In 2016, a triathlon is within reach. This is your year to tackle the fear of swimming in open water, getting back on a bike and recognizing that you can run three miles. When you break down the three basic principles of a triathlon – swimming, biking and running – it begins to seem a little more manageable. We at aSweatLife have faith that you CAN do a triathlon and we’re here to help.
Let’s start by putting a sprint distance race (the shortest triathlon distance; great for beginners) into perspective:
Total race distance: Approximately 16 miles (.25 mile swim, 13 mile bike, 3 mile run)
Training days per week: 4 – 5
Workout duration per session: Approximately 1 – 1.5 hours (max)
Base level required for training: You should be able to swim and run for 20 minutes, and bike for 30 minutes. When you first start, you do not need to be able to do all three sports in a row.
With a little bit of self-discipline, mental toughness, training (of course) and patience, you can cross the finish line of a sprint tri. We’ve compiled a series of tips and considerations to help you plan and train for your first race:
Set a goal: Identify why you want to complete a triathlon – to challenge yourself, build endurance, lose weight, learn how to swim, etc. There are so many reasons to try triathlon! Your goal will serve as your personal source of motivation throughout training. Visualizing yourself conquering your goal will inspire you to push through every workout.
Next, set a timeline for when you’d like to complete your race. Generally you’ll need to have a base level of fitness (see below on building a base) before you start a 12-week training plan, so schedule your goal race three to five months from when you start training. Hint: In Chicago, February – April are great months for building your fitness, allowing you to train specifically for your race May – July, then complete the triathlon in August.
Build a base: Spend the first two to three months (depending on your current physical activity level) building up your endurance while allowing your muscles and joints time to adjust to the stress of swimming, biking and running three to five days a week. Focus mainly on biking and running in this period before introducing swimming (if you’re not confident in the water), and incorporate weights two days a week to build strength.
Use this base period as an opportunity to adapt to a training schedule; most likely it will require some shifts from your current lifestyle: figure out what time of day you prefer to workout, what causes you to skip workouts, what foods fuel a workout best? Explore and experiment so you can hit the ground running once your training plan officially kicks-in.
An example base-building week for a sprint triathlon:
(A spin class works for this)
Identify a race: This is the fun part – signing up for your first race. Commit to a race early so you have plenty of time to prepare physically and mentally for training. Local races are usually beginner-friendly because they’re smaller in size (less intimidating), which makes logistics easier to navigate on race day. Consider the water you’ll be swimming in, too. Picking a body of water you’re familiar with (and that you can practice in) eases nerves on race-day. Lastly, identify a race that allows plenty of time to properly train – don’t think you can pull off a race early in the season without having the opportunity to jump on a bike outdoors or swim in open water. Hint: TriFind.com and Active.com have large databases that allow you to search for a race by distance, date and location.
Map out a training plan: A very simple way to approach training for your first triathlon is to complete two workouts per sport each week. One day a week should be a brick workout where you double up two sports on the same day. With this plan, you’ll have two built in rest days and five days of training per week.
There are several free training plans on the Internet; one that we like in particular is this simple plan from Beginner Triathlete.
An example week from the Beginner Triathlete training plan:
Find a training community: Triathlon training is a great group activity, although the race is individual. Teaming up with friends and creating your own swimming, biking and running routes is a very simple option to prepare for your first race. If you prefer more guidance (or want to take training a bit more seriously), check with the local bike/triathlon store in your area – they usually have training programs, group rides, seminars and more (sometimes even free!) in an effort to build a community of triathletes in the area. You can also ask the race organizer (or check the race website) if they have any gyms or training groups supporting athletes for the particular race.
Take it one step at a time: Throughout training you’ll learn a lot with each swim, bike, run and brick-workout. As a triathlete you need to become self-aware, continuously thinking about what worked and what didn’t work for each training session. Training is the time to try different food, gear and clothing to figure out what is best for you on race-day.
Celebrate the small accomplishments: Celebrate accomplishments throughout training by recognizing your progress (big or small) each training session – notice the first time you run 20 minutes straight or bike on the road without getting lost. Training for a triathlon is an adventure, which makes it fun and keeps things interesting. Not every workout is going to be your fastest or farthest, and that’s okay as long as you reset and get back on track for your next workout.
As you embark on your triathlon journey, remember that triathlons are challenging. You’ve committed to a training plan to better yourself – if it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it. In 2016, we know aSweatLife readers are up for the challenge. Report back once you sign up for a race. We want to support you every step of the way!