Your First Triathlon

Your First Triathlon

How to train for your first triathlon.

If you’ve ever watched the Olympics and said, “Wow, that’s beautiful. I could never do that,” you’ve already set yourself up to fail.

If you’ve ever paid your gym membership but regularly make excuses as to why you can’t go, you’re essentially burning money, and if you’ve ever looked out the window at a cold or rainy day and decided you’d rather “Netflix and chill,” you’re selling yourself short to a better version of yourself.

Instead of choosing to be passive on something you really want, think of this quote by Jerry Rice, a professional football player, and decide if your excuses are really all that valid: “ “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”

It’s so easy to sit back and let others workout and train, as you placate yourself that you’ll workout twice as hard tomorrow. Or maybe you draw on your lack of knowledge, stating that since you don’t know where to start, you don’t want to do it wrong.

Thankfully, the world of information is literally at our fingertips, and good old-fashioned Google can answer any question we can come up with.

The first step to successfully completing a triathlon is to sign up.

So instead of making excuses why you can’t, create reasons why you should.

Besides the intense mental endurance you’ll need to build up, there is an incredible amount of physical exertion that comes with competing in a triathlon, so step right up, dive right in, set your mark. You’re in for a wild, exciting, and worthwhile ride.

First, make sure you have the proper equipment. Your worn down old trainers obviously aren’t a good choice, but you’ll want to make sure you have shoes for both cycling and running.

Training Essentials

  • Running trainers
  • Road / Triathlon Bike
  • Cycling Shoes
  • Compression wear
  • Waterproof coat
  • Comfortable shorts
  • Cycling Kit
  • Repair kit
  • Goggles

Training Luxuries

  • GPS
  • Front Snorkel
  • Swim Fins
  • Hand Paddles
  • Pullbuoy
  • Kick float
  • Fitness tracker watch ( I use Garmin Fenix 5)
  • Subscription to Zwift for training on rainy days

Race Day

  • Tri Suit
  • Slipstick or Bodyglide
  • Water
  • Energy gels

Your running shoes should have good support and be breathable, as well as not fit too tightly or too loosely. A shoe too tight will become extremely uncomfortable since feet expand while exercising. A shoe too loose will flop around and make you more susceptible to injuries. Consider using elastic laces or our very own Race Laces.

Ensure you have a good wetsuit and swim guard.  Your beach shorts or bikini is not something you’ll be able to race in, no matter how flattering you think you’ll look in!

Many triathlon coaches can give excellent advice on what to purchase as far as tri gear goes. Shopping around online can help you find the best possible prices, but it’s important to get your gear as quickly as possible so you can start training and get use to using these training aids.

Definitely don’t wait until the last week of training to buy everything, because your gear may not get there in time and if you haven’t trained in it, it will be strange and uncomfortable.

Next comes the actual training. A triathlon is made up of swimming, cycling, and running.

Determine what you’re the weakest at and build a plan to start training. Allow at least 6 weeks of training for a sprint or super sprint triathlon. For many novice triathletes, their weak point is swimming. The swimming leg is incredibly exhausting as its a whole body exercise using every limb on your body with the added stress of being in the water and having to regularly take breathes.

This can be stressful because lack of oxygen may make you want to panic and constantly lift your head to snatch a mouthful of air. Instead of focusing on breathing, which will quickly tire you, try to synchronize your breathing with your arm strokes. Rotate your head towards whichever arm is out of the water so that you devote more time to actually swimming instead of gulping in air. While there is no set method of swimming in a triathlon, the best method is freestyle strokes.

If you find yourself tiring after several yards, you can switch to the breast stroke, side stroke, and even doggy paddle just to get yourself to the end of the line.

Since you’re going to be using your arms and legs continuously in swimming, make sure you gym train these areas to be limber and strong. Using light weights and resistance bands can increase strength in the arms, and legs allowing you to become more in tune to what muscles you’ll need to focus on getting stronger. Take care not to use to too heavy of a weight, since this can tear the muscle and leave in recovery mode. Remember, your main goal isn’t to bulk up, but rather to increase flexibility and stamina for raising your arms out of the water.

Next in triathlon training comes biking. Biking can also be a difficult section of the triathlon to complete, because biking takes up a lot of energy in a very short amount of time. Make sure you’re familiar with the bike you’re using, and decide if you want clipless pedals or regular pedals. You may have never seen or heard of clipping, but it is extremely efficient in biking because it gives power in the entire motion of pushing down and pulling up on the pedals. All of this kinetic energy is put into the motion of the bike, allowing you to conserve energy and increase your speed. This technique may be daunting at first, but as you train, it will become easier and more natural. If you wish to use standard pedals, it is less preferable but may be more comfortable for you to use something you already know.

Keep in mind that the goal is to finish the race, not simply compete in it. Make sure you’re comfortable on your bike and to not be afraid of falling. If you fall, pick yourself back up and keep going. This sounds so easy in theory, but if you’re getting tired, falling down and staying down can sound very tempting.

Finally, there is the running portion of the race. Many trainees may believe this is the easiest part of the race, because you don’t need any special equipment to run. You just put one foot in front of the other and go. While yes it really is that simple, remember that you’ll be running after you’ve been swimming and biking. Your body will likely be exhausted, and it may seem impossible to move your rubbery legs over three miles.

The key to success here is to practice transitioning between the three different events. See how your body feels after you’ve finishing swimming and biking in one training session, and then see how you feel after biking and running. Knowing this feeling will help you battle through the entire triathlon if you can mentally tackle what’s coming next.

While training for all three portions of the triathlon is crucial to your crossing the finish line, make sure to take care of your mental state. Endurance and patience are key tools to competing, and need to be addressed while training. Don’t guilt yourself if you stumble in training. Beating yourself up mentally is the worst possible thing you could do in your training, because you alone are your own worst critic. You know exactly what hurts you and what will make you want to quit. Is it that extra slice of pizza on the table that you really want but you know you’ve met all your diet macros and carbs for the night? What about those early mornings where it feels like an iceberg and all you want is five more minutes? And what about those nights that your friends want to go out, but you know you need your rest to repair your muscles?

Try this little nugget of truth: “I have had it before, and I will have it again, but I don’t need it right now.” After you’ve crossed the finish line of your first triathlon, every single thing you’ve done up until that point will be worth it.

Training for a triathlon is an extreme challenge, one that requires strength, stamina, patience, and endurance. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your body be ready for a triathlon the day after you start training. Sometimes going slower is better, so your muscles have a chance to recover and rebuild. If you ever get discouraged, there’s an anonymous quote that speaks volumes to your hard work: “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everybody on the couch.”

Be encouraged that your slow and steady progress is better than someone not willing to train at all. That finish line is the reward of a long and gruelling process, but that simple line in the road is what makes it all worth it. Work to cross that finish line...because no one cares how you started. It matters how you finish.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.