12 Triathlon Training Tips Every Beginner Triathlete Needs to Know
12 Easy Tips For Beginner Triathletes
Training for a bike race is hard. Training for a marathon or a 400-meter swim is hard. But training to do all three, back to back? That's downright intimidating—discouragingly so, one might argue. But taking on a triathlon is also ridiculously fulfilling and pushes your athletic abilities in ways no other race or competition can. So don't run the other way just yet. Whether you're worried about peeing in the lake (don't worry, it's cool) or falling off your bike during the transition (practice helps a lot), these tips and tricks from our experts will help diminish the dauntingness and get you ready for race day. (Signing up for an Ironman? Conquer an Ironman with These Tips from Top Athletes.)
Pick the Right Race
The first thing to know about triathlons is that they're not all created equal. There are three main types, based on distance. A "sprint tri" is comprised of a 750-meter (0.47-mile) swim, 20-kilometer (12-mile) bike, and 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run. An "Olympic tri" is a 1.5-kilometer (0.93-mile) swim, 40-kilometer (25-mile) bike, and 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run. And the most widely recognized type is the "ultra" or Ironman, which is a 3.8-kilometer (2.4-mile) swim, 180.2-kilometer (112.0-mile) bike, and a 42.2-kilometer (26.2-mile) run. So for your first time, one of the shorter races will still give you a good challenge and allow you to practice all the elements of a triathlon without straight up killing you. (Interested? This 12-Week Sprint Triathlon Training Schedule will get you started.)
Splurge on Gear, Especially the Triathlon Suit
There's a lot of gear involved in this sport—think bike, helmet, running shoes, and water belt at a bare minimum—but your most basic need is a tri suit, says Sharon McCobb, a professional triathlete, certified personal trainer and youth triathlon coach. And when it comes to this type of race, it's not about fashion but all about function. "Trying to change your clothing when wet can be frustrating, especially when you're in a hurry," McCobb says. "The triathlon suit streamlines that!"
Another pro tip: If you're traveling for the race, ship your bike! It's your biggest piece of gear, and the last thing you want to worry about right before race day is lugging your bike through an airport, train station, etc. We like TriBike Transport, a company specifically geared towards triathletes, whose only goal is to help you get your bike to and from the race, stress-free.
Plan Your Workouts and Keep Them as Short as Possible
"The task for preparing for a triathlon race can be daunting because you need to balance family, friends, work, and training," says Meredith Kessler, a pro triathlete who's competed in over 50 full Ironman races and is headed to the Ironman World Championships in October. "But you can get a quality workout in a short period of time without sacrificing your whole day." Find a training plan that meets your time constraints and race needs and then stick to your goals. (We have the perfect 12-Week Olympic Triathlon Training Plan for Beginners.)
But Still Be Flexible In Your Workouts
The great thing about triathlon training is that because there are three segments, you have more options in your training, says McCobb. "If it's a really hot day, you can choose to swim instead of run. Or if time is short, you can do cross training, which is great for total-body strengthening." Don't let bad weather or a closed gym derail your plans. (Find The Right Cross-Training Activity to Crush Your Fitness Goals.)
Work Your Weakness
In a sport with three such different disciplines, it's easy to gravitate naturally to one particular part, says Adam Kelinson, a recreational triathlete, nutritionist specializing in sports performance, and author of
The Athlete's Plate Real Food for High Performance
. But your strength in one area won't fix your weakness in another, so it's important to train hard in the parts you don't like as much. "The trick is to use a log to chart what feels good and what doesn't so you can see where you need extra work and make adjustments," he explains. (You can also do The Best Alternative Workout for Every Type of Athlete to strengthen your weaknesses.)
A "brick," in triathlete-speak, means doing two of the disciplines back to back, just like you'll do them in the race. McCobb says the most important brick to master is to bike then run. "The muscle changeover can be hard so you have to practice it," she says. Her advice is to bike the race distance and then run one mile afterwards—she says it is not necessary to run the full distance when doing a brick.
Master the Swim Start
McCobb says the biggest hurdle for most new triathletes is the beginning of the swim portion which can send anyone into a panic. "It can be quite intimidating to be in the water with 100-plus people, so when the gun goes off the adrenaline rush can make it hard to breath," she says. "The way I overcome that is by taking a few strokes of freestyle then breaststroke to catch my breath. I may have to go back and forth between the two strokes a few times until my breathing settles." (Here's All You Need to Swim Confidently in the Ocean, according to triathletes.)
Nothing will make you hit a wall faster in training than not drinking enough water to replace what you're sweating out. However, since even the shortest triathlons are comparatively long races, you might want to consider drinking something with added electrolytes, vitamins, nutrients, and sugar to keep you going. Kessler likes to add a dose of caffeine as well, to give her an extra energy boost (she's a big fan of a mid-race Red Bull!).
Eat to Fuel Your Workouts
Training for a triathlon is hard work and your body needs fuel to do everything you're asking of it. "You simply can't out-train poor nutrition," Kelinson says and advises keeping things simple and consistent throughout your training so there will be no unpleasant surprises on race day. Kessler adds that her favorite pre-training meal is a simple chicken breast with a sweet potato—it combines protein for her muscles with carbohydrates for energy. (Fuel up with these 6 All-Natural, Energizing Foods for Endurance Training.)
Consider Hiring a Coach
"Eventually, you'll reach a point where you can't get any better by swimming countless laps in the pool or spinning aimlessly on your bike by yourself, so it can really help to have a knowledgeable guide," Kessler says. Kelinson adds that there are coaches available for nearly every budget and every level. Ironman.com offers a coach-matching service and allows newbies to ask coaches questions online; you can ask around at your local sports store as they often keep lists of coaches and training groups in the area too. (These 5 Digital Coaches Can Help You Reach Your Health Goals too.)
Keep Gear and Training Simple
It's tempting for a beginner triathlete to look around at other, more seasoned, athletes and think you should use their gear, supplements, or training plans but ultimately you just need to find what works for you and stick with it, says Kelinson. Changing too many things in your training will just frustrate you. "Don't overthink it. Your success and confidence will come from being prepared and training, not from having the latest gear or the fanciest food," Kessler adds. (Start by shopping our Rad Bikes and Cycle Gear to Enhance Your Ride.)
Play Mind Games
"The biggest challenge in triathlon is in between the ears. For me, it's more about the mental event than the physical one," Kelinson says. To help you get through the inevitable hard mental spots during training Kessler advises picturing your family and friends cheering for you at the finish line. (And yes, you will make it to that finish line!)