Monday, February 29, 2016

The Joy of Indoor Tris

They say Minnesota has two seasons:  winter and road construction. 

I think our two seasons are:  outdoor triathlon and indoor triathlon.

While I will say that outdoor tri season is the best, with its warm days, open water and the thrill of riding on the open road, I live in Minnesota, where, even in the best of winters, I'm not swimming in Lake Calhoun, just because it is open.  (All props due to Total Immersion Coach, Dave Cameron, who DID get in to Lake Calhoun last December.  Nutball.  And I say that with the utmost respect.)

What, then, is a triathlete to do a l l  w i n t e r  l o n g.... Just spend hours pedaling on the trainer, while binge watching episodes of Mr. Robot or Girls?  Bundle up in layers of reflective running gear, wear a headlamp  and yaktrax and pray you don't fall in to a snowbank, because you'll never be able to pull yourself out?  

No.  You take advantage of indoor triathlons.  

Why?  Well, first and foremost, they are fun.  And, they keep you in the game.  AND, in the dead of winter, when you don't think you can take one more dreary, freezing cold day, you have a reminder that summer will come and you will be able to put that wetsuit on again.  

If you are a tri veteran, indoor tris offer you a way to check your fitness level and spark your competitive nature.  

But, if your are a tri newbie, or a tri wannabe, indoor tris are a wonderful way to put your toe in the pool, so to speak.  You swim in a nice, clean pool with a lane line; you don't have to deal with wind or hills on the spin bike, and you run either on a treadmill or a track.  You still get nice swag, enjoy post race food and you get to call yourself a triathlete.  

So even though this year's indoor tri season is coming to a close, I thought I'd share a review of the indoor races I have come to love.  A couple of them still have upcoming dates available.    If you haven't done an indoor tri, you owe it to yourself to check one out.

Tri U Mah:  University of Minnesota -- Rec Center, race is in February, registration opens in October:   The format is 30 minute swim/ 30 minute bike/ 30 minute run.  Can race individually or as a team.  Transition between swim and bike is a flat 10 minutes; transition between bike and run is a flat 5 minutes. Winners are determined by the overall distance covered.  

This race is my all time favorite of indoor tris.  Maybe because it was the first one I ever did, way back in 2005.  Maybe because I love the venue.  Who knows.  What I do know I look forward every October to the second registration opens up.  

  • The deep water pool at the U is great.  You get your own 25 yard swim lane (no sharing), temp is always just right.  Volunteers keep track of the number of laps you complete during the 30 minute time frame.  
  • The bike portion is done on Matrix-S series bikes.  Distance is determined by the number of RPMs of the flywheel, so doesn't really match what riding outside is like, but hey, it is February, and you are doing a tri.
  • Run is on a treadmill.   You can set your own incline and pace.   Again, volunteers keep track of your distance covered on both the bike and the run.
  • Changing facilities are collegiate:  shared locker and shower space; smallish lockers (bring your own lock), and bring your own towel.
After race:  Tri U Mah usually provides some nice and useful swag.  In years past, I've gotten an embroidered down vest; a nice winter hat; some nice technical tee shirts.  This year, we got a cotton tee (meh) and a embroidered, weather resistant baseball cap (liked it) and a small carry bag.  Post race food this year was bagels and beverages.

Y-tris:  YWCA - Midtown location.   You don't have to be a YWCA member to participate.  Various dates from late fall until spring.  Next race, April 10th.  Registration still open.  Can race individually or as a team:   Format: 

  • Mini: 400yd swim/8mi bike/1mi run
  • Sprint: 500yd swim/10mi bike/2mi run
  • Long: 600yd swim/12mi bike/5k (3.1mi run)
  • Relay: long distance, one person each leg
Whether the race is an indoor tri, or the really wonderful Women's Triathlon, held in August, Race Directors and Endurance Coaches Nicole Cueno and Kym Zest know how to put on a race. Very friendly, peppy volunteers, nice swag, good post race food (including COFFEE !!) and a masseuse!  

The Y also has several great tri training and prep programs, offering indoor and outdoor brick classes (bike/run); running and biking clinics, and lots of open water swim opportunities at Cedar Lake during the summer. 

I've done several of these races over the years and have loved each one.  I've had my hat handed to me by a young boy, with whom I shared my swim lane, and I've been able to cheer on a number of brand, new triathletes as they crossed the finish line for the first time.  These events are highly supportive and well organized.  

  • Indoor tri facilities at the Y are terrific.  Nice, 25 yard pool.  Two participants per lane.  
  • Bike portion is done on a Kaiser spin bike.  Again, distance is calculated by RPM and doesn't quite equate to what it is like on a real bike outside.  (Details.)
  • Run is done on a 200-meter indoor track. 
  • Changing facilities:  Typical locker room, bring a lock and a towel.  Whirlpool, sauna and steam available after the race.  
LifeTime Fitness Indoor Tris:  Lifetime Fitness health clubs across the cities;  don't have to be a member to register.  Various dates from January through April.  Next race date in Twin Cities is April 24th.  Registration still open.   Format:  10 minute swim; 30 minute bike; 20 minute run.  Winner determined by a points system. 

So, I'm a Lifetime member.  Love the clubs; love a lot of their programs.  Like this tri.  (Notice I said "like").   It could be the way that the tri is run at the club I race at; it could be that the race is simultaneously run at a number of their facilities across the country the same day, but the process hasn't been "Starbucked" (meaning the same experience regardless of what location you visit.)  

I find the LTF events "flat".  The event itself is fun, but a bit disorganized.  The volunteers aren't too peppy; the swag is okay (tee shirt and small bag.)  You do get some offers, including a free month of masters swim; 30 minutes consultation with a tri coach and a discount at the Ironman store.  (LTF has an affiliation with Ironman, primarily to help promote the sport, and LTF sold a couple of their branded races to Ironman, for example  the old Soma 1/2 is now Ironman Arizona 70.3).    After the January event, the Women for Tri facebook page lit up with hundreds of selfies of co-branded swim caps worn by LTF tri participants.  The reviews from participants across the country was pretty mixed.  Some sites seem to have their act together, others not so much.  Biggest surprise for me was that many clubs had post race food (bananas).  My club?  Not even a bottle of water....

Having dissed the organization of the race, I still sign up for these races.  They still allow me to get a good workout in and to have some fun.  As a former boss of mine profoundly said, "It is what it is".  

  • Swim:  in a pool, most of them are 25 yard (the one I swim in is 23 yards);  two participants to a lane.
  • Bike: on a standard spin bike.  The most "true" to an outdoor bike experience.  
  • Run:  on a treadmill, where you can adjust the incline and speed.
  • Amenities:  nice locker rooms, many provide towels, soap and shampoo.  Sauna, whirlpool and steam available after the race.  
So there you have it.  The lowdown on indoor tris.  Just another way I am keepin' it joyful in 2016.