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.

Toronto Triathlon Festival: Race Recap

Jenna Triathlon 1I have been looking forward to the Toronto Triathlon Festival all winter and I can’t believe the race has already come and gone. Despite some fear of a cancelled swim and a predicted thunderstorm, the day was absolutely perfect and the race went off without a hitch.

I rode my bike down to Ontario Place early on Sunday morning to get in line before transition opened. We were let into the transition area around 8:00am and setting up was quick and easy. The very kind Triathlon Ontario Officials walking around checked to make sure everyone’s bike was racked properly and gave us a full hour to prep our area and warm-up before the start of the race. Around 9:15 we made our way down to the swim start at the Ontario Place West Channel and took a short dip into the water to acclimatize ourselves to the 16 degree lake temperature. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad! Compared to the 10 degree water we swam in last week, this felt like a hot tub.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a “natural” swimmer, and 365 days ago, I could not swim more than 25m without stopping. Getting into the lake, hearing the horn go off, and then seeing 750m in front of me, was a bit overwhelming and I did get a bit panicky towards the beginning of the swim. It took me awhile to find my breathing pattern (which it always does) and I kept worrying that I would bump into someone or get kicked in the face so I stayed towards the right and the back of the pack. Unfortunately that wasn’t the best strategy as I actually swam about 100m more than I should have (due to my inability to hug corners and swim in a straight line), but 20 minutes later my 750m swim was done and I was out of the water and onto the bike.

Jenna Triathlon 2

Photo Credit: Tribe Fitness

The bike was pretty freakin’ cool. We got to ride along the Gardiner Expressway, with cars zooming past us in the adjacent lane (separated by a concrete barrier – totally safe!) With my slow swim, I had a lot of time to make up on the bike and I really did try my best to keep my pace as close to 30km/hour as I could. I knew this was a pace I could maintain. It was pretty windy up on the Gardiner and my legs were feeling the burn. I did pass a lot of people on the bike, but I don’t think I really caught up to too many other people in my age group. They were too far gone and I just couldn’t make up the lost time. I ended the bike in 41:29, pedalling an average of 28.9km/hour. I love the bike, but I know I need time to get more comfortable with speed and riding with my clip-in pedals. Of course this will only come in time, but I am excited to put in the work. My huge thighs and gigantic calf muscles have got to work to my advantage somehow, right?

Once I was off the bike, I made a quick transition into my running shoes and sprinted towards the run course. Not going to lie, my legs felt like lead during the first kilometre or so and I had no idea how fast I was going, but I was going as fast as I could! When I saw the first kilometre pass by in 5:24, I got a little burst of confidence and just decided to grind it out and maintain my pace. I was hurting a lot at this point, but as the run went on, things felt smoother and a bit “easier.” It just took me a while to find my stride. Around the 3k mark, I caught up with my friend Amber who was doing her first triathlon. I knew we could maintain around the same pace to the finish, so I ran up beside her, told her we were going to maintain a 5:30 or faster pace, and we conquered the last two kilometres to the finish line side by side. It was really cool coming through the finish chute together and crossing the finish line smiling, knowing that we’d both accomplished something great! My final finish time was 1:34:15.

Jenna Amber

Photo credit: Tribe Fitness

I didn’t have a specific goal time for TTF, just to finish stronger and faster that my last triathlon and I accomplished that. My swim was 13 seconds/100m faster, my bike was 1 minute and 18 seconds faster, and my run was 2 minutes and 45 seconds faster than IronGirl last year. All in all, this was a great start to the Triathlon season and I am looking forward to working on my speed in the lead up to my next race on August 9th. I know I still have a lot of work to do, especially on the swim, but triathlon training really is so much fun and with three sports it never gets boring, so I am really looking forward to what lies ahead.

One thing I know I need to work on in addition to all the swimming, biking and running I’ll be doing is my mental game. I can’t tell you how many times during yesterday’s race I had a negative thought. It started when I looked up from the swim start and saw how far the first buoys were and actually questioned whether I could swim that far (when I have swam more than twice that distance in a pool). It continued on the bike when I was passed by a woman who looked about 60, riding a much nicer bike than me and I wondered if I was just too slow to compete. And yes, it happened on the run too during the first kilometre when I was afraid I would have to stop to walk because my legs felt so tired and my chest was so heavy. But I finished that swim, I eventually caught up to that woman on the much nicer bike, and I completed my run without stopping. So what was the point of all my negative thinking? Just wasted energy. Imagine what I could have accomplished if I never gave those thoughts any power?

I know I probably end off most of my posts with this sentiment, but I am constantly humbled and inspired every time I finish a race wanting more out of myself. In today’s society we are so used to seeing instant results and we are bombarded on a daily basis with images of people’s successes, but rarely of their failures or struggles. If you made it this far, you can know that I finished 29th out of 30th in my age group during the swim portion of yesterday’s race. I’m disappointed because I don’t think this accurately represents all the hours of swim training I put in this winter and spring, but I also know that it means that I am still a new swimmer and I have a lot to learn. Swimming has been such an incredible learning experience for me, and although at times it has been frustrating, I love that I have learned this new skill as an adult. It’s humbling to know that although you have come so far, there is still far to go, and I wouldn’t trade this lesson for anything. Can’t wait to see how I improve in another year!

Photo credit: Tribe Fitness

Photo credit: Tribe Fitness

P.S – Huge shout out to Mark from Tribe Fitness for taking all these awesome photos! If you don’t know Tribe, check them out at http://TribeFitness.ca! From beginners to experienced athletes, there’s a place for everyone at Tribe. Plus, we’re a lot of FUN!