Triathlon coaching - it offers an opportunity to guide athletes into the competitor they want to be. The following story is a complete picture about the process and evolution of a beginner triathlete that I’ve had the privilege of coaching.
I started coaching Trudee Andersen in September of 2018. First as a cyclist, then as an aquathon athlete, and finally as a triathlete. Her metamorphosis is far from over, and it feels like with each season we are learning more about her resilience, adaptation, and mental fortitude both physically and nutritionally. And that is exactly why we are sharing this case study.
Q&A format with a coach analysis of the run progression at the bottom.
Hello Trudee. I began working with you in the fall of 2018. Prior to your first aquathon and triathlon, what was your athletic history?
I did sports as a kid because my mom was a single mom and it kept us out of trouble. Then as an adult, I did karate with my kids for 10 years and we walked/jogged the Bolder Boulder for fun. In 2012, after my 6th left knee surgery (and 3rd ACL) my surgeon suggested I take up cycling instead of martial arts. I thought that was a ridiculous idea (note that punching and kicking as hard and fast as you can doesn’t help in endurance). In 2014, I joined a cycling meetup group to learn how to ride (fun facts - it’s where I met my husband, and my nickname was “crash” because I crashed a lot on my road bike) and then I did my first century ride in 2015.
Remember your first swim I had you do? Can you elaborate on the mindset you took to be able to go from swimming 25 yards to leading your lane at Masters?
It seems like so long ago, but I told Jim I wanted to try swimming in 2019. I had to rest at the end of each 25 (and I remember being so hungry LOL). My first D3 group swim (scary) I was lapped EVERY SINGLE interval. I started going to Beginning Masters (scary) then I built up the confidence to go to Masters (scary). Swim technique is hard to perfect (sigh). I think I have gotten rid of the hula hips and kicking like I’m riding a bike but there’s so much to learn! Little by little it’s getting easier and I’m getting faster. Yay!
Tell me about your first open water experience.
Learning to OWS was terrifying!! I panicked over and over, I couldn’t control my breathing and had to back float. Jim met me at the reservoir, pulled up my wetsuit, we did some bobs and he told me to exhale all the way which helped me control my breathing (I still use these tricks). My first aquabike was Loveland Lake to Lake in 2019, the year it was so cold and rainy. My goals were to not drown, not DNF and secretly to not be DFL. I made it!. My second aquabike was the Boyd Lake Bash, the year the buoys blew away and made the swim 2x too long (I was clueless and just kept swimming). This year I did my first OWS with some effort vs trying to stay calm and relaxed and it was fun!
Your first run was very similar to your first swim, correct?
I stopped running, jumping, squats and lunges after my 4th knee surgery over 10 years ago. I didn’t even own running shoes, I walked in my flip-flops (see picture) to the aquabike finish line. I told Jim, let’s try running but I’m going to stop if I have any knee pain (note I’m still running). My first D3 workout run was a 10-minute run/walk in September 2019. It was so hard! Now, I enjoy the hour-long zone 2 runs and I’m starting to see some PR’s!
You did a 5k this past weekend, how does the feel of running compare now to your first 5k back in 2020 at the Yeti chase?
My first 5K, I tried so hard and I was still at the back of the pack. At one of the tris, the ladies in my age group saw my D3 kit and said there’s the podium finisher, and I said no I’m a beginner and I’m a slow runner. I came off the bike second and they passed me on the run. We all laughed afterward and I said I told you so (but I”m on a mission to surprise them). Last weekend, I did the Hot Chocolate 5K and had a big 45 seconds per mile PR and finished in the top 15% of my age group! Obviously, I will run for chocolate.
What would you tell people starting out in the sport about building confidence?
My motto is to try 3 times. Keep showing up, even when you’re the slowest, you’re scared or embarrassed. Triathletes are trying to beat themselves, they are not judging you or comparing themselves to you. No one cares what you wear or if you have sausage legs in your kit. All the podium finishers have mad respect for those of us who are out there twice as long. Also it takes patience; tiny 1% improvements that add up over time; just keep doing the work. Jim sent me a joke when I was stressed about a sprint, “It’s not Mt. Everest!!!” and I still tell myself that before every race and laugh.
You have overcome a major obstacle, can you elaborate on your nutritional and dietary changes?
After years of being a workaholic in a high-stress job, in 2016, I was bedridden for three months, had surgery, then sepsis on 1/1/17 and spent a week in the hospital, I had a year of follow up appointments and was left with a post-infectious IBS diagnosis and no fitness. I changed jobs and decided to fight back with exercise. I was having trouble with nutrition, hydration, bonking and GI issues so I figured I’d do a session with Megan Dopp, the D3 nutritionist.
Megan said you will get to a point in your training where you will not want to feel sick and she was right! I worked with Megan for over a year and she helped me learn that gluten, dairy, nuts, yeast, corn, artificial sweeteners/stevia, liquor and heavy carbs/sugar were inflammatory for me and she helped me learn how to eat for everyday life and fuel for workouts. Running is the ultimate truth serum. If I eat clean I have a good run, otherwise, I have GI issues, cramps, nausea, extreme fatigue, achy hands/feet and can feel flu-ish for days. Megan also helped me get diagnosed and treated for MCAS and mold exposure. With diet, nutrition and exercise my inflammation went away, my GI issues calmed down, my energy went up, my performance improved and I lost 5 pounds.
What has been your biggest triathlon accomplishment so far, what aspect are you the proudest of.
I did my first Olympic and first 70.3 this year and I’m looking forward to next year to learn from my mistakes. I’m proud of my Desire, Determination and Discipline. It’s a humbling sport for an “over 50-year-old beginner (soon to be a grandma)” but I keep checking off my workouts, following my plan and trusting my coach. I’m not the fastest out there but I try hard, I don’t quit and I want to improve.
I came to Jim to help me stay accountable, to keep me motivated, to make my workouts efficient so I could juggle work and to help me improve. D3 is not just for podium finishers, it’s for everyone. D3 coaches and teammates always cheer me on and encourage me when they are on their way in as I’m heading out on the run. I love the group swims, rides and runs -- so come join us and don’t worry about being slow because I’m there to make you feel fast!
Coach Jim's Analysis and Review of Trudee's Run Progression
This heart rate slide (to the right with red) is a great example of keeping heart rate in z1-2, with a very high aerobic base especially as we ramp up volume. It's important to work on running economy and efficiency even at z1-2 levels. Any speed we did was very short and often on hills or treadmills initially.
The second slide (below with blue) also shows a very good ratio with nearly 70% of all run volume at z1-2. This limits risk of injury while working on endurance with short but high-quality sessions.
The last slide to the right is a good look at building volume in the first few weeks. Since there was no rush, we took 8 weeks to build up to running 60 minutes, once there we remained at the 60-minute mark before slowly building to 90 minutes. This does not represent the total weekly volume but the longest runs during those weeks.
Trudee has remained injury-free, even with so much prior knee damage.
With a gradual ramp and keeping intensity aerobic, this was a tremendous jump from a nonrunner to completing 90 minute runs all while staying healthy.
He believes some athletes spend too much time focusing solely on their strengths or just on their weaknesses - and indicates that you should work on both. Your strengths can give you a competitive edge in one or more of the disciplines but spend an inordinate amount of time on them and you can forgo progress in other areas. Not enough time and you’ll see them diminish. Same with your weaknesses, but together we’ll build a plan to balance the two and make you the best overall athlete you can be!