how to start training for a triathlon

How To Start Training for A Triathlon: 5 Tips

As per a statistic, the number of triathlon participants in the US in 2020 was 1.36 million, which was almost 1.6 times the number in 2011.

 Triathlon as a sport and social activity has caught the attention of all age groups, particularly people in the age group of 35-44 years, looking for a sport to engage themselves physically as well as socially.

Beginners in this sport still have a long way to go in learning the nuances of all three sports combined. A lot of information available on the internet is nonpragmatic and does not approach the problem from the point of view of a beginner.

In this blog post, I will be sharing with you 5 helpful tips on how to start training for a triathlon and accomplish your goal of becoming a triathlete.

Let’s get started.

Pick A Triathlon Race Distance

There is a triathlon race for all of us depending upon our age, level of fitness, and familiarity with the sport.

Choosing the right race for your first triathlon is equally important because choosing a race that does not match your fitness level can become overwhelming and sooner or later, you will not be motivated enough to train for the race.

 There are a number of factors that come to play while choosing the right race to make an entry into the sport.

Before choosing a race, do bother to find out about the weather conditions in that particular area. Choosing a local race near you can be helpful in this regard. On the other hand, if you decide to run overseas, you greatly have to factor the weather and food into your plans.

The availability of volunteers during a local race vis a vis an overseas race is also something you must be considering.

Whichever race you pick, make sure you know beforehand that the swim is pool-based or lake-based, or even ocean-based. Know about wetsuit rules for the swim portion of your race.

Also, be aware of whether the run course is flat or hilly.

Most importantly, like all other things worth doing, even participating in a triathlon will consume your valuable time and energy, so make sure you are ready to take out anywhere between 3-10 hours per week for training depending upon the race you are selecting.

Category DistanceNumber of hours per weekNumber of weeks for trainingRemarks
Super Sprint
Swim – 400m(0.25mi)  Bike   –   10km(6.2mi) Run   –    2.5km (1.6mi)
3-4 hours12 weeks (sedentary)
10 weeks (moderately active)
Ideal for beginners
SprintSwim- 750m(0.47mi)Bike  –   20km(12.4mi)Run  –   5km(3.2mi)3-5 hours 12 Weeks(sedentary) 8 weeks(moderately active)Ideal for beginners
OlympicSwim- 1.5km(0.93mi)Bike –  40km(25mi)Run-  10km(6.2mi)5-7 hours10-12 weeks
Half IronmanSwim- 1.9km (1.2mi)Bike – 90km    (56mi)Run-  21.1km  (13.1mi)8-13 hours16-20 weeks
IronmanSwim-3.9km  (2.4mi)Bike -180km  (112mi)Run- 42.2km  (26mi)13-20 hours24-30 weeks

Whichever race you want to participate in, you will have to dedicate a certain number of weeks to achieve a certain level of physical fitness and start your specific training from thereon( if you are less physically active).

On the other hand, if you are moderate to highly active, you will be ready to take part in a super sprint or a sprint triathlon within a few weeks, or you might even consider directly preparing for an Olympic distance.

Beginner Triathlon Training Plan

how to start training for a triathlon, pick a triathlon race distance

 Staying  Motivated 

The biggest challenge while training for a triathlon is going to be consistency. Believe it or not, there will be days you will feel sore and would not want to come out of bed. Therefore, knowing how to stay motivated during the entire duration of training is the key.

One of the best ways to stay motivated is to sign up for the race before you start training. this will put you under some kind of positive going into training.

The second way is to hire a coach. It might sound a little expensive but a good coach will adequately prepare you for your race. If you don’t want to hire a coach, you should check out our triathlon training plans which will give you a week-by-week guide on how to train heading into race day. 

The third way and probably a must-do is to train with a group or a buddy. This will help you to not skip sessions, improve along with the group and also give you a spirit of competition heading into race day.

Start A Training Regime

To start with, you must adopt a training regime to ensure you have adequately trained for all three sports adequately, if not equally.

For the initial few weeks, focus on giving equal amounts of training hours to all three sports. During this period, recognize your strengths and weaknesses and thereafter, you can vary your time allocation.

A brick workout in triathlon is a type of workout in which we train two sports at a time viz a swim bike session or a bike run session. The brick workout should be incorporated into the training regime after you have achieved a basic level of sport-specific endurance.

Try 1 brick workout per week initially and it can be increased to 2-3 brick workouts towards the end of your training.

Swim Training Plans 

If you are a non-swimmer, you should consider hiring a swim coach or joining a swim club. 

Many triathletes argue that swimming is the most difficult leg of triathlon(this is the reason swimming is done first). There definitely is a certain level of skill required to be a good swimmer.

An ideal training week should have two swim sessions spaced two to three days apart. start from a pool and then practice swimming in lakes and ponds as most of the races are open water-based.

When practicing open water swims, make sure you train with a buddy and always train during daylight hours. It would be best if you can practice at the swim location of the race a couple of times to familiarise yourself with the water body, especially the water currents.

After the completion of your swim training, you should be able to swim at least 1.5 times the swim distance of the race while maintaining your best speed achieved during training.

Cycling Training Plans 

The bike leg of the race is the longest portion of the race in all distance categories. Therefore, it becomes extremely important to have an adequate number of hours spent on the bike so that you have enough practice with your equipment before race day. 

One of the best methods to improve cycling is to join a cycling club, which will help you to train with similar-minded enthusiasts. But, since you wouldn’t want to train for all three sports individually, we recommend allotting at least two days a week for cycling.

During The starting few weeks, spend time on the bike knowing your best gear combinations. Bike the whole stretch to find out about which gear combinations you prefer using at what point in the race, what is your nutrition and hydration requirement, how good you are at the start, the middle, and the end of the bike leg.

As you become familiar with your bike training, try doing swim-bike brick workouts to further analyze your training progress and also find out which areas you need to work more on and which areas you are good at.

You should train for both high-intensity short sessions as well as low-intensity long sessions to build both stamina as well as strength.

You must learn how to fix a flat tire during your practice sessions or else, you run the risk of not finishing your bike leg on race day.

Another rule you must keep in mind is about “Drafting”. Drafting is a technique used in cycling competitions that involves cycling behind a competitor, thus preventing any air drag on the cyclist. it gives the cyclist an unfair advantage over his competitors. As per ITU rules, drafting is banned in triathlons.

On days it is raining or you can’t attend training, please explore the option of training on an indoor stationary bike.

Running Training Plans

Running alone is not that difficult, but running in a triathlon can be exhausting, especially after completing the full swim and bike leg back to back. With running, the most important thing is to get into a rhythm and fast as possible. Again, your practice sessions will come in handy on race day.

You should run at least twice a week during training. Practice with the shoes which you will be wearing on race day, in order to get comfortable with them.

During practice sessions, try and achieve a speed and form in which you can finish the race comfortably. Include high-intensity sessions with short breaks to improve upon your speed as well as low intensity runs to improve upon your stamina.

Incorporate brick sessions, wherein you train bike and leg to get the actual feeling of the race. Again, increase the number of brick workouts towards the end of your training period to get more and more familiar with the actual race day conditions.

Resistance Training For Triathlon 

Triathlon demands us to train for all three sports which utilize more than one muscle group. Focusing on sport-specific training can lead to overexertion of certain groups of muscles which can be a hindrance to training. Therefore, it is important to carry out strength training. 

Strength training for triathlons is important because it ensures maintenance of correct form during the race, improves overall body balance, increases power delivery, and makes the muscles less prone to injury.

One should incorporate strength training both as an alternative as well as an addition to specific training sessions.

Below is a table that shows which muscle group to train for each leg of the triathlon along with necessary exercises.

Activity Muscles Involved Recommended Exercises
SwimBack, shoulders, triceps, deltoids, and quads Lat Pulldown, Push-Ups, Pullups, Back Extensions
BikeQuadriceps and hamstringsSide plank, single-leg calf raises, press-ups, split squats.
RunGlutes, calf, hamstring, hip flexor, core, and abdominalsSingle leg deadlifts, lunges, squats, glute bridge, plank

Triathlon Training Recovery

Your muscles tear up in the training field and build up in the kitchen and bed. The importance of recovery and rest cannot be overstated. Recovery is as important, if not more, as the training itself.

Recovery should follow a brick workout, for obvious reasons. The time required for recovery may vary from person to person, although taking more than 2 days for recovery in a week can hurt your training goals.

Recovery is not just taking a day off from training, it involves the calculative expenditure of energy, proper nutrition, sleep, and hydration as well as muscle relaxing exercises.

Knowing About Triathlon Transitions

A transition is a period during the race when you change from one sport to another. the clock keeps ticking even during transitions and therefore, it is important to factor transition training in your triathlon training.

A triathlete carries out various actions within the prescribed rules of the game during a transition, which is mostly gearing up for the next sport.

Transitions can be practiced during brick sessions or you can also dry practice transition.

On race day, you will have a transition area earmarked where you will be undergoing a transition from swim to bike and afterward, from bike to run. Most beginner athletes face difficulty in identifying their racks or transition spots on race day. A pro tip for this is to pre-select a physical landmark to identify your spot.

 There are certain steps you need to follow at the transition area during T1 and T2 :

  1. As you come out of the water and run towards the transition area , take off your goggles and cap and simultaneously start removing your wetsuit.
  2. By the time you have reached your transition spot, your wetsuit should have been half removed. Remove the rest of the wetsuit and then, wear your helmet first. Unrack your bike, walk till the mount line and then mount the bike and start the bike leg of the race.
  3. Before reaching T2, slide your feet out of the cycling shoes. Dismount from the bike before the dismount line, walk with your bike till the allotted rack and  remove your helmet.
  4. Put on your running shoes and visor and start the run leg of the race.

An important point is that most races ask you to wear a race belt which is worn at the back during the bike leg and at the front during the run leg. Remember that there are time penalties for any shortcuts or rule breaks in the transition area.

Read: 9 Pro Tips On How To Transition In A Triathlon

How To Pick The Right Triathlon Gear

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 A triathlon does require you to gear up for all three sports, the same way you train for all three of them, to be good at it. We all know that a significant amount of investment is required while purchasing a new bike or a wetsuit for swimming.

But for your first triathlon, you don’t have to burn a hole in your pocket. Since it is your first triathlon, you are just starting out and it is completely okay to compete with a set of gears not typically meant for triathlon. Most of the equipment you will be using can be rented.

let us list out the items which will be used for each leg of the race

Swim Gear

A swimming cap and goggles are a must-have for your swim. Most races provide color-coded swim caps which helps them keep track of various categories of participants during the race, so make sure you wear the cap given to you and not anyone else’s. Goggles should provide a good sealing effect.

Another addition to the swim would be a triathlon wetsuit. As per USAT rules, triathletes are allowed to wear swimsuits if the water temperature is 78 degrees Fahrenheit and below. For water temperatures between 78 and 84 degrees, wetsuits are permitted but participants are not considered for awards. Above 84 degrees, wetsuits are not allowed at all.

Under the wetsuit, you should consider wearing a tri-suit which comes both two-piece and one-piece. A tri suit is specifically designed to be worn for all three legs of a triathlon.

Read: what to wear under a triathlon wetsuit

Bike Gear

Purchasing a triathlon bike for your first triathlon is generally not a good idea. You can start with any bike, like a road bike or a mountain bike, as long as the race authorities allow you to. Make sure you have practiced enough on this bike before the race to get comfortable with it.

Aim plus investments for the bike leg are clipless pedals and cycling shoes, which help in increasing your power delivery at the bike. A future investment can be a time trial bike with aero bars for improved aerodynamic performance. 

For beginners, focus more on comfort rather than aerodynamic advantages. Have a sunglass to protect your eyes from flying objects during cycling. That is all the gear you will require for the bike leg.

Run Gear

A pair of run-tested running shoes is what you need for your run leg. A great investment in this regard is elastic laces which can be handled easily with wet hands also. Having a visor and sunglasses can go the extra mile in providing you extra comfort during this leg.

Apart from all this, you need to have a race belt on your body at all times during the bike and run leg, which is provided by the race authorities. Few extra pairs of socks, t-shirts, and towels can be a useful addition to your triathlon bag.

What To Eat When Training For A Triathlon

what to eat when training for a triathlon, how to pick the right triathlon gear, how to start training for a triathlon

Ask someone who has taken a weight loss challenge and you will know that it is easier to train and a lot harder to cut your diet. Giving up junk food and other tastier options is one of the toughest challenges on the road to becoming a triathlete.

The importance of diet and hydration during training and also race day cannot be overstated. One has to follow a good diet in order to get in shape and prepare himself to take the toll.

 Nutrition During Training 

Have a balanced meal keeping your macros in check. Stick to the right proportion of carbs, proteins, and fats. Carbs should make up to 50-60 percent, proteins up to 20-30 percent, and fats the remaining 15-20 percent of your plate. 

Focus on the quality of food you are consuming. Use lean protein options such as chicken breast, egg whites, protein shakes, and good fat options such as avocado, nuts, lean fish. consume complex carbs such as brown rice, broccoli, and more.

Your pre and post snack are important for meals while undergoing training. Fruit such as a banana or a peanut butter sandwich is a great option for a snack, which can help you to have extended training sessions.

Nutrition During The Race

You would definitely not want to run a triathlon with solid food in your stomach. It is therefore recommended to consume high-energy carb options such as gels and bars which serve as a fuel for your energy requirement.

During the bike leg, aim to consume gels and bars which can compensate for the 250 odd calorie requirement for an hour of cycling. You can adjust gel packets on the front end of your bike or keep them in your bottles.

You need to practice the skill of consuming nutrition while cycling as it can be a tedious task to maneuver your way through other cyclists and also keep up with your nutrition intake.

During the run leg, you need to take at least 100 calories an hour to sustain your athletic performance. Again, gels and bars are ideal options, but few people prefer using alternatives such as fruit, or even sandwiches or sweets to satiate their taste buds as gels can be non- appetizing at times.

Hydration Techniques For Triathlon  

Keeping your body hydrated is really essential for tired body cells to keep on with the pace of the race. Not hydrating properly during training is one of the main causes of fatigue, cramps, and heat strokes.

A good way to keep this in check is to drink whenever one is thirsty. For this, you need to have a bottle handy during the cycling and run leg of the race.

You should consider putting a  periodic timer to remind yourself to reach that water bottle during the race. Also, get familiar with practicing drinking from the bottle while on the bike. 

It is recommended to add a few packets of ORS in your bottle to keep your salt level in check as you will be sweating a lot during sessions. 

A pro tip is to be cautious about not consuming too much water while training as it can make you feel bloated and your stomach which will hamper your training badly.

Done with your training, let’s head to race day.

Triathlon Race Day Tips

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It’s that day of the year when all beginners, as well as advanced triathletes, get stomach aches in the morning. Race day is the day when you test your many many days of hard work.

To make sure everything goes well, we have got just the right tips for you to follow on race day.

Sleep Well The Night Before

You should not wake up on race day feeling sleep deprived and lacking energy which makes you feel fatigued. Wake at least three hours before the race begins or earlier, depending upon the distance of your stay from the race location.

Fuel Yourself Right 

Have the same breakfast you used to have during training. Focus on having a carb-centric meal with a good proportion of proteins and fats. Drink 1-2 glasses of water to maintain an optimum level of hydration also.

Your breakfast should ideally be consumed 2.5 hours before the race. However, do eat a carb-rich snack, say a granola bar 1.5 hours before the race starts.

Arriving The Race Location Early

You will have to slog your way through traffic at the parking lots as well as stand-in queues for collecting your race kits which include a timing chip, race belt, swim cap race number, and more.

You would want to reach the race location early so as to have enough time to get the race-ready after finishing the formalities.

Try to reach at least 2 hours before the race starts for your convenience. Make sure you perform dynamic stretches to warm up before the race.

Set Up Your Transition Spot

A lot of beginner triathletes have wasted many seconds in the transition area searching for their spot. This is because they are not able to orient themselves after coming out from the water.

A pro tip is to place a shiny piece of cloth, say a towel, or even a balloon that stands out from the rest as a sign of recognition. 

Let’s go over the steps of setting up a transition spot

  • Rack your bike against the rack number provided to you 
  • Place your helmet on the bike upside down so that you have easy access to it after you finish your swim
  • Spread out a cloth and lay out your running shoes, socks and any other clothing you are carrying.
  • Wear your timing chip.

Be Attentive To Instructions

Be ready for any changes made by the race authorities prior to the race. You might be informed of a slight alteration to the route which may happen due to unavoidable circumstances.

Make sure to stand with the group which is wearing the same color of swim cap as yours as the start in triathlon is usually in waves.

Be sure to follow wetsuit instructions provided by the organizers or briefings with respect to any time penalties or disqualification rules.

Paying attention to these details will help you to be mentally present for the race.

Conclusion

Congratulations, you have finished your first triathlon successfully and now, you may call yourself a triathlete. 

Cherish this feeling for a moment and then replenish yourself with more carbs and proteins.

You can have nonalcoholic beer to celebrate your achievement.

Now that you know what it takes to become a triathlete, look back at your journey and decide what will be your next feat.

Good luck!!

FAQs.

How to start training for a triathlon as a beginner?

As a beginner, you have to dedicate the first few weeks towards achieving a certain level of endurance and muscle strength. After the first few weeks, you can start sport-specific training which includes cycling, swimming, and running at least twice a week. You should also combine brick workouts, strength training and also assign a day for recovery every week for quality training.

what to eat when training for a triathlon?

you should focus on eating a diet rich in carbs, lean proteins, and good fats. Also, include a pre and post-workout snack. 50-60% of your calories should come out from carbs, 20-30% from proteins, and 15-20% from good fats.

What are “Jelly legs” exactly?

Imagine you want to control your legs through your muscular power but are not able to do so. “Jelly legs” is a feeling of loss of control on legs caused due to dizziness and rushing away of blood from the legs. It is a temporary sensation and subsides as soon as the blood flow is resumed.

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