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The unison of three elements – each esteemed as physically demanding sports in their own right – into one gruelling event was once considered bizarre. Why would anyone, except an endurance junkie, volunteer to put themselves through such torture? Now, however, the triathlon event experiences worldwide popularity as men and women alike enjoy the opportunity to undertake three different sports during one race in a rewarding fitness test.
Though perhaps intimidating, as a first-time triathlete there is no reason to panic because even if your fitness levels are not something to shout about, training for this superb event is easier than you might think. With zero fitness, you can be ready for your first triathlon in just 12 weeks and if exercise isn’t wholly unfamiliar, this period can be reduced to an 8 week training schedule.
As a beginner, it is crucial that you determine your goals. Identify the reasons why you chose to undertake a triathlon because it’s likely that you’ll need to remind yourself of them over the coming weeks when your muscles are aching or you simply just do not want to go for another run in the rain! Whether you’re looking to improve your fitness, enhance your lifestyle, shed some pounds or build endurance, your resolve will be tested on occasion. To this end, a sprint triathlon makes for a good first choice. Whereas the Olympic distance triathlon involves a 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run, the sprint alternative comes in under 26km total distance. The 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run will allow you to test yourself and become familiar with the transition techniques without demanding alterations to your life schedule.
During the race, the average participant spends about a fifth of the total race duration in the water swimming, half on the bike, and approximately 30% of the total race duration running. As a result, your training should be based around these distributions and each week, you should try to do equal numbers of swim, bike and run workouts. Training twice a week in each of the three sports culminates in 6 days with one rest day, but your bike workouts should be longer (45mins-1hr) and your swims shorter (20-30mins). As you get fitter, you might choose to do two events back to back, e.g. a swim then a run, which should enable you to take a second day off per week.
If you notice that you’re weak in one of the elements, it’s very important to attribute more training time to it. Though it’s much easier to spend time on things we’re good at, you’ll be thankful on race day if you’ve slipped in a third day of training per week for that specific element!
Where to begin your training in terms of distance and pace will totally depend on your fitness levels. However, regardless of where you start – albeit a gentle 3k or a familiar well-paced 5k – you should increase the workload gradually in accordance with the amount of time you have before your race, ALWAYS allowing for recovery time. If you do not factor in rest days, it will be detrimental to your overall schedule because you will burn out. Building is base is a very smart step and it is incredibly important to follow the 10% rule. Never increase training distance or duration by more than 10% the following week.
Basic equipment is required for your first triathlon but it doesn’t have to be expensive and it can always be borrowed. It’s easy to get swept along and buy a load of brand new kit but until you know that you actually enjoy participating in triathlons and the active lifestyle entailed, resist in spending tons of money! We had a think and decided on the essentials below:
• Swimsuit, goggles, cap (for long hair)
• A bike that fits you and is in good shape whether it’s a road or mountain bike
• Decent cycling shorts will make all the difference and can prevent saddle sores
• A water bottle that doesn’t leak and fits your bike
• Invest in running shoes…they need to fit your feet and to be made for running. A local running store will be able to help you with this.
• Bilateral – Breathing on both sides rather than just your preferred side
• Brick – A combination workout that involves a run straight after a bike ride. Going straight on the treadmill after the bike is a good indoor gym workout.
• Cadence – Revolutions per minute (rpm); how quickly your legs go on the bike. Cycling at a cadence of 80-95 makes for a good efficient average.
• DNF/DNR/DNS/DQ – Did not finish/did not race/did not start/disqualified (We don’t want to see any of these!)
• Drafting – Process by which one participant follows directly behind another. The participant that is doing the drafting gains an advantage by doing less work but travelling at the same speed as the lead participant. Drafting is normally illegal on the bike but never illegal during the swim. All world-cup events are draft legal.
• Gearing – Combination of the front chainrings (1,2 or 3 of them) and the rear cassette which is a cluster of cogs numbering between 5 and 10. The bigger the chainring on the front the larger the gear and the harder to pedal, the bigger the cassette at the rear and the smaller the gear and easier to pedal it becomes.
• Goodie Bag (important!) – The bag of free treats, coupons, stuff etc that you pick up with your race packet.
• Interval Training – Any cardiovascular workout (biking, running, rowing etc) that involves brief bouts at near-maximum exertion broken up with periods of lower-intensity activity
• Lactic Acid – Formed from glucose and used by working muscles for energy. Muscle cells convert glucose to lactic acid which is then absorbed and converted to a fuel by mitochondria in muscle cells. Lactic acid is what causes muscle soreness.
• NPSB – Non-Preferred Side Breathing = breathing on the side you find most difficult. It’s important to breathe out underwater before lifting your head. Don’t bring the lower eye above the water.
• Negative split – Finish the second half of a workout/race faster than the first half
• Race Packet – The packet you receive before starting that has your number, swim cap, chip etc
• Stroke Count – Counting the number of strokes each length (typically 25m) takes. As you become more efficient you take less strokes and go faster.
• Split – Your time for a portion of your race or workout. E.g. your km splits in a 5km race are your time for each individual km
• T1 – Transition 1; change area between swim and bike
• T2 – Transition 2; change area between bike and run
• Time Trial – An exact distance raced against the clock to help find out how fast and well-paced you really swim.
• Transition Area – Where a triathlete keeps belongings (wetsuit, bike etc) during the race. The area is part of the race course and after finishing the swim, you must run to the transition area where you will then mount your bike for the second leg. Before the run, you dismount your bike and leave it in the same transition area.