Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Goals for Progress

Last weekend I completed a triathlon, my fourth to date. When people hear the word "triathlon" many automatically think of the Ironman, a competition consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile (marathon) run. My event was much more modest: 0.75-mile swim, 22.5-mile bike ride, and 4-mile run. This is slightly shorter than an Olympic triathlon (1.5-km swim, 40-km bike, 10-km run) but longer than most sprint distance events. How is the triathlon related to the title of this blog post? Keep reading to find out. 

Reduce 

After seeing my times on the individual legs of the triathlon, I was a bit disappointed. I achieved my overall time goal, but I know there is room for improvement. The day after the race I decided that if the same event repeats next year, I'm signing up and want to reduce my total time by at least 10 minutes. I have a concrete plan to achieve that. 

Step 1: Swim. The swim leg included turns around several buoys. These are fairly large and brightly colored but, for those who wear glasses, still difficult to see from a distance without prescription goggles. Those do exist, but I was wearing regular goggles. After successfully navigating around the third buoy out in the lake, I headed toward the yellow buoy at the shore. The problem is that it can be hard to judge direction from a distance, and it wasn't until I heard the kayaker to my left shouting at me to veer right that I saw the smaller round buoys marking the finish chute. It looked like I was at least 100 yards off-course. 

Between being a slow swimmer to begin with, and swimming an extra 100 to 200 yards,  I was one of the last people out of the water. On the good side, it was easy to spot my bike in the transition area, as almost everyone else was already out on the bike course. 

My plan for improving? Being familiar with the course should help quite a bit. Swimming the proper distance would take several minutes off my time. I am also planning on getting more coaching to improve the efficiency of my stroke and cut my time per 100 yards by 5-10 seconds. That might not sound like a lot, but it adds up. 

Step 2: Bike. On the bike I quickly passed a couple of people who had started the bike leg just before me, but then there were no cyclists in sight. I had forgotten to put on my watch, so without knowing my speed or having the incentive of racing against those ahead of me, it was hard to know how hard to push. I felt good on the ride and eventually passed another rider in toward the end of the course, but my average speed was slower than I know I am capable of riding. 

My plan for improving? Hopefully if I can finish the swim a few minutes faster, there will be more competitors to urge me forward on the bike. I also could have done with a higher volume of bike training. I did complete several 25-mile rides on courses hillier than the race route, but for next year I would increase my training volume and ride with people who are just slightly stronger than I am to help me push myself.  I believe I can increase my average pace by 1 mile per hour, taking 5 minutes off the total time. 

Step 3: Run. I am happy that I ran the entire 4 miles without a walk break. But my overall pace was much slower than I should have been able to accomplish based on my training. While trying to avoid giving too much information, let's just say that I over-hydrated in the hour before the race. That slowed me down. 

My plan for improving? I believe my training was sufficient. With proper hydration, I should be able to decrease my mile time by 45 seconds. There's three minutes shaved. If I train harder, I can improve even more. 

Reuse 

The topic of "reduce" applies not only to reducing the time to complete a triathlon but also reducing the quantity of gear. In the sport of triathlon, it is possible to buy a ridiculous amount of clothing and equipment and spend thousands of dollars doing so. How much of this is necessary? Here is where the concept of reuse comes in handy.  

Wetsuits provide two important advantages: keeping the swimmer warm in cold water and improving buoyancy in the water, which increases speed. Unless the water is too warm, wetsuits shouldn't be considered optional. They are mandatory in races where the water is below a certain temperature. 

But buying a used wetsuit is a great option. It saves money, and it avoids all the energy and materials needed to make a new wetsuit. When wetsuits develop holes, repair kits are a much better answer than trashing an expensive wetsuit. I definitely saw swimmers with patched wetsuits. Patches may not look beautiful, but they are functional and extend the life of the product. 

Triathlon races require all athletes to wear the provided swim cap. Each starting wave has a different color. This ensures that everyone is starting when they are supposed to, based on distance (for events with multiple distance options, such as sprint vs. Olympic), gender, and/or age.

Race volunteers collect the timing chips after each race to reuse them. I understand these are expensive, so there's a serious incentive to collect them.  

Why can't races collect swim caps to wash and reuse? Triathetes who compete in multiple events per season don't need that many swim caps. The caps aren't marked with the date of the race, just with the brand of the company putting on the event, so they should be usable for future events after a good washing. But maybe that's not worth the effort required. 

As a member of the Seattle Green Lake Triathlon Group (SGLTG), I like to look like I'm part of the team at events. Wearing branded apparel is part of that. I had bought my own pair of SGLTG tri shorts but don't own a matching top. It turns out that the members of SGLTG embrace the concept of the sharing economy. I borrowed a top from an athlete who wasn't racing last weekend. It is now laundered and ready to return to her for her next race.  

 Returning from the ride, heading to transition

Returning from the ride, heading to transition

SGLTG holds an annual gear swap each spring. People bring stuff that no longer fits or they have replaced with something newer and offer it either free or for sale to other members. I wish I had bought some beanies (cold weather hats) that had holes in the back for a ponytail. Maybe I'll see some next year, or perhaps I can post on the group Facebook page and ask if they're still available 

Recycle 

Patching does extend the life of a wetsuit, but at some point it reaches the end of its useful lifespan. Don’t throw that wetsuit in the trash, though. Neoprene is recyclable. Companies like Lava Rubber collect neoprene scraps and end-of-life wetsuits and make them into yoga mats, coasters, and other products. Neocombine in France makes old wetsuits into screen-printed bracelets and luggage tags. 

As for other clothing pieces, those can be recycled as well. Swimsuits or athletic socks with worn out elastic can find new life. Places like Goodwill, or Northwest Center in the Seattle area, now take clothing in any condition. Gently used pieces get sold as-is in stores. The material from clothing that is torn, stained, or otherwise not re-sellable gets recycled.  

Here's to training hard and to thinking hard before buying new clothing or equipment or throwing away the old stuff. Keep working toward goals and reduce, reuse, and recycle.