you for open water — except open water.”

“I fell in love with triathlon for many reasons: the self-confidence it builds, the strength and fortitude that’s built as a byproduct, how it shows my daughters they can do whatever they put their minds to and, most important, the inspirational people who participate in these events. Everyone has a story, and the excitement, passion, and energy in the air at any race is electric.”

Dave Reed

39, advertising executive, participant in nearly 20 races over the last two years.

Reed’s tips:

The race becomes more popular every year and the island is closed to traffic, so cyclists tend to fly out there. “It seems that everyone has one of their fastest times at Motor City.”
The Detroit River isn’t dirty despite what everyone thinks; the swim point is pretty far upstream. The course is set up so you swim upstream and ride the current back at the turnaround. “The 3-to-4 mph current really makes you feel like you’re flying.”

Triathlon suits are the best for races. They’re a single-piece compression fit with a thin bike pad sewn into the bottom.

Because trisuits are expensive, consider getting at least a pair of triathlon-specific shorts.

“You can go from couch to a sprint triathlon in about eight weeks if you stay motivated and train five to six times a week.”

“The mass swim isn’t for the faint of heart. There are a lot of arms and legs flying everywhere.

“Your heart is pounding and feeling like it might explode, your legs feel like jelly but, in the end, when you cross the finish line, the feeling of accomplishment is unbelievable.”

Tim Sullivan

32, a Mercedes-Benz Senior Systems Engineer and an avid runner.

Sullivan’s tips:

Consider starting swim training six months before the triathlon if you have no competitive-swimming experience.
An important exercise for triathlon newcomers is a “brick” (running after a long biking session). It’s called that because it feels like your shoes are filled with bricks.

Inexperienced swimmers should probably invest in a wet suit if the water is cold enough. It can help with the temperature shock and lends buoyancy, which can add confidence for first timers.

Swimming in the Detroit River wasn’t as awful as some might think. “The water is clean and the current on the second leg makes the swim feel shorter.”

Bragging rights:  Swimming in the river impresses friends.

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