What I Know After One Year As A Triathlete

0771_001823On Sunday I’ll be returning to IronGirl Canada, the race that started my triathlon journey just one year ago! Since then, I swam, biked, and ran hundreds of kilometres and learned a few things along the way. While my triathlon journey is still very new and I still have a ton to learn about this whole swim-bike-run life, here are a few important, fun, and/or useful things I’ve learned this year. If you are thinking of making the leap to triathlon or are just looking for something new in your life, I hope the list below shows you that while triathlon training is hard work, you can do it.

1. Swimming is hard. Open water swimming is harder. But it gets better with practice, practice, practice. If there’s one sport you can’t skimp on, it’s swimming! The only way you’ll get more comfortable in the water, is to be in the water, and often. I know heading out to the pool at 6am is tough, but you’ll thank yourself for sticking with it when you experience a major breakthrough!

2. Tri gear will make your life easier. Tri shorts, tri laces, tri belt, all these things are great! Tri shorts are long and they stay in place! For someone with “generous” thighs, this is a welcome change from most run shorts which just ride up. Tri laces will never come undone so you’ll never have to stop again during a race to tie your shoes. Tri belts make it so you won’t have to poke any more holes into your favourite race shirts. The tri belt will hold your race bib and allow you to easily move it to your back for the bike and to your front for the run.

3. A Coach will make it better. Let’s face it, triathlon can be a confusing sport! When I started, I didn’t know how to swim and I had never owned a road bike. Luckily, my Coach at Skywalker Fitness is not only a triathlete himself, but is also certified in triathlon coaching. As I transitioned from running to triathlon, my Coach gave me workouts to focus on my weaknesses and build my confidence in the two sports that were new to me. All those hours in the pool and on the bike trainer this winter? I can say they have definitely paid off!

4. Changing your own tire will make you feel like a superhero. This is a skill you just can’t go without in the world of triathlon! The first time I had to do this myself, I used this video from Trek Bikes. The hardest part for me was getting the tire back on after the inner tube had been changed, but with some practice and a whole lot of muscle, it can be done!

5. If you want to do something in a race, make sure you can do it in practice first. I have found this especially true for swimming. If you want to swim 1000m without stopping in open water during a race, make sure you do that exact thing in practice. If you want to run a certain pace off the bike during the race, do that same thing in practice to see if your legs can handle it. This will do wonders for your self-confidence and when the pain gets real during the race,  you can remind yourself that yes, you CAN do this because you’ve done it before!

6. Your body will love the training variety. As much as I love Biking Alisha Jennarunning, I can’t do it 5 days a week. Late last year I had to drop out of my first marathon because my groin started acting up and long runs became very painful. As I took some time away from running last winter, I turned my focus to swimming and cycling which kept my cardio up and my body strong, without the strain on my groin. When I returned to running in the spring, I did so 3 times a week. The variety has kept injuries at bay and my body has never felt stronger.

7. Learning something new as an adult is awesome. I’ll never forget my first training session in the pool. My coach asked me to swim one lap and I barely made it 25m! All I could think of was, I have to do that 40 times to swim 500m! It truly seemed impossible. Today, I can swim that distance without stopping and the journey to get there has been tough and amazing at the same time. For all the times I have wanted to jump out of the pool and quit in the middle of a hard workout, there have been an equal number of times when I have high-fived myself for completing a tough set. Sometimes at the end of the workout I do a few easy laps and just think how beautiful and calming it is to be in the water, learning something new, and treating my body to an amazing workout at the same time. I am so glad I took the plunge and learned how to swim.

8. Clipping In – Just do it. Eek! This one was nerve wracking because everyone around me just kept telling me how many times I was going to fall, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, you will fall, probably as you are trying to unclip. But once you fall you realize it isn’t that bad and you get on with it. You will get faster when you switch to clipless pedals (bonus!) and climbing hills will be easier! I got my pedals put on by the very kind people at D’Ornellas Bike Shop in Scarborough and was taken on my first ride around the block by Olympian and Canadian Road Racing Champion Eon D’Ornellas. Having someone kind and patient teach you how to clip-in and clip-out makes a big difference. If you’re local, I highly recommend you check them out!

9. Apply sunscreen between the swim and bike. This year at the Toronto Triathlon Festival I got burnt! I put on some sunscreen before the swim, but didn’t reapply before the bike and when I got home I quickly realized my mistake…ouch! Luckily, Neutrogena makes a very handy sunscreen spray that’s easy to apply in 10 seconds or less. I will definitely be using this on Sunday to save my skin from the harsh rays of the late morning sun.


Victory Photo10. It’s never too late to become a triathlete.
The oldest woman competing in the IronGirl Triathlon this Sunday is 73. the most competitive age category group is women 40-44 and there are 39 women competing who are cancer survivors. How freakin’ awesome is that? It’s so inspiring to see women of all ages and abilities competing in this sport and doing things they never thought they could do! More than anything, triathlon has taught me the importance of goal-setting, hard work, the joy of learning something as an adult, and the personal satisfaction that comes from knowing you can do something today that you could not do yesterday, and it never stops. In another 365 days I will be a better triathlete than I am today. If you want to start, start today and next year we could be lining up together at the start of IronGirl Canada, doing something we both never thought possible.

I’m serious. If this is something you want to do, start today. tweet me @jennapettinato or email me jenna.pettinato@gmail.com and I’ll hold you accountable to your training, introduce you to the awesome triathletes I know, and support you through this incredible journey. Let’s do this.

Try This Workout: Moves Like Lanni

Lanni STWMLast month after the Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon, I had the opportunity to chat with Lanni Marchant, Canada’s marathon record-holder and recent bronze medalist in the 10,000m at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. The incredible thing about so many of our Canadian athletes is that they really care about their fans and are so kind and generous in sharing their training experiences. Lanni is no exception and it’s amazing to see how she’s become a hero for Canadians and women runners all across the country!

We were talking about developing speed and training on the track and I asked Lanni if she had a favourite workout she could recommend. She mentioned something called “The Brazilian,” which she describes in this post on her blog. 

The Brazilian involves a lot more than running. It includes crunches, push-ups, supermans, and lunges, followed by a 100m sprint, running drills, and then even more sprints! I am telling you, the first time I did this workout I screamed on my last interval because I was in so much pain. Lanni’s version of the workout is pretty intense and obviously tailored to an elite level athlete (which I am not), so I asked my Coach Brock Armstrong to modify the workout into something I could fit into my training. Here’s what he came up with:

Lanni Marchant’s Brazilian Workout, Modified for the Recreational Athlete:

Warm-Up: 5-10 minutes of full body movement.

Main Set:
Repeat this set 4 times, increasing the final sprint distance each time:
10 crunches, 10 push-ups, 10 supermans, 10 reverse lunges
100m all-out sprint
20 reps of a running form drill. Choose one from this video: http://ow.ly/Q8Iku
90 second easy jog
200m sprint
Back to the top for a total of 4 intervals, increasing from 200m to 400m, 600m, and finally 800m on the final interval. Get ready for the HURT.

Cool Down: 5-10 minutes of easy jogging after stretching out any tight areas.

Moves Like LanniLooks OK on paper, right? But those core exercises really add up and the final 800m sprint will really test your pain tolerance! Can you see the pain on my face? The first time I did this workout, I had to stop for 10 seconds during my final 800m sprint. The second time I did this workout I controlled my pace and didn’t fade at the end. Woo! This is definitely a workout I plan to keep in my training regimen and my goal is to increase the number of intervals as well as the distance of the final sprint as my speed improves over time.

If you’re looking for something new to do at the track, I definitely recommend trying this Lanni-approved workout! It’s easily modified to fit any runner’s skill level or preferred distance by adding or removing intervals. Right now I am focusing on shorter distances, but this workout could also be used by the longer distance runner. As Lanni says in her original blog post: “As my season progresses, the intervals will lengthen, and eventually the entire workout is replaced with more marathon-specific intervals.”

Let me know if you try this workout! Tweet me @jennapettinato and tell me how it goes. Good luck!

Trust The Process

I know I’m not the only one who’s currently suffering from a case of the “February Training Blahs.” This cold, snow, slush, and windchill is never-ending and although the Around the Bay 30K is only 32 days away (eek!), it feels like we’ve been training for this race forever! I don’t know what I’d do without my Tribe Fitness crew who have been helping me keep pace on weekend long runs.

Dealing with my ongoing groin/adductor injury has also put a damper on my training this winter, with a particularly tough recovery after my 26K run two weeks ago. I was sore with every movement for 3 days after and to be honest, I was at my wit’s end and quite ready to give up. If I’m going to keep it real, I have been ready to give up a few times this winter, wondering why the hell I am doing this and what’s the point? After many chats with my Coach, I was left with two choices: continue with traditional training or switch things up and take a chance on a minimalist  training program. I went with option #2.

I don’t know if it’s because my mindset has changed or because I am actually dealing with less pain, but this week I have had two big breakthroughs in my training and I couldn’t be more pleased. I did my fastest interval on the bike (2 minutes at 40km/h) and my fastest interval on the run (30 seconds at 3:55/km)…ever. I don’t usually post my pace times on my blog or social media, because I think it can lead to unnecessary comparing and competition. The only person you should be competing against is yourself.  It took me a long time to realize this, but I am so much more at peace with myself now that I accept this. In 2015, I want to beat my times from 2014, not anyone else’s. But I’m posting these times because I want to remember them and remember this breakthrough as a result of all the sweat I have shed this winter.

I have been recording my training in the “Believe” training journal for the past 3 months and the quote that appears at the top of this week’s training log is this: “It’s amazing how the same pace in practice can feel so much harder than on race day. Stay confident. Trust the process.” It’s by pro runner Sara Hall and it couldn’t ring more true. For the past year, I have put the work of developing a training plan in the hands of my Coach and thus far he has helped me achieve a PB in every distance I’ve raced. While it may be a bit scary to be going in a different direction with my training, Coach says if I believe in the training and put in the work, the results will come. This week I have experienced two big breakthroughs and I don’t think that’s any coincidence. Once I made the decision to believe and “trust the process”, my body followed my mind and everything clicked.

As I was doing my interval run today, I felt a sense of calm and a renewed sense of purpose come over me. For a long time I’ve been anxious about my progress, wondering if I was making gains or just going through the motions. But now I know.  I know that 2015 is going to be a breakthrough year and I trust that my Coach will get me to the start line healthy, happy and ready to race. I know that every early morning swim, bike ride, and run is going to pay off on race day. I know that my body and mind are getting stronger and that my fastest times are still to come. And most importantly, I know that I am going to enjoy this ride, I’m going to have fun, and I’m going to kick some serious ass!

(Photo Credit: Tribe Fitness.)

5 Goals For 2015

After a catch-up session with my Coach last weekend, I wanted to put down in writing 5 goals for this year. I’ve been having a bit of trouble finding motivation to train lately and struggling to find my “why.” Why am I doing this? Seeing these goals in writing and sharing them with my Coach has helped me to bring some purpose and direction to my training, and I know that I’ll be able to look back on these throughout the year whenever I need a little push. Here they are:

1) Stop thinking that I need to lose weight. I don’t need to lose weight. My goal for 2015 is to become stronger, and as I start to build more muscle, I’ll start to see a stronger, fitter, tighter body. And although I may not see lower numbers on the scale, I know that a fit body looks different and performs better.

2) Get faster in the run. I especially want to see my 10K (52) and half-marathon (1:58) times go down this year. My A-goal in the half is would be 1:50, with 1:55 as my B-goal. My A-goal in the 10K would be a sub-50 minute, with 50 minutes as my B-goal. This is going to require a return to the track and/or the treadmill at my local Goodlife Fitness while the weather outside is less than optimal!

3) Have a healthier relationship with food. I will continue to eat a whole-foods diet with minimal processed sugar and refined carbohydrates. When I first went gluten-free, I ate a lot of processed gluten free foods. Today, I skip the gluten-free bread in favour of sweet potatoes and rarely eat gluten-free “treats” unless it’s a special occasion. When the occasion does call for a treat, I am going to savour and enjoy it and not feel bad about myself for indulging.

4) Get mentally stronger. If there’s one thing I learned last year, it’s that pain is a part of performance and if you want to achieve great things, you better be prepared to suffer. Many times my anxiety has prevented me from being comfortable with pain, but this year I am going to learn to embrace it and feel confident recognizing when a pain is normal and when pain is a warning to stop.

5) Stop comparing myself to other people. I know that everyone struggles with this, especially in the age of social media where everyone is posting their achievements and PBs! But this year I want to focus on achieving my OWN goals and work towards beating those, and not someone else’s PB. No one’s journey has been the same as mine and unless you’re a world record holder, there is always going to be someone faster than you.

What goals have you set for yourself this year?

Healthy Eating Habits For 2015

Having a New Years resolution that doesn’t revolve around “losing weight” is relatively new for me. Every year, for as long as I can remember my dream on January 1st would be to shed 20, 30, 40 or even 50 pounds so I would be prettier, happier, healthier, etc. This last year, 2014, has been the first in my entire life when I was able to maintain a happy, healthy, and reasonable weight and I am excited that I get to have a different New Years resolution for 2015. Note to anyone who may have a resolution to lose weight: You CAN do it! It’s going to be tough and sometimes your cravings for chocolate and ice cream will be stronger than those for apples and almonds, but you will achieve whatever weight loss goal you set out for yourself. Take it from someone who has lost 80 pounds herself!

Now, just because weight loss isn’t my goal for 2015, that doesn’t mean that I have my relationship with food all figured out. I am a very fast eater, I am generous with my portions, I may be addicted to Larabars, and I eat nachos far too often than I should. Oh, and there was a time this summer that I was chugging cans of Root Beer after my long runs… Please don’t tell my Coach! Since being diagnosed with a wheat allergy, I have experienced a new level of anxiety around food and that has definitely contributed to some less than ideal habits. I have big athletic goals in 2015, including my first Olympic and Half-Ironman distance triathlons and I know that the way I fuel my body will directly contribute to the way I perform as an athlete.

Rather than labeling the following list as “resolutions”, I want to think of them more as “things I’d like to try” in 2015. If something doesn’t work, I’ll move on and try something else. But if conquering my sugar (chocolate) addiction helps me perform better on my swim/bike/runs, then I’ll consider that a habit I’d like to keep.

Practical Paleo1) Explore a Paleo Diet. Since going gluten-free, after being diagnosed with a wheat allergy, my diet has definitely shifted towards a more Paleo way of eating. A typical day for me includes eggs and sweet potatoes in the morning, salad with protein for lunch, and then meat with veggies for dinner. I still eat things like oatmeal, rice, quinoa and other wheat-free grains, but they play a much smaller role in my diet than before. I just ordered 2 copies of Diane Sanfillipo’s Practical Paleo, one for me and one for my Mom, and I can’t wait to dig into this book, learn some new recipes, and see how my body responds.

2) Eat Slower. If you’ve ever eaten a meal with me, you know I am usually the first one at the table who is finished. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating at home with my boyfriend, or out at brunch with a table of hungry runners, I can scarf down a plate of food at an alarming speed. As I mentioned before, being diagnosed with a food allergy has contributed to a heightened anxiety around eating, and sometimes I eat fast just to get it over with. Since my wheat allergy was such a fluke, I worry about new food allergies popping up randomly and getting another allergy attack that will send me to the hospital. I know that eating fast isn’t good for me, and it often leads to overeating as I go for seconds before my body knows I am full. This year I’d like to make a commitment to break this habit and enjoy my food at a more thoughtful pace.

babycakes nyc3) Break my Sugar Addiction. At any given time, you will find 2 or 3 chocolate bars in my purse. Seriously, I have a dark chocolate coconut, dark chocolate mint, and Cadbury milk chocolate mint bar in there right now. I love sweet things. One of my favourite treats is birthday cake and fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), options for gluten free cake are plentiful. Just this Halloween, I ordered a Halloween Cake from Bunner’s Bakeshop. No one needs to eat cake on Halloween, no one. Put a bowl of gummy bears, or Skittles, or jelly beans (my fave!) in front of me and I will mindlessly eat them until my stomach hurts. It doesn’t take long to find an article, like this one in Macleans, warning us of the dangers of too much sugar and how too much is quite literally killing us. A few of my friends have taken the Fed Up 10-Day Sugar-Free Challenge and it is something I am committing to in January as well.

Changing habits is never easy, but I’m hoping by putting my intentions out there into the world, I will be more successful in making these changes! Everytime I want to reach for that extra piece of chocolate, I’ll think of this post and how I want to be able to report my success and not my failure at the end of January!

Are you planning to try anything new with your diet in 2015? Let me know in the comments and we can hold each other accountable.