Triathlon Looks at 40

author : paularonw
comments : 7

A guide to beginning triathlon after 40

A year ago, I was a different person. I had a bad back and was having trouble staying in shape. Three years earlier I turned 40 and began to feel my fitness and outlook on life slowly deteriorate. My 40th year started off well. I trained to climb Mt. Rainier (and summited), was playing soccer regularly and took up CrossFit. But CrossFit and my bad back didn’t get along. I was sidelined with an injury, and so began what felt like a slide into “old age”.

Since turning 40, I had been developing an unhealthy view of myself. Because of my back health, and how it limited me, I felt old, sounded old, and looked old. It is true that age is simply a state of mind—I can attest.

But that is not how I feel today.

Today, I feel amazing. I didn’t anticipate this kind of immediate transformation, but it happened. And it’s because I took up triathlon training.

Here are ten things that helped me transform into a triathlete at age 44…

Set a goal for yourself.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Pick a goal for yourself that is a stretch, maybe even a little scary. Your big, scary goal will likely need to be broken down into smaller, less scary goals that become milestones on your road to your big, scary goal. You now know where you are going, and parts of the route on the way.

Setting a goal will help provide meaning to your training, a reason to get up early and to work hard. You’ll also need your goals as inputs into your training plan, which I’ll touch on later.

Start early, start slow, start short.

 Even the longest journeys begin with a single step. Yes, you are going to become a triathlete. But you aren’t one today, so start with a walk. Start with one mile runs that take 12 minutes. Start by swimming 10 laps. Just do it.

For my first Ironman 70.3 Triathlon I’ve given myself a full year to train. And I’ve used every bit of it. I’ve competed in a sprint triathlon, a couple of half marathons and otherwise spent lots of time slowly ramping up my fitness and training—without hurting myself.

The larger the flywheel, the slower it starts. The most important thing to do is to start, even if you start with a stroll. Keep giving that flywheel a little push, soon you and your flywheel will be spinning fast and have so much momentum that nothing will stop you.

Buy used gear

Triathlon is notorious for being an expensive sport, and that may be part of the joy of it for some. But for the rest of us, we can get started with a regular pair of running shoes, a mountain bike (or road bike) and a pair of goggles and swim shorts. Stuff you already have. That’s how I started.

Once I had a few miles under my belt and knew I wanted to continue, I started looking for a road bike. There was no way my wife would let me buy a new triathlon bike, so hello Craigslist!

My favorite way to find used gear is on Craigslist, using a tool called If This, Then That. I found an amazing triathlon bike for under $1000 using an applet (that’s what they are called on ifttt) that monitored my local craigslist site for new “triathlon bike” postings and sent me an email every time something new popped up. It’s super easy to setup, and helped me find a great deal on my bike (it also helped me find a crappy wetsuit for $75, which busted a zipper ten minutes before my first sprint triathlon, so… buyer beware.)

Join a triathlon team

There is strength in numbers. Learning how to master three sports is no small task. There are practical and technical considerations that noobs like us won’t have any idea exist until we a) screw up and learn the hard way, or b) have someone with experience give us a heads up before we do.

Doing a quick search for “triathlon coach”, I quickly found Kainoa Pauole and the Pauole Sport triathlon team. While hiring a personal triathlon coach can be expensive, joining a team is not. So that’s what I did.

The benefits of joining a team are many:

  • You are immediately part of a group of likeminded people, all trying to reach a similar goal.

  • You can join in team training rides, runs or master’s swims. Most teams include athletes of all levels and, like Pauole Sport, are super inclusive. You’ll learn new routes, check out other people’s gear, and have company on long training sessions.

  • You get the benefit of expert advice from the team coaches and the other athletes. A personal coach will provide a detailed training plan and work with you weekly. The team coaches won’t craft an individual plan for you, but should be available to give you pointers on technique and overall training best practices. I’ve also benefited from tips and coaching from my more experienced “lane mates” during the master’s swim workouts.

  • Teams often get discounts on gear and other supplies. For example, the Pauole Triathlon team gets discounts on wetsuits, nutrition, fitness testing, race entry fees and much more. The discounts can quickly cover the cost of team fees, depending on the gear you need.

  • There will often be several people from your team participating in the same events. That could mean company (and cost sharing) for traveling to a destination race, or just people to cheer for you (and for you to cheer for) in your local races.

  • You’ll make new friends. Seriously. How many new friends have you made since you turned 40?

Make the time (get up early)

 Like most people my age, I have many responsibilities, including a job and a family. This means that finding six to ten hours a week to train took some creativity… and an alarm clock.

It’s amazing how much you can get done before you go to work, and how great you feel the rest of the day knowing you already accomplished your workout. One of my favorite feelings is during the drive back from an early swim, with the sun coming up and that after-exercise glow.

One of the things I do to keep on track is to prepare the evening before for the next day’s activity. This does two things: 1) helps make sure I don’t forget any gear in the wee hours of the morning; and, 2) gives me fewer excuses to NOT get going in the wee hours of the morning. It’s a way for me to commit to my early workout while I have the will the evening before.

Here’s an example of my schedule on swim days:

Evening before           prep gear, set alarm, prep morning food/drink

10:00 pm                       bed time (I’ve tried going to bed earlier, but I just don’t fall asleep)

5:00 am                          wake up, grab gear and food, stagger to car

5:10 am                          in car, drive to swim, eat a banana

5:30 am                          in pool (we’ll swim about 3400 yards)

6:45 am                          exit pool, dry off, change

7:00 am                          in car, drive back home (bask in my after-exercise glow)

7:20 am                          home, make breakfast (yes, a full breakfast, almost every day)

8:00 am                          shower, change

8:20 am                          drive (or bike!) to work

As you can see, I’m able to get a lot done in the morning and I don’t ever feel rushed. But that’s because I got up early. On bike or run days, I don’t have to get up quite as early, but the same rule applies.

Swim. Lots.

I just tallied up how many yards I’ve swum since I started training 10 months ago. I was a little shocked at the number, but I have used swimming as the anchor for my program so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

In 10 months I’ve swum nearly a quarter million yards! (228,435, to be precise)

I am confident that I’m in better shape and my back is in much better health largely due to my swim-first strategy. A couple of months ago, I had a setback with my back. It started bugging me again, so I quickly adjusted my training plan and replaced my runs with more swimming and a little more biking. I did this for about 2 weeks while my back settled down, which it did. Once I felt better, I resumed my running program. It’s been the only time in my life that my back bothered me and I could maintain my training momentum as I worked through it.

Especially for those with back troubles like me, swimming may be the answer. I don’t care if you’ve never swum in your life, get your bad back into the pool. You’ll thank me. I promise.

Use your commute.

This one won’t work for everyone, though I know this will work for a lot of you.

Bike to work.

This is by far, the most efficient use of my time each week. I happen to work about 11 miles from home, which is a nice ride. Not too long, but also not short. It takes me about 40 minutes to ride to work. Here’s the kicker: it takes me about 30 minutes to drive.

That means that for those 10 extra minutes, I get a 40-minute workout. And I feel great when I get to work, which is another bonus.

This is found time! A 40-minute workout for only 10 minutes!
(it also helps that my work has a shower for bike commuters or lunchtime workouters.)

Buy Joe Friel’s book (read it, and follow it)

I got this book as a gift at Christmas, but I wish I had it sooner. I read Joe’s book cover to cover in about a week and it has been a training companion since. The Triathlete’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel is well organized, easy to read and gives great advice.

One take away that stuck with me is how to moderate your training. Many athletes, in their enthusiasm to push their limits, do more harm than good. Joe Friel coaches athletes on how to give your body time to rest and recover so that you maximize the time you do spend training.

His book is also critical for my next tip: creating a plan. Joe will help you build an annual training plan (ATP), and then break that down into the individual components for each sport.

I also really appreciate the approach of having a reason for each training session. Some workouts I’ll focus on speed, others duration and still other training sessions will be about active recovery. You won’t find more guidance about training for a triathlon in one place in any other book. I’m sure of that.

Create a Plan

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Following a training plan is key to your success. You can use a training plan that is already set up, such as the plans available here on, or you can customize your own plan, taking into consideration your current fitness and your race schedule.

For creating a customized plan, you can use the Custom Training Plan Creator at BeginnerTriathlete, along with the associated Training Log and Training Calendar, with progress measurements and graphs.

Even though I didn’t acquire Joe’s book until about 5 months into training, I had already been using a key training tool that he recommends (and helped create): Training Peaks.

At first, a detailed training plan and tracking system might seem like overkill for the novice triathlete, but I’ve found this tool essential to my success so far.

I’ve created and tracked my plan at Training Peaks, and it’s quite affordable for what you get – especially the free version. Training Peaks not only helps you plan, but also helps you track against your goals (remember step 1?). The process starts by setting your season’s goals. This includes the major event (your “A” race) and other lower priority events along the way (your “B” and “C” races). The program will take a few more inputs, and then build out your ATP.

Here is my ATP for this season:

This plan will be high level, setting the total hours you need to workout each week during your season. You’ll then be able to take that and build out more detailed plans for each week, which will include types of activities (swim, bike, run, etc.), distance, duration and effort.

There is a lot more to this tool than I can explain here, but if you are serious about training for a triathlon, start by signing up for the basic (free) version of Training Peaks or BeginnerTriathlete. My guess is that you’ll upgrade to premium in about 2 months. If you like aspects of both, you can sync your BeginnerTriathlete and Training Peaks accounts at and your information will update in both places automatically.

Track Your Progress

The is nothing more satisfying than to see and feel progress. One way to keep yourself motivated is to make a game of it. Track as much activity as your budget will allow.

While I now have a Garmin 735xt watch and other gadgets to track my training, I started with a simple FitbitHR for running, my iPhone with Fitbit App for biking and an old-school Ironman watch for timing my swims.

This is what my Performance Management chart looks like in Training Peaks:

Tracking your training doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective. Using the free version of Training Peaks, with the low-cost devices (or at least devices you are likely to already own), you too can track your progress and feel the satisfaction of graphs that show your improving fitness and health.

Finding triathlon after 40 has given me new life. Before triathlon I had been feeling old and was frustrated with my body.

By following the above steps, I’ve completely reinvigorated my health and my attitude. My back feels great, I’ve lost 30 pounds, I made new friends and I have a new-found passion.

I couldn’t be happier.



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date: May 31, 2017