Books for Dudes: A Triathalon Training Starter Kit

What does July mean to you? Vacation? School’s out? Bastille Day? All July means to me is Ironman Lake Placid. It’s no big deal, just a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike segment, and then a full marathon. You’re bumping shoulders with about 2500 of your closest friends along the way. You have 17 hours; after that, you’re disqualified. Piece of cake, right?

Well, no, not easy. At least not to finish strong. Endurance is controlled, persistent effort through an activity. When I feel slow, old, and heavy (which is most of the time), my blessedly supportive GF reminds of this, and I feel better.

I’m nothing special, a normal ham-and-egger age grouper competing against other guys just like me. I enjoy the sport, and I have learned a lot about myself through it. But training to go long takes a lot of time. Waking up at o’dark thirty to drive to the pool, riding my bike with a blinky light on my back so traffic can see me. Sleep is, generally, not high on the list, nor is Dancing with the Stars. Lots of people tell me I’m a freak, but I don’t listen to them because I love being healthy, the tri community are great folks, and the guys I train with are the best dudes in the world.

And, sure, it can get a little nutty, but it also keeps me sane and humble. And Lord help you if you don’t have a sense of humor! What else do you expect from a sport with titles like Drinking from My Leg: Lessons from a Blistered Optimist about an amputee triathlete and the one by the lady known as the Iron Nun?

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Becoming an Ironman: First Encounters with the Ultimate Endurance Event. Breakaway Bks., dist. by Consortium. 2001. 288p. ed. by Kara Douglass Thom. illus. ISBN 9781891369247. $23. SPORTS/HEALTH
Ironman, like Kleenex, is a brand name; generically, the distance is called 140.6 or sometimes “ultra.” Any way you look at it, going long is a freaky prospect, and I soaked up a lot of reassurance from this book when I read it a few years ago. Written for iron-distance first-timers, it presents about 25 athlete race reports that recap the venue, the organization, the writer’s performance, and the challenges and how they were surmounted. While some entries are by elite athletes (the ones I wish I could be), most are by average age groupers just like me. Regardless of the author, the anecdotes immediately satisfy-when these people get tired, discouraged, or elated, you’re right there. Absorbing their learning, race plans, gear selection, mental preparation, and thoughts on other variables (e.g., the weather) was immeasurably helpful. The freakiest entries were by writers who DNF’ed (Did Not Finish). Sometimes it’s a mechanical issue, sometimes your body just breaks down, but racers need to deal with this specter despite a year or more of training. Best line: “You’ll want to get comfortable in your relationship with God, because you’re going to be talking to Him quite a bit out there.”

Bingham, John. An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age. VeloPress, dist. by Ingram. Sept. 2011. 200p. ISBN 9781934030738. pap. $16.95. SPORTS/HEALTH/AUTOBIOG
This charming, gently funny autobiography from the big-hearted Bingham (columnist for Competitor) is a testament to hangin’ in there. It details a former fat/smoker/drinker guy’s unlikely involvement in endurance sports. JB is called “The Penguin” for a reason: he has finished DFL or close to it in nearly every race he has ever entered. Motivated not by finisher bling or recognition, he does it because it feels great. Say what you will about results, Bing enthusiastically enjoys every step he takes. Along the way, he’s racked up 45 (!!) marathons, plus innumerable shorter races. Yes, it took a while, and sure, it hurt some, and, nope, he ain’t never won no checkered flags. But, damn, if endurance runnin’ didn’t give him a completely new lease on life. If more people were like him, where each event, run, mile, step is a celebration, the world would be a better-and healthier-place. For planning and stick-to-it-type advice, try his other books (Running for Mortals: A Commonsense Plan for Changing Your Life Through Running; No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running).

Brittenham, Dean & Greg Brittenham. Stronger Abs and Back. Human Kinetics. 1997. 248p. illus. ISBN 9780880115582. pap. $17.95. HEALTH
Endurance requires a strong core. I can testify by recalling the worst muscle cramping EVER during a half-iron distance triathlon. My abs locked so tight that all I could do was lay down in the road and cry. This book has something like 165 exercises that you can do solo, with minimal equipment (e.g., an exercise ball), or at the gym. You won’t feed your soul reading the nearly technical writing, but you’ll sure strengthen its container. About a third of the book covers the rationale behind building a strong core, guidelines on training, and warming up/cooling down. The rest covers exercises for stability, fitness, strength, and power. You got your advanced squirm, the midpulley lumbar rotation, and the hanging pike. There’s the unilateral superman, double-leg bent-knee jackknives, and Russian twists. Like Velo Press, I am drawn to almost everything Human Kinetics publishes, be it on soccer technique, pilates anatomy, or open water swimming. This awesomeness in a manual is no exception.

Byrn, Gordon & Joe Friel. Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons. 2d ed. VeloPress, dist. by Ingram. (Ultrafit Multisport Training). 2009. 372p. illus. ISBN 9781934030066. pap. $21.95. HEALTH/SPORTS
While it’s tough to describe “going long” briefly, here’s the deal: if you had to choose one book to help you go 140.6, this is it. These two acknowledged experts present traditional baseline training advice covering the business of swimming, biking, and running-and so much more. See, the longer the distance you race, the trickier it gets. This covers pretty much everything from developing mental prep/toughness to nailing the taper-the period of physiological peak fitness you achieve prior to race day. Advice on gear selection, common injury prevention, optimal diet, strength training, and race day itself (“control your arousal and avoid riding too hard” when taken out of context is pretty funny) is solid. Entries make you a stronger, healthier, smarter competitor and are completely realistic: “lack of sleep is probably the single greatest challenge facing most working athletes.” Many athletes coach themselves using this one book, and while some might disagree with components, or even with the periodization approach in general, I bet every one of them began racing long using these strategies.

Clark, Nancy. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. 4th ed. Human Kinetics. 2008. 472p. illus. ISBN 9780736074155. pap. $19.95. HEALTH/SPORTS
This is a good starting place for anyone, but especially for active people. Because nutritional science changes and develops so frequently (seemingly daily), this serves as a starting point that usefully condenses standard information. Clark familiarizes readers with the basics of good nutrition (e.g., why protein, carbs, and fats are all important for our bodies) and emphasizes that not all calories are created equal. Clear advice (e.g., choose whole foods vs. highly processed ones) is coupled with Clark’s knack for debunking nonsense like “I don’t like breakfast/I don’t have- ime/Won’t carbs make mefat?” Topics of concern to athletes are covered, such as determining a “reasonable” body fat level and advice on bulking and slimming without sacrificing overall health. There are about 100 pages of healthy, simple recipes (eat your heart out, Bobby Flay). Though some of the information is dated‚ such as references to the Food Pyramid and repeated mentions of bagels‚ this provides the kind of background/knowledge base upon which you can build your personal dietary approach.

Fitzgerald, Matt. Triathlete Magazine’s Essential Week-by-Week Training Guide: Plans, Scheduling Tips, and Workout Goals for Triathletes of All Levels. Grand Central. 2006. 480p. ISBN 9780446696760. $19.95. HEALTH/SPORTS
Done a couple tris? Want to do more, perform better, see how far you can take yourself? Self-coached athletes who have a solid skill base need look no further than this road map of training plans. Fitzy’s book has plans for sprint distance all the way through 11‚ 12 workouts per week Ironman. Introductory matter helps identify abilities and limiters, then the book guides you toward setting a 24-week, race-specific training plan for the season. The manual pretty much takes out all the guesswork (no more training in the grey zone!), so all you need to do is execute. Presented as series of tables with coded workouts, the method ramps up athletes slowly and appropriately, using cycles of three intense weeks followed by one recovery week. By week nine or ten, you’ll be accomplishing more than you thought you ever could. By week 24, you’re ready to kick some ass. Scattered throughout are bits of wisdom and focus points that can help center your thoughts when you’re amid a grueling workout, (e.g., tilt forward to correct overstriding on the run).

Friel, Joe. The Triathlete’s Training Bible. 3d ed. VeloPress, dist. by Ingram. 2009. 386p. illus. ISBN 9781934030196. pap. $24.95. HEALTH/SPORTS
You get this book when you’ve gotten serious about triathlon but before you go full-bore bug-eatin’ crazy for it. It can help you train for any distance and is most useful to newbies and self-trained athletes who want traditional training advice (e.g., increased training volume, race-specific workouts). Friel introduces readers to the science of training and performance enhancement, the concept of training periodization, fitness assessment, and race-specific fitness testing. The content will help you identify factors that limit gains and provide a lot of swim-bike-run technique advice as well as material on heart-rate zone training, and racing economically. The diet section encourages athletes to see it as fuel and not a daily all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. Friel knows that triathletes are characterized by a strong work ethic and often refuse to back off, so he hammers home the importance of recovery. “Your body has limits when it comes to endurance, strength and speed,” he writes, going on to give excellent advice on when to stay within those limits and when to push beyond them. The books caps off with swimming, biking, running, and brick (one activity immediately following another) workouts.

McDougall, Christopher. Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Knopf. 2009. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780307266309. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9780307279187. $15.95. SPORTS
McDougall writes for magazines where, if you don’t keep readers riveted, they are apt to flick pages to get to the Kim Kardashian pictures. And BtR exemplifies beautifully the effect that kind of writer has: he keep readers interested. This energetically details McD’s quest to find the Tarahumara, a renowned, secretive tribe of elite distance runners with “superhuman tolerance for pain and lechuguilla, a horrible homemade tequila brewed from rattlesnake corpses and cactus sap.” Reading the book is probably not unlike running on the steep canyon trails native to the Tarahumra; it circles back on itself, twists, winds, and takes many, many tangents. Like about the Leadville 100 ultramarathon race or the mysterious power of chia seeds (now available in Obama and Hillary flavors!). Mac spends a lot of time describing the uniqueness and inhospitality of Mexico’s Copper Canyons where the tribe lives, and its reluctance to race outside their own culture and instead remain intentionally segregated. It’s part travelog, part gonzo-journo, part pro-barefoot running manifesto, part celebration of running.

Roll, Bob. Bobke II: The Continuing Misadventures of Bob Roll. VeloPress, dist. by Ingram. 2003. 200p. ISBN 9781931382281. pap. $16.95. SPORTS
You might wonder what qualifies gap-toothed Bob Roll to be Versus’s perpetual color man for the Tour de France. Well, Chumley, it’s because he used to kick ass at racing. These are some of his journal entries about the TdF, the Giro d’Italia, the brutal Paris-Roubaix, plus others. These aren’t dreary recitations of statistics, speeds, and crashes because Roll is the Lyle Lovett of cycling, equal parts professional, Texas madman, and poet. Entries are generally about races and rides, but not always. They range all over Europe and America and cover road cycling and mountain biking. Presented in random order, the essays can seem a little scattered, and I for one would love to know more insider scoop on how the peloton actually works, but overall these are great insights from a fun, irascible dude. Doubtless, Bobke has many more, unprintable, anecdotes up his sleeve. BII follows his now out-of-print-but-worth-the-hunt Bobke: A Ride on the Wild Side of Cycling. For a similarly interesting read that combines road and mountain bike racing, try Joe Parkin’s Come and Gone: A True Story of Blue-Collar Bike Racing in America.

MOFO: Monthly Optimized Fecundity Opportunity

McGackin, Brian. Broetry. Quirk, dist. by Random. 2011. 128p. ISBN 9781594745171. $12.95.
The young McGackin offers this as a “literary chili cheeseburger” for the reader’s senses. If you’re a wiseass, if you’ve ever enjoyed poetry of any kind, or if you choose the Beastie Boys over Ralph Waldo Emerson, you would enjoy this collection of verse on topics such as moving into college, high school crushes, and bidding adieu to movies you’re now too old to watch. Obviously well read, McG counterpoints “juvenile” with “serious” and in doing so makes the larger point that poetry isn’t the exclusive realm of effete, turtleneck-wearing, candle-lighting, flared-nostriled trust-fund-milking artistes. Affecting the mantle of “poet” can be fun. It doesn’t even pretend to be serious, so if any meaning is imparted, it is solely the fault of the reader. I’m not so sure about its longevity as “art,” but then again, I’ve not encountered an author so cavalier about his oeuvre since the inimitable limerick work of Pete Walker in 12th grade. If you like poetry, try it.

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Douglas Lord About Douglas Lord

Douglas Lord has been reviewing books and audio for Library Journal since the earth was a molten mass. He is an Ironman athlete blessed with a family that sometimes finds him funny and puts up with him constantly reading aloud from advanced review copies. Books for Dudes focuses on books for curious, fun, time-crunched men.