Getting started with triathlon

Completing a half-ironman triathlon is on the top of my list of goals to complete this year. What started out as a way for me to get in better shape and be healthier, has turned into a passionate obsession with the sport itself.

I’ve always been athletic and in decent shape physically, but over the past 9 months, triathlon training and my diet have put me in the best physical and mental shape of my life.  During this past year, I have learned so much about my body, my physical limits, and the training required to achieve my triathlon goals. Nine months ago, I was 20 pounds heavier and struggled to run three miles. I’ve come a long way and my triathlon goals motivate me to keep improving and continue training.

Everyone begins their triathlon journey at different fitness levels, but the thoughts and suggestions I offer on the blog today work for most people who are interested in one of the world’s fastest growing sports.

7 Triathlon Tips

  1. Don’t be intimidated:

    The word triathlon may, on its own, create this thought in your head that only the most elite athletes can do it. That is the farthest thing from the truth. If triathlon is something you want to try, you can train for one in three months or less. The training can be intense, but it is possible no matter your fitness level. When you decide to try your first triathlon, typically a sprint distance is the best choice. A sprint distance is the shortest triathlon with a 400-750 meter swim, a 12-16 mile bike and a 5k run. These distances are short enough to be within almost anybody’s reach after a few months of strategic training.

  2. Commit yourself or sign up:

    Find a sprint triathlon that’s about three months away and within an hour drive from your home, if possible. Having three months to train is key, especially if you aren’t on a consistent exercise regimen. With my first triathlon, I found that a three-month training plan was more than enough time to prepare. I had a pretty good base of fitness, but not specific to each race element, especially swimming. As my training progressed, I kept seeing significant improvements in my times and how I felt physically. As race day approached, I modified my goals because I was stronger physically and more confident mentally. Once you are signed up, seeing your name on the participants list with everyone else is a good motivation to keep you working toward your goal of completing your first triathlon.

  3. Go see for yourself:

    Watching other triathletes in action will help you more than anything. Find a sprint triathlon within a reasonable drive and go to it as a spectator. Arrive early, almost as though you were participating. You will have the opportunity to witness the registration process and how the triathletes get marked with their numbers. Being there in person will allow you to watch the participants set up their transition areas, which is the area where you prepare for each segment of the race. You will have the opportunity to hear the sights and sounds of race day and you’ll know what to expect when it’s your day to race. You’ll also see triathletes of all fitness levels and body types participating in the event. This should give you the confidence you need to start or continue your journey to complete a triathlon.

  4. Set realistic goals:

    Your goal may be to just finish, or it may be to do well within your age group. Whatever your goals are, keep them realistic. Remember, this is your first triathlon. You don’t want to set such high expectations for yourself that you get frustrated if you don’t achieve them. I remember starting out just wanting to finish my first race. As race day got closer and closer, I kept increasing my goals to finish within the top 10 in my age group. I based my goals off realistic times that I wanted to shoot for on each leg of the race and I was successful, as I finished 7th in my age group. Everyone wants to do well in competition, but remember, this is your first triathlon race. There may be a time when your goal is to win your age group, or to finish a full Ironman distance triathlon, but get the first one under your belt and then start setting goals for the next ones.

  5. Find a training plan and stick to it:

    This is a key part to training. Preparing for your first triathlon needs to be a gradual process. Since you should have a few months before the race, you don’t have to try and swim, bike or run the full distance during your first day or week of training. If you do, you’re more likely to get frustrated and give up on your journey. Getting your body ready physically and mentally for a triathlon happens over time, not during the first few workouts. Your body will get there, but allow it to do so over the entire training period, not just the first week or two. A good training plan, found in many online and print resources, will help you achieve this gradual climb. Training Plan for Sprint is a plan I’ve used in the past and would be a great start for you. Also, a web search for “training plans for sprint triathlons” will provide you with plenty of options. Find a plan that fits the time you have available to train and stick to it. Don’t wake up each morning wondering what your workout is going to be. Trust the plan and I promise, you’ll see the improvements each week and month as you get closer to your race.

  6. Keep it simple:

    Keeping it simple goes for your training and your equipment. Pick up any triathlon magazine and you’ll learn about the most high-tech heart rate monitors, power meters, bikes, running shoes and wetsuits. You will find training plans with two workouts a day and that include sophisticated methods to increase performance. Just stick to learning and improving your techniques and your endurance across each element of triathlon and you will be fine. Again, stick to a plan that works for your available time and trust it. As for equipment, you only need the basics: Any old bike that is your size (the mountain bike in your garage or a borrowed road bike from a friend), a helmet, running shoes, a swim-suit, goggles and shorts and a t-shirt. That is all you’ll need for your first race. The fancy, more expensive equipment and gear is fun to think about, but isn’t necessary for your first race.

    My first triathlon in 2017 after an 8 year break from my first-ever triathlon in 2009.

  7. Have fun:

    This should be a given. If you aren’t having fun or enjoying the journey of triathlon, it may not be for you. Now, I will say, there will be times when you are sore or your body just doesn’t want to go any further and that’s ok. If you feel like you need a break in training, take it. If you don’t give yourself that break, you’ll burn out and the chances of you quitting will increase. Remember, this is your first triathlon, not the world championships. This is a journey for you to accomplish a tough goal and a journey that will improve your mind and body. I remember my first triathlon in 2009 when I wondered during the swim portion, why the heck I was doing this to myself and even thought, “I can’t do this.” When I crossed that finish line, I felt so good, so accomplished, and had so much fun, that I went home and found the next triathlon to sign up for.

Even now, with my goal of completing a half Ironman this year, I go back to these thoughts and experiences as I train each week. My training plans are longer now and yes, somewhat more sophisticated, but these points are still relevant for me today. For most triathletes, the experience of racing in and completing their first triathlon is all it takes to hook them on the sport. It sure did for me and I have a feeling it will for you.

Good luck on your triathlon journey!