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Beginner Triathlon Training Basics
A triathlon consists of three events: swimming, biking, and running. If you don't train properly, you can add soiling yourself (my favorite event), embarrassing your family (my best event), and cranking your testicles (my least favorite event) on the handlebars of your bike.
If you've never done a triathlon, start with the sprint distance (take my word for it), unless you're a well-seasoned ultramarathoner, in which case, I've got nothing for you.
Sprint triathlon distances vary. Most include a 500 meter swim (20 laps at the athletic club pool), a 10-mile bike ride, and a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) run. Although your sprint triathlon training doesn't necessarily need to provide a workout encompassing all three events at the full distance during the same workout, you should be able to do all three comfortably in separate workouts.
I guess this would be a good time for the "I am not a doctor. I am a writer who happens to do triathlons in my spare time and feels like sharing suggestions with others who are bored or fat and want to do something about it. I cannot possibly be held accountable for any injuries you suffer because of your own stupidity" disclaimer. I'm also supposed to tell you that before starting any exercise program...blah..blah...blah and if you feel faint or dizzy..."
You get the point.
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Beginner Triathlon Training: The Swim
For most neophyte triathletes, swimming is the most intimidating of the three events and the one most likely to kill you if you don't have common sense. Notwithstanding the short distance, 500 meters, your sprint triathlon training must incorporate swimming. Here are some suggestions.
- Start by swimming laps. Focus on technique. Swim for a specific amount of time. Worry about distance later. Once or twice a week for twenty minutes is sufficient. The actual swim on race day will be much less.
- Swim at least once or twice in race-like conditions. If the swim on race day is in a lake, you should prepare by swimming in a lake. Bring a buddy, preferably one who knows how to swim, so you won't drown.
- Wear goggles and a swim cap. Caps are mandatory and provided at most races. Goggles aren't, but you're a lot less likely to get kicked in the nose if you're wearing goggles.
- Find out water temperature. Wet suits are allowed if the water temperature is below 78 degrees. Unless it's below 65 degrees, tough it out. It's only 500 meters. Practice swimming in a wet suit if you plan on wearing one (it's not that hard).
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Beginner Triathlon Training: The Bike
- Get a road bike. Racing with a mountain bike is the equivalent of running in dress shoes. Not only will you be much slower, people will make fun of you as they zoom by.
- Accessorize. Wear a helmet (it's required). Have at least one water bottle holder. Put a water bottle in the water bottle holder. Put water in the water bottle. A small bag strapped on to the bike frame comes in handy for carrying energy food or performance enhancing drugs (that's a joke).
- Get used to common bike discomforts. Certain parts of the body go numb if you're not used to riding (guys, you know what I mean). Get used to riding. Find ways to alleviate discomfort.
- Include hills in your training. Hills are hard to ride up and can be dangerous going down. Most triathlon bike courses contain hills.
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Beginner Triathlon Training: The Run
Since most triathletes already have a running background, this is the easiest part of sprint triathlon training. Don't, however, get overconfident.
- Train for the transition. Don't assume that running a 5k is the same as running a 5k immediately after riding a bike for 10 miles. An easy way to train is to run immediately after every bike ride. Something as little as a quarter-mile will get the legs used to going from one event to the next.
- Mix in some hills. Once again, most triathlon running courses incorporate hills. Even if they don't, running on hills builds strength.
- Run farther than 3.1 miles in training. A sprint triathlon can take anywhere from 1-2 hours. You need to have it firmly entrenched in your mind that you can finish the run no matter how tired you are.