Talking triathlon training with a pro

MIDDLEBURY — Steve Hare, owner of Vermont Sun Fitness in Vergennes and Middlebury, has competed in triathlons of varying lengths all over the United States and the world. But he didn’t start out wanting to be a triathlete — he wanted to be a body builder.
“I was lifting weights, trying to get big, but there were people that spent three times the time I was on these old treadmills and stationary bikes,” he recalled. 
At the encouragement of a member at the gym where he worked in San Diego, Calif., Hare signed up for and competed in his first triathlon in 1980, placing second. And the experience, he said, was eye opening.
“I was hooked,” he said.
Hare shifted his focus to the world of triathlons and competed as a professional athlete and even on an all-American triathlon team in the late 1980s. In 1985, he opened Vermont Sun in Middlebury and began organizing the first Vermont Sun Triathlon Series, which has continued in Branbury State Park on and around the shores of Lake Dunmore.
The races have continued for the past 30 years and Hare enjoys the events he organizes so much that he refuses to compete in any other triathlon.
Now, he would like to share his enthusiasm and advice to those who would like to give the demanding discipline a try.
Your first triathlon can be different from any other event, but Hare said training for it doesn’t have to be daunting. To help, Hare offered his tips on cross-training and getting ready to step up to the starting line. 
Tip one: Get comfortable.
If this is your first race, Hare’s first tip is to spend as much time as you can in each discipline.
“Focus on being comfortable swimming in the water, riding your bike and running,” he said. “Get a solid, comfortable base before you even think about getting faster.”
More advanced athletes can improve their time with consistent intensity training, but that can wait. But by developing comfort you’ll be smoother in your transitions from each event.
Tip two: Be patient.
Developing comfort in each discipline will take time. For example, if you’re already a strong runner, don’t be discouraged if it takes longer to build up your swimming or biking skills.
“The more patient you are with yourself, the faster you’ll learn,” Hare said.
Elite racers are highly proficient in each sport. While you may have to practice more in some areas, you can also use your talents to your advantage when you need them. Keep up your strength in these areas so you can rely on them later. Besides, the better you are at one sport, Hare said, the more likely you are to be having more fun.
Tip three: Pick your events wisely.
Nobody (or at least almost nobody) signs up for an elite-level triathlon or a marathon on a whim, so enter races that fit your ability level. If this is going to be your first multi-sport event, Hare recommended aiming for realistic goals. “Sprint”-style triathlons are a popular option for newer racers and will give you a great first experience with a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike and 5-kilometer run.
Tip four: Ignore expensive equipment.
The top racers in the world will pay thousands for their wetsuits and bikes, but for those heading out for their first triathlons, Hare said, the most expensive equipment in the world won’t make much of a difference.
“The most important piece is the strength of your body that’s riding the bike” he said. “The bike makes only a little difference. Good, solid equipment is not that expensive.” 
The point: Focus on your fitness before your gear. Hare estimated about 15 percent of the field show up to compete in the Vermont Sun triathlons on mountain bikes, and he said there’s absolutely no shame in that. If you try your first race and find that you love it, consult with your local shop on finding a used ride.
Tip five: Run smart.
Of all the portions of a triathlon, running produces the highest impact on your bones and your joints. While it’s easier to practice running than to find an appropriate and safe spot to bike or swim, Hare said it’s also the sport where tri-athletes of every level experience the most injuries in knees, ankles and hips.
“The elite athletes will say it’s not a question of have you been hurt, but when,” he said.
Hare advised that practice in swimming and biking helps athletes balance the high impact of running with those more low-impact activities, so they should not cut corners on those events. As you schedule your workouts, be sure to take the most rest days from running.
Tip six: Don’t be afraid to go it alone.
Hare said coaches and personalized workout plans can be great, but they’re not completely necessary.
“A coach can be a great person to have to communicate with and hold you accountable,” he said. “They’re there to take an interest in what you’re doing, but are they absolutely needed? No.” For extra help, Hare encouraged seeking out the advice of a more experienced athlete who can tell you what worked for them.

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