By Claire Walla
When it comes to triathlons, “the biggest mistake people make is jumping in without being prepared,” said triathlete Richard Izzo.
He should know.
The 21-year veteran who coordinates two well-attended races each year, speaks from experience.
“I made all the mistakes you could possibly make,” he said of his first triathlon in Monmouth, N.J. back in 1989. “I got lost on the way there, the guy I was with almost drowned, little old ladies with training wheels on their bikes could have passed me. It was a comedy of errors.”
Now, Izzo, who has a home in Noyac, is a stickler for preparation. And he contends that, with enough know-how, your first triathlon doesn’t have to be a farce.
To adequately prepare for such a feat, Izzo has three pieces of advice.
It will take the average triathlete one-and-a-half to two hours to complete a sprint triathlon (half-mile swim, 13.2-mile bike, 3.1-mile run), Izzo said, which anyone can prepare for in just about eight weeks by completing three workouts (one in each sport) per week.
As for running, Izzo emphasized the importance of keeping a steady pace throughout training, because over-training can cause injury.
“It’s not about running fast, it’s about not slowing down,” he said, adding that a common mistake among novice runners is that they don’t pace themselves well. “Time is not important in any of these events, it’s crossing the finish line that counts.”
Another important aspect of training is doing so with a group. For the old three-sport veteran, this is mostly for safety reasons. (Izzo warned that swimmers should never hit the open water solo, and individuals on the road are much more vulnerable to speeding cars than groups are).
However, for the aspiring triathlete, Izzo said joining a training group with a coach is a good way to get accustomed to workouts and the nuances of the race.
Here on the East End, Izzo said a group like Team in Training—a national organization that launched its first East End chapter earlier this year—is a great resource.
Unlike pure running, for which athletes need only worry about their trainers and the clothes on their backs, triathlons come with some bells and whistles, most important of which is a good bike.
“You should make sure your equipment is in good working order before the race,” Izzo said. Not only should athletes be comfortable clipping in and out of their bike pedals, but the size of the bike, more so than the quality of the machine itself, is of utmost importance. Especially for new riders. It isn’t necessary to spend an arm and a leg on a top-notch piece of equipment, Izzo added, “because you’re going to evolve.”
Besides, he continued, “it’s the engine that matters, not necessarily the bike that you ride.”
According to Izzo, this is one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of endurance training.
Of course, nutrition becomes increasingly important as athletes up their mileage. But even for smaller races, Izzo said fueling your body with the right amount of nutrients is key.
“To get to the right level of aerobic metabolizing and fat burning, you need carbs,” Izzo explained.
This doesn’t just mean delving into the ol’ carbo-load the night before the big day. Izzo, for example, said he gets his calorie fixes about every 20 minutes in the course of a race, beginning with a good dose of energy gel. He prefers gels to bars because the body can more or less instantly digest liquids, whereas an energy bar will “just sit in your stomach and you have to [expend energy] to chew it.”
Whatever your caloric preference, Izzo recommends testing different forms of nutrition during training sessions so that athletes can develop a system that works before the big day.
“You just have to keep the fat burning going so you don’t have to tap into your carbohydrate reserves,” he added. “Because that’s when people bonk.”
In the end, the race becomes as much of a mental exercise as it is physical, Izzo added.
“You’re mentality will evolve over time. And after you get to know your body,” he said, “You’ll know how much to push yourself.”