It's an age old dilemma for everyone who's ever joined the LA Tri Club or updated their profile:

What is my "Training Level"? Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?

Pick one and let the tri world know where you stand and how you rate. It's a bit unfair, really, having just three buckets into which we group thousands of athletes whose ability and experience range from brand new to professional.

Sadly, we get reports of new members breaking out in hives trying to determine just what each level means. Woe be to the newbie who dares claim "intermediate" status or the expert guilty of horribly false modest in purporting be a "beginner" because they only joined the club a month ago.

In the interest of club-wide alignment and to save countless members the shame of an incorrect training level, we offer this first-time-ever attempt at defining just what it means to be a Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced level LATC member.

Training Level
First, let's define "training level". This is widely understood to mean more than "training". It's about your ability and experience. If you were a former NCAA Division 1 runner but only train once a week and have only done one triathlon, your training level might be low but no one in their right mind thinks you are a beginner. Think of the three levels as encompassing a mixture of experience, knowledge, and ability in both training and racing triathlons.

Beginner can be defined by both your physical ability and your knowledge of the sport. To be a real Beginner, you need to be not only slow (an important pre-requisite of Beginner-hood) but you need to have very little experience and knowledge in triathlon training and racing. It isn't hard to be a beginner but it's hard to stay one. Let's face it, even if you stay slow it is hard to avoid getting more experience and knowledge even if simply by osmosis. So let's put it to the test.:

You are a beginner if…
+ If you think carbon fiber is something you add to your cereal to improve digestion
+ You think Body Glide is something best left for the bedroom.
+ A trip to the kitchen is considered a "long run".
+ You still aren't sure: Do we swim, bike and run ALL IN THE SAME DAY???
+ You time your races with a calendar or sun dial.

You are NOT a beginner if…
+ You haven't done a triathlon but you competed in swimming, biking, running, or any other sport in college.
+ You can complete the following sentence: "My half-ironman PR is…"
+ You have a strong opinion on bike brands, shoe brands or wetsuit brands.
+ You've traveled overnight for a race.
+ You have race results from two different years.

Here's where it gets tricky. You KNOW you aren't a newbie anymore but you aren't super fast. You are really knowledgeable but haven't cracked the Top-10 in your age-group in a race. You know all the routes through the Santa Monica mountains but get dropped going up Latigo. You know the difference between a Cervelo P3C and R3 but still haven't broken 12 hours at an Ironman. What's a Clubber to do? Help!

Never fear. Intermediate is a great place to be. This is the place where speed doesn't matter but experience makes the difference. Triathlon knowledge can help the Beginner be an Intermediate. But speed definitely is also part of the mix. Here's the rule of thumb:
" If you aren't experienced or knowledgeable but you are fast, you are an Intermediate.
" If you aren't fast, but you've been in the sport for a while and are knowledgeable about the sport, you are an Intermediate.

However, if you are both experienced AND fast, it's time to face facts: You are Advanced. Step up to the plate and be proud. Let's put it to the test:

You are an Intermediate if…
" You can complete the following sentence: "I thought Wildflower was faster this year than any years since…"
" You *know* what Body Glide is but still make jokes about its extracurricular uses.
" You've ever sent an email to the club to lead out a ride longer than 30 miles.
" You own a tri bike and a road bike and know what each one is for and why.
" You've done VO2 max testing or blood lactate testing …and enjoy talking about it with your teammates during long rides.

You are NOT an Intermediate if…
" Your Ironman PR starts with an "11" or less -or- your time got you in the Top-10 in your age group (Congratulations, you are now Advanced.)
" You're still trying to figure out the "Body Glide" jokes from above (sorry, you're a Beginner.)
" You are running out of room on your office wall for podium pictures (Congrats, you are now Advanced.)
" You get offended when someone uses the term "Newbie" to affectionately describe newbies. (Sorry, you are a Beginner. Plus, you need to lighten up.)
" You look around the transition area to see who is racked near you so you know who you need to keep track of in order to get a Top-10 (Congrats, you are Advanced.)
" You can't figure out why people spend so much time talking about bicycle gearing. And you find it amazing that we actually eat pills full of SALT! (Sorry, you're a Beginner.)
This one is actually pretty easy. It's the place where speed meets experience. Not absolute speed: If you are a 60 year-old who qualifies for Kona, you might not be faster than a 30 year-old who doesn't…but you are still Advanced! If you've been doing the sport for a few years, know quite a lot about bikes, can speak with authority on how to deal with an IT band injury and have gone through more than two wetsuits, and have a stack of old race numbers lying around in a drawer, you are probably advanced.

Let's put it to the test:

You are Advanced if…
" Your LA Tri Club membership number has one or two digits.
" The term "Tri Fed" means something to you.
" You actually *use* Body Glide in an extracurricular manner (bonus points for your Advanced status if you also use your Heart Rate Monitor for extracurricular activities.)
" You own a medal or plaque from a race in a year that starts with "19..."
" Two words: Kona qualifier
+ You get unsolicited emails from people asking your opinion on compact cranks for races like Wildflower.
+ You've never looked at someone's calf as they pass you on the run and seen the number of someone in your age-group.

You are NOT Advanced if…
+ You're in your first year of triathlon, didn't do collegiate or high level club athletics and aren't sure which of the three sports you do first.
+ You race road triathlons on a mountain bike
+ You still don't know where to get a wetsuit repaired or how to ride to Santa Barbara/San Diego (or at least where to find those things out on the LATC website)
+ You are doing an Ironman but still haven't done an Olympic.
+ You bought the 404's but still aren't sure why.
+ You need to ask if you're advanced.

Hopefully this helps you make this all-important decision with confidence. And never fear, even if you get it wrong, no one will hold it against you. Until you get dropped going up Latigo.

Good luck, train safe and race hard!

I remember racing my first 10k and not having any fathom of how I could run one step further. 6.3 miles was impossible.

I did my first Olympic distance triathlon and couldn’t imagine how people completed anything longer.

I did a ½ Ironman and knew without a doubt that there was no way in hell I could ever race twice that distance.

I did an Ironman.
And I felt wonderful at the end.

We are interesting animals, us humans. (Yes, I know we’re mammals, but let’s not split hairs on this one right now. You’ll make me lose my train of thought.) Most of us can only imagine what we already know. Sure we can pretend to muddle about other things, but true imagination is different. Imagination has one foot in reality. In the confines of our human brains, imagination has boundaries.

We live in a box that we call reality, trapped on all sides by boundaries and categories. And for most of us that box defines the limit of our imaginations.

We leverage our life experiences as a means to stretch our imagination. Like a theme from the Truman Show, day after day we travel down the same road, until one day we dare to imagine a different route to a different destination.

As athletes, we are given the opportunity to dream on a regular basis. We strive to go faster, harder, stronger, longer. We dream of beating this time or conquering that course. And when we focus on the dream, when we set out a plan, suddenly the dream is in the realm of reality. It is within our box.

Our bodies are controlled by our minds. Nobody ever won without first daring to dream that they could. So we push ourselves not as much to the limits of our body, but to the limits of our imagination. Assume you can never finish an Ironman, and you never will.

Let’s call it the Bannister Effect.

In a world that believed in the limitations of man, Roger Bannister dared to imagine. He imagined that he could run a sub-4 minute mile, a feat that was far beyond the collective imagination of the time. Yet once he stretched beyond these mindless limitations and broke the 4-minute barrier, the floodgates of imagination were let loose. Just as suddenly, many others dared to imagine within the expanded Bannister walls. And just as quickly, dozens of others ran faster than a 4 minute mile.

As triathletes, it is up to us to challenge ourselves and stretch the limits of our minds. As we do, so our bodies will follow.

In a funny way we are like goldfish – we will always expand to the size of our bowl. No matter how big the challenge set before us, we will find a way to succeed.

Think you can’t do an Ironman?
I think you are wrong.
Buy a bigger bowl.

Dare to dream. Dare to peek outside the confines of your imagination. Stretch out your arm and put your hand through the fire. Grab hold of the other side and pull yourself through.

I promise, you won’t get burned.

Portions of this article were printed in Triathlon Life Magazine, April 2008. Jeff Matlow, 2008.

Following the LA Tri Club's tradition of bringing the greatest personalities in triathlon to the center stage to regale the LA Triathlon community with tales of training, racing, and triathlon life, we are pleased to announce an Evening with XTERRA 3x World Champions - Conrad Stoltz and Melanie McQuaid. LA Tri Club meetings are open to all! Ticket information for members & non-members is below.

WHEN : Tuesday, May 13 - Doors open at 6:00 p.m.
Ticket price includes entry to the Expo, a buffet Dinner and
presentation by guest speakers: Conrad Stoltz &
Melanie McQuaid!
WHERE: The Proud Bird: 11022 Aviation Blvd., L.A. 90045. Near LAX. Free Parking.
MEMBER TICKETS: Here - In our RSVP/Polls

Great news! I read a very interesting scientific article published by researchers in the Department of Physiology and Neurokinetics at Stanford University about running and exercise, which I think might benefit you all... Here are some key points:

1. Nutrition and hydration for long distance runs is extremely overrated. In fact, they suggest that 8 oz of water is enough to last a typical human being for 8 hours of non-stop exercise. They rule of thumb, they suggest, is 1 oz of liquid every hour.

2. Scientists also discovered that the act of actually "running" isn't really necessary to become a good runner. They suggest that all one needs to do is close their eyes and mentally visualize themselves running. By using this scientifically proven "power of the mind" exercise, the subjects in their study were able to increase the mitochondrial density of their muscle cells, hence increasing oxygen consumption and metabolite breakdown, all of which made them not just powerful runners, but also great cyclists and swimmers.

3. The study suggested that most running injuries occur because people mentally imagine them becoming injured. There is absolutely NO physical evidence that overtraining will lead to an injury. All one needs to do is to have enough confidence and courage to know that they are immune to running injuries and they will NEVER have to deal with a running injury ever again. This applies to both beginner and advance runners, but researchers suggested that because beginners have more self-doubt about running, they are more prone to injuries.

4. Study showed that running is hazardous to your health. Aerobic exercise in general can cause hypertension, diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, and on rare occasions, it might infect you with HIV.

5. Contrary to the popular belief, scientists suggest that hiking isn't for people who are too lazy to run anymore.

6. Smoking cigarettes is all of a sudden good for your health.

7. Stretching is a waste of time. From this point on, don't EVER bother stretching ever again.

8. Researchers find that drinking a triple-shot espresso seconds before a marathon start will guarantee a marathon finish in under 3 hours.

9. One hour of bowling (yes, it's a sport, look it up) burns as much calories as two hours of running.

10. Scientists proved that running is NOT addicting and catching the "runner's bug" isn't an acronym for a euphoric feeling felt by people who frequently run. In fact, the runner's bug is an actual disease causing virus with symptoms ranging from nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and in 100% of men, impotence.

There you have it folks, shocking but true!!!

By: Arkady Hagopian


1. There are good days and there are bad days and sometimes you can't tell the difference until you start.

2. Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not overrated. Not in the slightest.

3. Don't forget to breathe.

4. Just because it's raining doesn't mean you should cry.

5. Nobody ever said it was easy.

6. Pain is temporary. Pride lasts a lifetime. Sometimes even two.

7. Create a plan and stick to it. It may not always work, but if you stay focused and relaxed, it'll all end up just fine.

8. You've got to try. No matter what happens in the end, you'll have bigger regrets from not ever trying.

9. Strength and courage blossom from the sands of adversity.

10. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the big differences

11. Getting to the starting line is usually a lot harder than getting to the finish.

12. Listen to your body and listen to your mind. And make sure you know when they're lying to you.

13. You can't change the past and you won't alter the future. Enjoy right now, right now.

14. Smile - it does a body good.

15. Be supportive of others. We're all in this together.

16. It's OK to cry.

17. Don't forget to eat. Especially breakfast - that's a really important one.

Jeff Matlow
More at

Remember when we knew nothing about heart rate training, cadence, stroke count and such nonsense? When going for a run meant going for a run, and had nothing to do with intervals or tempo or taper? Do you remember those days? I don't. I've got no memory of them anymore than I can recall an existence before TiVo or e-mail.

Since I got quote-unquote serious about this whole triathlon lifestyle malarkey, my life has been a series of non-stop measurements. Heart rate this, lactate that, aerobic, anaerobic, VO2 max and glycogen stores. Truth be told, I don't even know what a glycogen store is or where I'd go to find one.

Whatever it is, I'm sure it needs to be measured and monitored and scrutinized, because that's what we do in triathlon. We take one step forward, then study it from all angles in all ways to determine if we can take a more efficient step in a more effective way to bridge that gap of three feet in one trillionth of a second faster.

Maybe if I had lighter shoes or more wind resistant shorts. Perhaps if I lost a little weight or invested in some plastic surgery to make my body more closely resemble one of those swanky Cervelo frames. Maybe that'll help.

After all, over the course of 140.6 miles, that one trillionth of a second adds up to a whole bunch of one trillionths. And maybe that's the difference between finishing in 1028th place and 1029th.

In the realm of life experiences, apparently that's really important to people like me. Though when I read this I can't quite figure out a reason why. In fact, it makes me sound like a bit of a boob.

I probably even begin to come across as a stereotypical Type A personality. But I swear to you, I'm Type B. Type B, I say! I was born low-maintenance and laid back and, dagnabbit, that's how I'll continue to live my life even if I have to make endless lists to remind myself.

Sure, somewhere along the way I replaced my unstructured workouts for a regimented training program. And, yes, perhaps I do know the exact number of granules of powdered potion I need to ingest every hour in order to maximize my endurance. Is that so wrong? Hey, at least I don't keep a continuous daily log of every detail of every workout. Actually, I take that back.

OK, maybe I am a bit controlling, but I reckon that's par for the course. Because whether we want to admit it or not, triathlon is all about structure. It is a sport customized for us folks who like a bit of controlled behavior in our lives.

Maybe you start off as the laid back Type B-er that I once claimed to be, but once you finish your first sprint distance race and then decide to tackle an Olympic distance, soon you'll be training for a 70.3, and then…

Next thing you know you're running deeper into the rabbit hole of multi-sport where the amount of regimented activity is directly proportional to the number of kilometers in your next race.

Us triathletes, we love our structure. We love to continually try to shimmy our Type B personalities into a Type A hole. With a racing and training season that can last most of the year, we have learned to become one with our sports addiction. We don't just race triathlons, we are triathletes. It is our identity. We are engulfed in a triathlon life.

Yet with this demanding lifestyle, we can easily teeter on the edge of Obsessive Compulsive Training Disorder. The pressures of living a balanced life can get overwhelming and so it is up to each of us to set our own personal limits. Like Don Henley told us many years ago, this could be heaven or this could be hell…we are all just prisoners here of our own device.

So with the hopes of avoiding the inevitable self-destruction, we must admit that there comes a moment in life when every triathlete has to realize that enough's enough. No matter how hard you focus, there comes a point in time when there cannot possibly be any more Type A to squeeze out of the proverbial tube of triathlon toothpaste.

I like to call that time "the off-season."

Unfortunately for many passionate triathletes, the off-season is oftentimes easier said than done. While we are out on a five hour mid-winter tempo ride, we talk about how great it is to finally relax, yet somehow completely miss the irony of the situation.

So here we are, having just closed the books on another wonderfully eventful year packed to the gills with the stress and self-induced pressure of the triathlon training lifestyle. We're just a Super Bowl bucket of hot wings away from planning out a new racing season.

Our Type A is rarin' to go, to breeze through the off-season like its transition training. But I'm here to remind you that it's not that time yet. We've got to step away from the circus mirror and take a more realistic look at relaxation.

We need to remember that it is just as important to let the mind recover as it is to let the body recover. While in the off-season, let's try not to work ourselves into a tizzy over tweaking this and rejiggering that. The off-season is about refreshing and reinvigorating. It's about taking time "off". Which is probably why they call it the off-season.

I'm not saying to avoid the bike, run or swim at all costs, I'm just suggesting that it might do the body good to relax a little. Maybe even stuff that daily workout log into the back of the bedside drawer.

If you wake up in the morning and don't feel like exercising at all, why not take a break. Do some yoga. Play with the kids. Go for a walk. Have a chocolate glazed donut if you really want. See if I care.

Feel nervous that a weekend on the ski slopes might ruin your hopes of getting a PR in next season's big race? Last one to the lift line is a rotten egg.

As committed triathletes, we are living a triathlon life, yet what better time than the off-season to remember that this "triathlon life" encompasses two worlds in its two words. There's "triathlon," and trust me, we all will have more than enough time to do that again this year. But there is also "life." During the off-season maybe we should try to channel our energy toward the pleasures of life.

So hows about we put the VO2 maxed tri-addict aside for a little bit and embrace the Type B personality we once had back when Thursday nights actually meant something on TV. Soon enough, we'll all be shopping for lactate at the Glycogen Store anyway. ###

Jeff Matlow is the owner of

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