This is for those who have never done a triathlon – or perhaps haven’t done one in a long, long while. Below are probably the most critical items to having a successful first race and getting there in one piece.
I firmly believe in setting a specific goal race to work towards. I think that people are more successful in training if they are being held accountable to a race they’ve signed up for Thus, I think the first thing you should do is figure out what distance you’re going to want to race.
For most first-timers, I’d suggest aiming for a season goal of either a sprint distance or an Olympic distance race. Most likely you would have heard the term Ironman triathlon however for this event it requires training and at least should have participated in some form of triathlon it is more for the seasonal triathlete.
A sprint distance is typically comprised of 250m -800m swim, 20km bike and a 5km run.
An Olympic distance event is: 1500m swim, 40km bike and a 10km run
½ Ironman Triathlon event referred to as a 70.3 (miles) / 113km is comprised of 1.9km Swim, 90km bike and a 21.1km run
Full Ironman Triathlon comprised of 3.86km swim, 42.2km Marathon run and a 180.25.km Bike (not for the faint-hearted).
Quote: “To accomplish the ironman triathlon race is what defines you as a triathlete” – Gerhard Pretorius - Endurance Athlete
Triathlon events around the world tend to vary the distance slightly – especially on the swim for the sprint distance. The run tends to be standardized, but the bike on the sprint often fluctuate based on course layout. Olympic-distance events do in general tend to be more aligned to the official numbers than the sprint distances.
If you’re looking at doing an Olympic distance race, target doing a sprint distance first, and then the Olympic distance a month or two after that. If you’ve never done either, consider doing an indoor triathlon.
They’re a great way to get a feel for the fun of doing three sports back to back.
Now that you’ve selected a goal race to work towards, it’s time to put together a schedule. A proper schedule should take you from whatever your current fitness state is (be it a barely 1-mile runner or a sub-3hr marathoner) and get you to your goal race uninjured.
Remember that you’re training for three sports, so you’re going to need to find balance amongst those three sports and the rest of your life. This is especially important early on as it can be quite a bit of work until your body adjusts to it. It’s best to not try and overachieve and burn out.
A couple of key points to remember. All three sports do help each other out, but that’s especially true in running and cycling. To get better on the run, you need to get better on the bike. Meaning that to improve your run times, you have to in turn improve your bike capabilities so that you can put out more with less. In the case of the bike and the run, you’ll benefit from the aerobic crossover between the two. And you can reasonably substitute cycling for a portion of running (at the aerobic level).
Swimming can have the same benefits, but you don’t tend to see as dramatic of a crossover into cycling/running. Though most injured runners will stick to the pool and the glorious act of water jogging.
For most new (or even old) triathletes, the swim is the most feared part. Even more so if you don’t swim. In general, I think that once you get to about 200m -500m continuously, you’ve got the mechanics down, and it’s just a matter of building up endurance (or slowing down), to go further than that. By using a slow progression, you’ll find that you won’t get frustrated in the pool.
Don’t worry about the open water swim at this stage. Once you get to that point, then you can find opportunities to get into open water swimming territory before race day.
Once you’ve got the fundamentals establishing (swimming a mile), then you can build on this. A bit of initial swim technique coaching would probably go a long way. Swimming is hugely technique dependent.
As for equipment, keep to the basics. A pair of goggles, a swim cap (if required by the facility), and a swimsuit. Buy all your swimming pool essentials from Adventure HQ.
The first step in cycling is ensuring you have a bike. While you can get away with a mountain bike during a sprint triathlon – I suspect it’ll likely be a bit awkward. A mid-priced bike would be the more favorable again available Adventure HQ. Cycling is all about choosing the best mountain bikes that fits perfectly all your requirements.
You don’t really need a triathlon bike for a sprint to an Olympic distance race. Any road bike will work just fine. And if you’re not aiming for the top of the podium, then there’s no need for aerobars either.
Down the road, if you want to clip-on aerobars, you can do so easily. Plus, it’ll give you time to decide whether you enjoy the sport and allow you to develop a better understanding of what type of bike you truly want.
From a training standpoint, it may surprise you to learn that training indoors on a trainer is great. This is twofold. The first is that most people get better quality workouts on a trainer. Unless you head out to Al Qudra cycle track or to the NAS cycle path which is also great from a safety point no traffic etc.
Now don’t mistake me, outdoor rides are crucial – especially for bike handling skills. For some time is a limited resource, and thus by taking those workouts indoors you not only save time but ensure that the time spent is of the utmost quality.
While running may be the most familiar it’s where you’re most likely to injure yourself through overuse injuries when training for your first race. In no sport is it more important to remember the golden 10% rule – which states that you never increase your running mileage more than about 10% per week.
By using a training plan and sticking to it, you can avoid an injury. Additionally, remember that if you’re out on a run, and something doesn’t feel right (as it, a twang, pop, or sharp pain) – more than likely, it’s not right. Just stop, walk for a few minutes and see how it feels if you start jogging again. Almost every triathlete participates in running races. and then usually switches over to triathlon races in depending on the weather
As for running equipment, focus on the basics. Shoes that are proper fit are super-important. Additionally, if you’re running at night on roads, be sure to grab a blinky light so that cars can see you. You can buy your next kicks at Adventure HQ.
First off, don’t stress about nutrition. If you’re looking at a sprint distance, you likely don’t need too much.
Nutrition is personal. Each person needs to try out different products and figure out what works and doesn’t work for them. The most important thing is trying out those products at different intensities.
So, swing on by Adventure HQ and pick up different nutrition types and simply try them out.
In general, there are two core categories of nutrition products. Those that dissolve in water, and those that don’t.
That said, for those looking to get into the sport, I really think that either Garmin / Polar / Sunnto available at Adventure HQ is the way to go right now. Most tell you how far, how fast, and how long – then it’s downloadable to virtually every training site on the internet today. Relatively simple and easy to use.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re training to have fun and enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying the training, then shift something up like training with a friend or mixing up the structure of your training plan. Otherwise, you won’t be able to truly see all the sport has to offer.
Thanks for reading!