As a seasoned triathlete I often get asked to give tips to beginners or novice triathletes. I use the term beginner quite loosely as many triathletes bring vast levels of experience from other sports and want to see what triathlon is all about.
Triathlon has increased in popularity since its conception by the San Diego track club in the 1970s to its current form today as a recognised Olympic sport.
As an amateur you could race every week with the number and variety of events available to enter.
Triathlon is perceived as a unique challenge to many and the training can be incredibly social and fun with the risk of injury reduced compared to some other sports.
Once you have decided on an event it’s time to prepare and plan. Abraham Lincoln once said’ if you have 8 hours to cut down a tree, spend 6 hours sharpening the axe. I would advise picking an event close to home to reduce race day stress and to give your friends and family the opportunity to support you. Having a close proximity to home should help you familiarise yourself with the course.
To build your confidence in preparation for your triathlon, firstly set yourself a goal. Try to be as specific as possible. What motivated you to take up triathlon to begin with and what do you hope to gain from the experience. This will help you optimise your training and make smart choices. When faced with a decision, make the choice which will ultimately help you follow a path to success and accomplish your goal.
Structured plans, that fit your current lifestyle and time constraints, are widely available. A structured plan will promote consistency and progression. With the increase in training load you will adapt and become faster and stronger. Some plans may be unrealistic for you in terms of commitment so choose wisely and be flexible to discover what works for you.
Cycling amounts to the largest amount of time of the three disciplines in any triathlon event. Typically 50%. So let your plan reflect this. Also include a strength and conditioning session to increase your ability to absorb the training stress. I detail some effective and progressive conditioning sessions in my book ‘Swim, Bike, Run, Ready?’ Which will be available soon.
When you begin, be mindful, not all sessions will be of maximal effort. You want your body to be able to cope and not break down. So a gradual increase is advisable. Some sessions will be at race pace efforts where you want to train at the intensity you will race at.
Focus on the recovery after each session. Think about how the end of your current workout will impact your next workout. As a personal choice I mobilise the three key areas of my ankle, hip and thoracic spine and consume a Cocopro. It is the combination of Pure Coconut Water and Whey Protein Isolate and contains all the electrolytes, minerals and protein you need to recover.
Being flexible and adaptable with your plan could mean that you substitute an outdoor ride for an indoor session on a static bike. Since becoming a dad in 2017 I typically do most of my sessions on a Wattbike. I started training with power zones based on my personal ability on the bike and this has transformed my results. I scale each workout based on a % of my average power over a 20 minute test. In a similar fashion, you could use a treadmill because of adverse weather conditions or allow you to integrate it into your daily lifestyle?
The training can be tailored individually to you.
Not all sessions will go to plan. Learn to develop your mental resolve and embrace the challenging intensities. Focus on a positive outcome from each session. If you are unable to complete a workout, use the information to understand why. This will help maintain your focus and stay motivated. It can be quite easy to become demotivated if improvements are made so you may consider training in a group or with a friend. This can fuel some competitive spirit and could potentially make the experience all the more enjoyable.
From Wheels to wetsuits! There are many emerging brands out there specialising in Triathlon gear.
Purchasing kit can be confusing and expensive.
I would advise that you set a budget and buy the best you can afford. You can always upgrade as you immerse yourself in the sport.
You can get carried away and spend unlimited amounts. You will quickly find a brand you like and prefer.
I have listed essential kit below:
- Swim goggles
- Swim costume
- Cycle gear
- Run gear
- Cycle shoes
- Run shoes
- Bike helmet
- Bike (while a mountain bike is totally acceptable try to choose a road bike as you will be much faster. Buying a bike is a huge decision so consider borrowing or hiring one initially)
- Trisuit (whilst not essential I would strongly advise this option as it simplifies your race)
- Wetsuit (Compulsory for many open water swims. While I won’t discuss wetsuits today, look out for subsequent discussions on specific terms of Kit)
- Race belt
Within your budget invest a large proportion on your training and coaching. You will see great returns for your money.
Looking ahead to race day, transitions are a key area to practice.
Transitions, often referred to as the fourth element or discipline, are made up of T1 (swim to bike) and T2 (bike to run)
Transitions can be complex and will be laid out differently for each race.
Some athletes will have their road shoes clipped into their pedals and positioned with elastic bands while others will choose to put their shoes on separately, sometimes with socks and sometimes without.
Practice a variety of strategies to create a fast and effective transition for you.
As you become more experienced you will adapt and change your routine to reduce the time spent in transition.
Whatever you practice, commit to that on race day. Just remember to put your helmet on and fastened before you unrack your bike. (See BTF rule book)
Once you have your bike in hand and make your way to ‘Bike Out’ resist the temptation to jump on your bike straight away. There is a designated mount/ dismount line.
Perform multiple mounts and dismounts and find a convenient way to run with your bike during your transition practice. These areas can cause issues even with the most experienced triathletes. ‘Don’t practice till you get it right, practice till you can’t get it wrong’.
You are about to feel the rush of adrenaline as you head out on the bike course only to find you are in the wrong gear. Preselection of the correct gear can also be rehearsed and explored for maximum acceleration.
With all of your transition strategies a trial and error approach will help you discover what is right for you. You will notice, even with the Elite athletes, that there are slight subtleties to what they do, even from race to race.
To prepare you for T2, complete a few ‘brick’ sessions in your training.
These are sessions that have you running immediately after the bike.
You will get used to the feeling of ‘jelly legs’ over time.
Have you ever tried tying shoelaces with cold hands. It can be entertaining to watch but hugely frustrating to do. Elastic laces can solve this problem.
A sprinkling of talc in your running shoes will allow you to slide them on smoothly after the ride. Come up with a great excuse and apology if you leave your child without any talc for their nappy change. It has only happened to me once!
Race day will fast be approaching, it’s a very new experience so your emotions will be heightened. Trust your training. Have your bike checked over and read the race pack as it has valuable information in it including comprehensive information about the route, transition layout and timings.
Try to get adequate sleep the night before your race as their will be many unknowns to overcome.
Here are my final few Tips:
- Get to the event super early.
- The handlebars must have end stoppers. Without them they are deemed a potential safety hazard.
- Know your start time. Work backwards from this to determine when to commence your warmup.
- Let your friends and family decide where to support you from, you have enough to worry about.
- Obey all road rules before you prioritise your race. Stay safe.
The triathlon community will always be there to help you.
Have a brilliant experience. Everyone else has been in your shoes before.
Whether your race goes to plan or not. celebrate your success. you will never forget your first triathlon.