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To Tri or Not to Tri

written by Danielle Scheinman, MPH, CHES
on Wednesday, 25th December ,2013

What’s been my greatest accomplishment recently? As some of you may have already heard, I completed my first sprint triathlon this past week. Given the difficulties I have had with my legs over the past several years, this event proved more than just a mental or physical challenge – the race was a test of how my body has recovered and was able to persist through training. A few years ago I had surgery on my legs to relieve extra pressure around my muscles that limited my daily activity.  Since then I have been on a rollercoaster of good and bad days; sometimes my legs wanted to take an extended timeout.  I am someone who enjoys being active, and therefore these periods of greater pain posed annoying roadblocks to my preferred lifestyle.

Over the past year I started to incorporate swimming into my weekly exercise.  At first this was a form of physical therapy and another way to work out without running.  Although running and swimming are very different workouts (it is quite the challenge to tell when you are sweating in the pool), I became a bigger fan of swimming once I could feel my endurance building.  When I became more comfortable swimming without frequent breaks, and realized that I am indeed capable of running, biking and swimming, I figured I might as well put them all together.  One thing led to another, and next thing I knew I had signed up for a sprint triathlon in Naples, Florida.  Planning for the triathlon provided the motivation I needed when swimming lap after lap became boring.

In some ways I was unprepared for the event.  I only practiced swimming in a pool but the actual swim was in open water. I hadn’t, and still haven’t, ridden a road bike with racing handlebars, only a mountain or hybrid bike.  This was probably where I was at the greatest disadvantage because the aerodynamics of a road bike are far more favorable for speed.  The setup of the brakes, gear shifts and posture is vastly different, which made the mountain bike a poor choice for the race. For my next race, and yes there are more in my future, I plan to make this change a priority.

Training for this event was not terribly difficult for me because exercise is already a priority in my life, and before I even started to train I had individually completed the distances for each portion of the race: ¼ mile swim, 10 mile bike and a 3 mile run. I had a general schedule to follow for the six weeks leading up to the race, but because I felt comfortable with the distances the biggest change I made was to practice going from one event to the next.  For example, one day I might swim and then get on a bike, and the next day I would bike and then run.  I still struggle with running and sometimes even biking with resistance due to some ongoing leg problems.  I tried not to run two days in a row (not good for the general population anyway), and I incorporated other forms of exercise into my workouts such as walking, weight lifting, and using the elliptical, which are less stressful on the joints. On the days that my legs were not cooperating, rather than pushing through the pain or neglecting my exercise for the day, I chose an activity that was less aggravating. This applies to anyone with a physical restriction. The fact that one exercise might be bothersome does not relieve you from workout in general. If your joints hurt while running or walking, try the elliptical or bike, which do not put as much pressure on the knees and hips. Believe it or not, by remaining active even when your body is aching will help avoid stifness and hopefully shorten the length of time you are physically limited. 

This was my first experience following a training guide, and training for a particular goal. My typical routine is to go to the gym and kind of go with how I’m feeling, which isn’t always bad.  However, some days I found it easier to look at my schedule and not think about what I should do that day or for how long.  Even if you’re not training for an event, consider making a schedule either before you go to the gym, or a week in advance so that when you’re tired and don’t feel like going to the gym you can look at that day’s routine and know what you have to do. More than anything you should listen to your body and how it feels.  Lastly, if you belong to a gym that offers group exercise classes, periodically try one to change up your routine or get new ideas!

The experience of participating in a race is something that I think everyone should enjoy at least once in his/her lifetime. More than anything, the excitement of crossing the finish line, by yourself or with a partner, is incredibly gratifying.  No matter how the race went you cannot deny that you did in fact finish.  The finish line signifies more than just the end of the race; it also marks the successful achievement of a goal.  And, of course the t-shirt is pretty cool too.   

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