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Don Nolting – My First Triathlon

Don Nolting, an Austin Triathlon Club Ambassador, recalls his first triathlon

The 2016 Rookie Triathlon (300m swim, 11.2-mile bike, 2-mile run), was my attempt to help a friend, and myself, lose weight. I was 41 and 255 pounds at 6’1.5”. He thought a sprint triathlon would be a fun way to do it since he liked to swim. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if, 1) we would have decided more than a month before the triathlon was to take place to sign up, 2) I hadn’t just undergone bilateral knee surgeries #4 and #5 six months prior, and 3) if I owned a bike.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

I was still rehabbing from knee surgery, and given the short time to train, I focused on swimming and riding. While all my doctors discourage running with my knee issues, swimming and biking are highly suggested. The biggest thing for me was to not over train the month before the tri and be so sore and fatigued that I wouldn’t be able to race.

Training

Since I knew how to swim, I focused on that. The good news: the swim distance was only 300 meters. I started in the pool and then made sure to swim in a few different open water spots around Austin. Barton Springs became my really cold friend. I was having trouble freestyle swimming, so I focused on the breaststroke and worked on perfecting my form while training.

The biking was a whole different beast. I didn’t own a bike when I signed up for the tri. So I took advantage of all of the spring bike sales in Austin. I chose a hybrid bike as a starter bike and got in plenty of rides during the month. I even rode the bike course a few times and struggled some.

Since I planned to speed-walk the run, I only worked on increasing my overall fitness for that. In the end, I was pretty happy with where I was feeling after the bike rides, but I wasn’t confident about my swimming.

Race day

Race day showed up really fast! From a tip I had read on lots of tri websites, I laid out my transition and equipment the night before. I was sure I had everything, but 5:00 a.m. comes early. I was nervous, but the pre-race stretches helped calm my nerves. Waiting in line to get into the water was where the nerves sprung up again. Many of the guys in my age group were nervously chatting about how they hadn’t practiced swimming in open water. 

I was towards the back of the line going into the water, and I observed people grabbing the lifeguard canoes and the buoys. (* this is legal by USAT rules as long as you do not use the kayak to make forward progress).  Practicing breaststroke proved to be beneficial. I don’t think I could have freestyled in that water. I felt good after my swim and was proud I had completed it without taking any breaks or needing any assistance. The path to transition was an uphill path, so I took my time so I didn’t injure my knees at all.

Transition went pretty smoothly and I felt good getting onto my bike. The first 1.5 miles went well. However, once I turned into the headwind, it was like I put a sail on my back. I felt like I was going head-first into a wall and barely moving. I was happy to get back to transition, but wasn’t looking forward to the “run.” My legs were gassed, and I hadn’t really practiced going from cycling to a run or walk. Big mistake!

That two miles seemed like 20. In addition, it had recently rained, so the course was muddy and changed to include some hills that were rough on my knees. I wasn’t taking any chances with my knees so soon after surgery, so I walked the hills, but (against my doctor’s orders and my better judgment) slow-jogged the flatter sections. Finally coming around the last bend helped me pick up the pace and finish strong.

The Finish & Beyond

My goal was to finish my first Rookie Tri in 90 minutes, and I missed it by only three minutes. I was tired and sore, but proud that I had finished.

Unfortunately, because of knee rehab, it took me about a year to feel right again in order to train for another race. I got back into riding my bike and started swimming again in late 2017. I joined the Austin Tri Club in the spring of 2018 and have really started to push myself and my training thanks to the group. They support and motivate me as I safely train for aquabike challenges (*Aquabike participates complete the swim & bike portion of the triathlon, with their official timing stopping after entering transition after the bike.) and I enjoy cheering on my club-mates as they compete too.

Rookie Triathlete: Part 7: The Open Water

The open water swim is a game-changer

Up until Tuesday, April 24th, none of my Rookie Triathlon training swims were in open water. They were all in a pool. The pool was daunting at first, but over time I became more accustomed. Clear waters allowed me to see the guiding, black line below. Lane dividers kept me from going all over the place and running into others. Protocol taught me how to share a lane with someone else and not crash head first. For good reason (whether I liked it or not), all of that was about to change.

open water

Sunrises at Barton Springs never get old.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about graduating to open water and becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable. Yeah, so I put off that graduation swim for a couple weeks. I found every excuse I could to not visit Barton Springs. I’d hit the snooze button, go for a bike ride, or return to the pool. Everyone I talked to about their first triathlon said they’re glad they did an open water swim beforehand. Others wish they had completed at least one non-pool swim before their first triathlon. I knew I needed to get out of the pool. I just needed to clear that mental hurdle.

Mental hurdle cleared

I jumped in Barton Springs (how else do you get in?!) this past Tuesday morning (4/24). I made sure I had my buoy (and noseplug!) for my first open water swim. This would be the longest continuous swim for me since my mock Rookie Tri championship. My breathing and form have improved tremendously. I didn’t want to lose all of that on my first non-pool swim. I wore running tights, no board shorts this time! The water felt good and I knew standing around wouldn’t help matters. So I took off.

open water

Can’t help but have a great day after that swim!

I tried to remember everything from the pool, plus sighting. My first long swim in Barton Springs would not result in running into someone. Everything started feeling good until about the halfway mark. That’s when the rocks disappear. Your energy starts shrinking. The form and breathing you’ve practiced goes out the window. But this is where Barny, my coach, kicks in. Just like anything else, it’s all friggin’ mental. I can’t control the rocks disappearing, but I can control my form and my breathing. Both of those impact my energy levels and my ability to remain calm.

Open water swim: Take Two

I needed to go back to the Springs. Barny had it built into my training plan. Rookie Tri is less than two weeks away. I need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Barny wanted to stretch out a new wetsuit in the Springs. He and I planned to return the next day, Wednesday (4/25). This time, he challenged me to do the swim with no buoy. After all, I can’t use the buoy on race day.

This swim was harder, not because of the missing buoy. I had a hard running workout with RAW Running the night before. Add to that, I biked to the Springs from our office (~4 miles one way). So my body wasn’t in peak shape. But in the end, this is all preparing me for Sunday, May 6th, at Decker Lake. As I mentioned, the swim was harder, I needed to breaststroke a few times to get me breathing back down. I paused at the end of the Springs to rest and catch my breath. BUT I DID IT. I feel my upper body getting stronger. Plus, I didn’t run into anyone!

If you’re a Rookie and have been in the pool 100%, I strongly encourage you to swim in the open water at least once before Rookie Tri. You need to experience something similar to what you’ll experience on race day. I promise you’ll be better off for completing at least one open water swim. I know I’m planning at least one or two more. Check out our next blog post to watch a video from Barny where he talks about the importance of an open water swim before your first triathlon.

Rookie Triathlete: Part 2: Mock Rookie Tri

Mock Rookie Tri Overall Champ

mock

The Beginning.

I’ll begin this blog by stating that I’ve always respected other athletes and their abilities. After this morning’s mock Rookie Tri I have a newfound respect for swimmers, cyclists, and triathletes. Holy smokes that was an intense way to begin a Friday morning. I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would, but I hurt in places that I didn’t know could hurt like that (aka my ass). I have a stand-up desk at work, and it’s been a back-and-forth battle all day of standing up to not aggravate my cycling “injury” and sitting down to rest my weary body. BUT… I did it.

My morning began with an earlier alarm clock than normal, can’t be late to my mock triathlon! I ate a Clif Bar and Clif Bloks for breakfast. I also weighed myself – 195 lbs. Coach Barny met me at Barton Springs. After running into my *friendly triathlon* arch nemesis (saving his intro for another blog) I become even more pumped to get this mock tri started. It was chilly with some occasional wind; my phone told me it was 46 degrees outside. My bed was much warmer.

So… there’s no motor?!

The swim

As promised, the 300m swim took place in Barton Springs wearing board shorts with running tights underneath. We all know the water temperature (~68 degrees if you don’t know). I’m accustomed to the water because that’s where I relax after my morning runs in the summer. No better way to cool off. Swimming the first 300m of your life on Feb. 1st on the other hand…Yikes. But, I jumped in (yes, I held my nose). The initial shock wore off; I adjusted my goggles to keep stalling, finally started Barny’s swimming watch that I borrowed, then began swimming. Completely unnatural motions for me. I tried to emulate what I’ve seen others perfect, the stroke, breathing in above water, breathing out underwater. It went well for about the first 50m and then I started flailing. Not flailing like I was about to go under, but flailing like I’m only 50m into this, and I’m this exhausted? I kept pushing until I reached a point where I turned on my back. Greatest decision of my life (besides marrying my wife, duh). I was able to regain my composure and calm my breathing. I alternated this method until I reached the 300m mark, nearly ran into the wall at one point! Towards the end, my goggles started fogging, so I need to look into preventing that somehow. I slowly exited the Springs, said some things under my breath while toweling off, and began my ascent to the parking lot where the bed of my truck was Transition. I think Barny and I talked; I just can’t remember what about for the life of me!

This first transition of my mock tri took longer than the second one. I dried off as best I could. Next, I took off my board shorts and put on some running shorts, threw on a shirt and a quarter zip pullover. Half the time spent in transition was trying to get my socks on. I’m finally ready, grab my nuun performance, and load it into a road cruiser that I borrowed from the office. Pro tip, get a helmet before riding. I didn’t get a helmet (I will soon!) and had to ride without one. My course was a safer “course” riding on the roads of Zilker Park, but still, Rookie mistake. Before I took off, I put on my Garmin watch so I could track my time and distance for the bike ride and run.

Giddy up!

The bike

My 11-mile bike ride begins. It’s crazy, how many memories come back to you when you haven’t ridden a bike since you were young (like standing up on the pedals to give your ass a rest). It’s also crazy how those memories immediately went away when I left the Barton Springs parking lot, took a left, and encountered my first hill. A few more choice words and lower gears later and I’m at the top thinking I’m out of my league. But by the final lap (the laps were ~1.25 mi) I felt good about the hill, my approach, and plan for attacking it and using different gears. There’s way more to learn, but much was learned between the first and last laps. My muscles started screaming at me in the last few laps. Passing a good buddy of mine, Paul Terranova, three times while he ran helped distract, and his words of encouragement were indeed needed. Thanks, Paul!

My ride ends at 11 miles on the dot, and I head to transition (aka my truck bed). I hop off the bike, and my legs begin wobbling immediately. I thought I was going down for the count. This foreign feeling had me worried about the run. Barny laughed at me and told me I’d be fine (he was right). I took some more hydration, gathered myself, and began my run.

The run

Two miles is nothing for me. Or so I thought. After swimming 300m and riding for 11 miles, my body felt as though I’d never run before. EVER.

It wasn’t as bad as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill when she wakes up from her coma, but it wasn’t pretty. My motion was different; my stride was off. I was shuffling the first half mile. Then muscle memory kicked in. I climbed the hill (that I just rode several times). My stride began to elongate. I started feeling better. I get back to my truck (aka transition), and I still have .75 miles left. But the loop was 1.25 miles. I thought to myself there’s no way in hell I’m running an extra half mile. Not today. So I ran towards the familiar Greenbelt entrance. Hit a certain point on the Greenbelt and turned around. I finished my mock tri right next to the Zilker water fountain. Just like I’d planned it. By then I was picking up the pace and feeling better about the day, knowing I was so close to the end.

GPS is always right.

After my mock Rookie Tri, I composed myself, checked my body to ensure everything was where it was supposed to be, got out some salted watermelon Clif Bloks (my go-to), and got in my truck. I sat for a few seconds to ensure I could operate a vehicle. It turns out I could. I made my way home, gingerly took a shower, swatted away Napoli, my blue heeler, who wanted to play, and headed to work.

The end. Right? Wrong. Now the training begins! Check out my splits below.

Overall time – 1:34:43

300m swim – 7:16

T1 – 6:00

Bike – 1:01:47 (5:35, 5:39, 5:37, 5:08, 5:23, 6:01, 6:03, 5:56, 5:44, 4:57, 5:44)

T2 – 2:00

2-mile run – 17:40 (9:06, 8:34)

Want to join the fun? Coach Barny (I think that’s what I’ll call him) has a training deal for Rookies (like me) who want to complete the Rookie Tri on May 6th (you HAVE to be a first-timer!). It’ll be a 12-week program for $400 total. That’s a steal and significantly less than what he normally charges. Plus, I need some training partners. Accountability is huge when training. It makes getting out of bed easier. It makes training in general easier. JOIN ME! Hit him up today and tell him you’re a Rookie who wants to #feelthebarn.