Triathlon Training Tips for First Time Triathletes

Now that we are entering the triathlon racing off-season, it’s a great time for people considering on doing their first triathlon to start building a fitness base and getting familiar with their new sport. This posting is an abbreviated version of one I posted last summer and it’s better suited to winter and spring off season training here in Southern California.

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. During the late spring and summer racing season I call this the “Daily Practice of Triathlon Training”. By “daily” I mean that each day during the racing season has a fitness purpose. It is either a training day (making me stronger/faster) for a particular sport or a recovery (non-training) day (making me stronger/faster by letting my body re-build). During the Spring and Summer 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.

If you are interested in more details on training and sports nutrition, 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.

Here is my advice for training for one’s first triathlon in 2010:

1. 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. You generally get un-biased information when speaking with people who don’t have anything to gain by you purchasing something.
  • Go onlineSocial Media Sites Twitter.com and search “#triathletes” is a good way to find triathlon information from triathletes. Most are regular people just like you, online. It’s neat to pose a question (in 140 characters or less) on Twitter and have triathletes from all over reply back with a tip. 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.

    Websites Websites such as Active.com/triathlon and Multisports.com feature free tips and triathlon training schedules (some must be purchased).

  • Books 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.
  • Magazines 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. Now is the time to experiment with new shoes, try a friends bicycle and to have fun with triathlon training. During the off-season your goal is to buildup your base and find out what gear works best for you.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. What works for the Dude at the Triathlon Shop Who Has Done Ironman 18 times 😉 may not work for you. It’s necessary to get to know what YOUR body needs and how it performs by doing it and listening to it. Do your first Brick Workout (bike ride followed immediately by a short run) and find out what you can ingest to keep your energy consistent that doesn’t make you feel sick. Go for a bike ride on borrowed bike to test it out. Do a mini-triathlon on your own from your local pool. Just do it. The cool thing with triathlon training is that it is cross-training so as your individual running or swimming mileage may be less, you will have the additional benefit of training and getting stronger from the other two sports.

3. Daily Practice of Triathlon Training.

  • Consistency is key. The off season is a good time to get used to training once a day, six days a week. Now is a good time to experiment with new gear. It’s also the time to build up one’s endurance base. Triathlon training is a Daily Practice that will take some getting used to.
  • During the spring and summer each day will be a workout day. By Spring you should be used to training six days a week and fitting it into your work, school or family schedules if you can. The Daily Practice includes: your daily work out, your pre-workout food/beverage that is mostly carbs and easy to digest, your post-workout recovery food/beverage and sleeping more.

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

  • This is a good and socially fun way find out about local road rides/open water swims and have better access to find other tri newbies. Plus, according to scientific research, you will get faster and stronger training with others than if training alone.* Being a member of a training club may translate into other benefits such as club discounts on gear and race entries. Some of the more experienced or long distance triathlon club members may seem a little arrogant or hardcore to a beginner. Just don’t take it personally. It takes a lot of mental and physical focus to be competitive in the Ironman triathlon distance these days and that can take a toll on one’s social skills. The qualifying times Ironman and Nationals has gotten a lot tougher than when I started doing triathlons in the free-wheeling late Eighties. It seemed more fun in those days. Though training was just as tough (and in some ways more difficult without all the energy supplements they have these days) there were less people to race against and the triathlon community was smaller and friendlier to each other as crazy kindred spirits. We were considered nuts by non-triathletes in the early days of the sport.*See the article “Get Fitter with Friends”, The Economist Magazine, September 19, 2009, P. 92.

5. Swimming

  • Swim 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.
  • Swimming Wet Suit If you don’t have a swim wetsuit, a surf wet suit can still work but won’t have the range of motion in it’s fit nor the sleeker less-resistant material for is best for swimming. Great quality swim suits are at Inside Track Multisports in Ventura and Hazard Cycle Sports in Santa Barbara for new ones. Inside Track Multisports and GoForItSports.com offer used wetsuit rentals for sale for a fraction of their new retail price if you are on a budget. I’ve heard that retailer Play It Again Sports in Ventura has had swimming wetsuits, too. Craig’s List and Ebay have been used successfully by friends for getting good quality used wet suits and gear, also. Wetsuits are not cheap but a good one that fits can transform non-tropical open water swimming from cold misery to comfortable fun. Swim wetsuites add buoyancy and speed, too. That is always a plus for me. There are a lot of quality brands with slightly different fits for different body shapes such as 2xu, Blue Seventy, Quintana Roo and others. I wear a Woman’s Blue Seventy. When I open water swim in the ocean during the winter with my Blue Seventy wetsuit and matching swim booties and neoprene cap I may look ridiculous, but I am never cold. If you are new to open water swimming or swimming with faster people, it’s a good idea to invest in a pair of swim fins. I swim with TYR Crossblades in the ocean sometimes. One more point about swimming open water: wear a swim cap. Sports Chalet and several online retailers such as Goforitsports.com sell them.I recommend wearing a brightly colored swim cap when open water swimming for two reasons:
  1. You will feel significantly warmer when swimming with a swim cap
  2. You will have a better chance of being seen and not run over by boater or surfer when wearing a bright colored swim cap

6. Cycling

  • Bike The bike, for non-road cyclists, can be tough hurdle for a beginner or cash-strapped first time triathlete. My best advice is to go to your local multisport or bike shop. A triathlon racing bike is not necessary to race in a triathlon. The tri-bike geometry has more severe angles for time trial efficiency on flat courses and with a proper fitting is slightly faster than a conventional road bike, but is not as comfortable to ride for long rides. A “traditional” road bike shop may not have the expertise in tri-bikes and their accessories. I ride 12-year old conventional road bike with “cross-country” geometry. To get faster, I train more. If you just need a bike, almost any bike that is safe to ride can help you achieve your goal of doing a short or Sprint triathlon this summer. You can even ride your mountain bike or a cross-bike. I don’t recommend riding a single-speed cruiser bike, though as they weigh a ton and you may need hand-brakes on the handlebars to compete in a triathlon. As long as you bought your bicycle from a reputable source and it has been safety checked by an established bike dealer such as Inside Track Multisports, Avery’s Open Air Bike Shop, or Trek Bicycles in Ventura or Hazard Cycle Shop in Santa Barbara, it should be fine. If you want to go fast on a bike, my best advise is to spend more time in the saddle, than buying expensive gear in a shop.
  • 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 to carry your food & water, etc. 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

  • Races are “won” on the run 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 the hours of daily training and preparation comes together. many triathlon pros believe that the last segment of the race, the run, is when real 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 training time is limited (whose isn’t?), I recommend focusing on your running and swimming. You can’t “fake” either of these in a triathlon.
  • Local Running Clubs: 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.

8. Training for your first Sprint Triathlon

  • Plan ahead–at least six months before your first triathlon. Most Sprint distance triathlons also fill up so it’s a good idea to register for a race you are interested in as soon as you can. I usually register about six months before race day for the short races. For of the more popular and longer races (such as the Wild Flower Triathlon) you may have to register up to a year before. I think the Carpinteria Triathlon Sprint Course filled up about two months before the race this year (I registered for the September 27th race the first week of July).

 

  • 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 Training 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)
  • Do not do a tough workout of the same type of activity two days in a row. When racing, I take 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.

 

  • 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. Sleep more

  • You will need more sleep if you train every day (six workout days + one recovery day). Your body will require more of sleep 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.

14. 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.


15: 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


16: 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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