People everywhere are becoming triathletes, for a variety of reasons: enhanced self-esteem, an end goal to make exercise and fitness more worthwhile, feelings of accomplishment, and group camaraderie. Because of the three-sport format, there are often three times as many questions and three times as much advice on the “best” ways to do one. Below are a few tips sure to help both seasoned and novice triathletes embrace the multi-sport lifestyle.
1. Just sign up. (preferably with a friend)
It’s easy to keep saying “I’m going to do a tri,” but you are much more likely to stop procrastinating and actually get around to training for a race and doing one if you are already signed up. Doing a race with a friend will not only be more fun, it will also keep you accountable as you train, by giving you a training partner.
2. Tour the race course ahead of time.
I can’t emphasize this enough. I once did a race where the bike portion of the course was described as “light rolling hills,” only to find out during the race that the hills were definitely NOT light, nor rolling. Since I hadn’t bothered to train for large hills, my legs regretted it. If you know what to expect, you will know how to train, and will have a visual while you are training.
3. Practice swimming in open water.
Open water swimming is much different than swimming in a pool—the water can be murky, there aren’t pool walls to push off of, and you need to work on sighting, so you don’t swim off course. Get into a lake beforehand to work on swimming. Also, work on your outdoor swimming at the same time of day that your race will be, so you can see what the sun glare might be like at that time.
4. Do brick workouts.
Brick workouts are training two disciplines, back to back. These workouts let you get used to how your legs will feel when you are changing disciplines.
5. Practice transitions.
Part of your overall race time includes the time it takes you to switch disciplines and get on and off your bike. If you’re good at transitions, you earn “free time” in a race because you don’t need to be faster or stronger or have a better heart rate—you just have to be planned and efficient.
6. Go short.
If it’s one of your first few races, do a super-sprint or sprint format, rather than an Olympic, or half or full Ironman. Get used to how races work first before attempting a longer one.
7. Stay close to home.
If you do races close to home, there are fewer jitters the night before and morning of, because you’ll be in an environment you’re used to. You’ll also be able to do some workouts on the actual course ahead of time.
8. Remember that swimming is a small part of the entire race.
Many would-be triathletes are turned off by the swim portion, thinking it’s too difficult and they’ll never finish the rest of the race. The bike and run portions are much longer than the swim. At first, just train enough to make it through the swim safely, then focus on the bike and run. As you race more, you can then start to work on making your swimming faster and more efficient.
9. Bring a cheering squad.
Invite friends and family to your race, and have them bring signs and noisemakers. Plot out good places for them to watch ahead of time, so you’ll know where to expect them. Their cheers are a great motivator when you’re starting to drag.
10. Follow a training plan.
Plan on training at least eight weeks for your race, and work in some days for speed, intervals, technique, strength, and flexibility. Work your weak event more than your stronger one, and make sure to plan some brick workouts and transition practice as I mentioned above.
I’ve done over ten triathlons in the last decade, and have trained over 20 Elite Sports Clubs members on improving the swim portion of their races.
Written by Jessica Heller, Aquatics Director at Elite Sports Club-Mequon
Jessica Heller has a B.S. in Biological Sciences, minor in Spanish (UW-Milwaukee, 1999), Doctor of Chiropractic (Northwestern Health Sciences University, 2002), and post-graduate continuing education focused mostly on rehabilitative exercise, sports injuries, and nutrition. She is a certified Water Safety Instructor (since 1996), Lifeguard/CPR/First Aid Instructor (since 2010), Red Cross Babysitting Instructor (since 2015), Certified Pool Operator (since 2013), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (since 2006), Aquatic Exercise Association Aquatic Fitness Professional (since 2008), and Arthritis Foundation Aquatics Program Instructor (since 2011).