Is a triathlon on your bucket list? – Well, they’re not as difficult to do as you might think.
Swimming, biking and running are workouts on their own. Combine them in a triathlon and bring on the challenge.
“Knowing how hard you’ll work to get there and how much you’ll hurt in the race doesn’t matter”, says Bridget Stokes, 38, who is a veteran triathlete from Damascus, Maryland. “The reward will be so great.”
By the Numbers
A full tri is 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 of biking and 26.2 of running, but there are shorter-distance triathlons, too. A sprint tri, for example, is a half mile of swimming, 12.4 miles of cycling and a 3.1 mile run. The Olympic tri just about doubles those distances.
So where to begin? – Train and get advice from a coach (if you can afford one) it needs to be someone who has competed in triathlons, or by joining a triathlon club or group where you can be social while getting in shape. “Find a plan and stick to it no matter what people tell you”, says Stokes, who bought a book online and follows the recommended training schedule every time.
But you can also train solo if that works better for you. Peter Gruen, 39, from Chicago, has trained alone for the more than ten triathlons he has competed in. He says, “Training is very time-consuming and trying to fit it in when it’s also convenient for somebody else is too challenging for me.
“Typically, you’ll want to spend each week swimming, biking and running, with some time off, too. How much time you devote to training depends on your schedule. But you’ll want to train at least three days a week, ideally six, focusing on a different element of the race each day.”
He continues, “When developing your schedule, devote Saturdays or Sundays to the cycling portion, which is the longest part of the race. (Adjust this to a week day if you work on the weekends and not in a 9-to-5 Monday-Friday job.)
“Build an off day into your schedule; otherwise, you’ll suffer an injury if you don’t give your muscles time to rebuild. Aim to rest after the toughest training day so you’ll come back stronger.
Gradually increase the time you spend on each area of training by about 10% each week. Increase your swimming distance and endurance, limiting breaks between laps. With running, your goal is to spend more time each week at your race pace (the pace you want to keep when you run) until you can run the distance of the race at that pace.
Six to eight weeks before your race, try to do a shorter-distance tri. You’ll also want to simulate race day with a swim, bike and run. About two weeks before the race, you’ll take some time off (aka “tapering”) so that your body isn’t too tired for the grand finale.”
Tips for Training Success
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your training sessions:
Start swimming properly
Consider signing up for swimming lessons (if your training sessions don’t include them) to improve your stroke technique and breathing skills, which will help you perform better. You’ll likely race doing the freestyle stroke, but you can do whatever stroke is most efficient for you, whether that is the breaststroke, sidestroke or even the doggy paddle!
Start in a pool to get acclimated and comfortable. (You may also want to practice arm strokes on land so you can focus on your movements without worrying about the water). Keep in mind that it’s normal to get winded in the beginning as you work on perfecting your form.
Head to open water after about a month. Stay in the water no more than 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning, heading to shore if you get tired. The better you do at swimming, the more energy you can save for the other two events. “It’s easy to get discouraged, particularly because many competition swimmers get into triathlons,” says Gruen, who swam during his childhood, but never competitively. “Having realistic goals can help, and just being able to see and feel the progress youre making is helpful.”
Get your bike professionally fit
Having your bike fitted professionally will make cycling more comfortable, powerful and efficient. It makes all the difference in the world, says Stokes. You may have biked before, but doing so competitively can be stressful on your bike and your body. Get familiar with the gears, pedals, brakes and the bike itself by breaking it in, even in a casual setting. If youll be wearing clipless cycling shoes, which attach directly to the pedal to making pedaling more efficient, practice with those. If you’ll be wearing sunglasses, try them on with your helmet. You should also get the equipment that’s necessary to change a flat tyre and know how to change a tyre yourself should you get a flat.
Know how to eat and drink triathlon style
That means you should practice eating and hydrating as you bike or run. “Don’t eat or drink anything new on the day of the race,” says Gruen. If you know what energy drink will be offered at aid stations, drink that beverage during training. For food, you can bring your own stash or grab some from race organizers or sponsors (typically energy bars or gels or bananas). Be sure you eat and drink enough. “You must get a nutrition plan and stick with it,” says Stokes, who is also a sports nutritionist. “Your entire day can be ruined when you don’t stay fuelled, hydrated and get enough electrolytes.”
Choose your equipment wisely
Invest in quality gear, attire and equipment within your budget. Ask your coach, salespeople in specialty stores and triathlon vets what they recommended — but know that its acceptable to save some money. “You can do a race in a basic bathing suit, a $20 helmet and a bottom-of-the line or even a used bike,” says Stokes, who adds that you should get fitted for quality running shoes. “This sport is as expensive as you make it. When training, wear what you will on race day. That way youll be comfortable with your purchases and have time to make any changes (such as get a new pair of shoes) before it’s too late.”
Don’t skip strength training
You’ll want to strengthen the muscles that are important for the races events by exercising them. Think lateral raises, lat pull downs and shoulder presses. Leg extensions and hamstring curls help build the hamstrings and quads you use during biking.
Spend at least one session going from one activity to the next like swim to bike or bike to run (which is the hardest transition on the muscles).
On Race Day
Get there early so you can scope out the lay of the land. Check your bike tyres to ensure they’re not low or flat. If it’s offered, take a warm-up swim to get you acclimatised to the water temperature and the course, noting the sun’s angles and buoys’ locations.
“It’s normal and expected to be nervous. After a few strokes in the water, the nerves will be gone and youll be into the flow of your race, says Gruen. He advises newbies to take it easy. It should be a fun experience,” says Gruen. “But make sure you don’t eat up too much energy early. Otherwise, youll struggle later. Forget about the clock and focus on finishing.”
As you cross the finish line, put your hands up and smile; typically, someone will be there to take your picture. And, prepare for a wave of emotion as you cross that finish line. Stokes says she has experienced an array of feelings at the finish line: “I’ve had tears of complete exhaustion, joy, elation, pride and surprise,” she says. “When you cross the finish line, all the sadness, dejection and hopelessness get washed and muddled with the happiness, pride and disbelief of what you have. In your mind, you’re holding your little triathlon baby. And you literally get that same wash of emotions as you do when you give birth. It’s amazing and addictive.”