Training for a triathlon is a great way to get in shape or maintain your motivation to stay in shape. There are 4 primary types of triathlons to choose from: the sprint triathlon, the Olympic triathlon, the half Ironman distance and the full Ironman distance. Due to trademark restrictions on the name Ironman you’ll see many longer triathlons referred to as “iron distance”.
For your first triathlon you should focus on the “sprint” distance. This is typically between 400-800 meters swimming in a pool or lake, 20 kilometers of bicycling and 5 kilometers of running. You will probably wonder how much training you should do for a first triathlon. It depends on your goals but at a minimum you should train for each sport 1 time per week. If your schedule permits training twice per week for each sport will help you feel more comfortable during the race and after the race. You should focus on working up to the distance of each leg in your training cycles. There are many free online resources for a sprint triathlon training plan.
Think about which of the 3 events is your strongest and then which one is your weakest. Give your weaker event more focus in your training. One of the biggest training mistakes you can make is focusing too much on your favorite event. If you have difficulty running, then spend a bit more time doing that. If you have a swimming background then you don’t need to focus as much on that event. For many people swimming tends to be their weakest event. But it doesn’t have to be for you. Most public swimming facilities offer lessons for different levels of ability. Check with the swim team at your local pool to see if they offer private lessons. If you are really ambitious you could consider joining the local US Masters Swimming team. A great way to boost your swim training is to use swim fins. This will give you some added propulsion to help you stay up on the water and focus on your proper freestyle technique. There are even some great training videos available that teach proper swimming technique.
Two important things to practice you might not have considered are running after riding your bike and the dreaded 4th event “the transition”. If you have never tried running after biking it will feel pretty strange at first. Your legs will be tried of spinning circles and you force them to switch directions. Take time to practice getting off your bike quickly, putting away your cycling gear, and then putting on your running gear. This will help simulate your transitions during the race. It seems so simple but when you’re tired and in a hurry you can save valuable time with a fast transition.
Do not get too hung up on fancy triathlon gear such as heart rate monitors, aero wheels, or even a carbon fiber bike. You can spend thousands of dollars on fancy bike but you do not need to for your first triathlon. In fact you could even borrow a friend’s bike instead as long as it basically fits you. You could even ride a mountain bike or hybrid bike if you prefer. You will need a bike helmet so make sure that fits well. And do not make a rookie mistake like I did once by leaving it in the car before the race starts. You will not be allowed to leave the transition area after the swim to start the bike course without a helmet.
Depending on the size of the race it will begin with a mass swim start. Some larger ones will break up the swim start into smaller waves based on age group. Sometimes you’ll be allowed to walk or run into the water and other times you’ll start already in the water. If you’re not a comfortable swimmer you should start at the back of the group to avoid the initial commotion at the start. It can be rough and sometimes you can get accidentally kicked or pushed or even have your goggles knocked off.
When you come out of the water you’ll be entering into the transition area where your bike and run equipment is stored for what’s commonly referred to as T1. After you towel off your feet you slip on your bike shoes if you have clipless pedals on your bike otherwise you’ll just put on your running shoes if you have regular style pedals. Take a moment to eat part of an energy bar or eat an energy gel and drink a bit of your favorite sports drink. Take your time on the bike course so you can enjoy your first triathlon. On the bike you can also drink more. Try to take a few sips every 15 minutes to maintain your hydration level. Depending on how sunny it is
As you complete the bike leg you’ll come back to the transition area for what is known as T2. Take care to rack your bike properly because you can be penalized if it falls off the rack. If you are wearing cycling shoes take them off with care to maintain your balance and not fall over as your legs will be tired. Some people will even just site on the ground to give their legs a momentary rest. Put your run shoes on, take another energy gel, and a few more sips of an energy drink before you head out of the transition area on to the run course.
Take it easy on the run course and maintain the same pace you did in training. This will ensure you finish comfortably and not experience any problems during the run leg. During a sprint Triathlon there is usually at least 1 water station where you can get a drink. One technique to drinking while running is to pinch the top of the closed on one side to help minimize splashing otherwise just walk while you drink your water.
Crossing the finish line after your first triathlon is a real milestone. It can be a powerful feeling of accomplishment. Congratulations you are now part of an exclusive club. You are a triathlete