Triathlon as an amateur sport has seen a considerable increase in popularity over the last ten years or so, as amateur athletes the world over wise-up to the health and fitness benefits that triathlon training can offer.
The idea of training for a tri can seem a bit daunting at first. How will you fit the training in? How often should you train? Do you need any special gear? Getting started with training is easier than you think. Training for your first tri will most likely take a minimum of 12 weeks, depending on your level of fitness to begin with and how confident you are at each discipline.
The swim is often the part of the tri that puts people off. An open water swim amongst 100 other people is not the most appealing prospect for many! If the thought of an open water swim is putting you off, then have a look for a tri that includes a pool swim instead.
Whether you aim for open water or the pool, your training will be much the same in terms of how many times per week you need to train and what your training will consist of.
Ideally, you need to swim twice a week from the word go, especially if this is your least secure area. The sprint swim is 750m which is 30 lengths of a 25m pool. You are aiming to complete this in under 20 minutes and need to be swimming front crawl. Increasing your speed and stamina are, therefore, the main goals of your swim training.
Start with short distances at first, even if you are a competent swimmer already. Drills are an efficient way of increasing your speed. Warm-up for 4 lengths, swim two lengths as fast as you can (aim for 25-30 seconds per length) and recover for two lengths. Then go again! Using a wedge float between your legs, so you are just focusing on your arms, is another excellent way of increasing speed and strength.
The bike leg of a sprint tri is 20k (21.4 miles), which you should aim to complete in around an hour. If you are comfortable on the bike already, then this part of the tri shouldn't be too much of a challenge, depending on the course. A road bike is preferable to a mountain bike simply because they are lighter, and you need to aim to be doing one or two rides per week, gradually building up to the 20k as you go.
If the weather is poor or you don't have time to get out for a long ride, an indoor turbo trainer could prove helpful. Although it is not the same as riding outside, it will still increase your strength and stamina. Hiit rides and Tabata rides (Hiit but worse!) are a valuable way of increasing stamina when time is tight. Cycle full pelt for 40 seconds and recover for 40, repeat for 20 minutes with a 2-minute recovery in the middle. Or, if you prefer, cycle for 20 seconds full speed and recover for 10. No-one prefers that, but it gets you fit!
The run is most likely the part of the tri that most competitors feel most at ease completing. Running 5k might be a walk (or run) in the park for some, but running 5k after swimming and cycling is another matter.
If you can't run 5k at the start of your training, then no fear; there is no reason why you can't get there in 12 weeks. Starting with a walk to run program like couch to 5k is probably the best way to get started. Aim to run at least twice a week if you are at this level.
If you can already run 5k relatively comfortably, your main aim is to improve speed and stamina. Including sprint drills into your training and doing some Hiit runs (yes, Hiit again!!) will help your speed and stamina. If the tri course has some hills, make sure you don't just stick to flat roads when you are training, or you may get caught out on the day! Aim to run twice a week if you can.
Say what?? Yes, brick. This is the part of tri training that everyone dreads. Brick is where you practise going from bike to run. Yuck! Hard though it may be, getting off the bike and running on those jelly legs is an essential aspect of tri training. Leave it out, and you will pay the price on race day!
Include brick training early on in your training schedule, so you are well prepared. Start by doing a relatively short ride (20/30 mins) and then run for 1/2 k when you get off the bike. The wobbly legs sensation does diminish after about 5 minutes, and the more brick training you do, the more your body gets used to it.
One last aspect that should not be underestimated is ensuring that you have the correct equipment from a safety point of view (on the bike) and to prevent injury.
For the swim, you need to ensure that your goggles are comfortable and don't let in water, as this will distract you when you are swimming. Investing in a wetsuit is a must for an open water swim or you may even want to splash out on a tri suit. A swimming hat stops your hair from getting in your way and keeps your head warm in the open water.
A high-quality helmet is essential for the bike ride, and good quality trainers and insoles for the run will ensure that you finish your triathlon injury-free with a smile on your face!