With summer approaching, triathlon training is in full swing in preparation for races across the nation over the next several months. If you’ve never tried a triathlon, it is a phenomenal way to get in peak physical condition, with the multiple demands of swimming, cycling and running. Although the sport indeed is challenging, it attracts many who thrive on the varied training and intense competition.
A variety of race distances exist – from sprint to Olympic to ultra/Ironman – which enables individuals of different skill levels to participate and succeed. A sprint triathlon is a half-mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run; an Olympic is a .93-mile swim, a 20-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run; and an ultra, or Ironman, distance is a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
In addition to completing the actual race, triathlon training is tough, demanding an ability to balance three separate sports without being injured, while managing a professional and personal life. Newbies can find this juggling act intimidating and overwhelming if they don’t develop a smart training plan. Fortunately, many resources are available on triathlon preparation, and training clubs and coaches can provide valuable support and direction.
If you’re planning to take on one of these great races, put in the prep time in order to succeed. Recommended amounts can vary according to your current fitness level and the distance of the race you choose, but generally are from 8-12 weeks. Check out the following triathlon training tips here, culled from a variety of expert sources.
- Pick an appropriate race – Beginners should aim for sprint distance, or half-sprint races, to get the most out of their first experience and maximize the chances of success. Regardless of distance, all triathlons are intense – and there’s no shame in starting small and finishing, rather than taking on a long race and ending up with a DNF. Get used to the sport with a sense of accomplishment, rather than defeat. Search Active.com for events, or seek out local triathletes via clubs or online groups for their recommendations of the best races.
- Stay close to home – For your first few races, it’s easier to be within driving distance of home to decrease race-day stress, of course. Adding in long drives or plane rides obviously complicates even the best plans and can cause more hassle and unanticipated delays.
- Give yourself time – No matter how fit you are, you shouldn’t rush triathlon training or try to cram it into a few weeks. Given the intensity of workouts, if you push yourself too much, too often, you’re likely to be injured or suffer from overtraining, which will set you back on an already tight schedule. Better to pick a race farther out on the calendar and train properly than try to fit in a safe training schedule into a condensed timeframe.
- Follow a plan – Don’t just wing it, or you are setting yourself up for failure. Triathlon isn’t just a simple weekend 5K that you decide on a whim to complete a few days in advance. With three separate disciplines, you must allocate workout time in advance. Research training plans, pick one that works with your schedule, and then stick to it. Or join a triathlon training group or hire a coach to guide your regimen – consult Ironman.com or your local specialty running or cycling store.
- Get the right gear – You don’t need top-of-the line products, like premium wet suits or an expensive racing bike. That said, get what you need by borrowing, renting or purchasing items such as a wetsuit, bike or helmet. A triathlon suit that goes from swim to bike to run can be one of your most valuable investments, so don’t skimp on that. Cycle shoes can improve your speed, and running shoes are a necessity. Make sure your bike has been serviced recently and is in good working order.
- Work all three disciplines – We tend to gravitate toward our favorite activity, or what we are best at, when instead, it’s critical to improve on the swim, bike and run. Don’t neglect the area where you are least proficient – or this will hinder your overall race performance.
- Don’t increase distance or duration more than 10 percent per week – Experts recommend controlled increases to minimize the risk of injury and illness, and to allow your body time to adapt to ongoing, repeated stresses. So limit jumps in workout miles and/or minutes to 10 percent or less weekly.
- Practice the brick – A brick is when you work two different disciplines back-to-back, such as a swim followed by biking, or a bike session before a run. You can keep the distances short in the beginning, but train your body to adapt from one modality to the other.
- Take on open water swims – Swimming in a lake or ocean can be intimidating and anxiety-producing for those used to pool training, so practice open water workouts before the race, when your nerves will be buzzing and you’ll be surrounded by other swimmers and limbs moving through the water. Manage your breathing, control your strokes and learn relaxation techniques to help offset the panic that can accompany the swim start.
- Do interval training – Interval training increases your endurance and speed, and you can vary length of the work and recovery intervals. Try fartlek, ladders and Tabata to improve your efficiency and overall conditioning. But don’t overdo it – interval training should only be performed a few times each week, and NOT every workout.
- Try transitions – It sounds simple, but in the heat of the race, transitions from one modality to another can be stressful and chaotic. Practice having your gear laid out and quickly moving from the swim to bike and bike to run. Ask seasoned triathletes for their recommendations here to improve efficiency.
- Build in recovery – With all the hard training you do in preparation for a triathlon, allow yourself some time to recover – ideally one day per week – in order to build strength and limit your risk of fatigue, overtraining, performance declines and injury.
- Eat and drink smart – Choose healthy foods with plenty of protein and carbs to fuel your training and enhance your performance. Limit high-fat, high sugar choices that can cause digestive issues and slow you down. Some triathletes use energy bars, gels or drinks when racing; so if you plan to do so, try them first in practice to assess how your body responds to them. And be sure to hydrate sufficiently before, during and after workouts to support optimal performance.
- Taper workouts before the race – Don’t take on very intense training sessions a week before the triathlon, or you may be fatigued at the actual competition. Instead, cut back workout frequency and reduce intensity to allow for recovery and strong performance at the event.
- Enjoy yourself – Sure, triathlon is difficult and the training is likely to cause discomfort and fatigue. But the feeling of accomplishment and confidence that comes from conquering triathlon makes it all worth it! Do your best, celebrate your achievements and don’t beat yourself up if the results aren’t exactly as you had hoped.
Best of luck to you and your triathlon training. Stay Fueled!