Newbie Triathlon Training Tips

The town you live in hosts one of those short, sprint format triathlons, and every year you're tempted to give it a try. The crowds this event draws have only made you more curious about what's to be gained by participating. There's the thrill of intense competition coupled with the challenge of intense training. Got about 12 weeks to get prepared? It could be the beginning of a whole new lifestyle for you.

Assuming you're already in pretty decent shape and have recent experience swimming, biking and running, you might want to start your training schedule with 300 yards of continuous swimming on Monday, 20 minutes of running on Tuesday followed by 7-10 miles of biking on Wednesday. Thursday would be devoted to full body resistance training. On Friday, you start the 3-day cycle all over again increasing the distance and intensity each time the cycle begins anew. By the end of 12 weeks, you should be swimming 1000 yards, biking 20 miles and running for an hour at race pace. If you can manage that, then you've got a good shot at finishing the sprint triathlon's 750 meter swim (about mile), 20k cycle course (12.4 miles) and 5k run (3.10 miles).

Performance Is In The Details

The first stage of every triathlon is swimming. Although it might be your strongest sport, you can't approach triathlon swimming like it's part of a typical swim meet. There's a big difference. For one thing, you won't be getting a break between the swimming and biking stages of a triathlon. You're only stopping long enough to lose your wet suit and hop on a bike. You're also going to want to hold back during the swim stage by limiting your kicking effort. Save your legs for the peddling and running to come.

Since you can't afford to expend lots of energy in the water, form is going to be crucial. The athlete who optimizes the efficiency of their stroke stands to gain the most over this half-mile arms race. Taking a breath every 2nd or 3rd stroke on alternating sides of your body, called bilateral breathing, helps improve balance as well as breath control. Breathing on both sides of your body is also important for navigating during a race.

Now that your body's better balanced in the water, here are some tips for improving stroke production. If you start off swimming closed-fisted, you'll focus on arm pull-through mechanics and develop a more natural full stroke. The Thumbs To Thigh drill is another effective way to develop superior stroke mechanics. Stand flat-footed, arms straight at your sides and lightly scratch where each thumb meets your thighs. Back in the water, make a point of brushing your thumbs against those same spots with every stroke. You'll find this strategy also helps build up triceps muscles.

Better Biking Strategies

The 2nd stage of a triathlon is cycling, but before the peddling begins there's a potential roadblock known as T1. The 'T' stands for 'transition' which is the effort of moving the race from water to wheels. Despite the fact that triathlons are typically launched in waves of participants, pulling off swim gear and mounting a bike in a sea of hurried athletes can be extremely chaotic, especially to the uninitiated. Plan for this the same way you plan your workouts and meals. Write down a list of what you'll need securely attached to your bike (shoes, helmet, sunglasses) along with hydration and nutrition necessities including water bottles and energy bars. Economy in this stage is like efficiency during swimming, so don't bring anything you might not be using. Maybe means no.

When you start training on the bike, the last thing you need to think about is the bike itself. Any geared, road-worthy mountain or road bike will do. You'll be racing for just over 12 miles, so focus on clocking off the mileage performing 90 peddle revolutions per minute. That's your target race pace. When it gets too easy, shift to the next highest gear. You've just increased your speed without changing your pace. If you live in a hilly area, downshift so you remain seated while climbing. And if you live in the flatlands but are training for a hill country triathlon, better find yourself some hills to practice riding up and down.

You'll naturally want to stay hydrated and well fueled not only throughout your training, but also during an actual race. It's important to know that both liquid and solid nutrition is easier to take in and process during the bike stage. The fluid motion of cycling's much easier on your body than the pavement pounding of running. Taper off on consumption about half-way through your ride. The T2 transition (bike to run) is difficult enough without a bloated stomach.

At T2, you'll have to decide whether you're going to wear cycling shoes and switch to running shoes, or if you'd rather wear the same shoes for both stages. If you won't be changing shoes, what about dry socks? Remember, you'll be grinding out a 5K, which is 3.1 miles of hard running and plenty of time to develop a painful blister. This is the last leg of your triathlon, and whoever's got the most gas in their tank holds a tremendous advantage over their less-than-optimally conditioned counterparts. Since you'll all be starting on equal footing, only the most determined will make the finish line.

Expect this equal footing to feel like you're carrying a load of bricks for the first 10 or 20 minutes. That's how long it'll take to burn off the lactate that built up during the cycling stage and get your legs loosened up again. There's a training regimen called the brick workout that'll help you pull through. Push your cycling and run training together, running for 20 minutes or so immediately after an all-out bike ride. Knowing what it feels like and how long that feeling lasts is more than half the battle. This tactic also gives you ample opportunity to get your second transition planning down to a science.

Running on a dirt or gravel surface is easier on your joints than running on pavement. After you've built up your endurance, work in some speed drills to develop the 'closing speed' needed to pass a competitor approaching the finish line. You base the pace on a set distance (say, the 400 yards that equals one lap around your average athletic field track) or a pre-determined duration of time (2 minutes, 3 minutes, whatever). After running at your normal pace for a couple miles, go fast for your established interval, following that burst with a return to your normal training pace. Repeat this fast/faster cycle several times before cooling down with a couple mile jog.

As with any type of training, know your limits and don't push too hard too fast. An injury can add weeks, if not months, to this basic training schedule. There's no doubt your first triathlon will serve as a learning curve for future competitions. Hopefully, it will also be an enjoyable experience. Remember that these races are launched in waves, and the person who passed you might not be in your same group. Don't get discouraged. You might pass them right back during the next stage. Besides, when you get right down to it, every race and training session is really just competition against yourself.
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