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.

I’m A Triathlete: IronGirl Canada Race Recap

Jenna IronGirl SwimThree days ago I completed a triathlon. 10 weeks ago this wasn’t in the plan. I had no intentions or desires to complete a triathlon until my training buddies from Tribe Fitness (ahem, Jenna and Emily) brought up the idea of doing IronGirl Canada. IronGirl is a race put on by the IronMan brand and it’s a Sprint Triathlon (500m swim, 20k bike, 5k run). After signing up for the race I had two very important things to do: learn to swim and get a bike!

Getting a bike was easy. I went to Giant Bikes in Toronto and purchased my lovely and fast Giant LIV Avail 3! Riding a road bike for the first time was scary, I’ll admit it. My first official ride on the bike had me riding an average of 15k/hr; on Sunday at the Triathlon I completed my 20k in 42:47, with an average of 28k/hr. Swimming was a bit more tricky, but thanks to my awesome group of training buddies and FREE pool access at the Regent Park Pool, I was able to get into the water at least twice per week for lane swim. I remember the first time I swam, I was completely out of breath after one lap, or 25m. On Sunday I completed my 500m swim in 14:47, without stopping! Yeah! The “easy” part was the run, although it didn’t feel so easy after 20k on the bike, but I completed that in 29:04 for a grand total triathlon time of 1:31:35.Jenna IronGirl Run

Going into the race, I told myself that my goal was “just to finish” at least under two hours, but secretly I wanted to finish well. Training for this triathlon has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done and it’s only in these past 10 weeks that I’ve truly come to feel like an athlete. Coming off the bike, I knew I was in a good spot to finish around 1 hour 30 minutes because I had completed the combined swim/bike portion in one hour. My goal for the run was to complete it in around 27 minutes, but I didn’t really anticipate how heavy and tired my legs would feel, and even running at a 5:40 pace for the first half of the run felt like the slowest and hardest pace ever. One thing I would do differently for my next triathlon is practice more bike/run brick workouts so that I can get used to running on fatigued legs and learn how to push the pace. My run was pretty uneventful until I wiped out at 4k on the trail portion of the race. We were on completely flat ground, I was running with a lot of room around me, but I think I must have just tripped on something and went crashing to the ground. The wind was knocked out of me for a few seconds, but I dusted my dirty self off and picked it up for the last kilometre and finished the run in 29:04.

Jenna IronGirl BikeThe amazing thing about this race is I finished within a minute of my fellow Tribe Fitness training buddies, showing that we really pushed each other to excel and that we had all competed to the best of our abilities. I am SO  incredibly proud of Jenna, Emily, Kate, Ali, and Alisha, and I could never have done this without them.  I feel so incredibly lucky to belong to such a wonderful community of athletes. The Tribe Fitness men were also out in full force, cheering us on and giving high fives from the sidelines. Best cheer section in the race, if I do say so myself. My two sisters also joined me for the race and they totally rocked their first triathlons, too! How cool is it that my parents can say they have daughters who are triathletes?

A big THANK YOU must also go out to my Coach Brock Armstrong of Skywalker Fitness!  I started training with Brock late last year, and although the 2014 training year started off pretty rough with my allergy attack, the gains I’ve made as an athlete would never have happened without his expertise, understanding, and support. From my very first email to him about this “crazy triathlon idea” to the hundreds of questions that followed, this never could have happened without him.

I know that training and racing changes you, and the way I feel after completing IronGirl is so incredibly amazing that I wish every person could feel what I feel. I feel like I can do anything. If you asked me to sign up to do an IronMan 70.3 in 2016, I would! Well, that’s the plan at least. If any of my friends, seriously any of them, came up to me and asked me if they could do a triathlon in six months or a year, I would say YES because I truly believe that anyone can do this. I know it sounds cliche, but achieving “crazy goals” is possible. With the right friends, the right training plan, the right cheerleaders/support team, and an iron will to succeed, you can do anything.

Jenna IronGirl Friends