This Spring, Train for Your First Triathlon: Part 1

It’s March, spring is coming, and it’s time to shake off your winter blues and start training! If you want to train for your first triathlon, now is the time! It’s fun, it’s positive, and when you cross the finish line (no matter the distance) you’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

It can be really intimidating to start training for a tri, though. First of all, there’s the gear. Then there is the actual training. This week, we’re going to focus on the disciplines of triathlon and how to get started and feeling confident. Next week, we’ll go through the gear checklist.

Basic Tips for Training for Your First Triathlon

Start of the race - you'll be here in a few months!

1. Identify your goal. How much time do you have to train? What kind of prior experience you have? Most people start with training for a sprint triathlon, where you swim just under a half mile (750 meters), bike 14 miles (20 km) and run just over three miles (5 km.) The next distance up is an Olympic/International Distance, which is more time-consuming. To train safely, you should budget about three months to train for your first sprint and four and a half to train for your first Olympic Distance tri.

2. Find a tri club and pick a training plan. The best place to start with this is your local triathlon club! Tri clubs exist in most cities in the United States. Some are very structured and you follow a strict schedule, while others are more loosely-organized. Either way, this is a great way to make friends to train with, and to come up with a training plan. You’ll meet experienced triathletes who can share their plan with you and most likely the club will be affiliated with coaches who can help you with your plan. Or, search for plans on the internet. There are so many free ones available like this sprint plan from Tri Newbies, or this four-month Olympic Distance plan from Leon’s Triathlon. 

3. Get a coach. If you are participating in a highly-structured triathlon club, this isn’t necessarily what you need to do, but if you’re planning to train a lot on your own, it is a great idea to work with someone that can help you craft a plan based on your body. If you can’t afford it, no worries - you can totally still complete a triathlon! Coaching is also great for individual disciplines, particularly swimming. A lot of people haven’t been in a pool in a long time and are afraid to start tri training for that reason. Gyms have masters swimming classes and private lessons that will help you get back into the pool. When you start practicing open water swimming, be sure to go out with other people to stay safe and learn how to do it.

Core strength is an important part of your training regimen.
4. Join an awesome gym. You’ll be spending a lot of time training, so you might as well do it somewhere where you’re happy to be. It’s really convenient to have spin classes and a swimming pool in one place so that you can knock out two workouts in the same trip to the gym - and to have a home base and a group of supportive people cheering you on! Take advantage of the yoga classes a couple of times a week to stay stretched out, especially as your muscles tighten early in your training. Plus, once you're there, then there's really no excuse to work on core strength. ;)
5. Embrace the other disciplines. It’s more than swimming, biking, and running - there are a lot more other disciplines that are part of the mix. Triathletes call transition - the switch from swimming to biking, or biking to running - the fourth discipline of triathlon. You’ll want to practice quick changes before your race. But some other disciplines include hydration (you’ll want to up your water intake significantly during training), sleep (you’ll need as much as you can get, and will need to wisely plan your time if you’re waking up early in the morning), nutrition (no, training is not a license to eat all the crap that you want - you need to eat loads of fruits and veggies and treat your body like the Ferrari that it is), and strength training. Try to get in the gym at least twice a week to work on building your core strength. This will help you so much in the long run! 
6. Believe in yourself! This is the hardest part of starting anything at all! The first step to victory is having the self-motivation to start, the self-courage to walk into a room full of triathlete strangers and introduce yourself, and the self-determination to understand that you’ll become such a better athlete through your training. You’ll be amazed that in a few short months, you’ll be swimming better than you ever thought you were and crushing your old running times. The most important thing is to understand and believe that you are capable - because if you want to do it, you already are!

Cross the finish line feeling proud and strong!

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Catherine Trainor
Catherine Trainor