Newbie Stank: (noo-bee STANK) noun. The gaffes of the new triathlete which make it very obvious he or she is new to the sport. See also: Susan Lacke, No Meat Athlete’s resident triathlete and Perma-Noob.
There are things that I wish people had told me when I began training for triathlons…things that seem like they should be obviously ingrained in our common sense. However, people make newbie mistakes all the time – myself included. I’m used to making an ass of myself on a daily (actually, hourly) basis, so I readily confess that I’ve made almost every mistake in the book.
Yes, lovely NMAs, my Newbie Stank is pungent, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I wear it like a fine perfume.
Some of my mistakes have just been embarrassing, while others have been downright dangerous. The world was not designed for triathletes (I know, I’m shocked, too!), and when you begin triathlon training, you’ll learn this firsthand.
It’s a mad world out there.
Recently, during a bike ride in the backwoods part of town, I was minding my own business in the designated bike lane when a pickup truck whizzed past me, spanking me with its side mirror. When I realized what was happening, I saw that the truck was partially in my bike lane…and he wasn’t stopping, even though I was down for the count.
Maybe he was trying to be ironic about the “Share the Road” sign posted not even 20 feet away. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Or maybe he was just a jerk. Whatever the case, I hope karma comes back to hit him. Literally. And then maybe backs up to hit him again, just for good measure.
This is the second time my training has caused me to get up close and personal with an object of the vehicular variety. In addition to my recent experience on my bike, I’ve also been buzzed by a car during a run, sending me to the Emergency Room with some scrapes, hip issues, shoulder pain, and some pretty sexy bruises. I consider myself lucky. It could have been much, much worse.
You might be your own worst enemy
I’ve made no secret of the many bumps, scrapes and bruises self-inflicted by my own lack of grace. But some of my injuries have been a direct result of Newbie Stank, and were entirely preventable — if I had just been smarter. Learn from my mistakes, NMAs. Some of you may read the tips below, roll your eyes, and think I’m being patronizing. I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, I swear – I’m pointing out the stupid, ridiculous, asinine mistakes that I see all the time. Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself safe when you’re training for a triathlon:
IN THE WATER:
Don’t try to be Michael Phelps if you’re not. If you’re a newbie, know this: There’s no shame in asking for swim lessons, even if you think you’re ”too old.” It’s much less embarrassing than the alternative — trying to teach yourself, only to have the lifeguard come to your aid when she sees your pathetic doggy-paddle ain’t keeping you afloat. A Masters Swim Group (basically an adult swim club) is a GREAT place to hone your skills.
And please…don’t attempt a triathlon with an open water swim until you’ve logged some hours in the pool or lake building up the fundamentals. You don’t have to be the world’s strongest swimmer, but you definitely need to have a strong enough stroke and breathing abilities to stay afloat and focused in the mass swim start.
Your lifeguards may not look like David Hasselhoff or Pamela Anderson, but they’re still your best friends in the water. Whether in your fitness center’s pool or in a lake for an open water swim, always swim with someone watching you. This person, ideally, should be a lifeguard employed by the place you swim. Not only will they rescue you if you face distress, they’ll also prevent the errant kid from cannonballing onto you. If you can’t snatch up a lifeguard, find alternatives. Many triathlon clubs host group open-water swims where people paddle alongside the swimmers in kayaks, dispensing help as needed.
Stay inside the breakwater. Choppy waters are highly dangerous for swimmers, plus you have an added threat – big freakin’ boats. You wouldn’t run in the middle of the freeway, would you? That’s pretty much what swimming outside the breakwater is. So don’t do it.
ON THE BIKE:
Wear the right gear. This includes the obvious helmet, but also the not-so-obvious. If you slide sideways on your bike, your shoulders, hips, ankles and knees usually take the biggest beating, so cover them up if you’re able – the fabric may minimize your road rash. Wear eye protection, too. My friend Summer tells a story of the time two bees flew into her eye and still had 20 miles to go before she could get home. It’s actually a pretty common occurrence for cyclists and triathletes, believe it or not.
Shine. Even if you aren’t riding in absolute darkness, cars will have trouble seeing you. Make yourself as visible as possible. Wear light colors and reflective materials, and equip your bike with a blinking tail light. Include mirrors that help you see what’s coming behind you as well as reflect the headlights of vehicles. Who cares if it looks like Tour de France meets La Cage Aux Folles? It’s better to be seen and alive than not seen and roadkill.
Ride the left stripe, in the same direction as traffic. When I first started road biking, I wanted to be as far away from the cars as possible, so in the bike lane, I’d ride all the way over on the right hand side. I’ve since learned that when you do that, cars driving in the next lane either don’t see you, or assume they can get by just fine without moving over. When you ride closer to the left-hand side of your bike lane, cars are more likely to see you AND they’ll feel obligated to steer to the left to give you a bit more space. When they do that, don’t forget to smile and wave at them in their rear-view mirrors.
DURING YOUR RUN:
Run as far off the road as possible, facing traffic. If sidewalks or dirt paths are available off the road, use them. However, if you must run on the road, stay as far off to the side and run facing traffic so you can see them and they can see you.
Reflective stripes are sexy. Same principle as on the bike – the more you glow using bright colors or reflective stripes, the better odds that you’ll be seen. Add a headlamp if you must run when the sun isn’t out – you’ll not only increase visibility, but also have an easier time seeing potential hazards, such as potholes or debris that might cause you to trip.
Carry water in a squeeze bottle. This not only gives you the benefit of hydration, but also might keep you safe. One friend, Tim, was chased by a loose dog while on a run. In a mad attempt to protect himself from being attacked, he squirted the dog in the face with his water bottle. It stunned the dog long enough for him to get away. This may also work for those annoying kids who are fond of yelling “Run, Forrest, run!” They think they’re so darn clever, don’t they?
One essential item for safety, regardless of sport
As the daughter of an EMT and sister of a paramedic, I remember more than one family dinner where blood, gore, and injury to a cyclist or runner were described in gruesome detail. It’s made me realize that no matter how many precautions we take, we can’t control what other people do. Accidents happen every single day. If one happens to you, I want to help people like my dad and brother give you the best care possible.
Enter RoadID. This is a set of identification products available to people to wear while training and racing. RoadID allows you to wear your essential information so that, in the event that you’re injured and can’t speak for yourself, EMS professionals know how to best help you and reach your loved ones. Sure, you could carry your driver’s license, but that doesn’t have your medical information…and, child, those silver Med-Alert bracelets are SOOOOO 1990’s. RoadID comes in multiple styles and colors, and some are stylish enough to wear even when you’re not working out.
RoadID sent products for Matt and I to test out. Matt wears the WristID Elite, and I tried the Ankle ID. Both of us liked the look of the products, and found them easy to wear during training activities. The Ankle ID was especially nice to have during a recent triathlon I did – I was able to wear my timing chip on my RoadID. It was kind of nice to have that peace of mind that if something happened to me, my friends and family would be contacted.
RoadIDs are easy to order – you visit their site, select your style and color, then go about personalizing the information engraved on the plate. Most people choose a format that looks kind of like this:
That’s it. Six lines, 24 characters per line. It’s not complicated – and yet, in an emergency, those 6 lines with 24 characters each can speak volumes about you. It may even save your life. It also can be a way to wear your inspiration. Many people put some sort of motivating quote in the “Et Cetera” line…Matt chose the poignant “MILES 2 GO B4 I SLEEP,” while mine reads “WHERE’S MY DAMN CUPCAKE?”
Don’t judge me. We all have our ways of being inspired.
RoadID is way cool, and on behalf of EMS professionals everywhere, please get one. I like all of you too much to let you go without one. Also, RoadID has given us three gift cards to give away to three lucky NMAs. To win, comment below…if you won, what would you put on the “Et Cetera” line of your RoadID? Remember – it needs to be less than 24 characters!
This post is part of a six-part guide designed to help the beginning triathlete get started (without screwing up too badly). Check out the entire series!