MTB for Strength and Fun

  • 7.85mi Distance
  • 58:59 Moving Time
  • 834ft Elevation
  • 181W Estimated Avg Power
  • 639kJ Energy Output
  • Speed 8.0mi/h avg, 32.2mi/h max

The training plan I’m (vaguely) following, from Your First Triathlon by Joel Friel, puts all of its strength training days as optional, on days that are otherwise rest days.  So on Mondays, it’s either take a rest day, or do some strength if you’re feeling up to it.  

So far I’ve felt up to it exactly one time.

I find weights pretty boring and uncomfortable, and would much rather be outside.  Rest days have also proved to be pretty important, so there’s not much motivation for me to pump any iron so far.

That said, I recognize the need to improve strength in order to be able to achieve the fitness required for triathlons.  For me personally, I need strength in my core to balance out a genetically poor back, and upper body strength for swimming.

Instead of weights, I have combined a bunch of things into one by focusing on mountain biking for about half of my bike workouts.  I happen to live very close to an epic MTB trail system, so I can get out there very easily.  It’s not something I have a lot of experience with, but the experience of training in different modes is proving to be pretty enjoyable.  

Mountain biking is a much different workout than road biking for me, particularly as I’m new to it so I’m still fighting to stay smooth.  That results in a lot of muscular activity in places that I wouldn’t normally experience while hammering it out on the asphalt, like in the arms and abs.  At the same time, it gets my heart rate up consistently and works on explosive power in the legs, so it’s kind of the best of all worlds.  It’s not exactly the same as a dedicated strength workout, of course, but at this point it’s covering what I need for sure.

The downside is that it’s rougher on my body.  I come home from an MTB sore in places that I didn’t even know existed.  I scrape my shoulders on trees and rocks, jam my feet, cramp my hands, get covered in dirt and grease and all kinds of things, not to mention the bugs.  But it’s great muddy fun.

22-mile ride

  • 22.25mi Distance
  • 1:23:07 Moving Time
  • 1,591ft Elevation
  • 199W Estimated Avg Power
  • 992kJ Energy Output
  • Speed 16.1mi/h avg, 45.6mi/h max
  • Heart Rate 147bpm avg, 182bpm max

This ride was a milestone in my triathlon training adventure.  Not a huge milestone, maybe more like a milepebble.  But it was something that I felt proud of.

When my parents moved a couple of years ago to live closer to us, I jokingly suggested that I could start training for triathlons now, because they were close enough to bike to, and owned an Endless Pool.  At the time it was just a lark.  I was probably 50 pounds overweight and it would be at least a year before they even thought about installing the pool again, after dismantling it from their old house. Not to mention that the route between my house and theirs “ain’t flat” (to use a common expression around these parts).

Still, the idea never completely left my brain.  It sort of percolated.  And eventually, after a series of particular life events, I found myself training again.  And the triathlon plan was a viable possibility.

This ride really solidified the reality of what I was trying to do.  It wasn’t just that I had thought about doing this ride, and then eventually did it.  It was that I could do it.  It took weeks of training and reacquainting myself with my road bike to reach the point where I could ride 20 miles on my own without blowing up, much less on a route like this. But I did it, and that was a thing I did that I was proud of.

The ride was pretty much a steady climb for the first five miles, and included three Category 4 climbs, and my climbing muscles felt it.  I learned a lot about my own personal riding on this ride, paying attention to how I positioned myself on the bike in order to focus on different muscles and relieve the pain of the persistent climb.  I figured out that I could shift that pain around a lot by changing how I was sitting and leaning, and trade the effort off between different parts of my legs.

The payoff was a sweet extended downhill cruise to the flats, topping out at around 46 mph at one point, followed by watching a World Cup game with my Dad.  

It was a good day, and one of the first days since starting this plan that exercise felt really, honestly good.  It was great to have that feeling back again.

Me, doing my first open water training swim

As it usually goes with me, I’ve lost track of blogging here recently, so I’m writing after the fact.  The good news is that I’ve been racking up the training entries so I have a lot to catch up on.  I’ve kept it going.

Before the weather got warm enough to swim outside, I had been training in an Endless Pool at my parents’ house.  It’s great for convenience (if you’re near it) but I knew it would be a different thing to try to swim any distance in open water, like I will be doing in an actual triathlon.  

I’ve swum in lakes my entire life, but never for exercise before now, so this was a first.  I was pretty sure I could do it, though, because by this point I’d swum enough times in the pool that I knew I could swim for at least 15 minutes without stopping.  Judging from past finish times of the triathlons I’m signed up for, that should be more than enough time to cover the requisite distance.

So I fired up Google Maps and had a look at the lake where we were camping.  As it turned out, our site was directly across from a beach, and the distance appeared to be about 500m, give or take – the distance of the swim leg in my first upcoming sprint triathlon.  It was perfect.

I had my wife drive me around the lake to the beach, told her where the binoculars were and to watch for me waving my arms in case I got in trouble, and walked down to the edge of the water.

It was evening, so the sun was low on the horizon.  That turned out to be a very good thing, because the

Aegend Swim Goggles

I was using were tinted.  I had never really noticed it before, because I had only been swimming in a well-lit pool.  But they were very dark.  So dark, in fact, that I couldn’t see the shoreline at all, particularly also because they fogged up like crazy.  They also have curved lenses, which means they are somewhat blurry in water even if they aren’t fogged up.  Really, the only redeeming factor about them is that they have a great head strap.  They seemed great in the pool, but in open water it was suddenly a different story.  All of that quickly became a problem, because I couldn’t see the campsite I was headed for and had no idea where I was going.  

To compound matters, after I got a ways out into the lake, I found myself noticing how dark the water was below me, and feeling the immense depth and cold of the expanse I was swimming over.  I started to get panicky and anxious.  It was made worse by not being able to see anything.

I took a break and floated on my back for a while, catching my breath and trying to calm down.  After some moments of thought I realized that the sun was bright enough to see through my goggles, so if I lifted them temporarily to figure out where it was on the horizon relative to the campsite, I could use that as a sort of compass bearing, keeping it just off my right shoulder.  This kept me headed in approximately the right direction without having to actually see anything clearly. I started closing my eyes when my face was in the water, to avoid seeing the enormous darkness below me, and after that I was okay.  I crawled on.

After about fifteen minutes I smelled wood smoke, and eventually saw my family sitting on a rock, waiting for me.  I had made it, but had definitely learned a few things.

One of the first things I did after that swim was order new goggles.  This time I got the Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 Swim Goggle, which has proved to be enormously better.  They are clear, have flat lenses and don’t fog up. They just work. 

I also won’t be crossing any lakes anytime soon without a kayak escort. Luckily triathlons are always supported and along shorelines, so this particular situation shouldn’t arise again.