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Taking on triathlon, part II: Train hard, but train smart! That’s how I prepped for my first Half Ironman

Updated on:9 January 2020, 19:06pm IST
Signing up for a triathlon is courageous, but training for it is downright gruelling. Here’s how SuYin prepared for it.
SuYin Kalia-Ong
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Train smart–that was SuYin’s mantra for the Ironman 70.3 in Goa. Image courtesy: SuYin Kalia-Ong

This is the second feature in a four-part series, chronicling SuYin’s conquest at the Ironman 70.3 in Goa in 2019.

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How does one find the time to not only excel in one sport, but three? Thus, training smart is essential in triathlon as juggling, nay, improving three disciplines can be a Herculean task. Especially if you have a full time job, a family, and social life.

Our bodies work in complex ways: over train and our bodies are unable to cope, or worse, risk of injury increases. Under train, and the outcome may stagnate, which can be demotivating. We need to build fitness on a solid foundation of endurance training (think of it as the base of a pyramid) before you can focus to add on speed and power (tip of the pyramid).

For an optimised use of time, a proper training plan is crucial. Fortunately, there are many affordable training plans online to suit your fitness level and targeted training duration. If your budget is willing, hiring an experienced coach is another option as this gives you a 1:1 coaching benefit. For the budget conscious, it is also possible to design your own training plan, by consulting hundreds of triathlon books written by reputable coaches.

Keeping track of your progress helps to judge if the training has been effective. Cold, hard data is your best friend in analysing progress. I use a triathlon watch to track my swim, bike and run. In addition to tracking paces and heart rate, I use a running pod to monitor running dynamics (cadence, ground contact times, stride length) and a power meter for bike rides, which measures the amount of force that is transferred to the pedals.

While these gadgets are nifty to own, they aren’t absolutely compulsory. Training by feel is a viable option by focusing on level of exertion.

Covering all bases
A well-rounded fitness, in my opinion, should include strength, endurance, and flexibility.

I cannot stress on this enough, but ladies, please include weights in your routine! Not only does it tone and sculpt, but research has shown that including weights or resistance training increases bone density–which helps to deter osteoporosis in an advanced age.

Bulking up excessively from weight lifting is also a myth, simply because women do not have enough testosterone to “Hulk” up. And if you’re not clambering to reach for that dumb-bell yet, regularly incorporating weights in training also increase metabolism! I usually include one or two sessions of weights a week.

Endurance is the ability to maintain stamina over a prolonged duration. I usually include one long run, once a week, or a long brick session (brick is two sports performed back-to-back, typically bike and run) over time builds a solid cardiovascular fitness.

triathlon training
Consistently stretching after exercises (muscles are properly warmed up) after 2 years finally earned me this split position! Image courtesy: SuYin Kalia-Ong

Yoga and stretches are great ways to improve flexibility. Consistency is critical here – as we get older, joints gradually stiffen and limit range of motion. Good flexibility practises also help to reduce risks from injury. Never underestimate the importance of setting aside a few minutes each day for stretches!

Allaying fears!
Triathlon swims are typically done in the open water. This can be in a lake, a river, a moat, or out in the open sea. If you’re not used to the idea, you may find it intimidating: fear of the depth, currents, fishes, and mostly, fear of the unknown.
Though I was a confident swimmer (trained as a lifeguard and also a lifesaving instructor), there is a massive difference between swimming in a clear, warm swimming pool (with a clear view of the exit ladder) to swimming in the middle of the vast ocean.

I was inexplicably afraid of the deep blue, and especially more so after dark (listening to the crashing of the waves in the dark freaked me out!).

triathlon training
Image courtesy: SuYin Kalia-Ong

During an advanced course in a night dive, where we jumped off a boat into the middle of an ocean at dusk, were the last vestiges of that fear. Discovering an underwater myriad of adorable critters, schools of fishes and graceful cetaceans, made me feel very silly indeed! Taking up scuba diving was one of the best decisions I’ve made in attempts to come face to face with the deep blue.

Mental strength is key
Sometimes overlooked, mental strength plays an important role in training and races. Depending on its potency, mental strength can make a difference from simply giving up on a particularly hard workout, or putting your head down and gritting through.

Also read: Taking on triathlon, part 1: So, I signed up for the Half Ironman in Goa, and…

Daily drills of positive self thought, ingraining confidence, building motivation and staying focused can make a huge difference–whether you’re trying to survive the sweltering heat in a workout, or when you’re dreading that early rise for a three-hour ride. That being said, Nike phrases it very well indeed: just do it!

SuYin Kalia-Ong SuYin Kalia-Ong

SuYin is a Malaysian ex-offshore geophysicist who met her husband while diving in the Andamans. Since then, she has called India her home. She is a triathlete, a pastry chef, and also a rescue scuba diver for DIVEIndia (in no particular order!).