Breaking Badass: What It Takes To Be A Triathlete

Can a runner become a triathlete? I spent a week training with triathletes Marlon Castillo and Rosel Badidles to find out more.

What made you decide you wanted to be a triathlete? What was the trigger?

Marlon: For me, it was a natural progression because I was into running and cycling long before triathlons were even on my radar. Then I met a Japanese triathlete during a run, started training with him and fell in love with the sport.

Rosel: After watching a video of Dick Hoyt racing with his son Rick and reading about their accomplishments together. It was really inspiring. I started going to events and said to myself that if these guys could do it, I could do it, too.

Marlon_Castillo

Marlon Castillo – Image credit

Is the transition from pure running or cycling to a multi-sport discipline hard?

Marlon: If you’re an experienced runner and cyclist, not at all. You just need to do some brick training to strengthen your legs or they’ll turn into mush after you transition from your bike to running. All you need to worry about is your swimming.

Rosel: The hardest part for me was swimming, because I didn’t even know how to float. I went to a swim school and trained for three hours every day just so I could get past that hurdle. Swimming in the pool is one thing, but swimming in open water is another. It’s freaking scary.

After a few training sessions do you want to do it more and more?

Marlon: For sure, you want to beat your PR every single time, then eclipse it during race day.

Rosel: It’s the same for any sport I guess, like marathoners and ultramarathoners who can’t get enough of it, or those guys who run in altitude. The challenge of multisport is highly addictive.

Rosel Badidles

Rosel Badidles – Image credit

What’s the most expensive gear?

Marlon: Tri-bike, hands down. Plus your road bike when you’re not out training for a triathlon.

Rosel: The Tri-bike. If you’ve got the cash, you can get yourself a tri-bike, a time trial bike and a road bike for good measure.

What other gear is needed?

Both: Helmet, goggles, swim cap, paddle, pull buoy, tri suit, running shoes, hydration pack, energy gels.

Do you wear those super-short shorts the marathoners use?

Rosel: No. I always wear Tri-shorts so I can run, bike or swim if you I want to. Don’t wear cycling shorts because they have thicker padding and will swell up when wet. You’ll feel like you’re wearing diapers/nappies.

How do you train and prepare for competition?

Marlon: Training will eat up a significant portion of your day, so you need to sacrifice. If you have a job, you have to find time to train around it, but always find time for your family.

Rosel: We do 2 hours of swimming, 2 hours of running and 4 hours of cycling split and spread out throughout the week. A typical bike training day covers about 20 KM an hour, for a total of 80 KM per session. During competition, you need a speed of at least 30 KM an hour.

triathletes running

Do you have a large meal an hour before a race or at night?

Marlon: I just eat normally, but I up my carbohydrate and protein intake.

Rosel:  I carbo-load the night before, but I don’t eat three hours before training or competition.

What about nutrition? What changed when you started doing triathlons?

Marlon: Nothing much. I’ve been eating like I always do. The best thing about burning this many calories is that I never gain weight.

Will you ever go back to pure running or cycling?

Marlon: Maybe somewhere down the line, when I want to compete in a marathon or ultra. I’ve always been a cyclist, so I’ll be doing that till I’m old.

Rosel: Being a triathlete is more of a lifestyle for me, so going back to doing just one sport would be a little boring. But I want to try running an ultra one day.

I heard that triathlon registration is expensive and all you get is a finishers medal. What do you get out of it if there’s no prize?

Marlon: Only the pro and elite level triathletes are eligible for the prize pool. Knowing this, all you can do is challenge yourself to compete at a high level and finish with a respectable time.

Rosel: It’s all about how the whole team finishes. If three or four of us compete at different age groups, the whole team should perform well (average time) and reach the finish line.

Is it true that triathletes are a friendly and helpful bunch?

Rosel: Yes, you can see it during competition. A lot of the competitors help each other out. Some can be pricks and tempers can flare, but at the end of the day, we’re all one, big, chaotic family.

Do women really kick ass in triathlons?

Marlon: I was OK for my age group, but the elite level women contestants blew my time out of the water. It wasn’t even close!

Rosel: I saw Monica Torres compete. She was faster than most guys, it was amazing.

triathletes entering water

What advice can you give a beginner with minimal experience? You know, weekend warrior types like me?

Marlon: You have to have a mentor, someone who can show you the ropes, because it’s hard if you do it alone. You’ll need guidance. Plus, it’s more fun to be in a group because you can motivate each other. Lastly, it’s nice to have a team that has your back during training and competition.

Rosel: If you don’t know how to swim, it’s best if you hire a coach or trainer because swimming in a pool is a lot different from swimming in open water. Open water can be intimidating, and after the swim, competitors are usually disoriented because of the waves.

Do you have any advice on what to do after a race? Like ice your knees, take an ice bath, eat a large recovery meal or party?

Marlon: I always take a cold shower after, the coldest possible setting. It’s not an ice bath, but it’s close. I just eat as I’d normally would, never gorging on food or anything like that.

Rosel: I’m usually too tired to even think about food, to be honest. Partying would depend on energy levels. If it comes back, let’s party! But if it doesn’t, I just sleep it off.

Can you add anything else you feel is important for beginner triathletes to know?

Marlon: You should consider Duathlons as a primer to Ironmans. Duathlons are more punishing on the legs though, because it’s run – bike – run. When you have duathlon experience, try to compete in sprint triathlons first, to get a feel for it. These shorter competitions will tell you if you really want to be a triathlete and if you have what it takes.

Rosel: If you’re serious about it, you need money. The gear alone, plus your bike/s can be expensive, not to mention the cost of registration and training. Your old mountain bike just won’t cut it and it’s not allowed in competitions. If the race is in another country or state, you have to buy a plane ticket and have your bike shipped over there. Don’t expect to recoup your expenses either, not unless you’re a pro or elite level triathlete.

triathletes swimming

My experience: From Everyman to Ironman

Training started at 5:45 AM on the dot, so I had to force myself to wake up at 5 AM to prepare. That part was brutal for me because I’m a night owl. Training was split between run-swim, bike-run, rest, run-swim-run, bike-run, rest and bike. If you haven’t run or biked long distances for a while, this kind of training will test you.

The 10K run on the first day messed with my IT band and left knee because I was trying my best just to keep up. Swimming was by far the best part of training because I could slack off a little in the pool. The bike phase made me question my sanity, but the guys always waited for me and motivated me to continue. I lasted about 40 km, half the distance they normally cover.

My verdict? It’s tough enough to be a single sport athlete. But a triathlete trying to master three disciplines? It takes a little bit more spunk, determination and insanity to pull it off, especially if you don’t regularly train or are chained to a desk. Take your training one day at a time, it takes months to be ready for a race. Don’t rush in.

The Finish

Darwin called it. Humans today are taller, faster, stronger and live longer than even before. It’s evolution, baby. In running, the natural progression of a competitive runner is to run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon and maybe even an ultra. Rinse and repeat for as long as the hunger to tear-up the asphalt is there. But for some, the itch to change is inevitable and it needs to be scratched.

With a tri-bike and some sea water.

Do you have any tips or experience to share about being a triathlete? Let us know in the comments!

*This article wouldn’t have been possible without the help of triathletes Marlon Castillo and Rosel Badidles. Thanks also go out to Jeg Vallido of Team Adobo for providing me with the images.