Why I Triathlon Train Like Rocky and Not Drago

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I was reading an article a friend had posted from the New York Times entitled “Why Amateur Ironmen Pay for Elite Treatment.” This particular article discusses how many amateur triathletes are paying big bucks for equipment, training, coaching, and racing. The article discusses one individual who qualified for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. He paid for his coach to attend with him along with other members of his entourage. The coach even stated that it was not necessary for him to go, but the triathlete desired for him to be there. He paid so much money for this level of treatment. He has a disposable income to do so. While I am always looking for a way to upgrade my training or equipment, I have to do it on a budget.

Rocky IV is one of my favorite movies. In this movie it is USA vs Russia. It is Rocky Balboa vs Ivan Drago. It is the handwork and resilience of Rocky vs the mechanized humanoid in Drago. In their training for the boxing match in the movie, there is a montage (doesn’t every Rocky have a montage) of their training. You see Drago with all of the coaching, sophisticated machines, high tech metrics, detailed training, and of course steroids. Rocky just uses good old hard work. He works out in a barn, runs in the Russian snow, lifts large logs, and is clean from any drugs. The coaching that Drago receives is world class and Rocky doesn’t really have a coach after Micky and Apollo Creed die. All of this culminates in Rocky beating Drago in Russia and the Russian crowd chanting “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.” Of course there is the obligatory “Adrian!” from Rocky himself.

While I am not training to battle some Russian character, I do feel a bit at a disadvantage in some ways because I do not have the financial backing to purchase coaching or the most expensive equipment. I am here to tell anyone in triathlon though, you can do this on your own at a lower budget than most and still be competitive.

I want to detail a few areas about training with a Rocky vs Drago mentality:


I have been looking into triathlon coaching which is very popular. I have no doubt that I could achieve more of my goals faster with a hands on coach. I would love to have a coach, but I just can’t justify the $50-$200 per month for a coach. I do have kids to cloth, mouths to feed, and other expenses to give on a limited budget. I certainly could squeeze this type of cost into my budget, but I would have to tell my kids they couldn’t do something and that is not fair. I do find that there is an abundance of FREE coaching out there if you are willing to do the research. There are YouTube videos of the proper swim form, bike, form and run form. There are plenty of nutritional blogs and articles to help with gaining an understanding of your nutritional needs. There are plenty of Training Plans that are free or low cost, you just have to dig for them on the internet. Finally, there are books by the tons of different ways to train. The main thing that I would caution with is trying to mix too many things together. Narrow in on a particular way to train and eat and stick with it. There are some basic concepts you need to know if you are going to be self-coached:

  • Track your metrics in each of the disciplines. Don’t go crazy but you need pace levels for each discipline.
  • Track your eating habits. You need to track calories and what you are eating to maximize your efforts.
  • Follow a good training plan. Don’t just go “willy-nilly” into doing triathlon, but rather have a plan.
  • Find a group of another triathlete to help you determine if you are heading in the right way.
  • If something doesn’t work, be willing to fix it and be willing to find a way to fix it. This goes for nutrition or any training method.
  • You must become educated on proper form for each of the disciplines. If you aren’t willing to modify your form then you will always struggle.
  • You must be self-motivated. This goes without saying that if you can’t do this on your own and need a coach to motivate you then you will struggle if you want to be self-coached.


The age old question in triathlon is “how aero can I get?” So many triathletes drop hundreds if not thousands of dollars on equipment they do not need nor equipment that will not really make them faster. If you drop 5 pounds then you will increase your speed ion the bike and run exponentially more than a new set of $1200 aero wheels. Certainly, aero wheels look sweet and I would love to get my own, but I am being patient having bought a pair of $250 wheels a couple of years ago that have good bearings (considering changing them to ceramic). I also got for a gift a new aero helmet that really helps in the wind and cost around $125. I try to find deals like for my wetsuit last year when Xterra was clearancing out their wetsuits and I got one for right at $100. Certainly, I could try to buy the $300 wetsuit, but I want to eat more than cereal for dinner. I also learned how to build up a bike, tune my bike, and do bike maintenance by watching YouTube videos and by reading some articles online. I found that I can save in these areas by maintaining my own equipment and having a smooth ride. I also bought a $15 pair of ceramic bearing rear derailleur pulleys. I am telling you this helped a bunch over my old worn out pulleys. Right before my ironman race last year, I replaced the chain which also helped. I built my bike up from the frame. I purchased the frame and aero handlebars and learned to put them on the bike. The scariest part was cutting the steering tube, but I made it through that experience. By doing this part of the bike setup I saved $300-$500 on the bike. Certainly I could try and save for the $3000-$5000 bike, but once again my kids need to go to college one day!


I know that in the sport of amateur triathlon, everybody is there to have a good time and enjoy themselves, right? Well, there are a few folks in the field who are probably taking steroids or other Performance Enhancing Drugs. There is not a standardized drug testing program for amateur athletes, so no doubt some folks are trying to skim by. I have read about individuals, even amateurs, who have tested positive for various drugs. Some of the uses are for real medical reasons, but others are for pure competitive reasons. I choose to be a clean athlete and not take these types of supplements and drugs. I would hate for anything to be tied to my name that relates to drugs or illegal substances.

All of this being said, you don’t have to spend a fortune (of which I don’t have) to not only enjoy and race triathlon, but be competitive. Let all of us “Rocky” triathletes join together and encourage one another. One day I may find that better coaching and better equipment did make a difference, but for now I will just trudge along and push myself to greater heights in triathlon.

write by mendoza

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