Save or spend?

Where you can save money versus where you should splash the cash.

In the sporting world, there are so many options and prices for kit, components and accessories that it can all become confusing. If you’re working to a budget, what’s worth forking out extra money for versus what can you save on? I believe there are areas you should spend more money on, but at the same time there are plenty you can save on and not be at any real detriment in terms of performance.

Remember, I’m doing this for entry- to mid-level triathletes; if you were a pro, you’d be wanting marginal gains in every area, but for most of us that’s just not necessary.

So, let’s crack on. All ‘results’ are my opinion only and what has worked for me; if you think differently or have different experiences, comment below!

 

Triathlon

 

Before we have a look at each individual discipline, let’s take a quick look at the event as a whole. You’re going to need triathlon-specific kit, be it shorts and top or a one-piece tri suit. The suit may appear the more ‘pro’ option, and in shorter events it’s probably what you should go for, but in long distance events you’ll be going to the toilet at least once, so a two piece effort is probably easier. Paying more money here gets you better quality garments that won’t chafe, and are comfier in all the legs: fast-drying after the swim, comfy on the bike and unobtrusive on the run. Result: spend.

Sports watch – A sports watch will track your efforts, from simply timing you to showing you your swim splits, bike cadence and running metrics. Spending here allows you to save on a bike-specific GPS computer whilst also letting you monitor your swim and your run. The Garmin Forerunner 920XT is a fantastic tool that ticks all the triathlon boxes you need and I love mine. Result: spend.

 

Swim

 

When I first upped my pool swimming, my nose would be blocked for days on end, to the point that I was forever blocked up if I swam more than twice a week. This was fixed with a nose clip; it took some getting used to, but I can at least breathe now. It’s to do with your nose reacting to the chemicals in the water, so shouldn’t be an issue in open water. But, if you find yourself in the same position, get yourself a metal wire nose clip for around 5 pounds (plastic ones break) and stick with it. It’s worth the change and initial ‘breathlessness’ and within a couple of sessions you’ll appreciate it.

Swim shorts – While triathlon shorts are designed to swim, cycle and run in, if you’re doing a lot of pool-based swimming it’s worth buying some swim-specific shorts so your tri shorts don’t get damaged by long exposure to chlorine or other pool chemicals. Damaged can mean anything from wearing out quicker to pad damage to colour draining. You can spend a lot of money on the latest, most hydrodynamic shorts you can, but I picked up some Zoggs jammers for around 30 pounds and can’t complain at all. Result: save.

Goggles –  These are crucial and in my mind should be fit-and-forget. Spending more money will get a better fit and more ‘reliable’ goggles (less leakage, no strap snaps). Customer reviews on various sites pushed me towards the Zoggs predators, which I picked up with polarised lenses to help with open water use. They cost me about the same as my swim shorts. I’ve used cheaper goggles, but these have been more a hindrance than a help as they leak, are uncomfortable and didn’t let me focus on the task in hand. Result: spend.

Wetsuit – You’ll need this for the majority of open water swimming. Spending more money gets you a comfier, less-restrictive suit, but cheaper ones will still do a fine job. However, I think your wetsuit is a key aspect that should, like your goggles, let you crack on with the task at hand; you want to get to the bike as carefree as possible. My wetsuit is a Zone3 Aspire (as shown in the photo) which is a universally praised suit that doesn’t break the bank, but it isn’t cheap either. If you have the money, I’d get the best suit you can. Result: spend.

Tempo trainer – This is a small device that fits under a swim cap that beeps at set intervals. It transformed my swimming as you can accurately hold, push or reduce your pace to match the specifics of that session and adjust your speed accordingly each length. You can get them for around 30 pounds, which can seem a lot for such a small device, but it’s been an essential tool for my training. Result: spend.

Extras – You can get paddles for your hands to focus on strength and connection to the water, fins for your kick and floats to hold between your legs so you can focus on your arm pull. But, do you need them? They are valuable tools, but if you’re on a tight budget save the money for other things. I haven’t bought any of these, other than a pullbuoy float I bought for under 10 pounds. Being honest, though, I’ve rarely used it. Result: save.

 

Bike

 

This is an area that you can spend thousands of pounds on, indulging in every minute detail. For me, cycling is the most exciting of the three disciplines, but it’s also the most expensive. Where can you save?

Helmet – Well, this is not the place to do so. Spend as much as you’re willing to for better comfort, looks but, most importantly, safety. No pun intended, but it’s a no brainer. Result: spend.

Aero helmet – Slightly more niche, these helmets are more aerodynamic in shape and, whilst they will let you go faster for the same effort, the differences are small enough that an amateur athlete doesn’t need to worry about it in my opinion, especially over shorter distance events. Result: save.

Bike – Spending more on your bike will get you, as a rule of thumb, a lighter frame, more reliable components and an overall more enjoyable ride. However, though you can, you don’t need to spend much more than a couple of thousand pounds to get a very good bike. If you’re remotely serious about triathlon, you’ll want a time trial (TT) or triathlon specific machine. The main differences to a road bike are that the TT/Triathlon bikes are inherently faster for the same effort due to their aerodynamic shapes, they have specific aero position bars that keep you comfy for long periods of time whilst also keeping you aerodynamic, and their slightly different position encourages the use of your quad muscles more than a general road bike, leaving your hamstrings and glutes fresher for your run.

There’s also the fact that you’re going to spend the longest part of your event on the bike, no matter if it’s a sprint, olympic or long distance event. With that in mind, I reckon you should pay what you can on your bike to help your speed and comfort before you get to the run. Result: spend.

Extras – Bike computers, power meters and heart rate monitors, the latest and stiffest carbon shoes to transfer every bit of your power to the pedal: the list goes on. More expensive bike computers show you more stats and help you monitor every aspect of your ride. Heart rate monitors show how hard your body is working, and power meters show how hard your legs are working irrespective of heart rate. More expensive shoes will fit better and allow you to feel a big difference in power transfer.

So, spend or save in these areas? Firstly, power meters. At the moment, these are expensive yet very, very good training tools, but you don’t really need one; you can get a good idea and most of what a power meter would show you with a heart rate monitor. Bike computers are awesome for cycling but, these days, triathlon watches cover all the bases and while not cheap themselves, help monitor all disciplines and mean you don’t have to get a bike-specific computer. Finally, you can get a great pair of cycling shoes without breaking the bank for the latest and greatest. Result: save.

 

Run

 

The simplest of the three disciplines requires, correspondingly, the simplest kit. It’s an easy one; running shoes. This is trial and error, varying from individual to individual. It’s worth paying for a gait analysis if you haven’t before, to give an idea on what shoe you should get (supportive, neutral, that sort of thing) and then it’s up to you. Thing is, though, shoes can make or break your running. Imagine trying to do a mile run in high heels. That’s the extreme angle of things, but it highlights the matter: shoes are key. Result: spend.

 

So, those are my top-level thoughts on where you can save money versus where it’s a good idea to spend a bit more. I’ll have missed things out, but bottom line is if you wear it, spend. Buying cheap in these areas will most likely give you a harder time than the money you’d save would be worth.

Setting goals

Leaving your comfort zone.

As I build this blog, I check back over it every few days or so to see how it fits together and how I can improve, build and just generally mess around with it. It’s a little project.

It occurred to me, whilst re-reading my posts and chatting to friends about things, that though I’ve shown why I started the blog, I haven’t mentioned why I’m doing the event itself.

The easiest answer would be “it’s a crazy challenge so I want to do it”, but it’s not the full one. There are various reasons why I’ve picked something that, at the time of said picking, was out of reach.

Challenging yourself.

You need goals in life, and that’s that. Even if you haven’t consciously acknowledged them, ask yourself certain questions and you’ll see you have some. Are you saving money, as so many people are, and if so, for what? That’s a goal. Are you fundraising for charity for something close to your heart? That’s one, too. Are you working to complete a uni project or looking to lose some weight? You guessed it. Goals again.

Objectives are important because they give your life focus; you set your mind to meeting the goal itself or ‘checkpoints’ along the way and you become more disciplined for doing so. They’re important because when you achieve something you’ve worked for, it’s inherently more satisfying than if it had been given to you. You value and appreciate your achievement more because it is an achievement, rather than a gift.

Challenges are addictive, because you push your limits and discover what you can really do. One seemingly insurmountable challenge falls before you and almost inevitably leads to another. The parkrun events are amazing for this and are a great example – people can go along and walk the 5km course if they want, something they may never otherwise do, and chances are they will go forward from there; jogging the same route, running it, signing up to a fun run, you name it. The Great North Run, a huge half marathon local to me (tens of thousands of runners take part every year), is filled with stories of people challenging themselves. The people truly pushing themselves and looking an enormous challenge straight in the face are legion when compared to the club runners looking for a PB.

The honest answer.

The real reason that I’m doing the Ironman is because it’s something that is out of my comfort zone. Without hubris, I can run a half marathon comfortably, the same way that other people can do marathons day in, day out and some can do the 100m in under 11 seconds. Sometimes you can just do something, and that’s where the fun begins to stop. Comfort zones suck.

I’m deliberately putting myself in the situation where I’m a first-timer rather than a repeater. It’s what everyone should do, in my opinion; push the boat out and do something that makes you nervous. It’s one of the most invigorating things you’ll do and among the most rewarding.

Take a leap. You won’t regret it.

Turbo trainer love

The value of control.

As I plugged away today on my time trial bike, the sound of my pedalling my only company, I had a few moments where I found my mind wandering. Fortunately, this didn’t end in disaster – I was attached to my turbo trainer.

A turbo trainer, or turbo for short, is, in my opinion, an essential tool for someone serious about preparing for an event that involves cycling. They vary wildly in price and design but the principle is the same across the board: you turn your mobile bike into a static exercise machine.

People cycle to get out on the road or trails. It’s brilliant. It’s fun, invigorating and, in my case, reminds me of being a kid jumping off low curbs and riding down steps. The turbo, on the other hand, can be boring, draining and, if you’re not mentally up for it that day, it’s a good way to make you think of every other place you’d rather be.

This doesn’t have to be the case, though. Like so much in life, it depends entirely on how you look at it. On the road, factors outside of your control come into play. Wind can push you along one minute and be like a wall against you the next. Road surfaces can make you feel like you’re flying effortlessly or like you’re cycling through treacle. Debris can pop your tyres or, worse, do that and also damage your wheels and make you crash. You’ve got hills, you’ve got traffic, you’ve got weather. All the variables combine to make your ride what it is and it’s truly addictive.

Sometimes, though, reducing these variables is where it’s at. This is where the turbo comes into its own. Interval sessions are a prime candidate; specific, varying efforts, along with precise timings, demand focus and control that are difficult to achieve on the road. The turbo allows you to focus on hitting these perfectly and this is the main reason it’s a brilliant training tool.

There’s also the fact that there is no freewheeling and you don’t miss a single pedal stroke. An easy hour on the turbo is more effective physical training than an easy hour on the road, because on the road you’ll freewheel at some point. Sure, on the turbo you miss the constant handling adjustments that make you a better bike handler and the miles you put in are virtual, but it all adds up. Plus, you’re pedalling the entire time. It’s also an attractive option when the weather is bad, especially in winter.

I look at the turbo as ‘quick fitness’. You can’t beat it for efficient, effective cycling training. I’ve learnt to love it and realising how much it helps your ‘real’ cycling could help you love it too.

Realising the value of controlled environments is important. Putting in ‘controlled miles’ boosts your training in any discipline. Running on an athletics track is the same; there’s just you, your effort and reliable, honest mileage. If you focus on the fact that they are very high-quality sessions, I think you’ll find they become a staple in your training.

Finding the balance

Juggling the important things.

Check out this pic. I’m balancing. Balance is important, but this photo’s cool regardless. Just sayin’.

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Finding a balance is important in any walk of life. In sport, for example, it’s not a case of training as much as you possibly can. Training, recovery and nutrition go hand in hand and it’s all three working together that lead to progress.

If everyone was a professional athlete, it would be that ‘simple’. I write ‘simple’ that way because, of course, it isn’t. Professional sport takes huge dedication and that’s plain to see for everyone. What I am saying, though, is that if you had one thing to focus on, in this case your training, you could dedicate everything to it and make sure you trained, recovered and ate correctly.

But, most people don’t. I’m certainly not in a situation where I can focus 100% on my training. In this post, I want to talk about how I’m managing the important things in my life whilst working towards my objective.

The three things in my life.

Since signing up to Ironman Zurich, a huge portion of my time has become dedicated to preparing for the challenge ahead. I need to ensure I can keep going for more than half a day. Fortunately for me, the longer an event gets, the better I do. I’m no sprinter. I’m training around 10 to 12 hours a week at the moment, but that’s just the ‘active’ side.

The ‘passive’ side takes up a lot more time, like making sure I sleep enough. In my case, that means at least 7 hours sleep a night, but no more than 8. It took me a long time to realise that sleeping too much made me feel just as groggy as if I didn’t sleep enough. I also need to eat enough of the correct stuff to keep me fuelled and allow my body to recover; fuelling and feeding aren’t the same.

‘Active’ and ‘passive’ form two sides of the same training coin. That’s the first thing.

The next one is work. Work has allowed me to do all this, because, straight up, it hasn’t been a cheap journey. The entry fee alone cost £500. Doing an event like this costs money, especially if, like me, it’s your first one and you need to invest in equipment to go alongside. It’s important to realise that, and I did say I’d be honest in my posts.

Working 9-5, Monday to Friday, means the ‘sport’ side of my life needs to be tip top in order to not adversely affect my job. I have to do both; I have to train and I have to work. There are enough hours in the day, but it takes organisation and discipline, and this means you need to have genuine drive for what you want to do. Otherwise, you won’t do yourself justice.

The last, but by no means least important thing to talk about is family; personal life doesn’t stop because you have taken on a challenge. I think it’s important to remember that your family didn’t sign up to the goal you’re working towards, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It certainly isn’t in my case; you just have to remember not to take them for granted. Luckily, my family and girlfriend are supportive and appreciative of the time I need to commit to training. I believe I’m appreciative of this in return and I make sure I still have time to do things with them.

Finding the balance.

So, how is this of any help to anyone? I’ve written “the balance” and not “a balance” as everyone has their own circumstances, meaning that someone doing the exact same training, or chasing the exact same goal as you will have a different balance to find. I’ve just tried to write down how I’m dealing with the important things in my life to help them work together.

I’ve found a balance that works so far, but I’m still looking for the balance. There are things I want to change. For example, I want to eat more cleanly, taking a less complex approach to my diet whilst remaining healthy (if you’re an endurance athlete, or aspire to be one, check out Eat & Run by Scott Jurek. It’s an awesome insight to endurance training and diet). The body is an engine and it runs on the fuel, rest and training that you put into it. I know eating better is something that will help in my training and my work and if both of these are helped, family will be too.

I’ll find the balance I want. For now, though, I eat too much chocolate.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Matt

My first blog post: Taking the leap

Signing up to the challenge.

Who am I and why am I writing this?

 

20170408_135420Hi. I’m Matt, which answers the first question. Thanks for stopping by :).

 

I’ve started this blog to share my experiences as I train for the biggest sporting challenge of my life so far: Ironman Zurich. It’s intended for people who have never done an Ironman triathlon, or who have recently started or been involved with running, or cycling, or swimming, or something different entirely, and have heard about this sort of thing the way I did; through the grapevine. If you’re a triathlete wizard, this probably isn’t for you.

 

Hopefully, my experiences detailed in this blog will help people doing a similar thing to what I’m doing, or give an inside look into what it’s like to commit to an event of this magnitude. I promise I’ll always be honest on here; if I have a tough week, I’ll write it. I won’t sugar coat stuff. I want people to know what I’ve let myself in for and what you could, too. But I’ll also tell you about the awesome times. The most amazing thing for this blog would be if people see it and are inspired by it, in whatever way that is.

 

What am I doing – what is an Ironman?

 

If the people who I’m writing this for do indeed read it, then I guess you might not know what an Ironman is. At least, maybe not the details. As mentioned, I’m not writing this for experienced triathletes, mainly as I’m not one. So, what exactly have I signed up to? Well, simply put, it’s a triathlon. A one-after-the-other swim, bike and run event, and in that order. In miles and kilometers, it’s 2.4/3.86 in the water, into 112/180 on the bike and finishing with 26.2/42.2 on your feet at the end. I have to do all of this faster than the 16-hour Zurich cut off time; more specifically, the swim inside 2 hours 20, the swim and cycle inside 10, and everything inside that 16. I have a time in mind that I would go for were I to have the ‘perfect’ race, but the last thing I want to do is get hooked on this. It’s a long, long way and anything could happen. I want to enjoy it as much as I can, so with that in mind that ‘perfect time’ is staying close to my chest. For now, at least.

 

What’s my history?

 

I have to put my cards on the table; I’ve never done a triathlon at this point, let alone an Ironman. I haven’t even done a marathon. I’ve done several half marathons and have been involved in a training regime of some sort since I was 11, but this is an entirely new challenge. People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that. But I’m here to say that I’m going to not just complete this event, but do so in a respectable time and, afterwards, I’m going to use this blog to show you all that you can do it, too.

 

This needs caveating, though; I’m not jumping blindly into this. I’m not ignorant of the task that lies ahead of me. I’ve read a lot about training, nutrition, the mental as opposed to simply physical challenges of an event this long, forums; you name it. I’ve spoken to people who have done Ironman triathlons before and I freely admit that I’m milking their experience for all it’s worth. I’m respectful of the time and commitment that completing this will take.

 

This is in part because I have put myself out there, joining my local triathlon club and signing up for online coaching. Both of these, in my experience to date, have been critical to get me to the point I’m at now. Let me give you a bit of background on my sporting history to give more context to this.

 

My sporting background.

 

Whilst new to triathlon, I’m not new to sport or to endurance training. When I was 11 I started playing rugby and tried rowing, but it wasn’t until I was 13 and began rowing five times a week that my fitness started picking up. I rowed through school and university, reaching a decent national level, winning medals and championships, but not due to talent. I’m not built like a rower and it wasn’t until I got to university and could row as a lightweight that I was more competitive. Bottom line, though, I wasn’t ever going to make the national team or anything like that and eventually I reached a peak point.

 

Rowing training, apart from the obvious water training, rowing machines and weights, included running and cycling. I always enjoyed these ‘cross-training’ sessions and I was far more naturally competitive at these than the more power-based rowing. So, after graduating and not being in a rowing program, I had time to think. I did weights and nothing else for a while, but was missing a goal. So, back in September 2016, I signed up to Zurich Ironman to get myself on track and give myself a challenge.

 

I could bike. I could run. Swimming was another matter.

 

I knew it was my weakest discipline, but that didn’t make me afraid of it. That’s when I joined the local tri club, to get coached swimming and improve from there. I’m still by no means the fastest swimmer but I am a lot faster than I was. I have no doubt that I can do each discipline of the Ironman. I’m training to make sure I can do them together!

 

Keeping committed.

 

So, that’s a brief look at how I got where I am. If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’ll read other things I post. I’ll be covering a variety of topics and I’ll also upload vlogs when I can. I hope you enjoy following me on my journey and perhaps start your own!

If you have any thoughts or comments, or topics you’d like me to cover, don’t be shy! I want to make this the best I can and that requires input from the important people: you guys!

Matt 🙂