My Assisted Athlete Triathlon Learning Curve
|Getting a few "brisk miles" in training for my first triathlon with Liam|
Don't get me wrong, I am totally up for the challenge and no one is more worthy of this than my (IRun4) run buddy Liam who suffers from hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and scoliosis. For a kid who's never walked and is blind, I know one thing. He LOVES racing.
While I've been successful pushing Liam in a Team Hoyt running chair now four times in races, the triathlon is a different beast. There's that whole swimming and cycling thing on top of the run that makes up the "tri" part of triathlon. As I wrote in "My Ugly Valentine," there are a couple things I didn't think all the way through including;
- Liam lives in San Diego and I live in Denver which presents a bit of a dress rehearsal problem.
- March is typically the snowiest month in Denver...so....Mr. genius, "how are you going to get your open water swimming practice in before the race given the frozen waters?"
|My new mentor, Beth and her daughter Liza|
After sending out multiple "feelers," I met Beth Hodges James through Team Hoyt San Diego. Beth's daughter Liza is 21 and suffered brain injuries from a car accident. Liza can walk with assistance and like Liam has a spinal rod. Beth and her daughter Liza have competed in multiple races together including a Half Ironman. They also enjoy nordic skiing near their home in Crested Butte, Colorado.
I chatted with Beth as she'd just finished some evening skiing in Crested Butte and had an amazing chat over the phone as she decompressed in her hot tub. I learned A LOT and also put some of my "sleepless night" concerns to rest. I will speak for Beth and reiterate my statement above that this is not legal or expert advice. Regardless, a number of things I learned from our conversation;
|Metolius straps Beth recommends|
- This I already knew, but safety is the number one rule. This race won't be about the time, but finishing the event in a safe approach.
- The water is not as bad as you might think. Beth did share her rather harrowing open water experience at the Redman Half Ironman. Before starting the race, the "chop" was so severe, she considered dropping out but prevailed. Minus that race, she shared that pulling the athlete in the water is not as challenging as the bike. Sort of makes sense as the raft is skimming along the top of the water.
- On the water topic, Beth uses an Alpacka raft and Metolius mountain climbing straps; she uses two of the later criss-cross around the upper body using a caribiner to attach to the raft. This will take some practice.
- She works with hand paddles and a parachute in her swim training to build strength for the swim leg.
- Assistance is legal and encouraged. This was probably the best news I'd learned. USAT (US Triathlon Association) allows assisted athletes to have a team assist the athlete and the assisted athlete in the race. This is contrary to all the experience I've had as a triathlete as (an example) parents are NOT allowed in the transition area and something as simple as helping put on a
Alpacka Raft Beth and Liza use
- The bike leg. We talked about a variety of things including mounting the bike (and obviously having the bike in a low gear.) Consistent with the theme of safety, Beth recommended NOT having the bike shoes clipped in with rubber bands (my normal approach;) rather slipping into the bike shoes in transition and clipping in as you start out on the bike leg.
- The running chair. While she's completed races in a Team Hoyt style running chair, her opinion is its a bit too heavy when also hauling an athlete. Her preference is Adaptive Star style chairs which are "tubular" in design and much lighter than Hoyt. We just raised funds to get Liam his own Team Hoyt blade so we're committed there.
- The bike leg is the most challenging in that you have 140ish pounds you're hauling behind you. She spends a lot of time with resistance training on the bike and even hauling around sand bags in her racing chair (vs. Liza) on training runs.
- Beth is also a fan of disc brakes and electronic shifting. While she prefers carbon, I've had others suggest a "heavier" bike to pull the weight of the assisted athlete and running chair behind. I'll get to my bike choice a bit below.