Tri FAQs

Over the last couple years, my friends, family, and acquaintances have asked me lots of questions about triathlon. I love answering these questions; it shows that they care about what I’m into and that I might have something to offer. Here are some of the most commonly asked (and answered) questions.

Why triathlon? Because (as Lisa said) the first one I tried didn’t kill me, and I knew that I could do better! Well, that and it’s a lot of fun to combine a few different things that I like doing all at once. I like to run, but I love to race. Most of the time when I’m on the bike for a training ride, I’m thinking about my next event. And it’s challenging. I like a challenge.

Do you wear a wetsuit? Yes. Always. I have a history of freaking out in open-water without a wetsuit. Plus, I’m a faster swimmer when I wear one. (It’s the extra buoyancy in the hips and legs.)

What do you wear under your wetsuit? Nothing! Just kidding. (For some reason, people always assume that we’re naked under there.) I wear whatever I’m going to wear for the bike and the run (minus shoes, of course).

What do you wear when you race? I wear a tri-top and tri-shorts. The top is a rather tight fitting, sleeveless bike jersey with a couple of very small pockets in the back that are pretty much only big enough to hold my pump (in a zippy bag) in one and an energy gel and a tube of glucose tablets in the other. (I tried running in a bike jersey once and everything bounced around way too much.) Tri-shorts are similar to regular cycling shorts except that the padding is a little smaller and lined so that there’s less friction. Most of the time, I don’t even notice the padding when I’m running. They’re also a little shorter than my regular bike shorts, and my tan lines look super-stupid when I’m wearing them.

How do you prevent chafing with less padding? I use lots of Body Glide, which is basically a paraffin wax-like substance in a deodorant stick-like container that your slather wherever you think you might chafe, which isn’t just the obvious places. It’s important to put it on your ankles and neck to help with the wetsuit. (And yes, I know that the name sounds like something naughty you would buy in a store with lots of neon signs and boarded up windows. I see you smirking out there.)

Where do you practice your open water swimming? I swim in Ashland Reservoir with half-dozen or more people from my tri club. It’s on my way to work, which is very convenient.

Where do you change clothes before work? In the parking lot of the boat launch where we all meet to swim. Obviously. :^) I’ve gotten quite adept at changing out of my wet swimsuit and into my work clothes under a beach towel. Sometimes, it’s nice being a dude.

How do you see in the water since you’re so blind? I have a couple pairs of optically corrected swim goggles that you can buy from the Tyr website. One pair is clear, while the other is tinted to block out some of the morning sun. I can’t read with them on, but then again, I don’t need to. They’re good enough that I can see where I need to go.

Why do you wear a swim cap? A few reasons. It makes it easier for boaters and my fellow swimmers to see me in the water; it simulates what it’s like on race day; it keeps my hair out of my face and water from sloshing in my ears; and when it’s cooler out, it keeps my head warm.

How long is each race? So far I’ve done sprint triathlons, which don’t have a standard distance but tend to be 1/4-1/2 mile of swimming, 10-15 miles of cycling, and 3-5 miles of running. I am registered for an Olympic-distance race (1500m, 40km, 10km—or 1 mile, 24 miles, 6.2 miles) and a 70.3 “half-Ironman” (1.2 miles, 56 miles, 13.1 miles).

How long does a race take? The sprints take a bit more than an hour. (My last race was 1:08.) I expect the Olympic is going to take between two and three hours, if all goes well, and the 70.3 will be between six and seven hours.

What’s on the calendar for this year? On July 8th, I’m doing the NYC Triathlon, which is an Olympic-distance. And August 26th is the Rev3 70.3 in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. That latter one involves an ocean swim, which kinda makes me nervous. And the NYC Tri just makes me nervous in general, since NYC just generally makes me nervous. It has a very early start that involves diving (literally) into the Hudson, and we’re only there overnight. I’m actually more worried about making the hotel check-out time than anything else.

What is your favorite part of triathlon? Passing people! That and knowing that I’m capable of doing this. It’s great seeing all of the training come together. And I confess that I have a warm spot in my heart for the bike. It’s my first love.

How does diabetes impact triathlon? It has a huge impact! Everything gets extra attention because of it. Managing diabetes during triathlon is as much a part of the sport as any of the three athletic activities or getting the proper nutrition before and during the race. I’ve been working for months on making lots of small, data-driven tweaks to my basal rates, bolus amounts, and food and insulin timing so that I can get the performance I want without high or low blood sugar. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer. Even though training ensures that there’s never a “normal day” to use for diabetes testing, triathlon has made my diabetes self-management so much better—even if my A1c doesn’t show it. It inspires me to try harder, and I’m in a better place because of it. It also makes my transition times longer than I would like them to be.

What do you do with your insulin pump during the swim? My Medtronic pump isn’t waterproof, so I take it off before I zip up my wetsuit. I put it in a zippy bag in my cycling shoe so that it’s ready for me after the swim, so that it’s out of sight and stays cool, and so that it’s impossible for me to forget to put back on.

Are you afraid of low blood sugar while you’re swimming? Yes, of course. Well, I’m not exactly afraid, but it’s always on my mind before I start. I keep an energy gel or two in the ankle of my wetsuit just in case hypoglycemia strikes. I’ve been working really, really hard in recent weeks to get more predictability in my BGs around swimming, so that I don’t feel like I have to start out way high in order to avoid lows.

How do you test your blood sugar? So far my races have been short, and I’ve been testing in the swim-bike and bike-run transitions, where I leave my meter. It’s impossible to test wet hands—it prevents the blood from forming a droplet and ruins my test strips—so I keep a thirsty chamois-type towel near my meter to dry off my hands before I start. (That was a hard-knocks lesson from my first triathlon.) Getting test strips out of the vial takes time and gets harder when you’re in a rush, so I leave one in the meter to quickly get going. I’ve also been experimenting with using one of Lisa’s hair rubber bands—thanks, sweetheart!—to attach a couple of extra strips to the One Touch Ultra Mini I use when I exercise.

What about testing during the 70.3? That’s a challenge! 3-4 hours is too long to go without testing on the bike, and I need my meter with me on the run, too. I’ve done one experiment while riding, and it wasn’t so successful. I managed to get the test strip into the meter and had thing between my teeth while I lanced my finger before I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get the blood from the finger on my left hand into the meter in my right one without having an extra for steering. (Homey don’t ride without hands.) I suppose I could try to do that with my meter still in my teeth, but I’m contemplating a way to attach my meter to my aerobars. That seems more promising. The run should be easier.

What about CGM? Shouldn’t that solve it? My CGM receiver (a.k.a., my pump) doesn’t like to be away from the CGM transmitter for more than half an hour. When it does, it gets “lost” and then needs recalibration. This annoys me, especially since I’ve been able to trust my CGM a lot more during exercise recently.

What do you eat and drink during an event? What about the 70.3? Energy gels (such as Gu, HammerGels, and ClifShots), energy chews (like Honey Stingers and ClifBloks), and water. Ideally I take in about 20-30 grams of carbohydrates every 30-40 minutes. I carry my own water with me. For shorter races, I keep two bottles in transition. One contains Gatorade and the other plain water. The one I pick to put on the bike depends on my blood sugar. My strategy for the 70.3 is going to be basically the same . . . just more of everything. And, yes, 6-7 hours of eating gels and chews sounds nasty and boring, but trust me, the thought of eating real food gets less and less appealing as the hours pass. (Although, if I could find some Pearson’s Salted Nut Bars, I would be so all over those.)

How much do you train every week? Usually nine to eleven hours of actual training time. It depends on the distance of my long run and ride and whether it’s a recovery week or not. Every week has nine workouts: three of each discipline, split among strength, speed, and endurance training. The purpose of strength workouts (which are basically tempo or long interval runs/rides/swims) is to build the ability to work at high intensity for long periods of time on race day, while the speed workouts are all about becoming faster by doing short, high-intensity sprints. I’m not used to this much structure, but it’s hard to get the training volume needed for each of the disciplines when you have to train for all of them at once, so quality counts and doing things in the right order to prevent overuse injuries and excessive fatigue is key. I definitely enjoy the mostly unstructured, “just go long” endurance workouts best.

How much do you have to eat not to waste away to practically nothing? I eat a lot! Upwards of 3000-3500 calories every day. It feels weird to eat so much, but I kinda like it.

What’s your goal with tri? That’s a tricky one. I’d like to see how good I can get at it while still having a really good time. I also want to inspire other people with diabetes (and without, too!) not to see our disease as a limitation. People who don’t have it don’t usually get how much hard work, self-doubt, and just plain-ole bullshit we have to put up with to do our thing, but for those of us with diabetes we know. It can be pretty discouraging and even paralyzing from time to time. I want to show other PWDs, their loved ones, and yes even myself what it’s possible to do. I want to be that success story you hear about.

Why do you say you’re not a good swimmer, when you’ve been top 1/3 in your last couple races? You caught me! I am trying to stop saying that I’m not a good swimmer, even though I could be better at it. It’s simultaneously refreshing and frustrating for me to see other people who are faster than me in the water. On one hand, it gives me the freedom to concentrate on what I’m doing and not get caught up in trying to chase someone down, but on the other hand, it’s a reminder that my technique and power are still not where I want them to be. It’s a very humbling and empowering place to be. (And I am getting a bit faster.)

Are you going to do an Ironman? Hahaha! You people are funny. That would involve running a marathon, and we know that I currently have no plans to do that. Seriously, I’m not keen on subjecting myself to 14+ hours of athletic exertion, much less asking Lisa to put up with me as I train for it.


Anything else you want to know?

This entry was posted in Diabetes, Life Lessons, Reluctant Triathlete, Running, Swimming. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Tri FAQs

  1. Lisa says:

    Ask him that last question again after he’s run the marathon that he also used to have no interest in doing. :)

  2. mary! says:

    haha, lisa, i was thinking the exact same thing!

    can you explain further about the CGM transmitter and pump problem? why won’t you have the transmitter with you during the race? (obviously, i don’t know what the transmitter actually is.)

  3. Mark Davis says:

    This is so refreshing! As a type 1 who is in the midst of training for his first triathlons it is always insightful to have a fellow pancreatically challenged athlete share some of their experiences. I use the CGM and want to find a dry storage that would hold the pump during the swim, thus staying in touch throughout the race and giving me that great window into what’s happening…. The concern is the what if factor….
    Good luck with all you endeavors!

  4. Hey now, girls can be good at changing out in public too… you just got to know what to wear. When I used to dragonboat, the day of any practice, I always made sure to be wearing a skirt – makes life so much easier :)

    I love passing people too … as a runner that is. No chance I’ll be doing a tri in my future… you tri people are weird! And I say that in the best possible way :)

  5. Kate says:

    Jeff! Such an inspiring post! I’ve always been wary/curious about changing, pumping, and testing during these races, and you are proof that you can do it, and rock it! If ever you want to work on your swim techniques, I’d be happy to assist (and get a workout while at it). I swam [the IM and butterfly] competitively for 15 years.

  6. Céline says:

    Awesome post Jeff! I read it after I finished loading the bikes in the car, double checking that I had packed my goggles and my running hat and writing a note to remind myself to wrap my pump in saran wrap and a ziplock back before leaving the house. I’m pretty excited to be joining the group of crazies who call themselves triathletes. One more sleep! Thanks for all the info, both in this post and during my training – you were a huge help.

  7. Nancy Patrick says:

    Yes, an awesome post from a very impressive individual. You’ve always been able to overcome any obstacle in your life, and you will not let diabetes deter you as you strive to live life to its very fullest.

    Continue to “Live Strong”

  8. Sysy says:

    WOW. great post, I’m going to favorite this and send it to those who email me with diabetes and athletics type of questions. Great stuff! I don’t think I’ll ever do a marathon or triathlon BUT you inspire me to push harder and I appreciate that so much.

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