With swimming, cycling, and running combined into a single competition, there’s a lot for beginner triathletes to learn. Each discipline within a triathlon is not the same as swimming, cycling, or running as standalone sports. Not only are there some rule differences, but your cycling leg will be affected by the swim before it, and the run is always impacted by the fatigue from the previous two legs. And then there are the transitions, which are often referred to as a sporting discipline all their own. You can gain or lose a ton of time based on your skills and efficiency in transitions between disciplines. To help you shorten the learning curve, several CTS Coaches put together some great beginner triathlon tips that will help you conquer your next triathlon and continue to improve your performance in later races.
1. Keep Your Training Schedule Practical
Don’t try to fit your life into a training schedule, build a training schedule that fits your life. Be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to training instead of setting yourself up for failure by trying to maintain an unsustainable workload.
You will see much larger gains in fitness if you maintain a moderate but consistent training plan. Read more about training consistency and the key to athletic improvement here.
2. Include Social Training Sessions
Find meet-up groups to swim, bike, and run with that are around or just above your fitness level. It is more fun to suffer with others and it can also help keep you accountable and on track with your goals. You will also meet fellow triathletes who can help you out and give you advice based on their own experiences.
3. Focus on Improving Your Performance, Not Equipment
With so much high-end performance gear to buy for three disciplines, it is easy to want the best of everything. As a beginner you should place more value on solid gear that is reliable and durable. As you improve fitness, the benefits of lighter and slicker gear will have more significant impact on your performance. When you’re starting out, the improvement you make in fitness – with standard gear – will impact your performance way more than slicker/lighter gear. You can read more about improving how you ride rather than what you ride here.
4. Prioritize Your Key Workouts First
When you have multiple workouts scheduled for one day, it’s best to complete the more difficult or important workout first when you’re fresh. If you save your key workout for after you’ve already done an endurance workout that same day, you are much less likely to be able to maintain the proper intensity to successfully complete your important workout. This is why it’s important to understand the purpose behind every workout so you can prioritize accordingly.
5. Cut Workouts Short When Necessary
Hitting the proper intensity for your workout and staying consistent with your training is much more important than perfectly finishing every workout as scheduled. It’s critical to recognize when you are too fatigued to complete a workout, or that by struggling to finish your intervals you risk compromising the quality of future key workouts. You can find more information on how to know when to cut a workout short here.
6. Include Brick Workouts
It’s important to experience how your body will react to transitioning from swimming to cycling to running on race day. To simulate how you’ll feel, it’s a good idea to incorporate brick workouts in which you complete a swim and bike workout or bike and run workout back-to-back. Learn more about brick training here.
7. Practice Organizing Your Transition Area
Spend some time figuring out how you are going to set up your transition area so on race day, in the heat of the race, you are quick and efficient. Make sure you only include the absolute essentials – a cluttered transition area will cause unnecessary stress and slow you down.
8. Practice Your Transitions
Go through the entire process of taking off your wetsuit and getting into cycling gear, then getting into your running gear. You can include transition practice during your brick workouts, when you are a little fatigued, to better simulate race day conditions.
9. Include Open Water Swims in Your Training
Open water pack swims are not always readily available to include in your training plan, but they are essential to increasing your comfort level and triathlon performance. Make sure to take advantage of any opportunities you have to experience open water pack swimming and practice how to properly sight – stroke, breath, then bring your head to face forward and lift it just so your eyes are out of the water.
If it’s not possible for you to practice open water swims you can read about how to improve with pool workouts here.
10. Learn How to Make a U-Turn on Your Triathlon Bike
Make sure you can safely and efficiently make a u-turn at the middle of a course. Try this at the end of your training rides by putting a cone out in your driveway or a safe, traffic-free area and practice entering the turn wide, hitting the apex of the turn by the cone, and exiting the turn wide while maintaining your momentum.
11. Train Your Digestive System for Race Day
Train your digestive system to be able to take in energy on the bike and run. You should aim to replenish 25%-35% of calorie expenditure and 20-40 oz of fluids per hour. You will likely need to dial your fluid and fuel intake during the run, so make sure to experiment to determine how much you are able to handle on the run.
Nick White is a Premier Coach for CTS. He coached Craig Alexander to Ironman World Championships in 2008 and 2009; as well as 2010 Ironman St. George winner Heather Wurtele.
Jeana Miller is an Expert Coach for CTS. She has an M.S. in Kinesiology and experience competing in every distance of triathlon including Ironman.