5 Tips for Training Successfully for Your First Triathlon
“It’s all about the journey, not the outcome.” – Carl Lewis, 10x Olympic Medalist
Congratulations for taking on the challenge of a triathlon — an event like no other physical challenge in sport — a swim, bike and run odyssey! I still vividly remember my first sprint triathlon near Jacksonville, FL, in 1995. I had seen the IRONMAN Triathlon in Hawaii on TV but had never seen a triathlon live before I showed up on race morning and nervously watched how the other competitors set up their transition area.
Since then I’ve done over a hundred races and had the opportunity to work with thousands of athletes as a coach. I’ve had a chance to both observe and experience what to do and what not to do. Here are five tips for training for your first triathlon.
1. Commit to What You Can Reasonably Do
Consider all the other roles you play in your life like parent, spouse, friend, pet owner, employee or boss. What are your priorities? Write them down. Where does triathlon fall? For most of us, triathlon is not number one on the list.
How much training can you reasonably commit to in a week? If not much, then consider training for a sprint triathlon (750 meter swim / 20 km bike / 5 km run). In truth, a sprint triathlon is an excellence distance to choose as your first triathlon.
2. Block Off the Training Sessions in Your Calendar
If you set aside time for the training sessions, you’re more likely to do them. Start with two sessions per week each of swim, bike and run spaced out throughout the week then incorporate a third session if your schedule permits. Include one day off – most triathletes like to take Monday off and do their longer bike and run workouts on the weekend. Don’t forget strength and flexibility to both improve performance and reduce likelihood of injury.
A typical training week might look like:
3. Do a BRICK workout each week
Dead. Heavy. Slow. Plodding. These are all words that describe the legs of a triathlete who has not done BRICK workouts as part of their training. A BRICK workout is a bike ride immediately followed by a run to simulate the quick transition from bike to run in a triathlon. The heavy feeling in your legs on the run will reduce over time as your legs adapt to the quick transition. I recommend doing a short run (5-15 minutes) after every long ride.
4. Get Technique Help in Swimming
It’s been said that biking and running are 80% form and 20% fitness while swimming is the opposite: 80 technique and 20% fitness. Unless a triathlete comes from a competitive swimming background, swimming is typically the sport where most athletes struggle. Find a swim coach who who works with triathletes for individual instruction or join a local masters team for group instruction.
5. Practice Your Transitions
The swim to bike (T1) and bike to run (T2) transitions are what make triathlon unique from other sports. Your transition times count towards your race time so the faster you can transition, the faster you’ll be on race day. The key to faster transitions on race day is to practice them in training. Not only will you speed up your transitions, but you’ll build confidence as well.
This short video demonstrates how you can practice transitions at home to go faster on race day.
Not surprisingly, there are many, many other aspects preparing successfully for a triathlon. We’ll explore some of these other areas in future blog posts.