So you have decided, perhaps hesitantly, to throw your hat in the ring for your first triathlon?
It seems like a frightening prospect at first.
Three sports, with three sets of equipment and unfamiliar terms, combining to form a sport with a storied history, complete with televised puking and crawls to the finish line.
But once inside the triathlon world, you’ll find it’s one of the most supportive groups of athletes made up of people at all levels of fitness.
When you cross the finish line at your first event, you’ll be able to call yourself a triathlete, and you may find that what started as a New Year’s Resolution becomes a healthy addiction.So here are some tips for success:
There are many training plans available today, but the most important factor for success in endurance sports is consistency. This is not a sport where you can achieve success overnight. If your training plan conflicts with your work schedule or competes too much with time for your family, find a different plan.
Look for something that spreads out running, biking and swimming over the week. Although experienced folks training for longer distance races might be completing two workouts per day, back-to-back, such scheduling is a great way for a beginner to end up sick or with an overuse injury or strain that takes weeks to heal.
Great free training plans are available at BeginnerTriathlete.com under “Programs” or by clicking here.
As you begin to research and read about training and triathlons, you are likely to come upon heaps of information about high-end racing bikes, clipless pedals, lactate threshold, amino acids and just about everything else esoteric about this sport.
The truth is, all you need is a pair of running shoes, swim goggles, and whatever old bike you have hanging in your garage.
As you improve and your goals change, feel free to dive into terms such as “yaw” and “VO2 max.” For now, you should know that almost every one of the triathletes talking about seat height or sports drinks entered their first triathlon wearing clothes they already owned and riding an old bike.
If you are looking for like-minded folks and feeling a little intimidated to ask questions in a big online forum of experienced triathletes, you should try one of Beginner Triathlete’s Mentor Groups. These are small online groups, limited in number, and led by an experienced triathlete who is interested in sharing his or her knowledge with people who are just starting out in the sport. Information and a list of groups still accepting new members can be found here.
Most smart endurance athletes adhere to this rule, which is especially important in the first few weeks and months of training. The 10 percent rule states that you should never increase the time or distance of a workout by more than 10 percent per week.
So, if the farthest you have ever run is one mile, you should gradually work your way up to two miles without increasing your longest run more than 10 percent over the week prior. Most training plans already adhere to this guideline, so if you follow your plan, you should be golden.
Becoming an endurance athlete is not something that can be achieved by pushing as hard as possible, all the time. Proper rest and recovery are as important as incremental increases in distance and speed.
Workouts tear the muscles down, and without the opportunity to rebuild, they become weaker instead of stronger.
Many training plans include recovery by building up distance over three weeks, then dropping back the fourth week before building again. Each day of training also provides opportunity for recovery, such as eating something healthy immediately after a workout and getting more sleep that you did before you started triathlon training.
The sport of triathlon is growing at a rapid pace--races are increasing in number, not disappearing--so there’s no need to sign up for the biggest, hardest longest triathlon your first year. In fact, doing so is a great way to become injured or burned out.
There are four major distances in the world of triathlon: Sprint, Olympic, Half-iron and Iron. Most people spend several years working toward an iron-distance event, if they attempt one at all. For others, the training hours and the subversion of other interests required to complete the distance is not enticing.
Still others prefer to hone their top speed and aim to take top prizes at the sprint or Olympic level.
As the sport grows, new options are debuting, as well. For example, many races offer duathlons (run-bike-run) and some offer an aquabike option, in which you compete with others who complete the swim and bike leg, but not the run.
If you have truly resolved to become a triathlete, you should sign up for a race now! Find a nice sprint-distance triathlon close to home, register, and pay the money. (A good list, with links to race reports from actual athletes, can be found at Beginner Triathlete in the “Races” section.) There’s no better way to ensure you will stick with your goal than putting money on the table.
-Alice Hohl is a professional writer, iron-distance triathlon finisher, and Beginner Triathlete member.
Owner at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.