Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Off-Season Rules of Engagement

Kona has come and gone, and we are now officially in the multisport offseason in most areas, especially up here in the northern latitudes. This time of year is actually the perfect time to bring new people into the sport. One of my passions is getting people to live more active, healthy lifestyles, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to encourage someone to sign up for a race. Besides being tons of fun, full of energy, and a sure-fire way to keep people coming back, races give us goals to work toward and hold us accountable in our training.

I have coaxed countless friends, coworkers, and family members to the starting lines of running races, dus, and tris. For me, one of the highlights of this summer was seeing my brother finish his first sprint triathlon. Below, I've compiled a list of steps I usually take when bringing someone new into the sport.

Choose your target. You probably already know who it is. It could be the coworker who keeps saying they'd like to try a triathlon "someday." It could be your mom who has started jogging a little; a 5K race could be just the incentive she needs to keep up the great work. It could be your brother who just graduated from high school or college who misses playing team sports and is looking for a way to stay in shape. It could also be your running buddy who just bought a bike for cross training purposes and has never heard of a duathlon. Remember, you don't have to pick just one target. The more the better!

Plant the seed. Once you know who you'd like to recruit, just bring it up! I usually like to mention it in the context of, "Have you ever thought of..." or "I know of this race that I think you could really like." I try hard not to push it. If the person doesn't seem interested or if they express that the timing or other circumstances just aren't right, I may bring it up once later but then let them just think about it. It's surprising how many times they will decide to do it on their own once the seed's been planted.

Pick a race. It's often best to pick a beginner friendly race that's not completely full of bike porn and type A personalities. Help them pick a race that fits in with the time frame they have to train in a location that doesn't require a lot of time and money to get to. Although some people are really drawn to destination races, I believe that it's best to stay close to home for the first couple.

It enables people to train on the course and have as many family and friends come to cheer as possible! In my brother's case, we helped him choose a race that would be best suited to his strengths. Since he is a biker and was working on staying afloat in the swim, we picked a sprint tri that was heavy on the bike and had a shorter swim. If you have the luxury of being able to choose from multiple races, keep this in mind. One of the benefits of doing this step in the offseason is that registration fees are often much lower this time of year. Signing up early may help alleviate some of the sticker shock!

Help them obtain the equipment they will need. Another great reason to start this process early is that training and racing can be expensive! A first-timer doesn't need a 5000 dollar bike or a 400 dollar wetsuit. You know by now what is necessary for a race (goggles, a bike, a helmet, and running shoes). If they want and can afford more, great. I have had many friends and family who have biked their first races on 10 year-old mountain bikes in running shorts. I did my first tri in just a swimming suit. It's really intimidating at first to sift through all of the "must-haves," and your experience will be invaluable.

Facilitate their training. Your new recruit may already be a type A personality who has decided to research and make up a training program equipped with base, build, and recovery weeks. More than likely, you will need to help them design a regimen that's not intimidating and is feasible and accounts for their lifestyle.

I find that canned programs work really well for beginners, especially if they just contain the day of the week, the distances and type of the workouts, and the effort at which the workouts should be done (easy, med, or hard as opposed to 10 minutes in zone 3 and then 3 x 5 minutes in zone 4). There are gobs of books with great plans in addition to all of the ones available online. Another aspect of facilitating training is making sure that your recruit is getting in workouts that will make them successful in a race.

Make sure they do a brick or two. In my brother's case, my husband Steve and I took him out for several open water swims to prepare him for the freak out factor. Those workouts really made a difference in his training and during his race.

Encourage, encourage, encourage. Check in. See how the training is going. Ask them what they are nervous about. Offer to do a workout with them. Let them know that they can ask you questions anytime. It is so rewarding to be able to see someone working toward a goal.

Prepare them for race day. Make sure they have a nutrition plan (what they will eat for breakfast, race-day nutrition if needed, etc). They may want to run their list of stuff to bring by you. Lend them equipment or clothes if necessary. Ensure they know how to set up their transition area and when they will pick up their packet. Let them know what to expect in terms of the feel of the race (competitive vs beginner-friendly), the structure of the race (time trial vs wave start, whether there are other distances racing, etc), the course, the aid stations, and the after party.

Be there on race day. Whether you are racing that day too or are just going to cheer, join your new recruit on race day! Be there to answer any questions, help calm their nerves, and scream your head off as they near the finish. I still get choked up every time I help another person to a first finish line.

Happy training!