Triathlon 101: Gear for the SWIM.

I think a good place to start with Triathlon 101 is to talk about gear… and since swim is the first leg or the race, we will begin there.

Our expert for swim is Jennifer Harrison! (You can find her bio at the end of this post).

Let’s talk about what gear we need from head to toe. Here is a general swim gear checklist:

  • Race Day:
  • Swim Cap
  • Googles
  • Swimsuit or Trisuit / kit
  • Wetsuit (for open water, water temp dependent)
  • Speedsuit (again, for open water, water temp dependent)
  • Tri-Glide or other wetsuit lubricant

DR: It seems many triathlons tend to supply a color-coded swim cap. And really… If I need to provide my own, I tend to just pick ones that I think are neat. And it is a bonus if it will pull over my long hair. Do you have any personal preference for swim caps? I know they make them from different materials, but I have not experimented much.


My favorite TYR swimcaps

JH: They offer latex and silicon caps.  Latex are cheaper and more popular.  I personally like the latex ones  – I find that they are not too hot or not too loose.  I do not like caps that are loose!  And, latex caps are less expensive so races usually offer the latex ones.  Silicon ones tend to be heavier, hotter but also less restricting.

DR: I have also heard that some athletes wear two swimcaps, to prevent their goggles from being pulled off. Do you find that to be a problem? (Now I am worried about getting beaten up in the big races! Maybe I am lucky I tend to do ones with smaller wave starts!)

JH:I do not personally do this, but many do.  If you do this, make sure you practice it in training first.  Also, make sure you like the double caps and do not get too hot in the water.  BUT, many people like the security of the double caps to ensure their goggles stay on.

DR: Speaking of goggles… I have been thru a lot of pairs of them to try to find the magic pair that won’t fog up, won’t leak water, and won’t leave raccoon rings around my eyes. It seems like since we all like different goggles, it is probably specific to the swimmer, and personal preference on fit. Do you have any goggles that you like in particular?


My TYR swimcap and goggles on the long course

JH: I absolutely LOVE Speed Women Vanquishers.  I have like 30 pairs.  I used to be superstitious and buy a new pair before EVERY race.  I don’t do that anymore, but I still have many pairs.  Goggles are a personal preference, but finding the right pair is imperative!

DR: I have purchased TYR anti-fog for my goggles. Do you have any other tips to keep them from fogging up?

JH:Throw it away!   The secret is Johnson’s baby shampoo – put a drop in your goggles before you get them wet – and then rinse them out in the pool and they are GOLDEN!   Trust me on this!  NO anti-fog stuff – it will ulcerate your eyes if you don’t get all the stuff out – not good.


Photo courtesy of Jaime Berry

DR: How about different lenses for a pool swim versus open water, where you might get more glare from the sun?

JH:All swimmers should have a clear pair for very dark/cloudy days and then a mirrored pair or tinted pair for sunny days.   And, always carry both pairs for your races!

DR: Do you have any tips to keep the goggles from letting in water? I usually wet them a bit to get a good seal, but that tends to give me rings around the eyes.

JH:  We all get rings around the eyes – no getting past that if you want to keep the water out.  So, it is a balancing act.  I like my goggles tight, so I live w/ the raccoon eyes.  To me, way better than water in the goggles  – especially “dirty” lake water.  So, it is usually one or the other.


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Ann Neumeier

DR: Let’s talk about swimsuits for a bit. I think many athletes just getting started often wear a swimsuit for the swim and then throw on a t-shirt and shorts for the bike and run. And for short races, that is a good option since chafing won’t be as much of an issue. However, if they chose to move onto longer races, they will want to invest in a trisuit or trikit. Do you have a preference for a one-piece versus a two-piece kit? I like to wear a one-piece trisuit when I can because I find it more comfortable. Often, the tri-tops ride up while I run and I have to pull them back down a lot.


Photo courtesy of Susan Cho Oyler

JH:Correct, the one piece is also very aero-dynamic and does not move much from racing.   I like the 1 piece too sometimes, but I find that they are hot sometimes.  I actually race in the 2 piece more just because I like to have the ability to lift my top up if I am hot.

DR: A wetsuit probably isn’t something an athlete needs right away, but sounds like it is really vital when doing a Half Ironman or Ironman. (People seem to get really upset when the water temperature is not wetsuit legal). What advantages are there to wearing a wetsuit? At some point, it might take longer to get it back off than it would save in the water, right?


Photo courtesy of Lindsey Dillon

JH: An athlete – regardless of their swimming ability, is always faster in the wetsuit and also spends less energy swimming when in a wetsuit.  IF the wetsuit is legal, always wear it, no matter how short or long the race is.   Even if the athlete swims “easy” in the wetsuit because the water is so hot (76 degrees is HOT) – the athlete will expend less energy and be overall faster in the wetsuit.  

If the athlete practices getting the wetsuit off, it is fast and very limited time is lost.  However, the GAIN by wearing the wetsuit is priceless.

I always wear it – always when legal.   



Photo courtesy of Jaime Berry

DR: Can you tell us about the rules for wetsuits and water temp?

JH:USAT dictates this -→

As per USAT rules, if the water temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit or below then wetsuits ARE allowed. At 78.1 to 83.9 degrees Fahrenheit participants may wear a wetsuit at their own discretion; however, wearing a wetsuit in the temperature range will mean that the athletes are ineligible for awards.

DR: I think the first time I put on my wetsuit, it took me an hour (haha! Kidding!) . I used Tri-Glide like I was spraying myself down with Pam! Do you have any tips on how to get a wetsuit on without dislocating a shoulder?

JH:It does take awhile to get into a wetsuit, but if it is taking the athlete an hour to get in the wetsuit, the wetsuit may not be the best fit.  It may be too tight and thus too restricting.  Suit Juice is a GREAT product for lubrication.   Body Glide also works out well.


Photo courtesy of Kendra Krueger

DR: Do you have any experience with speedsuits? When would you wear one of those? And how are they different from a wetsuit?

JH: A speedsuit is what an athlete would wear OVER their tri kit for non-wetsuit swims.  They provide no buoyancy but they are aero-dynamic and “speedier” in the water.  They are very tight and offer a limitation of gapping from the TRI KITs.  I would recommend using them for all non-wetsuit legal swims.  My favorite is the ROKA.

DR: So once we are dressed and lined up in the water and ready to race, I like to splash the cold water on my face so that it isn’t as much of a shock when I dive in. What is your biggest tip for a successful swim?

JH: A few good tips:

  • KNOW the course.  If you can, swim the course the day before (parts of it, of course) and know how the sun will be during your race.   No surprises!
  • Know the buoys and how the course will flow.
  • If you are a timid swimmer, let the gun go off, let the swimmers go and wait just 5 seconds and go.  You will get cleaner water and less commotion.  It is worth it for 5 seconds.
  • Make sure your goggles will not fog up.  I mentioned using Johnson’s baby shampoo to clean out the goggles before you start (and fully rinse).  Do that!
  • Warm up in the swim for 5-10 minutes with a few 10” pick ups if you can.  The swim is always a very fast and hard start, so prepare your body for that!

Thank you, Jennifer! If anyone has any questions on swim gear, please feel free to reach out. We will talk more about swimming later when we cover the swim course, transitioning to bike, and training for the swim. Next we will continue our gear talk with bike gear!


BIO: Jennifer Harrison has been racing for 20+ years and has competed in over 200 triathlons from sprint to Ironman distances. Jennifer also coaches fulltime and runs a triathlon company called JHC Triathlon Coaching.  Jennifer lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Jerome, and her teenage twins, Graham and Morgan.

Triathlon 101: My First Race

In a couple weeks, I will be giving a demo session called “Triathlon 101” to athletes young and old, to introduce them to the sport of triathlon. I will be bringing lots of gear and hope to encourage a lot of sign-ups for this racing season!

I thought now would be a good time to share some knowledge here as well. While doing my Cyclocross 101 series, I brought in some experts to weigh in. I will be doing that here as well when I get into the nitty-gritty details.

So let’s get started!

Triathlon sounds like a lot harder than it is. The name alone sounds scary. And then thinking about swim-bike-run? I immediately thought about drowning, brain-eating amoeba in the lake, wrecking my bike, and about 20 other terrible scenarios.

I can tell you, none of those have happened to me. (I have fallen on my bike, but that happens to everyone while learning to clip in and out. Really! It wasn’t that bad!)

I was hanging out at the protein shake bar at the local gym when the guy who runs the parks and recreation department started talking about the new triathlon they were putting on. My ears perked up. I am a running… No way I could do that, right? But then they told me it was just a short swim. IN A POOL! And a 10 mile bike. And a 5K. Hey – I can do that!

I started hitting the Baldwin City pool in the morning during free lap swim. That happens early in the morning and was mostly attended by senior citizens walking up and down the lanes. Not such a scary audience to practice in front of.


Ready to ride over to my race!

I quickly figured out that I didn’t REALLY know how to swim. I hadn’t had lessons, so my swimming was all head-above-the-water Tarzan-style. So I starting Googling and You Tubing, reading up on breathing and rotation and flip turns. I only had a few weeks to learn, so I focused on just getting the breathing down.
Then I realized I needed a trisuit, cap, and goggles. I ordered some clearance gear online and at least LOOKED like I knew what I was doing in the water. When you are just getting started, fancy gear isn’t a necessity. A trisuit was just a nice-to-have, since many just swim in a swimsuit and throw on a tshirt and shorts for the rest of the race.


Waiting in line to swim and making a weird face.

My next step was digging my bicycle out of the garage. I had a nearly 20-year-old hybrid bicycle that I had been riding on rail trails. It wasn’t cool or fast, but it was functional. My husband helped me tear it apart, then we sent it to a friend to be sandblasted and powdercoated flat motorcycle black. We spray painted the wheels fluorescent pink and I was ready to go. I bought a retro helmet to match since I had never worn a helmet riding before.


Before I knew it, it was race day and I pedaled over to the pool, with a small backpack of gear, to do my first triathlon. I learned a lot that day. (To be honest, I learn something new at every triathlon). But that race was such an ideal start for me. A pool swim is a lot less daunting that open water. I was out on a course with top-of-the-line triathlon bikes, road bikes, hybrids, and even some mountain bikes.

I survived the swim. I dropped my chain on the bike course 3 or 4 times and learned to fix my own bike on-the-fly. I was smiling from ear to ear on the run. (The course ran by my house that year and my kids were cheering for me!)


I was one spot away from 6th place, which would have earned a medal… (I blame my bike chain for that). But I was definitely hooked and started training.

So that is my triathlon beginning. I hope to inspire more to start the sport! Stay tuned for the series of posts!


Riding dirty.

I had a lot of bike time this weekend!

On Saturday, I did a 90 minute ride around the county on gravel roads, which I really like. Always an adventure!  About 30 minutes into my ride, I came over a hill and found two cows standing in the middle of the road. They didn’t seem to like my bicycle too much, but when a man in a truck came by to corral them, they liked him even less. I stood off to the side as they decided I was the lesser of the evils and they darted past me. (They weren’t there when I came back thru on the way home, so I assume the people in the truck got them back into their pasture).


The boys met me at my turnaround point (the minimum maintenance road). That was the most muddy, rutted fun mile ever! I think the biggest surprise was seeing Tatum plow down that on his tricycle. He did an out and back on it – two miles on this tricycle! Good job, Tater Bug!


I did the out and back twice, so 4 miles for me. I tilted the Go Pro down and caught some neat video on the last pass. I got pretty muddy but it was so worth it. I used the time to work on some new skills. I wanted to get practice riding in muddy conditions, so I kept pushing myself to hit the ruts. I corrected when the back of my bike would come around on me. I pedaled thru deep water, with my feet completely submerged. (That felt awkward!) I went into deep bogs and just kept forward moving progress so that I would not get stuck or fall over. I think it was time well spent as I know cross courses can get muddy and I want to be prepared for some of that.

I put together a 3 minute video of my ride (sped it up a bit to fit into the length of the song.) See it here.

On Sunday, I hit the bike trainer for a ride pretty late. I listened to some heavy music and just concentrated on spinning at a high cadence. After 10 miles (30 minutes), I lost interest and felt like running, so I changed shorts and shoes and went to the Baker campus. It was hot and humid, so I worked up a pretty good sweat in 3 miles. It did feel pretty nice to feel some speed in my legs as I did a progressive run, picking up the pace on each mile.

I am so happy to have gained some confidence in mud, but I don’t feel like I am quite ready for a race yet. I will try to find some time to work on my skills this week. I am just struggling a bit with pulling the trigger on a race entry. I feel intimidated and I feel like I want to be more at-ease on my bike. (I don’t do well struggling in front of people, especially if it is a race situation). Hopefully I will find a race at the end of the season 😉

Up next on the Cyclocross Series will be purchasing your first cyclocross bike!


When the RD forgets about you.

I have been battling allergies for two weeks. At least I think it is allergies. At first I thought allergies, and then I thought I was getting sick, but then I decided it is just allergies. A co-worker recommended a cold medicine she likes to me, and I took that for a few days, only to realize it was making me feel worse! I switched back to my regular stuff and am feeling better. I mean, still feeling the allergies but no longer feeling like I have flu / cold. So that is an improvement.

Last night was the first night I felt like working out this week I took advantage by taking the dogs on two walks around the campus across the street. The boys joined me for the secondIMG_0002 walk, which made it take 4 times as long, but it really is nice to get out as a family. (And it gives the dogs extra time to run a play).


On my first walk, I got one whole picture of the girl dogs. The secret to getting a picture of a group of dogs is to stop by a pole. Little Maggie May is now bigger than her big sisters. Lucy the Frenchie used to be the alpha dog, even over her giant brothers, but Maggie is quite bossy and rowdy and won’t let Lucy push her around. So I guess Maggie is the pack leader now.
After my first walk, but before the second, I made dinner. I bought a couple new cookbooks and have been cooking my way through the Chrissy Teigen “Cravings” book. The boys are really loving the recipes. So far I have made the oatmeal cake breakfast bake, biscuits and gravy, and macaroni and cheese.

After our family walk, I finally had a chance to get my brick in. Because I didn’t start until 9:00, it was really dark and my tri-bike doesn’t have a headlight, so I kept it on the trainer for a spin. I am really getting my money’s worth out of that Nashbar trainer.


I am actually signed up for a triathlon on Saturday. It is a deferral from last year, since I was too sick to do much of any racing last summer. I did confirm in the spring that my deferral carried over, but I have not gotten a participant guide… and packet pickup is tonight. Me thinks they have forgotten about me. I have not even gotten to study the course and transitions. Yikes. I guess I will crash packet pick-up and see what happens? No idea on what to do. It just occurred to me that I had not gotten any communication from them when I realized packet pickup was today.

I guess I will let you know tomorrow how that goes!

Yoga intentions.

Catching up on last week a bit.

Wednesday night was my yoga night. I was so happy to be back since I had to miss Tuesday. I did have a bit of a wrinkle because I had slept on my neck funny earlier, and was trying to not aggravate my neck / shoulder more. It was a really great, sweaty practice.


My new shirt really fits my yoga intention of fighting mu autoimmune and getting back on track. And it makes me laugh, so added bonus.

One thing that I have that I like more and more about yoga is the mental / meditation aspect of it. I really started yoga with the intention of just getting a good stretch and working on regaining my flexibility. I didn’t really start internalizing the “intention” until the last couple sessions. At some point, I really relaxed (which is something I never do) and just lived in the moment. I breathed. I listened. I spent time thinking about what I wanted to get out of that day’s practice. And at the end of practice, as we finish up by laying heavy into the floor, I thought about my intention as well.  I could seriously just curl up and take a nap by the end.

After yoga, I jumped on the trainer and got some spinning in while watching the Olympics.

Then, things derailed a bit… My allergies hit hard and I was not sure if I was getting sick, or just run down. I took a couple rest days hoping I could pull it together in time for my 5K on Saturday. I guess my car had something else in mind as it decided to break major parts on Saturday night… So I ended up missing my race on Sunday. Was not happy with that at all.

So Sunday I was tired and feeling run down, still… But I decided to get out on my cross-bike and see what a gravel ride felt like. To be honest, I felt pretty horrible most of the time. It was bright and sunny, so I felt hot and dehydrated. I perked up a bit on the shady sections, but they were few and far between.


Since I was alone, I decided to take advantage and ride the minimum maintenance road that I normally turnaround at since my husband is well beyond pooped at that point. I am actually really happy I rode that section as it really brought a smile to my face. That was my favorite part of the ride.


Unfortunately, I had to make it all the way back home yet. The way home was considerably slower because I had gotten a lot of mud in my cleats while standing on the rutty muddy road and it took me half the ride back to get clipped in. I was also really tired and just spinning easy back up the hills. I was so tired I even missed the bottle cage and dropped my water bottle, which I had to backtrack a bit to retrieve.

So while not my best ride, I was proud I finished and really happy to find a new thing I like to do: explore minimum maintenance roads.

Oh! I wanted to share a discount code with you all!  15% of prAna apparel through end of September with code “PFS16DIRT.” I mentioned before I was partnering with prAna but they gave me my own code to share rather than the generic one, so I thought I would share that with you. I am actually really excited about this promotion since I actually have a lot of prAna dresses that I purchased at Title Nine over the past couple years.

High elbows, slow feet.

Back to work this week! If only my body would cooperate with what my mind wants it to do. I want to run all the miles, lift weights, row, ride my bike, swim laps… and but… My energy levels says meh. It is really like having $20 in your pocket on a Monday, and you have to make it last until payday on Friday. You have to weigh every purchase and decide how you can make your money last the longest. I have to do this with every activity in my day –  from basic stuff like household chores and a full-time job, to training for races.

Last night I had open water swim and a short run on the plan. I did get out for my OWS, but Kill Creek only had part of the course open. (Apparently they were short on lifeguards.) So I did loops of the 330-meter course. (Normally it is 500).

One thing that made the course a bit more challenging, despite it being shorter, was that now we had a lot of swimmers in a smaller area… Lots more swimmers going out with you, which meant a greater potential for my poor broken finger to get hit or kicked. Also, sighting was more important as we were now swimming out and back instead of a loop. (Which again, increased my odds of a finger disaster). Luckily, I made it out unscathed.


I still am working on my high elbows, and it feel really awkward to me as I am over exaggerating my stroke to get my elbow bent and high. It just feels weird and mechanical to me. In addition, I also read an article about “saving your legs” by not using your legs to kick powerfully. The idea is to kick the minimum to keep your legs high, but not for propulsion. Again… This felt weird to me as I was told in swimming classes to do rapid kicks on the surface of the water. Also, I was having a hard time separating the movement of my arms to my feet. When I slowed down my feet, I slowed down my arms, too… which just made me a slower swimmer than I already was. So… I will think a bit on that.


I really feel down on my swimming sometimes as I am not getting any faster at it. I think it is time to get some actual lessons. I do have to keep reminding myself that when I started triathlon training, I could barely swim. I didn’t know how to breath and making it across a 25m lane was exhausting. Now I can swim all day – just not super-fast. So that is improvement!

How have you improved your swimming? Have you tried lessons? You tube videos? Or are you just trying not to drown?

When I got back home, it was late and I felt like it was a better decision to skip the short run. (I have to make that $20 in energy last!!)



Get on your bikes and ride.

We have a lot to catch up on, so let’s get to it.

Wednesday I was so eager to go to yoga after having missed it on Tuesday… and then I tweaked something in my shoulder while picking up my heavy mom-purse at lunch. Yes. I injured myself with my handbag. It gets better, folks! While making hardboiled eggs, I dropped the pot of boiling water all over my legs because my broken finger couldn’t grip the pot. Sigh. So I took an ice math immediately and my legs had bright splotches, but no horrible burns. I did my bike trainer ride anyway. Accident prone much? Lately, yes.


Thursday I had a brick workout. Since the outside temp was 112 (with the heat index), I stayed inside again. I watched the Olympics on the trainer. (I am ready for fall. For real).


Friday I took the day off. I was dragging by the end of the week. I was supposed to wake up early on Saturday for open water swim with Trifecta Multisport, but I just couldn’t seem to get going. We ended up taking the kids for a picnic at Lone Star, and I swam while they played. It was a beautiful night for a swim. It is sort of strange to be swimming far out without buoys, so I just did a straight line from the dock out to the farthest point and back, rather than doing a loop.


Sunday, again, so tired. I did make myself get out for a bike ride, and I actually did perk up! I planned to go from Ottawa to Garnett, but a couple things cut my ride short and I stopped in Richmond. First, I am used to getting bugs in my eyes. That stinks but usually I am able to blink / rub / water them out. I had a bug fly into my eye and I swear it was stinging my eyeball because it was burning so badly. I couldn’t get it out either! Eventually I think my right eye watered so much it flushed itself out. Horrible! Second, as I was rolling into Richmond, my right kidney started hurting. I hada bad bout with kidney pain last year and had ultrasounds done. (It ended up not to be kidney stones or anything, but related to my autoimmune stuff.) I am hoping this was a case of simple dehydration. Going to be pounding water today!

One more thing from my ride… I had a spider lower himself down from my helmet visor right in front of my face. Terrifying! He was quickly batted away.

So… Back to the buy thing. I am really in need of recommendations on how to keep bugs out of my eyes. I usually end up taking off my eyeglasses because they pinch my head when I work out. And the trail was too dark to wear sunglasses. So I don’t know what other options would keep my eyes bug-free on evening gravel and trail rides. Help!!

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