By Paul Ruggiero,
CTS Triathlon Coach
If you’ve always wondered what it’s like to cross the finish line at a sprint triathlon (swim < 1000 yards, bike around 10-20 miles, and run about 3 miles (5km)) you’ve come to the right place. Training for your first sprint triathlon doesn’t need to be complicated. The sprint triathlon training program below is a basic example of a professionally built training program for someone interested in getting into the sport of triathlon.
I’ve added notes for success each week to keep you on target, and I recommend you stay present in your training, take it day-by-day and week-by-week. Don’t skip ahead to the last few weeks and peek at what’s coming, let the plan unfold before you.
Before we get started, let’s answer some frequently asked questions about triathlon training plans:
MOVING WORKOUTS AROUND / MISSING SESSIONS
Life happens. Pool times change, work meetings come up, kids have sick days. It is okay to shift things within the week to meet your schedule demands, but DON’T try to make up for lost workouts. Say you miss a run on week one, DON’T ADD IT TO WEEK 3 BECAUSE YOU HAVE MORE TIME. If it’s gone, POOF, it’s gone. Always move forward and not backward. Don’t pile a bunch of stuff into one week because you feel you’re not doing enough! This is how you get hurt. Your mother and I have warned you.
ADJUSTING FOR SKILL LEVEL
Again, this is a beginner plan. If you have a bit more time and you want to add to make this a bit more complex, add time/distance to the swims. We can all work on our swims. And the swim is often the most intimidating part for beginners. Similarly, experienced runners and experienced cyclists can likewise add time to those workouts, but be careful not to add too much training stress just because that’s the sport you like the most.
CAN I USE MY ROAD BIKE?
Yes. You can use just about any bike. I once raced a sprint triathlon on a beach cruiser after I lost a bet. You don’t need a cool looking tri bike. Dust off the old road bike, get some chain lube, and start pedaling.
Athletes often ask how to use triathlon to lose weight. Yes, training consistently can lead to weight loss, but weight loss is a side benefit, not the main purpose of this plan. There’s no perfect triathlon diet. The biggest guidelines are to enough total calories to support your training and eat a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Cut back or eliminate alcohol, it doesn’t do anything helpful for training. Stay on top of your hydration throughout the day. When training, drink a bottle of water or GQ6 sports drink an hour. During workouts that are longer than an hour, eat a ProBar or ProBar Bolts. They taste awesome and they are a great fuel.
WHAT’S YOUR WHY?
Ask yourself this question: Why am I doing this? Write down the answer. Is it a life goal? Are you trying to prove to someone that you can do it? Is it to prove to yourself you can do it? Put the written answer in your purse/wallet or on your mirror or someplace you will see it from time to time. Sometimes athletes get into the thick of training and lose focus on their “why”, and often training starts to fall off after that. Knowing and remembering your purpose will keep you on track when the going gets tough.
OK, now let’s go.
Download Your Free 8 Week Sprint Triathlon Training Plan
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 1 – Habits.
Don’t look at Week 1 as the start of your training. View it as the week you’re setting up the rest of your weeks of training. Take this week to not only train, but mindfully prepare for success. Spend Monday, the first day of the program, gathering everything you need. Pull together you helmet, goggles, running shoes, etc. and get them out and ready. Put them in bags so you’re ready to go to the pool or trailhead. Make sure you have water bottles. Put the gear somewhere it’s easy for you to get to and go. Learn the pool schedule. Think through and research your bike and run routes.
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 2 – Mastering and protecting your time.
Start paying attention to the little obstacles we construct that can eat away at training time. The first two weeks are about getting creating routines that help make training more effective. If you have to look around the house for a running shoe because you didn’t put it back by the door after the last run, you may need to refine your system. If you turn on the TV or an app to figure out the weather, don’t get sucked in to flipping channels or watching videos. It doesn’t take much for your training time to evaporate. Be protective of your time to train! Carve out time you can commit to and stick to it!
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 3 – Settling in.
You’re getting into the swing of it now! Maybe you’re feeling a bit tired and sore here or there. That’s okay, and normal! Embrace it! Adaptation is happening. There are two rest days in this week, soak them up. Do not train through rest days thinking “more is better”. It isn’t. Your body needs rest to adapt to the stress incurred from training. There’s a little less running as well. It takes the body the longest time to recover from running, so enjoy the extra rest.
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 4 – The Meat of the program.
Now we’re in the thick of it. Four weeks in and we’ll be turning the corner soon and heading for sprint triathlon glory. Your friends will be standing at the finish line mouths agape when you effortlessly cruise across the line. Remember your why this week. Why have you set yourself on this path? Note, we’re changing from time-based runs to distance-based runs this weekend. We’re going to try to hit the distance this weekend. (This is only applicable for a sprint race. Don’t try to mimic this weekend for other distances) If in your time-based runs you’re NOT getting 2 miles in, please use this weekend to go farther.
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 5 – Building up.
More building blocks. You’ll notice we’re taking a jump in time this weekend. The adaptation from the last four weeks should be established and you’ll be able to handle the shift to longer efforts without trouble. That’s the whole idea of training… Do the work. Rest. Reap the rewards. This isn’t the sexy part of training. This is the grind. It’s the part no one sees, but that makes all the difference.
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 6 – Test week.
Your race week will look similar to this week, so when you get there you can remember you’ve already been to that rodeo. We’re going a bit lighter during the week, then big sessions on the weekend. Prepare everything all week for the weekend. Be sure your gear is in order. Know your routes and schedule for the weekend. Sweat the details. Part of this is practicing your routines and working out the kinks so you’re more relaxed on race day.
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 7 – Prep week.
Stay on target. Don’t start panicking about a workout or two that you missed. Piling missed sessions in at this point won’t make you any fitter, but will make you more tired. Use this week and finalize plans for next weekend: travel plans, timing of departure, bags you’re going to bring, etc.
SPRINT TRIATHLON TRAINING PLAN WEEK 8 – Race week.
Let’s go racin’! But first, chill. This week you’ll find yourself with less training and more free time. This is when what I call “The Athletes Fragile Mind” comes into play. You may be nervous and feel unprepared. That is common, and even the most advanced and pros sometimes feel that way. The biggest thing to remember is: nothing you do this week will improve your fitness by the weekend. The hay is in the barn; you are as fit as you are going to be. Now your biggest task is to relax, have confidence in your preparation, and embrace the butterflies. You’ve come a long way. Don’t you DARE second-guess yourself now. You did the work; so when the gun goes off this weekend, just go.
A couple more things: You don’t need new running shoes the week of the race. You don’t need new goggles. You don’t need the fancy new nutritional drink of the month. The gear and foods that have gotten you to this point are perfect for your race day. And most of all, remember to have fun! Cheer on the person next to you, talk to the volunteers, wave to little kids, and stick around for the post-race party. You earned it.