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Culture » Get Out

Training for Triathletes

Get ready to swim, bike and run—and learn how to do it better.



You may not qualify, as Kevin Balfe did, to head to Hawaii for the grueling Iron Man triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile marathon (see “Iron Will,” July 9, City Weekly), but you can pick from a plethora of tri’s here in Utah. However, the three-sport event is not a simple matter of a swim, a bike ride and a run. There are tricks that can magnify your talent.

Jo Garuccio knows them all. The 57-year-old is a USA Triathlon-certified coach and a national masters champion who has qualified for the big Iron Man six times. She says, “People always think of an Iron Man as the only kind of triathlon there is, but there is also a half-Iron Man distance, and the Olympic distance (1,500 meter swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run), or a sprint race, which is half the length of the Olympic event.” You can find a list of Utah triathlons online at Utah.html.

She advises newbies to start with a sprint race and suggests some advanced prep, like practicing the swim in the water where you’ll be racing. Forget an indoor pool. “When you swim in open water,” Garuccio says, “there are no walls or lane markings to indicate where you are, so it’s good to get used to outdoor water.”

She warns that the swim is the most difficult part of the race: “If you aren’t a swimmer, you’re going to have to learn to swim. Find someone to teach you. You can’t get faster by just practicing swimming; you need a coach.”

Garuccio says that one swimming trick is learning how to balance in the water, because if you’re not balanced, your body will create drag. “A good swimmer does not swim flat on their stomach, they knife though the water, rotating from side to side, hips and shoulders rotating at a 45 degree angle. They’re basically swimming on their side,” she says.

The next part of a triathlon is the transition, the part where you get out of the water and onto your bike. “The transition is part of the race. The clock doesn’t stop,” she warns, so train for the transition. Garuccio advises, “Lay everything out the same way you would at the race. Make sure your helmet is placed so that you’ll put it on correctly. You wouldn’t believe how many people put their helmet on backwards because of the way they put it down at the transition. Run to your bike as if you just completed the swim, and practice getting ready for that part of the race.”

Jo’s transition trick: If you’re biking in the same shoes you’ll use for the run, get elastic shoelaces. Your shoes can be slipped on quickly, and won’t come untied.

One thing she tells her athletes about the bike part of the race is to pedal easy. “The majority of triathletes pedal too big a gear. The cadence that you pedal will affect your ability to run after the bike ride. If you pedal a slow cadence in a high (difficult) gear, it’s like doing a resistance workout for the whole bike ride, so you’ll be exhausted when you get off the bike,” she says.

Another tip: “If you’re going to do the race on a mountain bike and it’s a road-bike tri, put street tires on the mountain bike. Don’t do it in knobby tires.”

Her running trick is simple. “Move your arms faster, because your legs only move as fast as your arms,” she says. Your hands should be somewhere between your hips and your heart, your elbows at 90-degree angles and your shoulders relaxed. Pump your arms forward and back, not across your body; “If you do it across your body, you rotate your upper body, which is a lot of wasted movement and energy,” she says.

Take these tricks to your triathlon, and you will come out ahead.