Training Tips for First Timer Triathletes: Doing the Daily Practice

Since I’ve been racing for 20 years now, some of what I have to recommend may seem “old school.” My personal philosophy for triathlon success is less “purchase” and more “practice”. It’s based on a daily practice of training one’s body within the rhythms of one’s daily life that includes work and family. It’s about doing what I call the Daily Practice of Triathlon Training. By “daily” I mean that each day is either training day for a particular sport or a recovery (non-training) day for a particular sport. I train in one of the three sports six days a week. The seventh day is a recovery day for all three of the triathlon sports.

These tips are geared towards those who live in Ojai and Ventura, California but if you replace the triathlon store name and local triathlon club or running club name with one in your town, I think this list can be helpful for most people. Also, there are many excellent online resources for information and athletic inspiration for beginners, too.

For this posting I did not cite secondary sources. However, if you are interested in a detail or learning more about particular sports nutrition or training assertions, please checkout RunnersWorld.com or Active.com/triathlon. Both of those sites have links to training schedules and performance tips for running road or trail races and racing triathlons.

My advice for training one’s first triathlon this summer:

1. Find a local triathlete who can give you advise.

Ask around your friend network for anyone with triathlon experience or aspirations. Checkout your local running, cycling and/or multisport shop or YMCA (Inside Track Multisports here in Ventura or Hazard Cycle Sport in Santa Barbara, or the YMCA pool in Camarillo (new one) or the Ventura Aquatics Center) and ask about beginner triathletes in the area and (if at a pool, ask about Masters swim workouts). There may be experienced or beginner triathletes there who can help you with gear and training tips.

2. Research the sport.

• Talk to Triathletes. The best information I ever got about doing triathlons was from people I met while training, buying gear and racing. Also, unless you are talking to a sales or marketing rep of a certain product, you generally get un-biased information, too.
• Go online. Twitter.com and search “#triathletes” is a good way to find triathletes, most are regular people just like you, online. Websites such as Active.com/triathlon and Multisports.com feature free tips and triathlon training schedules (some must be purchased). I found online training schedules on these training social media web sites: dailymile.com, endurancejunkies.com , and buckeyeoutdoors.com (you can embed your training schedule in your blog–I haven’t tried this yet) and MapMyRun.com. I use dailymile.com.

• Get a good triathlon training book to get an overview of the basics the sport and time managing the multi-sport workouts. Here’s a good one that a friend found for me at a garage sale: Triathlete’s Training Bible. but, I’m sure there are others, too.
• Checkout Triathlete Magazine. There’s great training and nutrition articles and the race and athlete profiles inspire. Be aware that this magazine is product advertising-supported.
• Learn by doing. Training for a triathlon is a daily practice and you will learn how to do it best by trial and error. There are core principals about physiology and nutrition but every body is unique. It’s necessary to get to know what your body needs and how it performs by doing the Practice and listening to it. Go for a run. Go for a bike ride on borrowed bike to test it out. Do a mini-triathlon on your own from your local pool. Do a Brick workout (bike ride followed by a run). Just do it.

3. Daily Practice of Triathlon Training.

Consistency is key. Each day will be a workout day, usually 6-days a week or a recovery day (one or two days a week). The Daily Practice includes working out, practicing good pre-workout and post-workout nutrition and getting enough sleep. It’s a Practice.
Periodization (hard days followed by recovery days, hard weeks followed by easy weeks and, looking at the entire year, hard training quarters followed by an off season) is a good way to train. Also, always, taper before a race (do shorter workouts the week before a race and no workout the day before the race) is another good thing to do to keep you motivated, progressing & healthy (that means injury free).

4. Become a member of a local triathlon, running or athletic club.

This is a great way find out about local road rides/open water swims and have better access to find other tri newbies. Also, training clubs are good to get club discounts on gear and local race entries. Yeah, some of the Rincon Triathlon Club members here in Ventura can get a little too ‘core for beginners. But I think this is because many are training for IM distances and that’s a whole different mindset as they strive to increase their mileage & refine their training/racing performances with specific workouts. In my experience, this is a supportive group that welcomes members of all levels and experience.

5. Swimming.

• Training. If you are new-ish to swimming, try to get in the water (lap pool, lake or ocean) at least 2-3x/week (30 minutes each) to build up your form & confidence. Do intervals if you can when in the pool. (I have some beginner swim workouts you can do to break up the monotony, too] Check out Active.com and look up swim stroke technique web videos and tips there or on youtube.com. Sometimes having a few pointers & practicing some swim drills can really make a difference in swim efficiency.
• Swim Suit: For women, the two-piece swim suites with the draw string bottoms are good and one-piece suites are fine, too but can get hot when your running.
• Swim Wet Suit. If you don’t have a swim wetsuit check out the ones they have at Inside Track and Hazard Cycle Sports for new ones. I’ve heard that PlayItAgain Sports in Ventura has had great deals on good almost new wetsuits and Craigs List/Ebay have been used successfully by friends for used wet suits and gear, also. Wetsuits are not cheap but a good one that fits can transform open water swimming in cold water from cold misery to comfortable fun. If you live in a tropical place (lucky) then don’t worry about the wetsuit (double lucky) unless you plan on racing where the water is colder than you are used to. Plus, swim wetsuites add buoyancy & speed–always a plus. Good brands I’ve used: blue seventy & QuintanaRoo.

6. Cycling

• The bike, for non-road cyclists, can be tough hurdle for a beginner or cash-strapped triathlete. My best advice is to go to your local multisport or bike shop and ask if they have anyone experienced in racing triathlons or knows about triathlon bikes. Triathlete bike geometry is slightly different (more severe angles for time trial efficiency) and a “traditional” road bike shop may not have the expertise. However, if you just need a bike, almost any bike that is safe to ride can help you achieve your goal of doing “a triathlon” this summer: Ride your mountain bike (if you have one) or get a used bike from your local bike depot. Who cares what it looks like? As long as you bought it from a reputable bike dealer such as Inside Track Multisports, Avery’s Open Air Bike Shop, or Trek Bicycles in Ventura or Hazard Cycle Shop, or had it safety-checked by them. it should fine for racing a Sprint Triathlon. The point is to have fun and to finish, right?

• Bike Helmet. You need a certified-for-safety bicyle helmet or you can’t participate in an organized triathlon race. Check out your local bike dealer or multisport shop for this. Your brain is the only one you got, so protect it with the best helmet you can afford. I’ve been in a bike crash before and my helmet (which hit the pavement–hard) probably saved my life.

Bike accessories. If you buy a new road bike you will need two water bottle cages, a seat pack with spare tube, allen tool & patch kit, frame pump, clipless pedals and shoes. You can wait on the clipless pedals and shoes but they allow you to make a more efficient (e.g. faster/more power) pedal stroke when riding. You can buy water bottles or re-use Gatorade bottles or small water bottles in an earth-friendly fashion.

7. Running

Triathlons, at the elite level, are won and lost during the run. It’s during the last portion of the race, during the run, that hours of daily training and preparation comes together. This is when “real” part of the race begins. The cardiovascular conditioning benefits you get from running will transfer to swimming and cycling. However, your swimming and cycling muscular training won’t transfer to running. If your time is tight, I recommend focusing on your running and swimming. You can’t really fake either.

Local Running Club: Inside Track Running Club has daily groups running workouts for all levels of runners in Ventura and Santa Barbara Athletic Club is resource for local workouts in Santa Barbara. If you live in or near Ventura, check out the Inside Track Saturday morning runs at 7:30am. They depart from Inside Track Multisport, Ventura All levels are welcome and there are several groups based on running pace that run a certain out and back distance each Saturday. These runs are casual, feature all shapes, sizes, speeds and ages of runners and they provide free water/gatorade/bananas/bagels at the start and finish with an aid stop or two along the course.

8. Training for your first Triathlong: Sprint Triathlon

If you are doing a Sprint Triathlon with a 5K run distance, I recommend going online to checkout a few 5K race training plans and modify them to your triathlon schedule. There’s a cardio-crossover benefit from cycling and swimming, so your running workouts should focus on building speed and endurance by doing intervals—but only after building up your base. Your “base” in reference to running, is how far you can run or jog comfortably for your longest run and run each week in total. Rule of thumb: do at least one speed or interval workout for running each week.

9. Weekly Triathlon Training Schedule for Sprint Triathlon

You can train for a triathlon in as little as 1 to 1 1/2 hours per day. Just make each day’s workout a quality workout and abide by the periodization principal (hard days followed by easy days, hard weeks followed by easy weeks, etc.)

• Sample Week. Here’s a sample week from my own standard training schedule from when I was racing regularly BC (“Before Children”).

  • Monday (Swim or Nothing–Recovery Day)
  • Tuesday (Run & Bike)
  • Wednesday (Swim)
  • Thursday (Run & Bike)
  • Friday (Swim or Run)
  • Saturday (Swim & Long Bike)
  • Sunday (Swim and Long Run, a triathlon or running race or Brick Workout (bike followed immediately after with a run, usually 10-24-mile bike/3-6-mile run)

• Notice I that I don’t do a tough workout of the same type of activity two days in a row. Also, I took Mondays off if I raced or did a tough Brick on Sunday. If I raced Saturday, I planned for Sunday being a recovery day, etc.

The Brick Workout. A Brick Workout (or just Brick for short) is when you combine a bike ride with a run afterwards in one long continuous work out with a few minute break just to change your shoes. Basically, you go for a bike ride, stop to change into your your running shoes (and drink water) and then start running down the road like you got rocks in your quadriceps. This sadistic workout prepares your body for race day both physically and mentally. It’s a tough workout and I recommend doing a recovery day/rest day after you do a Brick Workout.

10. Train with others if you can.

It’s safer and you will usually be able to get a better workout when you train with others. This is especially true when open water swimming, trail running or road riding. And, it makes the workout time go by more quickly. In my experience, triathletes are usually just busier people in general (many run their businesses, have families, etc.) and training is their way of socializing, too. I’ve learned more over the years about training and racing from other triathletes while chatting in between workouts, than I ever have from a book, video, or web site. Word of mouth is best. And, it’s more fun, anyway.

Keep a Training Log or Schedule. Keep a training log. It keeps you on track when training towards a goal and it also gives one a sense of achievement. Even if it’s just jotting down “Run, 3 miles, hilly” or “Tuesday: Run- 5 miles, hilly, felt tired.” on your calendar, planner or Facebook profile or it’s worth the trouble. (You can also refer to your old training logs to track improvement progression or to help you remember how to train for a certain distance or weight loss or PR years later.) Good stuff.

11. Food & Beverages

Nutrition & fluid/electrolyte replacement: Don’t forget to drink enough water & always bring some source of carbohydrate for workouts longer than an hour (banana, bar, energy gel, cookies, orange, gummy bears, etc.). When it’s hot, make sure you replace electrolytes lost during perspiration (banana, a few saltines, Gatorade, PowerFul, enduro caps, Hammer HEED, etc) during rides or runs over an hour, too.

Sports nutrition is a practice: What and when you eat really does affect your training and can help or hinder your improvement. Triathlon is an endurance sport that requires a specific type of energy replenishment for your muscles while working out and for recovering from a workout. The most efficient form of energy for your body to process is carbohydrates. Triathletes, like runners, are known to eat lots of carbohydrate rich foods & food supplements that digest quickly: energy drinks, bagels, pasta, rice, energy gels, bananas, fig newtons, potatoes, etc. Monique Ryan and Liz Applegate are excellent sources of information of performance optimizing sports nutrition for endurance athletes. Check out Amazon.com for their books.

Before training/racing: Try to eat a easily digestible source of carbohydrate, about 200 calories for most folks, about 1-2 hours before working out. Give yourself about 16 oz. of water with your food to aid hydration and digestion. For long slow workouts, I can eat a banana or PowerBar while I’m running or riding. However, some people can’t eat when they run or bike. Trial and error is helpful here. Get to know what works for you.

After training/racing: You will recover faster and feel better if you get eat or drink a source of carbohydrates 30-45″ after a long (1 hour plus) workout or race. Just remember you have a 30″-45″ window after a tough workout to replenish with carbohydrates. Research shows that long distance (over 1 1/2 hours) training should be followed by carbohydrates and some protein) Even a food as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great recovery food to have after a long bike ride or run or swim. Cold pizza is good, too. Especially on hot days when you need to replace electrolytes lost through perspiration.

Avoid drinking any alcoholic beverages right after you work out. Consuming alcoholic beverages after working out retards your body’s ability to rehydrate and recover from the workout. Replenish with water and nutritious foods first. Be kind to your body. It needs to recover from the stresses of training and racing with good stuff. Not beer.

12. Sleep more

Yes, you will need more sleep. Your body will require more of it for new tissue growth to deal with the physical stresses of training and the mental stresses of managing workouts and racing. If you don’t get enough sleep your immune system will weaken and you will be more likely to catch something and get sick. You won’t recover as well from your workouts, either. And, you will be tired and grumpy which messes up relationships. So, try to get to bed at least an hour earlier this summer while you are training for your first triathlon. That means usually 8 hours of beautiful, healing sleep. (Maybe more if you can get away with it.) Naps are good, too.

13. Some Triathlon Terms:

PR: “Personal Record” (Your fastest race time.)

WR: “World Record” (I’m glad they invented the term PR for the rest of us!)

PW: “Personal Worst” (Your slowest race time.)

Bonk: to run out of energy while exercising; to have an over whelming desire to stop moving and lay on the couch. Symptoms include feeling exhausted, dizziness, confusion, sleepiness, an over-whelming desire to sit under a tree and take a nap, grumpiness and sometimes, even tears. This is what happens when your body runs out of accessible blood sugar called glycogen that it needs to powers your muscles and to think clearly. You can avoid this awful state by making sure you have a source of easily digestible energy and water handy when working out such as bananas, energy gels and water or an energy drink. A good pre-race practice that helps me is to consume a banana or energy gel with a 16-oz. bottle of water about 30 minutes before race start.

Carbo Load: This is a pre-race rite of commensality (ritual meal sharing) that features a large meal of mostly carbohydrate-rich foods such as pasta, potatos or rice. It is generally shared with family members, loved ones or with other triathletes. It’s stated purpose is to increase your body’s glycogen stores so you don’t bonk in the following day’s race. It also reinforces the social solidarity and specialness of the triathlete as he or she prepares to athletically test his or herself at publicly during the race the following day.

Trigeek: a triathlete or wannabe triathlete who takes their athletic training and race performances bit too seriously for his friends and believes that upgrading to newer and more expensive triathlon gear and racing is more important than anything else.

14: Triathlon Race Distances (USA):

  • Sprint: 0.5k-swim/15k-bike/5k-run
  • Olympic: 1.5k-swim/40k-bike/10k-run
  • Long Course Santa Barbara Triathlon: 1mi-swim, 34mi-bike, 10mi-run
  • 70.3 or Half Ironman: 1.2mi-swim,/56mi-bike/13.1mi-run
  • 140.6 or Full Ironman: 2.4mi-swim/112-bike/26.2mi-run
  • Double Ironman (a multi-day stage race of double the Ironman triathlon distances): 5.4-m swim, 224-m bike, 52.4-m run


15: Upcoming Local Triathlons and Multiport Races

The best way to find local races online is Active.com which has an online database of just about every “all comers” triathlon, road race and other sports competitions in the United States. Printed race entries and flyers can be found on the “race table” at Inside Track Multisports in Ventura, CA.

You can find my daily workouts & multisport musings at: Twitter.com/multisportmama and Dailymile.com/people/multisportmama .
🙂 A

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