Training for your First Triathlon

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So here you are, wondering if you're CRAZY enough to start training for your first triathlon or to just learn how to run?

First, why?  Do you want to feel better about yourself?  Lose weight?  Gain confidence?  Or just because it would sound cool on your resume? (Believe me, it works.)

I firmly believe that anybody can run a triathlon...even if you haven't worked out in years.  All it takes is patience and willpower...you must make it a priority in your lifestyle.  Once you do this then the training will come easy.  In the words of Sally Edwards, Ironman competitor "...set aside a certain time of day, 3-6 days per week, and call that an appointment, an appointment with your workout.  It is just as important as an appointment with your banker, doctor or hair stylist."  Do you still find you may not have enough time?  Sally Edward also mentions that the minimum threshold for triathlon fitness is a minimum of three workouts per week, minimum 30 minutes each...that's six hours a month?   How often do you watch television a month, read or play on the internet?   You may find that you have more time than you think.

My first triathlon inspired my mother who is 59 years old to run her first.  After 2 months, she has lost 15 pounds, is starting to feel great and is getting a great, positive mental boost.  She has a long way to go, she hasn't worked out in decades and has another 15 pounds to lose...BUT so far, her whole lifestyle is better and healthier...go mom!!!

Determine Your Goals

Determine how long your first triathlon will be.  Starting your training for your first triathlon will all depend upon what your current aerobic levels are and what your goals are.  What distance do you want to do?  1/2 sprint, sprint or olympic?  A sprint length - 15miles total is a great first choice.  Training will allow you to build up endurance, shed some extra pounds, improve your health immensely AND will not take a lot of time out of your busy schedule.  If you are starting from scratch, I would recommend triathlons with total mileage between 15 to 20 miles.  This will allow you to 'test' yourself.  You will be able to get familiar with your technique in the two transition areas - T1 and T2, it will allow you to test your equipment PLUS you will have a good time since you will not be concerned with placing your first time.

I will focus on getting you through your first sprint program - 15 miles. 

Building A Base

Very important first step.  We can not just go out and run 5miles or swim a 1/2 mile to start with?  Our joints will fall apart!  We need to get our joints used to these new stresses that we will be putting on them.  Joints take longer to build up than aerobic stamina.  So we build a base.  A simple walk/run routine is best.  Check out the Running from Scratch Programs.  Overweight beginners may find that their knees hurt when starting a conservative running program.  NOT TO WORRY!  You may be better off starting with biking and shedding off some extra pounds before running.  Your joints will thank you.  It may also be very smart at this stage to start a high repetition strength training program to help strengthen your joints, muscles and tendons before getting serious.

Rule#1:  The most important rule is to follow the 10% rule.  Never go up in training distance or duration by more than 10% the following week.  If you do, you will be sorry.

Rule#2:  Always schedule a 'rest' week once a month.  One of the most important aspects to training is REST!  You can't keep going up by 10% every week - you will burn out.  You need a 30-50% decrease in duration/distance AND intensity for a whole week at least once a month.  Not to worry, you will not lose your base but will come back stronger. 

With these rules, you can easily come up with a routine in the run, bike, or swim. 

When building a base, try to do your single event training 3-4 times/week.

If you are new to training, focus on just either the run or the bike for 2-6months to build up your aerobic base.  You may find that starting all three sports at once will be too much.  Once you have focused on one event for 2-6months, then you may add the next/other one or two in with your training while ALWAYS following rules 1 and 2.

Here is a link for my Conservative and Aggressive programs to start a running program.

Swim, Bike and Run Training Plan

Once you have built a base, you can start training for all three sports.  Typically for a sprint triathlon, you only need to train twice a week in each of the three sports.  That is 6 days with one rest day.  OR you can have one day where you do two events, say a swim then a run.  Then four others days where you just do one training session per day.   That will give you two days off per week (my favorite). 

To make your training schedule, follow the Rules (1 and 2), and make a plan where you swim, bike and run two times/week.

For weak events, you may slip in a third day of training per week for that specific event to help.

Here is an example:

Week

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

Sun

1

Swim-X

Run-20

Off

Bike-X

Run-20

Swim-X

Off

Bike-X

2

Swim-X+10%

Run-22

Off

Bike-X+10%

Run-22

Swim-X+10%

Off

Bike-X+10%

Need help with swimming, see Getting Started With Swimming

Pre-Race Training - Final 13weeks

For the final 13week leading up to your sprint triathlon, go to Sprint Program

I recommend only one book to start your training whatever your current level is.  The book is Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals by Steven Jonas, M.D.  This is the best book for starting from scratch.  Steven Jonas does triathlons for fun, not professionally, so it is very easy to relate to.

Besides learning how to run or to train for a triathlon, weight or 'strength' training is important too.  Contrary to popular belief, you actually can lose weight on a lifting routine if you are serious and don't go to the gym for social hour.  This would consist of a routine with lots of reps - so as not to build a lot of muscle (lots of muscle is counter-productive for the serious triathlete) combined with a walk/jog routine.  This might be a smarter way to start-up than starting training for all three of the triathlon events at once.

Starting with a weight training program with the walk/jog routine will build up your bone density, strengthening your joints, getting your muscles awakened from their long sleep.  It will take a couple of months for your metabolism to 'reorganize' itself.  Your cells will take this period to reconfigure its bio-machinery: enzymatic pathways, energy systems, different metabolic pathways, etc...this is a big step to get used to - your body has probably been in hibernation for quite a while.  During this period you will feel sore, maybe worn out at times...you will probably not want to go back to the gym most of the time BUT if you can hold out for 2-3 months you will start feeling better, a lot less sore and you will start having confidence - getting that mental edge.  Once this happens, you will start gaining momentum in your workout and how you feel.  This feeling will auto-accelerate so you will want to go to the gym now!  If you don't go then you will feel 'drowsy' from doing nothing since doing nothing is allowing your metabolism to slow.  Not a good thing!!!

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date: November 6, 2004