At the beginning of the summer I wrote about re-learning to swim and bike on my own (after a 15-year-ish break from them). After that, I continued to learn how to swim and bike - with a group! I joined TRI Team PDX (the name stands for Train Race Inspire); specifically, the Portland Triathlon training group) (before knowing that the group was targeting a specific race, I was already planning on doing Aluminum Man; but it was only two weeks before the Portland Tri, so at one point I figured I'd do both).
The cost was $299 for 14 weeks of training. This was all inclusive - access to weekly workouts (swim, track, run, bike) that would otherwise have drop-in fees, with weekly workout plans designed for the group (including the group workouts and additional workouts to do on your own during the week), and coaches at the workouts to guide you.
The weekly swim group workout was held at the PSU athletic center. I'd guesstimate there were usually around 30 people. The pool has, if I'm remembering right, 6 lanes. People were assigned to lanes based on abilities and speed; we in the beginners group were in lanes 1 and 2, with detailed instructions on how to do the drills, especially in the first few weeks. People in higher lanes had more advanced drills and longer distances to cover in the same time.
We learned a variety of drills throughout the season, designed to improve swimming form in different ways. Things like fingertip drag, pull, catch-up, front scull, to name a few. Nearer the end of the season, we focused more on improving endurance for longer distances and intervals of harder effort. In addition to the group workout, we were supposed to do an additional swim on our own, including some of the drills and also working on endurance on continuous distance.
After developing some basic swimming skills, the group also helped us with open water swimming. I unfortunately had to miss some of those session, so I didn't feel nearly as prepared for open water as I would have liked, but really any chance to get in open water is helpful! The coaches were super helpful about making sure you were comfortable, giving tips, and staying nearby those with extra nerves. They also encouraged team members to attend free weekly open water swims sponsored by Athlete's Lounge during the summer for additional experience.
Current ability level:
Can easily do 1,000 yards (total, not continuous) in a workout even when I haven't been consistently swimming, including up to 400 - 600 continuous without too much trouble. When I was in the habit of going to the pool a few times a week, 1,200 yards or more wasn't an unreasonable total for a workout.
When I first got a watch with swim functions, I was around 2:30 per 100 yards; that's now closer to 2:20 - still pretty ridiculously slow, but nonetheless a consistent improvement.
Open water swimming is something that I still need to work on a lot before doing another triathlon. I ended up just doing it once without a wetsuit, and once with a wetsuit. Better than nothing, for sure, but not nearly enough to not have a near panic attack at the start of the race. Regardless of whether I train with TRI PDX again, going to the Athlete's Lounge open water swims in the river as often as possible will be a very crucial component.
There was an assigned weekly bike workout to do on our own, focusing on intervals with high effort or RPMs. I rarely ended up doing those workouts.
There was also a long group bike ride each weekend. The first week the beginners group did about 12 miles; eventually working up to about 25 miles. Depending on which coach was leading the group, there was more or less of a coming back to check on those in the back to make sure they were ok, but it does seem to be team policy for the leaders to stop at major turns on the route to wait for everyone to catch up and ensure no one's gotten lost or anything.
One note: Sauvie Island is the best place to ride a bike, especially if you're a beginner. It's a bit of a drive from most places in Portland, but totally worth it. The main loop around the island is just over 12 miles, with a little rolling hills but nothing too steep up or down. There isn't much of a shoulder, but it really is low traffic, and the cars that are out there are well aware of the bike traffic, and give you plenty of space when passing.
Current ability level:
Longest solid ride was 22 miles (I did 27 in a day, but it was broken up by too many stops to count it as actually my longest) (did distances in training assuming I would be doing the Olympic distance at the Portland Tri, which I ended up not doing). Assuming good conditions (dry roads, minimal wind, etc.) I could go out for a 10 mile ride anytime now and feel pretty comfortable with it.
My average speed on long rides by the end of the training season was around 14.5. I easily got above 25 mph on downhills - but tried very hard to slow down to not get faster than that! On flats or small inclines, not too hard to maintain 15 - 16 mph, but difficult to keep up 10 mph on steeper hills going up.
I still can't take my hands off the handlebars while moving long enough to do anything like eat or drink. I'm super nervous on wet roads or in the wind. I'm basically still terrified that I'll kill myself while riding. Still willing to put more work into it next summer, but I have my doubts that this will ever be my favorite sport.