Book Review: “Tri Harder: the A to Z of Triathlon for Improvers”

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I was invited* to review Max Bower’s “Tri Harder – the A to Z of Triathlon for Improvers: The triathlon competitors’ guide to training and improving your running, cycling and swimming times,” published by YMCA Ed for Central YMCA – the UK’s leading health, fitness and well-being charity. The guide is available on Amazon for $3.99 and all profits earned from the sale go back to Central YMCA. I’m having a slow couple of news weeks (see below), so why not?

*via a somewhat random request in my “contact me” tab, here.

The guide is literally the A-B-C’s of triathlon. There are exactly 26 chapters, from “A is for Ask yourself what you want to achieve…” to “Z is for Zzzz….” So, needless to say, “Tri Harder” encompasses the very building-block-basics of the first things you need to know about training for and racing your first (or maybe second, possibly third) triathlon. After that point, you’re presumably either done with or hooked on the sport; either glad you only invested $3.99 on tri-related literature, or are eager for more, in which case $3.99 represents about 1/1000th of the amount you’ll spend on tri stuff in your follow-up season.

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Much of the content of the guide is pretty rudimentary. I found myself disagreeing with some of the pointers therein, until I realized none of it was WRONG, just oversimplified and debatable. One example is the author’s constant drilling that you should aim to spin 100rpm on the bike for maximum efficiency. I mean… noooooo? I always heard 90, but am personally very comfortable at 80, because guess what? It’s output vs. input –you find your cadence based on individual factors including your own power delivery, one doesn’t just start spinning at 100rpm and become Bradley Wiggins. And don’t get me started on “W for Weights.” HOWEVER, let’s leave those debates for when the AtoZ reader stops lurking and posts their first thread on Slowtwitch. Sure, shoot for a higher cadence for now, guy. Go to the gym, knock yourself out and get non-specifically fit. W is for Whatever works.

Martians-letteraAll of the content is as good of a jumping-off point as any for a beginner (or “improver”). That said, too, there’s a lot of value in the guide in a few respects: First of all, there are way too many (unhelpful, and often unkind) opinions out there. Woe betide the n00b searching the Internet for helpful tips. Save yourself the mental anguish and download this well-meaning and helpful overview, before jumping in the deep end of public opinion …your charitable donation to the YMCA is good for bonus Karma. Secondly, even if you’re lucky enough to have “live” help in a coach and/or training group, this guide may fill some of the gaps in your program. I was force-fed awkward workouts and strange handouts on training with a heart rate monitor when I started out, but never told how to plan for more than one event or improve over time. Chapters such as “B for Brick training,” “E for Endurance training vs. speed training” and “T for Transitions” tell you what are key workouts and important details for success on race day. “O for Off season” “P for Periodisation” and “Y for Year plan” go beyond one event and help complete the picture of what a triathlon lifestyle entails. (LOTS. It entails LOTS.)

Third, the guide focuses on short course triathlons BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE YOU SHOULD START. (I have friends who’s first tri was a half or full Ironman, and that’s fine for them and stuff but SERIOUSLY? Don’t do that.) There is plenty of room for improvement and to make more ambitious goal –not to mention lots to learn about your body and how it adapts to training and deals with pain— before one ratchets up the distance. By way of editorializing: I think short and long course triathlons are at best two sides of the same coin. Both are challenging physically, but it’s speed vs. endurance. Both are challenging mentally, but it’s a matter of not slowing down vs. not over-reaching. And both are challenging in the amount of detail and preparation required, but… I mean, can we just agree that it’s a LITTLE MORE complicated to make sure you don’t crap your pants over 140.6 miles than it is to set up a tidy transition area at a sprint? There are very fit people who can dominate at any distance, but the average person shouldn’t assume the same skills that got them on the podium at a local Olympic are going to carry over to Ironman event.

And lastly, beginner or not, I personally gleaned some good pointers reading this. (Now we get personal and I start talking about myself again, hurrah!) I didn’t learn anything new about the sport, but I am reminded of the importance of setting real goals (which I’ve always sucked at), not just “I want to do well” or “I would like to kick that girl’s ass.” I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the AtoZ guide reiterated that goals should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-framed

This emphasis on being smart (SMART) hit especially close to home for me this season, as I struggle to rebuild myself and hope hope hope I can come back, possibly stronger than I was before. Meanwhile I’m heading to Milwaukee for USAT Nationals on August 10 to put my lack of fitness and speed on display for all to see. It’s a little humiliating, but a little refresher on what it’s like to cook something up from scratch never hurt anyone.

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We’re off to a great start, here! Thanks for reading.

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