The Road to Boise: My Four "F"s of Triathlon Training

Boise 70.3 half ironman. Well, it’s now 3 short weeks away, and I’m not feeling particularly confident about the event. The four F’s are confronting me.

Fractures (and other injuries): According to Bruce Wilk of Jungle Blog, triathlons are a triple threat for injuries. I am no exception to the rule.

While swimming: When I started swimming back in the winter, I noticed I was feeling some shoulder pain. Exacerbated by playing tennis, the pain did not subside. A friend suggested that an incorrect swim stroke might be the culprit of the problem, so I took a workshop to re-learn the freestyle (more on that Friday). I’ve been diagnosed with tendinitis (versus a torn rotator cuff, common among swimmers); and it should subside with proper technique. At least that is what my doctor thinks.

While biking: If I go on a ride for longer than an hour, I get terrible pain in my lower right back. Even though I constantly ice my back after riding, it hasn’t diffused the pain during the act of exercise. The culprit of this pain is Pars defect, a skeletal issue, and I will begin Physical Therapy as soon as my busy therapist has room in his schedule for me. He’ll also fit me for my bike within the context of having back pain.

While running:  After a ½ marathon last Saturday, I played tennis with my husband and felt some pain on the top of my left foot. Fearing it was a stress fracture (having had one years ago), I immediately had it checked out. My self-diagnosis of a metatarsal stress fracture was correct, and I’m hoping a little rest will heal the wound before it gets any worse.

Fatigue. I guess if you go right from a marathon to a half ironman, there is little rest for the weary. Here’s how my fatigue is manifesting itself.

While swimming: Any time you teach an old dog new tricks (or an old lady a new way of swimming the freestyle), it takes a while to establish healthier habits. For me, it’s leading the stroke with the elbow (not the hand), getting the stroke timing right and breathing properly. While climbing the learning curve, I am panting like I have never exercised in my life.

While biking: In my 30s, I could easily go out and clip an 18-19 mph pace riding alone, hitting the 20+ range when cycling with friends. Now, if I ride 15-16 mph, I am about to pass out. Getting back in bike shape isn’t as easy as it once was. (Not to mention the bonus of the back pain.)

While running: Last Saturday, I rode my bike out to Lucky Peak Lake in Boise, and then ran a ½ marathon back into the city. At mile 13, my time was the same as my ½ marathon split in the Boston Marathon, and I was so tired I couldn’t walk another inch. The beautiful scenery didn’t even help.

Fear. Pretty much every triathlete has a weaker and strong event(s) of the three. And according to, the swim is often others’ mental obstacle, too.

While swimming: I absolutely fear the swim portion of the upcoming race. Coupled with learning a new stroke, I am scared to death I’ll hyperventilate like I did in my last sprint triathlon. And to top this off, the lake in which we’ll swim is glacial cold, literally. My workshop teacher said it’s common to hyperventilate in cold water– combined with the low temperatures, which takes your breath away, nerves and throngs of swimmers kicking water in your face don’t bode well for relaxed breathing!

I have bought a new wet suit and have gotten some great tips from Missy Hulbert, ironman extraordinaire, including wearing two neoprene caps and putting Vaseline over any exposed body parts. I’m going out this Friday night for my first open swim, so wish me luck!

Biking and running: I’m not worried about these two events. I’ll be tired, I know; but I won’t fear drowning in them.


Finishing. The race, for me, is all about finishing. Not about setting course records or improving my half marathon time.

Swimming, biking and  running: My friends that will be watching will have their bellies full of beer by the time I cross the finish line. I know the race won’t be pretty, but if I’m able to survive the water, I can gut through the rest of the race.

Until race day, I’ll train as much as I can, try to avoid any more injuries, eat well and get ready to taper. After all, tapering is what’s it all about.

Melinda Hinson