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Spring is Here and So is Triathlon Season

By Natalie Kirchhoff | March 21, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

natalieSpring officially began yesterday and the triathlon season is getting well under way. In Florida I have been blessed to train outdoors all winter long, but I know many readers don't have that luxury. Hopefully the frost is melting wherever you are and you're able to get outdoors, off the trainer and start enjoying nature once again.

My race season began about three weeks ago in Clermont, Fla., with a sprint race done in the ITU format. ITU is the International Triathlon Union — the international governing body for the sport of triathlon. The primary difference between an ITU-style race and the other 95 percent of triathlons is the bike portion. In ITU races, athletes are allowed to draft on the bike whereas in most races athletes must maintain a minimum of three bike lengths between each cyclist. No drafting allowed or you get penalized.

A drafting race combines an element of team work that non-drafting races do not. Once you exit the swim leg and hop on the bike, you want to get a group of riders to work together. The more you work together, the faster you will go. Depending on how many athletes are in the pack and the skill level of those riders, you can get some good speed and pace lines going. I'm sure many of you have experienced riding like this on a group ride. You find you are able to maintain a faster average when riding in a group versus going at it solo. 

Triathlon in the Olympic Games is done in the ITU-style format. There are many strategies involved with this style of racing — when to pull, draft, attack, counter attack and more. In addition, it involves bursts of speed ("red-lining" as some like to call it) versus a consistent effort. When racers look at their data from an ITU event, we find many more peaks and valleys vs. a non-drafting event, which would typically show a steady heart rate over the duration of the bike leg. Drafting is fun, challenging and adds a unique element to the sport. 

natalieIf you are interested in participating in an age group drafting race, Streamline Events puts on several of these throughout the year. Next up is the Harvey Cedars Triathlon June 3. Check it out! I challenge you to try drafting. It's exhilarating! (Visit for more information.)

This season I will focus on gaining more triathlon experience while racing both ITU and non-drafting races. I came into the season with 13 races under my belt — I have lots to learn! With so many options out there for racing, I chose to focus on the Life Time Fitness Triathlon Series — Race to the Toyota Cup. The first race of the series starts on April 1 in South Beach, Fla. (Miami). I'm excited to be a part of this great series. 

For those of you mapping out your season, I encourage you to research some races and decide now what you want to focus on. Not every race will be your "A" race. Some races you will train through, but you want to choose a couple to peak at and bring your "A" game. Why a couple? Well we all know stuff happens and you might find yourself sick the week before your peak race. If you put all your eggs in that basket, it won't be pretty. Have a couple races that you want to peak at so if something does happen and training gets derailed a bit, you can modify, adjust and focus on your next "A" race. There are so many great races out there. Find somewhere you've never been and make it a "tri-cation" — triathlon + vacation = the best of both worlds! 

For a listing of USAT sanctioned races going on in your area, visit
To learn more about the Life Time Series, visit
To learn more about ITU, visit

Until next time: Train smart. Train safe. Race fast. Have fun!