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Tri And Give A Dam

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Ironman | No Comments »

Yesterday I was forwarded a YouTube video of a guy named James Lawrence, a triathlete doing an amazing challenge for charity whose bike was trashed by Delta airlines, who refused even to give him a refund on the air freight for the bike! Here’s the video:

James is trying to raise $5 million for drought relief in Africa by competing in 20 half Ironman triathlons in just 30 weeks. He’s already completed 4 of the races, and he’s already registered for the other 16.

Anyway, after watching the vid I checked out his site at Tri To Give A Dam and the project is amazing. Incredible pictures of the project’s work in Africa, and some a truly inspirational challenge so I just wanted to share it and maybe help send a few more people to the site and raise a few more dollars for a great cause. Talking of which, this will give you an idea of what the charity does and why it’s so important:

So, go check out James’ site and blog, follow his progress in the challenge on Twitter, and if you don’t agree with Delta’s treatment make sure you forward that video on!


Wow this triathlon thing can get expensive!  I’ve been going over my “shopping list” the last couple of days and it’s really starting to add up.   Apart from the actual race entry fees (the Perranporth Triathlon in a few weeks is £40 which isn’t too bad, but the Ironman is £345!) and swimming coaching (£60 per hour) and travel/accommodation expenses, there’s a whole bunch of equipment needed both for training and racing.  It kinda got me thinking – what is the minimum equipment needed, or put another way – how cheaply can someone get into triathlon?

Minimum equipment for triathlon

Now a bunch of this is going to be stuff that a lot of people already have, but quite a bit is fairly triathlon specific and will involve an expense for anyone wanting to get started with the sport, so let’s take a look at each stage in turn:

Equipment for the swim

Well the biggest expense here is going to be the wetsuit, unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere warm enough that one isn’t needed.  While a lot of active people may well already own a wetsuit it almost certainly won’t be suitable.  Wetsuits for surfing, kayaking or diving for example are too bulky and restrictive for swimming efficiently, so at the very least you’ll probably want to “splash out” on a budget triathlon specific suit.  From doing a little research the budget suits made by Orca look like a good deal for beginners.

After the wetsuit the swim stage isn’t too costly – a decent pair of goggles is essential, but anyone who already swims probably has a pair.  Other than that, you just need a swim suit of some description – while a triathlon specific suit might be ideal for shorter races especially, I see no reason why beginners can’t get away with a normal swim suite or pair of shorts under their wetsuit.

Equipment for the bike

OK, here’s where it gets expensive!  If you’re lucky then you already have a road bike you can use, if not then this is where you’ll need to be spending some real money.  Triathlon bikes can be very expensive, but beginners are recommended normally to start on a normal road bike anyway.  I come from a mountain biking background and have been riding Specialized mountain bikes for years, so I’m intending to get a Specialized Allez.  There also appear to be good budget offerings from Scott, Trek and a few other brands.  I think this is the one piece of equipment that it might be worth checking the second hand market for.  I’ve seen some amazing deals on second hand bikes in the past, so shop around and check places like eBay and the classifieds ads in your local paper.  There are a LOT of options when it comes to the bike though, so I suggest either grabbing the abslute cheapest second hand bike you can find, doing a couple of races, then selling it again and upgrading now you know what you want… or doing some real research before making the investment in a bike that will last.  Apart from the make and model, you need to decide on frame size (get fitted at a local bike shop!), gearing (double, triple or compact chainset, size of cassette etc>) and a whole load of options like brakes etc.  If you’re using clipless pedals then you’ll also need compatible cleated shoes.  Note – when you’re budgeting, remember that most decent bikes won’t come with pedals so you need to include the price of whatever pedals you want in your budget (but many bike shops will give you a deal on the pedals if you ask!)

Apart from the bike itself you’ll need a few extras.  First and most important is a helmet which is compulsory in all races, and essential for all training.  If you already ride a mountain bike you’ll already have one, otherwise head to a local bike shop and try a few on for comfort, but luckily they are relatively low cost these days.

You’ll also need one or more bottles and cages for carrying drink, a pump, and preferably puncture kit and/or spare tube (and know how to use them!)

For clothing on the bike, you can either keep a tri suit on (if you wore one for the swim) or wear cycle shorts and a jersey.  You’ll also want some gloves/mitts and last but not least some sunglasses to protect your eyes, believe me you don’t want to be flying down a hill and have a bee or a piece of grit from the road hit you in the eye!

Equipment for the run

OK so the major expenses were dealt with for the bike stage, and if you already run you may well have everything you need here.  The most important thing of course is running shoes, and this is one area not to skimp.  If possible visit a specialist shop and get fitted.  Find a pair which are suitable for your foot type, and are comfortable – you’re going to be doing a lot of miles in them and a decent pair of shoes can make the difference between trouble free running and knee/ankle injuries.

Other than the shoes, you can probably get away with whatever you have available – shorts, vest/jersey and keep your sunnies on from the bike stage.  You might also want a hat/visor if you’re running in a sunny climate, and as an optional extra you can go for lace locks which will help you transition faster, rather than wasting time tying shoe laces.  Finally, a race belt might be a useful addition, allowing you to attach your race number and simply clip on rather than messing about with safety pins in transition (and some can attach energy gels too)

Wow  that’s a lot of stuff, and potentially a lot of expense.  Add to this items like energy bars/gels/drinks, magazines and books about the sport, and all manner of extras like heart rate monitors, cycle computers, bike tools and spares, wetsuit lube, muscle rubs, hydration systems and all manner of race and training aids you’ll see for sale in shops and online and you’ll quickly see that this is not the cheapest sport, but I believe it can be done on a budget if you’re careful about what you buy and stick to the basics.

Personally I’m currently looking around for a suitable bike (probably Specialized Allez if I can find one at the right price) and will need to invest in a wetsuit in a few weeks, but other than that I’m just going to use what equipment I already have, and focus on the training (while my wife is helping to satisfy my geeky gadget addiction by buying me a heart rate monitor for my birthday!)





Becoming An Ironman – Book Review

By ActionGeek. Posted in Books, Ironman | No Comments »

I ordered Becoming An Ironman (by Kara Douglass Thom) from Amazon the day I made the decision to start training for Ironman UK 2011.  The blurb says it’ an “unforgettable ode to an extraordinary endurance sport – a book for anyone who wants to become an Ironman” and it doesn’t dissapoint.

The author writes well and gives a good introduction (after the foreward by John Collins, founder of the Ironman) and the rest of the book is a collection of other people’s first time experiences, some more successful than others but all of them truly inspiring.

Kara did interviews with nearly 200 Ironman athletes, and took the 37 most interesting and inspiring of those stories to relay in the book.  They are grouped into several lose categories, such as fast finishes, close calls (almost didn’t make it), DNF (did not finish) and early years (tales from the first Ironman events) and each story tells of the training, the fitness but most of all the emotion of completing 140.6 miles under your own steam.

I loved the book, though it did scare me a little in places and had me thinking “what have I got myself into”.  Stories like Lucie Martin who was hypothermic by the time she finished with a temperature of 93 degree, and ended up needing 3 litres of saline IV in the medical tent, or comments like Jane Fratesi’s after finishing – “No way was I going to train next year because it had killed me that year… I am not training for the Ironman next year, no way!”

But even after reading some of the “horror stories” of people not making it, needing medical attention or being disqualified and having to stop half way, the book has really inspired me that this is something I really want to do.  Without exception every single story was about pure joy and satisfaction on completing the Ironman – I wonder how my own Ironman story will play out next year?





So how long is a triathlon?

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Ironman | No Comments »

I’ve been mentioning Ironman Triathlon, and sprint Triathlon recently, but just how far is a “normal” triathlon and what does it involve?

Well, a triathlon is typically a swim, followed by a cycle and then a run, and there are a number of standard distances.  A sprint triathlon consists of a 0.75km swim, 20km cycle and then 5km run.  One step up from that is what’s known as Olympic distance.  Olympic triathlon is 1.5km swim, 20km cycle and then a 10k run.  Next up is the ITU (International Triathlon Union) Long Distance, otherwise known as Double Olympic Distance so you can probably guess that each of the three disciplines is doubled – 3km swim, 80km cycle, 20km run.  There is also an ITU triple distance, where the Olympic distance is tripled.

Next we get to the half Ironman (known as Ironman 70.3, or middle distance) which is 1.93km (1.2 miles) swim, 90km (56 mile) cycle and then 21.09km (13.1 miles – a half marathon) run, and the full Ironman which is 3.86km (2.4 mile) swim, 180km (112 miles) cycle and then a full marathon of 42.2km (26.2 miles) running to finish!

There are also some shorter distances such as a super sprint which is 0.4km swim, 10km cycle and 2km run and the “Ironkids” event for children which varies in distance but tends to be about half of the super sprint distance.

Here’s a table to compare the various triathlon distances:

Name Swim Bicycle Run Notes
Kids of Steel 100–750  m 5–15 km 1–5 km Distances vary with age of athlete (Ironkids)
Super Sprint 400 m

(0.25  mi)

10 km

(6.2  mi)

2.5 km

(1.5 mi)

Distances vary, but this is a standard Super Sprint course.
Sprint 750 m

(0.47 mi)

20 km

(12.4 mi)

5 km

(3.1  mi)

For pool-based races a 500m swim is common. The sprint distance is the fastest growing triathlon race distance in the United States
Olympic 1.5 km

(0.93  mi)

40 km

(24.8  mi)

10 km

(6.2  mi)

Also known as “international distance”, “standard course”, or “short course”
ITU Long Distance 3.0 km

(1.86 mi)

80 km

(49.6 mi)

20 km

(12.4 mi)

Double Olympic Distance
Half 1.93 km

(1.2  mi)

90 km

(56  mi)

21.09 km

(13.1  mi)

Also known as “middle distance”, 70.3, or “half-ironman”
Full 3.86 km

(2.4  mi)

180 km

(112  mi)

42.2 km

(26.2  mi)

Also known as “long distance” or “Ironman Triathlon”

So next time someone asks you have far a half Ironman is, or read a blog post mentioning an ITU triple length triathlon you’ll know what it means!





Do, or do not, there is no tri!

By ActionGeek. Posted in Ironman | No Comments »

Ah, the wise words of master Yoda!  Now of course he wasn’t referring to the Ironman triathlon when he said this to luke, but the sentiment is the same – either you do it, or you don’t.

Well recently, the question of whether I do or don’t has been milling about in my head.  There are a number of reasons that keep nagging me about why I shouldn’t do it – like the time commitment, the huge amount of training, the difficulty of the actual race, the fact that I can’t swim… and together they add up to a pretty compelling argument against entering the race.  But as I wrote in yesterday’s post, I AM entering the race!

Now I finally made that decision by looking at each of these objections individually, and asking myself if that alone was a good reason not to do it.  Now up until now I’ve only done this in my head, but I figured that by getting it all down in writing it would cement in my mind that I’ve made the right decision, so here we go (I’ll start with the big one!)

I can’t swim

Well, as I’ve said before that’s a slight exaggeration.  I can float, and I can make it from one end of the pool to the other, but it’s not fast and it’s not pretty, and I doubt I could do more than a few hundred meters, let alone 2.4 miles!

But is that a good reason not to do an Ironman?  No, not really.  The Ironman UK is over 14 months away, and that’s plenty of time to learn to swim well, and get the training in.  In fact I’ve already got myself a copy of Terry Laughlin’s book, Total Immersion, and starting next week I’ll be using that to teach myself a decent front crawl.  If that alone isn’t enough to get my stroke reasonable then there’s plenty of time to get some private tuition from a swimming coach, then once I’m competant I can buy a wetsuit and get some open water swims in, and then maybe enter a sprint distance triathlon to get some experience in a group swim.  So all in all, while the swim is definitely what scares me most about the race, it’s certainly no reason not to do it.

It’s hard

Well duh!  Yes, it will be hard.  Both the race itself, and the training will be tough, but that’s the point!  If it was easy, and everyone could do it there would be no challenge.  Now I’m sure that there will be tough times when I wished I’d never decided to do the Ironman, and there will be times that I want to quit, and there will be blisters, and sore muscles, and probably the odd injury… but the fact that it’s going to be hard is not a reason not to do it!

It’s expensive

OK so this is a legitimate objection, there is a certain amount of financial commitment to this race.  I’ve not attempted to work out how much it will cost, but off the top of my head there’s the race fee (£300), a wetsuit (£100+), a bike (???), running shoes (£80 – my current ones won’t last many more months!), travel and accommodation for the race (£200+), books/training aids (???), other expenses (???) – at a rough guess I can see the entire race and training costing best part of a grand all-in, even if I manage to get a decent deal on a second hand bike.  Now that’s a reasonable chunk of change, but it will be spread out over the next 14 months, and if I want to I’ll have the option of selling the bike and wetsuit on ebay afterwards to recoup a lot of the costs, so potentially that would reduce it significantly.  So, yes the money is a consideration, but again, this is not a reason not to do the race, I’ll just have to work harder to pay for it!

It’s a huge time/effort commitment

OK now this really is a big consideration.  I’ll need to invest many, many hours of training in order to get race fit.  Especially in the 10 – 12 weeks leading up to the event, I’ll be needing to put in some serious hours each week.  But the fact is that those hours are not invested only in the race, but in my general fitness which is something which will benefit me long after the race has finished.  So while that amount of commitment needs consideration, it’s certainly no reason to avoid doing a big event like an Ironman.

I’m sure there are many, many more objections I could come up with, but the fact is that none of them will give me a different answer, I will do the Ironman, I just need to plan, prep and train well.  As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be readying Total Immersion over the next few days and starting my swim training next week.  I’ve also ordered a couple of Ironman books – Becoming An Ironman which is a collection of stories of people’s first Ironman experience, and Be Iron Fit by Don Fink which should give me a better idea of the training involved.





Becoming an Ironman

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Ironman | 1 Comment »

140.6 miles under your own steam…

A 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile cycle and then a full marathon, back to back, with no breaks, has to be completed within a maximum of 17 hours… sounds like a challenge!

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about the Ironman but it’s been on my list for quite a few years. It’s often called the “ultimate endurance race” and for good reason – it’s a bloody long way!

The first Ironman was a combination of the Waikiki roughwater swim, the around Oaha bike race, and the Honolulu marathon. It was to settle an argument at the time about whether cyclists, runners or swimmers were fittest. Twelve men started that first Ironman race in 1978, 12 finished with Gordon Haller coming in first in 11 hours and 46 minutes. The following year there were 50 entrants, and the event has grown ever since.  Here’s a peek at what’s involved in the modern event:

I’m not sure exactly what it is about the Ironman, but for some reason I’m drawn to it, I want to test myself and see if I can do it.  That video gives me chills every time I watch it, but I feel compelled to try.  As their slogan goes, I want to see if I can “Swim 2.4 miles, Cycle 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles, Brag for the rest of my life!”

There are of course obstacles to completing, or even entering a race like this, some more obvious than others. The biggest is obviously a need to train – it would be almost impossible to complete an Ironman without considerable training, and stupid to try. So that would be a major hurdle, finding the time (many, many hours per week) to train which would increase in duration as the event approached. Then there is a financial cost. Entry to the race itself in the UK is £300 (about $450 USD) but there are also equipment costs (bike, wetsuit etc.) and travel and accommodation for the race itself. Then there’s the big one – I can’t swim!

OK so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, I can kinda swim a bit! But my normal swimming involved a bit of snorkling, or a quick dip in the pool on holiday, shortly followed by grabbing a beer from the bar and sitting around the pool with a Terry Pratchet novel! So the very thought of attempting a 2.4 mile swim, in deep freezing cold water, quite frankly terrifies me!

Hmmmm… so there are certainly obstacles to this, but if it was easy then it wouldn’t be a challenge so I’m committing to the challenge right now:

I, Billy “Action Geek” Deakin, being of sound(ish) mind and slightly less sound body, do solomnly declare that I have decided to commit to training for, and entering the 2011 Ironman UK.

There, I said it, no turning back now…

Looks like I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, from planning to training, but in just over a year I’ll be able to cross “Complete an Ironman” off my list ;) Even better, there are a number of other items on my list which I’ll be able to cross off along the way such as learning to swim properly, and maybe running a sub 3:30 marathon! So, let the training begin…