Looking back on my first mini triathlon (also known as a sprint triathlon) in 1983 I can honestly say I didn’t have a clue. Of course the sport was so young then, very few people did. Training for a mini triathlon can be fun and rewarding, but a little preparation is crucial before you set out.
I knew triathlons entailed swimming, cycling and running but that was about it. And frankly, I wasn’t even sure about the order of the events. Made sense to me that the swim would be last (which it is in some events) because you’d have a chance to cool off after a hard bike ride and run!
I’ve learned a lot since then and of course there is lot more information available to “would-be” triathletes than there was then. So, how would I train for a mini triathlon now if I didn’t have any experience? Here are 4 tips that I recommend:
1. Since the swim is what worries most newbies perhaps the best place to start is either with swim lessons (if your swimming is terrible) or join a master’s swim group. Swimming, more than cycling and running, depends on good form so if you start with good form, you can build the strength and endurance easily.
2. While you see all kinds of bikes out on the course in local mini triathlons it’s really best to get a good one. Yes, you can spend upwards of $20,000 on a fully decked-out bike but it isn’t necessary. Go to your local bike shop and ask if they work with triathletes. If they do, ask them about bike brands and size for you. Scour the internet and get a good used bike. THEN, take your bike back to the same shop for a thorough tune-up.
3. Doing well on the bike is all about getting miles in your legs. Personally, I love my CompuTrainer, but a simple bike trainer can work well too. Do at least two sessions of at least 30 minutes on your trainer each week and one on the road – which should be your longest effort (between one and two hours).
4. Be careful doing too much or running with too much intensity in the beginning. This is where many triathletes get injured. Yes, you want to go out and tear up the world but there is a huge risk to this. Start easy if needed and walk/run if you have to – there’s no shame in it. As your running fitness improves slowly increase the intensity and distance. You don’t need to go long. 30 minutes to an hour and a half at an easy pace is quite enough.
Beyond that you should absorb lots of information. There’s a ton of it out there now whether it’s websites, magazines, or fellow triathletes. Talk to everyone. Volunteer at a local race. You’ll begin to build your own opinions, and confidence. Pretty soon race day will be here- and you’ll be ready to roll!
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!
Forget about equipment, stroke technique, going fast, or transitions. The most important part of preparing for doing a sprint distance triathlon will be your training plan itself. A solid triathlon training plan for a sprint triathlon will have you moving in the right direction, so to speak, from day one onward. So how do you develop a “solid” plan when there is so much noise out there about the best way to train for this sport?
First of all, take into consideration where you are starting from. Are you currently exercising several days a week, and want a new challenge? Or, are you a couch potato that needs to learn how to swim and ramp up your activity level slowly?
If you are in good shape already, and know the basics of swimming, you will have no problem jumping in to a training schedule. Often times, this will consist of about 9-12 weeks, where you are swimming, biking, and running 3 times per week each. For a sprint, the race distances can vary. However, by the time your race is upon you, you should be able to do each distance of the race on consecutive days. For example, if your race is a 500 meter swim, 20k bike, and 5k run, do the swim on Monday, the bike Tuesday, and the run Wednesday. If you are currently at a point where you haven’t exercised much in a while, and entering a triathlon was a move you made to force yourself to get into better shape, you definitely made a good decision! Your training plan will be a little different, however. Instead of starting with running, just start walking every day. After a week or so, jog a little bit. Slowly increase your pace until you can easily run a couple miles without a problem.
Same thing will apply to biking. You may be able to go for longer sooner, but don’t be tempted to overdo it!
The swim is another story. If you are not used to swimming, or don’t know how to swim, don’t be embarrassed to take it from the beginning. Learn to submerge your face and blow bubbles. Seriously! In my years of coaching, I have come across many true beginners that need to start at this basic level. The good thing about a sprint triathlon is that you don’t have to go very far in the water. So, move from the basic swimming skills to balancing in the water. Once you have balance, you can survive a typical sprint swim distance- even if you are going super slow. In general, your plan should look something like this: Monday: Swim Tuesday: Bike and Run Wednesday: Swim Thursday: Bike & Run Friday: Swim Saturday: Bike Sunday: Run
You can always double up on some days if you want a day off each week.
So there you have your sprint triathlon training plan for your next race! Stick with it, be consistent, and you will most likely be satisfied with your results on race day.
Are you planning on doing a sprint triathlon this year but are new to the sport? Have you done one in the past and want to improve on your time, or your place? Sprint triathlon training can be a little confusing at first, but there are a few things that can get you off to the right start, making sure you are doing all the right things. Here are 5 tips to training for a sprint triathlon to get you on the right track:
1. List out on a piece of paper all the reasons you are setting out to train for this race. I know this tip is a little out there, but if you have your reasons on paper, your motivation will remain high. And without motivation, your training will fall off and you will be in the back of the pack, and/or in pain at your race.
2. Start with a plan. Map out your training. You may miss a workout here or there, but putting everything down on to some kind of schedule will keep you on track for the most part. With this plan, make sure to put the days and times you will be training for each discipline, as well as your goals overall.
3. Get the RIGHT gear (but keep it minimal). With triathlon, it’s tempting to go out and get a lot of really cool gear when you get started. But this is foolish for a few reasons. First, you don’t know how long you will be in the sport. Why waste the money? Second, since you’re not sure what exactly you need yet, you may buy things you don’t need. You will learn as you go. Third, top gear won’t do much for you if you’re in the early stages of racing. Stick with the basics- swim suit, googles, tri-bike, helmet, short and running shoes. You may want a watch to keep track of your time, but let’s save getting fancy for later!
4. Make sure to warm up for each workout you do, and for your race. One huge mistake people make is that they think they’re in good enough shape to just blast out a workout or race, and they end up getting injured. We all need a good warm up. Make sure you don’t fall into “groupthink” here if everyone else seems to be jumping full on into their workouts without warming up.
5. Become very familiar with your bike. Get a bike fit as soon as possible, and make sure it’s the right size for you. Take a clinic on bikes if you’re not familiar with them. It’s a great idea to learn how to change a tire, and how to do minimal repairs and adjustments that you may need to know as you go out on your training rides.
Sprint triathlon training can be fun, and rewarding. By following the tips above, you should be able to cruise to a nice finish in your first race- or beat your best time this coming year.