Training for a triathlon in 10 square feet

  • Published
  • By Capt. Max Bierman
  • 12th Space Warning Squadron

As soon as I found out I was coming to Thule Air Base, Greenland, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to focus on training for triathlons. After not racing as well as I would have liked to at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championships in 2018, I was committed to doing whatever it took to come back more competitive in 2019 to qualify for the World Military Games in Wuhan, China in October. I talked with my coach about the bigger picture goals and the smaller steps we’d need to take along the way, including how (and if) we could accomplish this given how remote Thule is. An Olympic-distance triathlon consists of a one-mile open water swim, a 40 kilometer (24.8 mile) bike ride, and a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) run. The race pits the best triathletes in each service against each other for a team-scoring event and the competition is always tough.

I spent the first month or so building the strength I needed to help propel me through the season.  Once I had that down, I started translating it to the three events. I was able to swim in Thule’s infinity pool for my training, which was more than I anticipated having in the Arctic Circle. I shipped my road bike along with my controllable ergometer machine that allows me to do power-based bike workouts in my room. Thule has plenty of treadmills in front of TVs to make up for the abysmal running conditions (minus 20 to minus 50 degrees and frequent winds above 20 knots), which was critical for my run training. The facilities at Thule were more than adequate for the serious training I needed and thus didn’t present the biggest problem. So, for nine months, I swam, biked and ran in a total combined volume of 10 square feet and ironically moved the most distance while I was lifting. I knew if I was able to string days one at a time that the nine months of consistent training would pay off.

At the end of May I went back to Denver, Colorado, for leave to see my girlfriend and get some more training in before the race. Transitioning back to “real world” training didn’t go very well, so I kind of wrote off my race goals when I got to Point Mugu, California, in June. I had a pretty good swim and came out of the water with a Navy and an Army competitor. We chased down a few guys ahead of us and ended up in a pack of six people with two from the Air Force, two from the Navy, and two from the Army. I tried to race intelligently and save my legs as much as possible for the run. When I came off the bike, I was in sixth place but decided to run conservatively rather than racing right from the gun.  I stayed consistent and managed to reel in three people over the course of the run, ultimately getting bronze and qualifying for the World Military Games. I was very excited to represent Thule in such a competitive event and am very grateful for the opportunity and support provided for me by leadership!

Training for triathlons has been a critical component of my time at Thule. Staying in shape has helped me stay positive and motivated while being away from my family and friends back in the United States, and resiliency like that is priceless. In translating this approach to operations, I try to bring the “work has to get done” mentality to commanding my crew, the Bravo Bad Boyz. I’d like to think it has benefited us when the workload ramps up due to various activities during our shifts. I’ve had a great time working with the ladies and gentlemen of the 12th Space Warning Squadron while training in such a unique environment. I’m excited to take my experiences back to my next assignment and for future athletic endeavors.