CrossFit for Triathlon

This weekend I raced the Barrelman Niagra Half Ironman distance Triathlon. 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running. Just over 9 weeks ago I hadn’t even heard of this race and even though a triathlon had been on the horizon, I didn’t think I would be doing one this year.

A member and friend from my gym, JP, told me he was thinking of entering so I registered to make sure he would do it! I was confident that with my background in CrossFit, I could add in some triathlon-specific training over 9 weeks and be ready to take on this challenge.

The reason I love CrossFit is that it gives you a great base of strength and conditioning that you can add some specific training to if you have a particular goal in mind. My training was about 10 sessions per week: 

3 Strength/CrossFit

2 runs (1 long, 1 interval)

2 Swims

1 Indoor bike

1 Bike/run Interval

1 Long road bike

The race itself gave me everything I was looking for. A taste of the unknown, a variety of emotions and at times, a whole lot of pain!

It all kicked off at 8:30am on Sunday morning. JP and a fellow gym owner Jay started in Wave 1. I was in Wave 2 at 8:35am. The 2000m swim started with us treading water in the canal. The swim has been something I worked on as it was my least favourite of the 3 disciplines. The canal was very calm and perfect temperature which made for a great swim for me.

As I was swimming the final 50-100m, I started to visualize the transition. Which order I would take everything off and on, ready to start the bike. This was a fun, although uncomfortable, ride. In 2016 I had a bulging disc in my back which sometimes flares up and causes problems. My ride was fast on a pretty flat route but my back wasn’t great. I just kept my eyes locked on every bike in front of me hunted them down…

There was a woman though who caused some problems. I saw this woman at the 5km mark and from behind she looked pretty inefficient on the bike but I didn’t seem to be gaining on her. She was a couple of hundred meters ahead and she stayed that way as we both passed lots of bikes. It wasn’t until the 20km mark that I finally took her and noticed the “R” on her leg. “Ah, she didn’t do the swim and was part of a relay team”. I was still impressed at her bike speed as I’d been holding around 35km/h myself.

I’m very singular focussed when I’m training or in a race. I didn’t notice anything about the scenery or the route. I could feel the change of wind when holding pace became harder and I noticed when the roads weren’t as smooth. Looking back at my Strava stats. The route looked like a nice one passing a couple of lakes and open roads.

At around the halfway mark on the bike (45km), I was struggling to stay down in an aero position. I would alternate between standing and sitting to try to free some tension in my lower back making sure I kept on my pace. Then I hear a squeaky voice “on your left”. It was that woman again! I later found out she was called Sarah as we went the next 20km passing each other back and forth and she introduced herself. Something happened to her at the 70km mark and I didn’t see her again. She passed me and rode off into the distance. I guess her race was over after the bike and she left it all out there. I was seriously impressed with her speed on the bike as she wasn’t a tall woman by any means.

I came off the bike at the 3 hour 20min mark and I felt great. I hadn’t felt like I’d been working hard at any point so far and a quick calculation in my head I figured I’d be close to a 5 hour finish time. All the training runs I had kept at 5min/km or under and felt great there. I’d done a 16km run after a 95km bike no problem.

But it wasn’t 33 degrees that day…

I could tell it was hot on the bike but the wind had kept me cool as I was riding. Another quick 2min transition and I got into the half marathon run. I didn’t feel like I was running fast but my watch said 4:20 pace which I knew was too fast. I held it steady and figured I’d settle down after a couple of km’s.

I’d been looking for JP and Jay the whole bike but I hadn’t seen them. About 600m into the run I saw the tight black Tri-suit Jay had on and had finally caught him up. He had a great swim and was only a little slower on the bike. I’d made the majority of the 5 min start difference up in the transitions.

Almost as soon as I passed him on the run I felt my quads starting to cramp. Particularly my VMO, the muscle above the knee on the medial side. Every step was getting a little worse and I was thinking “oh `s**t, 20kms of this”. I saw the first water station and had a plan of stopping a few seconds to stretch out my quads but as soon as I slowed down both of my legs went into spasm. I fell onto the drinks table and couldn’t move my legs at all. It was the worse pain I’d ever felt from cramps.

I was led on the floor for about 5 minutes whilst a volunteer was stretching out my legs. The medical officer came by and told me he’d ordered me a buggy to take me back to the start. I laughed at him and said I will crawl to the finish if I need to!

I managed to get going again and saw Jay as he was looping back around. He had passed me when I was cramping up at the aid station. This time he handed me a high sodium gel which I was very grateful for. Those gels are full of garbage and I’m not a fan of putting that stuff into my body but this was survival!

I spent the rest of the run managing my legs, which was frustrating because the rest of me felt great. My breathing was good and I felt like I had lots of energy. I wasn’t sure if the next step would start the cramps again so my pace had to stay conservative.

It got seriously hot towards the end of the race and I was happy to see the finish line. My first thought was “I’d have to do all that again for the full Ironman”. My final time was 5 hours 23min and I was pretty happy with that. I’m certainly the type of person that always wants better and faster but that was a good first attempt.

The average Ironman 70.3 times in all races in 2018 for males aged between 18-35 was 5 hours 45mins, which includes the pros too who are around 3 hours 45mins (mind-blowing).

I’d say that was some pretty good proof of the effectiveness of CrossFit style training. I do not look like the average triathlete, I’m over 200lbs and can squat and deadlift way over double bodyweight and with only 9 weeks of triathlon preparation I held my own.

At Defy Functional Fitness we Get Better at Life. For me that helped me complete a Half Ironman. Next month it will help me run a Full Marathon and next year maybe a Full Ironman.

What could Defy Functional Fitness help you do? 

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