Basic tips on everything you will need for your first Triathlon!
If you're not a keen runner, suffer from high impact injuries or
simply just looking for a new challenge with an adrenalin hit,
Triathlon is a must-try challenge for you!
A Triathlon is a multi-sport race consisting of a swim-bike-run in sequence. You can complete and train for a triathlon at any age and starting at any fitness level! All you have to do is try. Fitness and weight loss (if you have a good eating regimen) are, of course, big pluses that come with training for a Tri and unlike a lot of other sports' triathlon is surprisingly easy to train for; majority of the disciplines can be refined at the studio (attending Run Club and using the stationary bike), with you just needing to practice a few sessions per week at the local pool. Ideally, it would be more beneficial if you could get to the local bike track or on a turbo trainer for your bike sessions but if you are just starting out and are simply wanting to "Try a Tri" it is very achievable.
Essentially, if you can swim (be a confident swimmer in a pool to cover race distance and also open water), ride a bike and run - you can do a triathlon!
Whatever level you are starting at, you'll find this article useful as it gives you some basic tips on training, equipment, nutrition and motivation.
The race distances are as follows:
Try a Tri - A 200m swim, 7km bike, 2km run. If you haven't yet competed in a triathlon this is where you start! This is for first-timers only.
Super Sprint - 200m swim, 7km bike, 2km run. The same distance as the "Try a Tri" once you're addicted!
Sprint Distance - 750m swim, 20km bike, 5k run. A step
up from the Super Sprint or a hit out for something bigger and
more of a challenge!
Olympic (or Standard) Distance - 1.5km swim, 40km ride, 10km run - A big step up from the Sprint and is more of a longer distance endurance event. The perfect middle ground event!
Half Ironman - 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run - this is where it gets really tough!
Ironman - 3.8km swim, 180km ride, 42.2km run - it
doesn't get any tougher!
Triathlon are normally split into five sections:
- The swim section
- T1 (transition 1) the time you spend in the transition area between exiting the swim and getting on your bike
- The bike section
- T2 (transition 2) the time you spend in the transition area racking your bike and putting your shoes on the for run
- The run section
Basic equipment needed for a Tri and on race
- Swimmers/Tri Suit - Tri Suits are a must, that way you only have to wear that for the entire race! If race conditions allow you will also need a wetsuit to compete as it keeps you warmer and helps you to swim faster as it keeps you more buoyant in the ocean.
- Swimming goggles
- Bike (it can be a mountain bike or road bike, doesn't matter so much when you are starting out)
- Helmet (you cannot race without one)
- Race belt to display your tag number
- Running shoes + socks
- Water bottle
- Gym bag
- Change of clothes post-race
- Food and water
When you sign up for your first Tri, give yourself a minimum of 12 weeks to train which is ample time to get yourself race-ready. There's nothing like a race date to flick that psychological switch to focus your mind on that goal. Training for a Tri sounds daunting as you have 3 disciplines to cover in your training but two of them are fairly easy to fit into your schedule and most people prefer two out of the three legs - that being the bike and run. Most commonly people feel the most anxious about the open water swim leg.
Remember, you don't have to give all the triathlon disciplines equal attention. Sometimes you need to spend more time on your weaker sport. You'll quickly figure out which is your weakest discipline and for most beginners or even seasoned triathletes this is the swim.
Ask your trainer for a detailed triathlon training plan that lays out what your training schedule should look like.
Basic training tips for each discipline
- Always train longer than the race distance to build up a longer distance than you'll be covering in the actual race. Aside from achieving sound fitness you'll have a psychological advantage because you will know you can cover the distance easily.
- Once you know you can cover the race distance comfortably in the pool, my number one tip for the swim is to practice your swim in the OCEAN! The pool is very different from open water and nothing prepares you for the open water swim. On race day where the weather is not so favourable it can be a shock to the system and almost overwhelming to get the swim done, especially with many other competitors and things like swell, the organised chaos of an open water swim of often called the "washing machine "for a reason! Be aware that waves and lots of people in the water around you can cause disorientation and seasickness for even experienced swimmers.
If you can emulate all possible conditions in your training you will be far more at ease going into the swim at least knowing what it could be like. Do not go in blind as it could cause you to become overwhelmed at the start line.
Swimming in local swimming nets such as Kurnell or Gunnamatta Park and have a go at swimming your race distance. This will give you an idea of what it feels like with current, dark or murky water, water temperature and also others around you.
- Practice swimming in your race gear (Tri suit/swimmers + wetsuit, goggles and a cap) to familiarise yourself with how your gear will feel to swim in on the day.
A Tri suit is a really good idea as it can be worn over all 3 legs of the race without you needing to get changed in transition in front of hundreds of competitors. It is also light-weight, quick dries, reduces time in transition from swim to bike and is more comfortable as it reduces chafe
- Practice sighting - To sight, a swimmer lifts their head out of the water and scans for a buoy or predetermined landmarks along the course. By doing this periodically during the swim, the swimmer can ensure they stay on course and around the buoys. Sighting is a skill that should be practiced before race day. If you want to achieve an efficient swim and stay on course you need to learn how to sight, don't rely on watching other people's feet or staying on their feet because anyone can go off course!
At an entry-level Tri you'll see all sorts of dilapidated bikes on show, cheap mountain bikes and road bikes. So, if you don't want to splurge on a new bike or you're not even sure if triathlon is the sport for you don't stress! You can complete the bike leg on a fairly low-quality bike as long as its functional. Yes, you'll be slower than someone on a carbon-frame fancy road bike but that doesn't matter!
- Before you start training on your bike make sure you have it properly set up for your correct bike position and posture. This means having a bike fit to ensure that the saddle, seat post and handlebars are set up correctly for your height to avoid discomfort or injury and to maximise power.
- Learn your way around the gears and brakes! There's nothing worse than starting your race on a hill or steep incline being in the highest gear on the cog. The key on how to use your bike gears efficiently is to start by finding the right gear. This means you can keep a steady rate of pedalling, or cadence, without feeling like you are pushing too hard or too gently through the pedals. Try experimenting with different gears on climbs, descents and even on the flat, as it will help your cycling efficiency and gaining confidence on the ride.
- Ideally if you can learn how to check the tire pressure in your tires and check them before your race. Plus, also learning how to lubricate your chainset and change an inner tube quickly and efficiently, should you experience a flat.
- Train on hills! Get used to riding lots of hills in your training rides. Yes, that quad burn hurts but the more you do it, the less it hurts and the stronger and more fit you become on the bike. If you can, try and ride the actual race course before race day so you are familiar with the course and its difficulty.
- Get used to riding with a group in close proximity to others. This emulates a race situation where (in most races unless stated) you need to be at least 10m behind the bike in front of you otherwise you will be penalised.
- As most triathlon run legs are on the road, it's best to practice road running rather than in Studio on the treadmill unless it's due to bad weather. Fresh air and nature will boost you both psychologically and physiologically breaking up the monotony as well.
- Try and train in all elements as you can't predict what race day will be like. So whether it hot and sunny or cold and raining, get out there and get it done!
- Depending on the length of your race, try and include interval running, hill drills and longer-distance runs into your training to maximise your fitness and endurance under fatigue.
If you're doing a Sprint, long distances runs aren't as important but for an Olympic distance or above you should be regularly running 10kms and longer each week.
Brick training sessions
A brick session is when you train on two or more disciplines one after the other, with little rest in between like you would in a race. A brick session could comprise of a swim followed by a bike ride or a bike ride followed by a run. These are the 2 transitions you will need to complete in a race and you will be doing so under fatigue so they are important to train for.
A swim-to-bike brick is the switching between the swim and the bike, swimming a certain distance and then jumping straight onto the bike and completing that distance.
You could start off with swimming 500m straight into a 5km bike ride and increase the distances as you become fitter.
A bike-to-run brick is the switching from cycling to running, jumping off your bike and racking it then straight into the run, which can be a strange sensation as the muscles you use for both disciplines are very different.
You could start off riding 5km and the straight into a 1.5km run. Again, increasing distance as you become fitter.
A good diet makes for a good athlete! Your food intake for a triathlon is no different to that needed of any other endurance sport. You should be eating a well-balanced, healthy diet with a decent amount of carbohydrate, lots of lean protein and a good amount of unsaturated fats.
It's important not to train on an empty stomach as you will need energy for the race and ensure that you are well hydrated before, during and after the race.
Training with a friend, team mates or a triathlon club will further incentivize you, it helps keep your training sessions fun and competitive while keeping you accountable to turning up to your training sessions!
However motivated you are though, there will always be days when you are tired, doubting your ability or simply don't feel like training - that happens so don't worry. You can always make up for it by training at a slightly harder intensity the next session.
The benefits of training for a triathlon
Tri training is a whole-body workout! The great news about Triathlons is that they will strengthen all muscle groups in your body. Swimming strengthens your upper body while cycling and running helps you build lower body strength. You will develop lean muscles, build strength and tone your entire body. They also Reduce the risk of injury! When you stick to just one sport - running, for example - you continue to place stress on the same body parts, resulting in common injuries like shin splints or stress fractures. With triathlon training, you are training yourself in three different sports, where each focus on different parts of your body, taking the constant stress off of one particular area. So, with a more balanced method of fitness, you can enjoy being injury-free for longer, resulting in less pain and a stronger body!
Getting through the weeks of training and enjoying that moment of triumph as you cross the finish line is what you should visualise to get you over the line! Most people start a training plan but never finish it, but to those of you who follow through with your goals, congratulations!
Anyone can achieve the high that comes from really pushing yourself, you learn so much about yourself when step outside your comfort zone, feeling the fear and doing it anyway!
And I guarantee once you do one Tri, you'll be hooked!
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.