Signing up for your first triathlon is a great first step towards completing your goal! Now what can you do to get started? First off, come to the acceptance that you will not achieve perfection in your first race, nor will you (likely) break any records. I’ve seen far too many triathletes overshooting on their first few races, which results in pressure and anxiety and disappointment when they don’t measure up to their unreasonable goals. Your beginner triathlon training program does not need to be a struggle or a stressor!
Then there are those who have the opposite problem- they are afraid of being the last one to cross the finish line! If this is you, your key is to do the proper type of preparation so that there is almost no chance of this happening (since someone has to finish last, it’s not impossible, but if you follow the right plan, you will make the idea of finishing last very slim!). And, say you did finish last- you’re still ahead of those who didn’t finish at all- and those who didn’t even enter the race!
Not that there is anything wrong with not completing the race, going slow, or not achieving goals. When you can stop focusing on the “what if’s” and shift to getting out there and performing the best you can, you will enjoy yourself a lot more and likely even go faster with that improved attitude!
Pay close attention to the following tips on helping you with beginning triathlon training:
1. Practice how you race
If you enter a sprint distance event, train and practice for a sprint distance race. If you normally run a 9 minute/mile pace, don’t anticipate being able to maintain an 8 minute/mile pace or faster, during your race. Learn the distances of the race you have entered, and be sure to complete that distance when you practice. At this point, you can move on to improving your speed.
You will almost certainly experience some anxiety on the day of your race; there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. It’s important to be sure to use that nervous energy for your race, and not let it overwhelm you to the point of “choking”. An easy way to do this is to practice some mental imagery. Visualize your ideal performance. Also keep in mind the fun aspect! This is why you are doing this, competing is part of the deal, but try to keep it all in perspective.
If your race day is also the first time you train, the fun factor will be diminished considerably- unless you are already in top shape. Think of everything you will be doing during your race and practice it ahead of time. Think- getting in the water, swimming in a crowd, transitions, getting on/off your bike, changing a flat tire, and as you already know- the 3 disciplines you will need to complete.
4. Don’t change it up
If you haven’t done it in training, don’t try it on race day. This includes what you eat & drink, how you pace, the equipment you use, your stroke technique, etc. This is even a challenged for the more advanced level triathletes, constantly looking for a last minute advantage. However, the last minute stuff tends to lead to a subpar performance.
5. Expect mistakes
Here’s some news: You won’t have a perfect race and you will probably make mistakes. Just make sure you are ready for them and accept them and move on when they happen. If you get lost on the swim course, just re-collect yourself and aim towards the next buoy. If you go out too hard on the bike, just slow your pace a little before the run. Correcting mistakes is part of the game of triathlon racing, and not having a perfect race is something to embrace!
Starting out training for a triathlon can be overwhelming. There are so many things to learn. There are fears to overcome. And then there’s the training schedule! Here are 6 triathlon training tips for beginners that I consider essential to your training and your success at your first race:
1. Understand the course you will be competing on. If you can, do a practice run at the course itself. If that’s not possible, make sure to do two things on race day: study the map of the course, and warm up in the water so you’re not starting out cold! This will relieve a lot of the anxiety you may experience otherwise.
2. Get a few training buddies. You will need others to celebrate accomplishments with, and commiserate. Even if you just meet up once a week for a swim or run, it’s enough to keep you on track, find out what’s working well and what’s not for your friends, and keep you motivated.
3. If you’re wearing a wetsuit on the swim, practice in it! Wetsuits can be constricting and uncomfortable if you’re not used to wearing them. You don’t want any surprises on race day. So when you are practicing in the open water, wear your wetsuit. If you are strictly a pool swimmer, wear your wetsuit once a week.
4. Learn to change a flat tire. Hopefully you won’t have to do this in a sprint triathlon. But you may have to on a training ride. And you may be biking alone that day. Many bike shops have clinics to help you learn how to do this and other simple bike maintenance steps you may have to take.
5. Learn the proper way to run. I’m not saying you need to run a specific way in order to avoid injuries. But, learning about some of the popular methods out there like Chi Running and Pose Running will go a long way in helping you to understand what works for you and what doesn’t. Many triathletes and marathoners just assume that however they run right now is okay and won’t cause any problems. But before problems come up, it’s best to really explore running technique.
6. Don’t ignore nutrition. When you’re training a lot for an event, it’s easy to slip into the mode of “now it doesn’t matter what I eat because I’m training so hard!”. But this will no doubt get you in trouble. It’s important to keep up on healthy nutrition as you train. No doubt, you’re going to have the occasional “cheats”, but this is nothing to worry about- it’s when you are eating Clif bars for meals (or any other packaged food) that you might want to become conscious about your eating habits.
There certainly is a lot you need to know before you jump into your first triathlon. But it can be an experience of a lifetime and worth the effort…soon you may become “addicted” to the sport like so many others after doing their first race!