Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Re-Learning to Swim & Bike

I know I'm still a total newbie at these two sports, but since the beginning triathlon group with TRI Team PDX is starting up, I wanted to jot down some thoughts of starting out on my own, and later plan to do a similar post about learning the ropes with a team and coach.


I honestly expected this to the be the most challenging and anxiety-provoking of the new disciplines, but now I'm not really sure why. Though I was never on a swim team or did competitions or anything like that, I did take swim lessons for 8 years as a kid, plus our neighbors across the street had a pool that they let us use regularly. Even though I wasn't swimming laps in it, I was clearly comfortable in the water. But it's been at least 15 years since I was in the pool all the time, and I've probably only been in a pool twice since then.

I suppose when it comes to race settings and open water swimming, it still might be scary (actually, I'm quite sure it will be, largely with the not being able to see the bottom of the water - at the first team swim yesterday, just swimming in a pool with a legit deep end, seeing the bottom of the pool so far away freaked me out momentarily). And the idea of plant life and possibly even animal life floating around me is a bit disturbing, not to mention what I've heard about mass starts at races with people swimming over each other.

But at least in the pool, I'm quite enjoying it! It's actually really relaxing, in a different way than running. Although I love the runner's high, to get a similar workout in the pool without dripping in sweat or feeling the impact of the roads is also a nice feeling. I'm not thrilled about it requiring leaving my house and interacting with strangers at the pool, but I know that's probably something that's healthy for me to do on occasion.

The actual technique came back to me easier than I expected; I'm sure I still have a long ways to go at improving form and such, but the basics feel very familiar and comfortable. I was also able to utilize my friend Jessica to go with me to the pool the first time, and learn about pool etiquette and such from her (and I've continued to annoy her with emailed questions since then). 

Current ability level: Have swam total of 5,100 yards in 7 workouts since starting a month ago. Have completed up to 1,000 yards in a single workout. Can do 50 yards nonstop, but start getting out of breathe and fatigued by the end of this distance.

Swim start-up costs

As far as the cost of starting, swimming isn't too bad. Cheaper than running in some ways - a swimsuit, goggles, and cap can cost a lot less than quality running shoes! However, it's also more expensive in that you have to pay for access to a pool, rather than just utilizing the free, great outdoors.
  • One-piece swim suit - $32 from Lands' End. I bought this on clearance last fall, but it shouldn't be hard to find a suit for at least under $50.
  • Goggles - $15 from REI
  • Swim cap - $10 from REI
  • Monthly pass to local parks & rec district pools - $29. Drop-in fees are $4.50, but as long as I go at least two times most weeks, the monthly pass makes each use fairly cost-effective. (This pass also provides access to the district fitness centers so I have treadmill access as a bonus!) The price per month drops if you pay for 3, 6, or 12 months in advance, and also if you have a family membership. Adding Abe when he moves in and prepaying at least 6 months will drop the monthly cost per person to about $15. 
  • Before race-day, I'll want to rent or buy a wetsuit - but depending on the area you live in and the races you choose, this isn't necessarily required gear. It looks like a full length sleeveless wetsuit can be had for around $100.
Total: $57, plus another $100 likely before my first race. $15 - 29 recurring monthly.


Similar to swimming, I did a fair amount of recreational biking as a kid; nothing competitive, but spent enough time riding around the neighborhood to be comfortable. 

I did own a mountain bike about 5 years ago, that a friend was getting rid of. I attempted to ride it twice, I think. And was super nervous, wavering back and forth, not getting the hang of riding it at all. So I'm not sure why I thought I'd be super cozy on a bike now? That's been my only bike-riding experience in the past 15 years or so.

The day I bought my current bike, I rode it around in my apartment parking lot for a bit first. I felt less wobbly than the last time I'd been on a bike, so that was good! I felt like I was starting to get a hang of the brakes and gear levers, so I headed towards the street - and promptly fell as I realized I had to go downhill to exit the parking lot and panicked. 

I've had a few more not-so-good experiences (largely involving hills and rain), and some better experiences since then. I'm still not at all comfortable in my ability to control my bike, and to quickly stop and dismount if needed. I'm terrified of not being able to stop if I'm riding in a residential neighborhood and a car backs out of their driveway; I'm also scared of crashing on my own just by going too quickly down a hill. 

It makes me super nervous to think of working up to speeds that are comparable to a car - but without any protection of a vehicle around me!

Some of my discomfort is probably at least due to how my bike fits me (will have a chance on Sunday for the coach to look at it and see if there are things I should adjust), and also just learning how to use its set up for the brakes and gears (this bike has drop handle bars and integrated gear shifts with brake levers on the lower part of the handlebars; my bike as a kid had flat handlebars, dial gear shifts, and brake levers nearer the center of the handlebar).

Current ability level: Have ridden total of 15 miles on the road in 5 workouts since starting a month ago. Have gone up to 4.2 miles in a single workout. My fastest average speed for a ride is 9.2 mph. The fastest I've seen during a ride is about 16 mph (going downhill, on a very non-trafficked road!). 

Bike start-up costs

Obviously, this is where triathlon costs really start to add up! The only real necessities are the bike and a helmet, of course. Helmet should always be purchased new (they're no longer effective once they've been through a crash), but if you're anywhere near average size, looking for a used bike should be feasible (but go to a bike shop to be sized first). (I'm short, and short-legged even relative to my lack of height, so if I'd waited for a bike in my frame size to show up on Craigslist, I'd still be waiting for a long time!)
  • Road bike - $552 from REI. I got it for 15% off during their anniversary (full price was $649), so this was an exceptionally good deal, but typical price for an entry-level road bike seemed to be $650 - 750. 
  • Helmet - already owned this (from brief mountain-bike-owning mentioned above), but they start around $25.
  • Bike shorts - $50 at REI. Bike shorts are weird. They really feel like a diaper.
  • Tri shorts - $50 at REI. Tri shorts are intended to be worn for an entire triathlon: quick dry fabric and minimal padding to get wet during the swim, a little cushioning for comfort on the bike, and minimal padding also keeps them comfortable for the run. I've found it's plenty of cushioning for up to a 30-minute bike ride, and feels a lot better otherwise than full bike shorts.
  • Gloves - $22 at REI.
  • Air pump - also previously owned, but these cost about $15. Be sure to note whether your bike has a Shrader valve or a Presta valve and buy accordingly (though the pumps I've seen have adapters for both).
  • Maintenance stuff: 2 spare tubes, multi-tool/allen wrench (to adjust seat, etc.), C02 cartridges (to fill tires when you're on a ride without a pump handy) with pump attachment, tire levers (used to remove tire to replace a tube) - I'd estimate a total of $35.
  • Saddle bag to carry maintenance stuff on rides - $25 at REI. This attaches to the frame right underneath the seat.
  • Visibility - my bike came with reflectors on front and back, and my parents gave me some lights that they weren't using, but lights can easily be found for $10 each.
  • 2 bottle cages ($7 each) and 2 water bottles ($10 each). The team recommends having space on your bike for two bottles, so you can carry both water and a sports drink.
  • Trainer - $150 used via Craigslist. These run at least $200 new (and most way more than that), but there are tons available used (definitely one of those things people buy and then realize is just taking up space in the garage), and they're pretty universal - the higher quality ones make less noise, but generally speaking there aren't any differences in size or function that would make much difference in which one you buy. (I found this terminology a bit odd when first hearing it, so FYI if you don't know, a bike trainer is a stand that turns your bike into a stationary bike indoors.)
Total: $793 for riding outdoors, $150 for riding indoors, and another $60 worth of stuff I already owned or got from family.

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