Riding for a Reason

Changing the world, one mile at a time

Another unfortunate triathlon death

I read the new this morning, only to find out that the third life has been claimed from triathlons in Wisconsin this year.

It is very unfortunate.  As  the popularity of this sport grows, so too do the deaths.  The basis of doing a triathlon is so positive and has the capability of changing your life for the better.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in those feelings, that you overlook the physical challenges of competing and any potential health risks that you have.

Triathlons are great because it’s an experience shared by people of all walks of life, all shapes, sizes, and ages.  It has the ability of sucking you in and pushing your body to it’s limits.  In reading about the last 2 deaths, it appears that all of these individuals had been training for at least 8 months, which is about average for a new triathlete.  They had most likely already made that lifestyle change and gotten into the routine of building their endurance.  Unfortunately, I think that sometimes the least amount of training comes in the most serious leg of the race.  I too, am guilty of this.  It’s very difficult sometimes to plan for training in a pool.  If you don’t belong to a gym and don’t have the availability of a local pool to practice in, it can be difficult to build up your endurance.  While it is true that the beginning of the race generally gives you an extra boost of andrenline, it also can put more stress on your heart, especially when the water temperature is still relatively cool in the early morning.  On top of that, many times, that first triathlon is the participants first time swimming in the open water.  The current, waves, 50+ people in the water with you, and not having a lane line to follow adds stress on your body and anxiety that can cause you to rush your breathing and shorten your stroke.

For others that are preparing for their first triathlon, make sure you have had a physical in the last 12 months.  Try to discover any lingering health problems that have not been diagnosed.  For someone who is nervous about the swim, try a triathlon like the Early or Late Bird J-Hawk Triathlon in Whitewater, WI.  The swimming leg of the race is in a lap pool where you share a lane with 2 other people that are generally the same speed as you.  This is the main reason why I chose this race as my first tri.  You don’t have to worry about getting kicked in the head.  You can see where you’re going, and perhaps most importantly, you can touch the bottom most of the time.

If you don’t have an option of a tri that uses a lap pool, consider extra emphasis on your swimming training.  I realize that it’s the smallest leg of the triathlon, but it’s also the most dangerous.  Get your body use to swimming at least twice as many meters continuously as the race requires.  Consider getting a swimming coach to help you with the efficiency of your stroke.  Practice hard and then on race day, take your time and concentrate on the effectiveness of your stroke.  Wear a brightly colored swim cap (so the lifeguards can see you) and don’t be afraid to switch to breast stroke, side stroke, or even doggy paddle if you need to keep your head above water and keep breathing.  There’s no shame in swimming something other than freestyle.  Everyone gets tired in the water and NO ONE is going to judge you.  For first timers, the goal of the race is just to finish, so focus on that and be proud of what you’re accomplishing.  After you finish, take a moment to reflect on that and thank your body because you’ve done something that a lot of people will never even attempt.

Here’s another blogger’s take on the incident as well.

This is purely my opinion and I am by no means an expert.  We’re all in this together when we’re in a triathlon and we all want everyone to finish safely.  See you at the finish line!

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August 10, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

2 Comments »

  1. As a Milwaukee resident and graduate of UW-Oshkosh, I was very saddened to hear of this tragedy, esp right after the Pewaukee incident and after finishing a triathlon just 2 weeks prior, in which several of my friends did their first triathlon.

    I agree with your comments. Trying to do some open water lake swimming with other people prior to the event is also important. Add in the excitement and anxiety, the waves, other people, sun glare, etc. and it is easy for a person’s heart rate to increase and to get panicky.

    I, too, am glad that people get motivated to get in shape and improve their health but wonder if choosing to do a tri as a first competitive athletic event after being inactive for some time is the best choice. Perhaps start with training for and competing in 5k road races and charity bike events first and then build up and add in the swim portion. Before my first tri (Danskin) I took swim lessons for the very reasons you mentioned and it was one of the best things I have done, esp since I was not much of a swimmer. Even with the lessons and training I still was not prepared for being in the open water with 100 others, being swum over (I am slow!), and not being able to see more than 2 feet around myself due to the sun glare on the water. As it was, I got freaked out in the beginning but without the lessons and training I could easily have gotten into serious trouble in the water.

    Comment by Suzanne | August 12, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the great advice on preparing for the swimming portion of a tri. I recently completed my first triathlon (in Wisconsin, shortly after this woman died!)and was amazed at how difficult the swimming portion was! I was a high school swimmer and I also went through a DVD training course called the Total Immersion method (highly recommended) so I thought I’d be all set. I hadn’t anticipated the differences of open water and the large groups of people. I completed the swim without incident but it left a bad feeling in my gut. I will definitely be training differently for my next tri!

    Comment by Michele Y | August 21, 2009 | Reply


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