How to Train for Your First Triathlon
Having reached my mid 30’s I’ve committed to at least one competition per year to give me a training goal to look forward to. Last year I ran a half marathon (21km) as a newbie runner. My goal for 2012 was to complete a triathlon. I finished the Guelph Lake Sprint Triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) a month ago and after this awesome experience I will definitely do another!
Can you do one or two of the following relatively well: swimming, cycling, or running? Then you should definitely try a triathlon! In my case I’m an average runner and cyclist but a poor swimmer. Although I’m very comfortable in the water and can swim breast stroke for hours – that doesn’t make a good triathlon swimmer. In retrospect, because I had no formal training in front crawl/freestyle, I should have devoted at least three months to learning this important stroke. Ten self-taught swimming lessons didn’t quite cut it and as such it was no surprise that the swim portion was the most grueling and toughest. After my experience I can provide some helpful advice to you budding Triathletes.
Here are 5 tips to help you towards a successful first Triathlon!
- Choose a Try-a-Tri (TAT) first! This race is designed for triathlon newbies and is an ideal gateway into the Tri world. Usually the distances are around a 350m swim, 10km bike ride and 2.5km run. The beauty of a TAT is you do not have to devote a lot of time to training – this isn’t an Ironman after all! I made the mistake of thinking that the TAT distances seemed too easy for me so I chose the Sprint Tri instead for my first. Looking back I wish I had done this first just to get a feel for Triathlons before moving up to the Sprint Tri. In the TAT you can get used to the race style and layout and especially important areas of the race such as transitioning from the swim-bike (T1) and bike-run (T2).
- Brick training. The part of the race that I found the most physically taxing was the transition from cycling to running. Because the bike is a smooth motion on your legs stepping off and running throws entirely new forces at the legs. I found that the first 500m of running was the hardest as it felt like my legs (especially the quads) were going to massively cramp up. This feeling eventually passed but not after scaring me into thinking I might have to stop the race and rest for a bit. To minimize this discomfort – get your body used to this transition by doing brick training. When training try and mimic this transition by riding hard and then running fast right after – this will condition your body for a much smoother transition race day.
- Gear. If you don’t have a road bike try and borrow one from a friend (obviously make sure the bike is fitted to you properly). Try using clip-in pedals as it makes your riding much more efficient and faster. If your only option is a mountain bike – do yourself a favour put slick tires on it and save the knobby tires for trail riding. If you can find a triathlon wetsuit it can make the swim portion much easier as you will reduce drag and increase buoyancy. Make you sure you have a water bottle on your bike (I didn’t have one and the temp was 35C). Get a nice pair of swim goggles and running shoes.
- Swimming. If you are not a good freestyle swimmer take some swimming lessons and practice, practice, practice! I survived the swim through sheer athleticism but it wasn’t pretty! I had to alternate strokes between freestyle, breaststroke and the definite newbie giveaway – backstroke. Because of my backstroke I ended up veering off course and adding extra distance to the swim. Another swim tip – make sure you practice open water swimming in a lake or ocean. It is a totally different environment from the safety of pool lane swimming. Staring down into black water or rubbing up against seaweed tend to raise anxiety levels with open water swimming and can affect breathing and endurance so the more practice – the more comfortable you will get.
- Get to the race early! The night before the race my friend, a triathlon specialist, provided some words of wisdom. He said get to the race early and set-up all your gear in the transition areas and then go jump in to the water swim around for a good warm-up and acclimatize to the water followed by some stretching. Sounds obvious right? Race day we ended up running a little late (we have a 2 year old son) and then traffic was very thick. Needless to say we pulled into the parking lot at 12:40pm (with a race start time of 1pm)! This was a horrible way to start – not only was I anxious about the race but I didn’t know where to set-up my bike, where to register, where the start line was for the swim etc. I was running around in a panic trying to get ready and it turns out I was one of the last to leave the transition zone and head to the start line. I tried to follow my friends advice and jump into the water and just as my toe hit the water they ordered everyone out so they could start the race. So there I was standing on the beach – anxiety level high – no warm-up – trying to get pumped up for the most daunting task – the swim! The goal for my swim portion was not to drown … SUCCESS!
Overall this was one of the best athletic experiences I have had. Will I do it again? Absolutely! But I need to practice my swimming – next race I want to Phelps that portion!
Note: I didn’t provide any info on nutritional strategies as a Try-a-Tri doesn’t require as much nutritional discipline as a Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman or Ironman Triathlon.
Feel free to post any questions below. Happy training and good luck!!! 🙂
This article is also featured on The GoodLife Blog.