The Ultimate Guide to Training for Your First Triathlon

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You’ve long been a runner, but this year you’ve decided to get out of your comfort zone and train for your first triathlon. You’re starting with sprint distance: a half-mile swim, 12.5-mile bike ride, and a 3.1-mile run.

Thing is, you’re not quite sure where to start. Look no further! We’ll break down what you need to compete in your first triathlon, plus provide a few key workouts to get you started.

The Gear

Triathlon Basic Gear Guide

You don’t need a fancy time trial bike, GPS watch, or the latest matching kit. But, you do need a positive, can-do attitude and the willingness to have fun – and, a few essential pieces of gear to get you to the finish line.

Swimming Gear

First up: the swim. A stay-put swimsuit is a must (i.e. a bikini probably isn’t the best idea, ladies). You also need a pair of goggles and a swim cap, which can be found online or at your favorite fitness store or local triathlon shop.

Biking Gear

For the bike, well, you’ll need a bike. However, anything with two wheels will suffice. You definitely do not need a fancy triathlon bike with aero bars and clip-in pedals! My advice: Start with what you have; even a mountain bike – or a borrowed bike – will do the trick. And, if you find triathlons are your thing after your first couple races, then invest in a new bike.

Other bike must-haves: a helmet and tri shorts (the ones with the chamois; your butt will thank you). A bike jersey or tri top with back pockets is also pretty handy, though not absolutely necessary.

Running Gear

And, finally, the run. Your trusty running shoes are all you need, as most often, triathletes wear the same shorts throughout the entire race. Tri shorts have a thin chamois, so they’re not as uncomfortable to run in as you’d think (I did an Ironman in mine!).

The Training

The keys to training for your first triathlon – and successfully finishing it – are consistency, swimming, and brick workouts (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of bricks; I’ll explain the lingo shortly).

Consistency

As with most things, it takes time and consistent practice to get the hang of a triathlon. Keep at it, have fun, and remember that you GET to do this! Aim for two to three swims and bikes per week as well as three to four runs. They don’t have to be long workouts, but enough to get your body used to being active in all three disciplines.

Swimming

For some, swimming is the most nerve-wracking leg of a triathlon, so it’s important to get in the pool (or a lake) before race day to get familiar with the water and to calm your fears. To do so, aim for two to three swims each week starting 8-12 weeks prior to your race. If your race is an open water swim, be sure to practice in a lake prior to race day; it’s completely different than a pool!

Check out your local community center or university for a pool with lap swim hours. If you live in warmer climates, a lake works great; some cities even have group swims at local lakes. Remember, safety first: if you’re swimming in a lake, don’t swim alone!

The following swim workouts assume you can swim from one end of a 25-yard pool to the other and back again. Start swimming a couple months prior to your race, two or three times a week, and you’ll be set for race day.

Beginner Swim Workouts

Swim workout #1

Warm-up 10-minute freestyle*
Main set 6 x 50 yards, with 1:00 rest in between each
Cool down 10-minute freestyle

 

Swim workout #2

Warm-up 10-minute freestyle
Main set 10 x 50 yards, :30 rest in between each
Cool down 10-minute freestyle

 

Swim workout #3

Warm-up 10-minute freestyle
Main set 5 x 100 yards, with :30 rest in between
Cool down 10-minute freestyle

*Freestyle = front crawl

Brick Workouts

So, what is a brick workout? It’s when you swim and bike or bike and run back-to-back with a short transition between them, essentially simulating race day. Both are important to practice a few times prior to race day so your body – and your legs – get used to the quick transition. Fair warning: Your running legs after biking won’t feel like your normal running legs! They’ll most likely feel a bit heavy, and your pace may be slower than normal.

Brick workouts don’t have to be long – just enough for your muscles to adjust from swimming to biking and biking to running. And, as for frequency, once a week should suffice when training for a sprint triathlon.

These brick workouts can be done as is or modified throughout your training to be longer intervals. If you don’t have a bike at home, head to the gym for either a spin class or use a stationary bike and then hop on a treadmill for your transition run. If the weather is nice, get some sunshine, and bike and run outside.

Brick workout #1

Swim See swim workout #1 above
Bike 30 to 60 minutes

 

Brick workout #2

Bike 30 to 60 minutes
Run One to two miles at comfortable pace

 

Happy swimbikerunning, friends!

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Erin Klegstad is passionate about health, wellness and fitness, and spends her free time chasing iron{wo}man finish lines. Next up: Ironman Wisconsin 2014. She believes bike rides make every day better and that kindness can change the world. Find her on her yoga mat or drinking espresso when she’s not swimbikerunning. Erin is also the public relations manager at Anytime Fitness.

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