Intro Into Triathlon Training

author : smeeko
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After running track in high school and college I felt burned out. I almost quit running. Then a friend talked me into biking with him. It was 1994. That’s when I bought a used road bike. Then I moved to the US, I got married and my wife asked me to swim with her. Unfortunately I had never swum before.   For the past 3 years I have been competing in local sprints triathlons and I have always finished in the top 10% or better.

This is how I got into triathlon. If I did it almost anybody can do it.

At first triathlon training may seem scary and that is why I will try to summarize a few tips for whoever wants to try and get their feet wet with triathlon. I can assure you that you will be hooked.

  •     The benefits of cross training that triathlon offers are, in my opinion, incredible. Not only you can’t find an excuse not to exercise when the weather outside is inclement, but triathlon training will also reduce your overall running related injury potential; In fact alternating biking and running will help develop all muscle groups in your legs making you a stronger runner. Swimming will make you more limber and develop your upper muscles and increase your lung capacity. You will want to do some weight work too to strengthen the upper muscles that may “have suffered” from years of neglecting by your running (or biking) habits.  Your cardiovascular capacity will improve, because you will be able, if you want to, to work out harder two or three days in a row, just because you will be exercising different muscles. Also, the feeling and difficulty associated with running right after a long bike ride will make stronger not only physically but mentally too.
  •      But if you do not own a bike or know how to swim, what should you do? I learned to swim by myself, just by watching others and following the Total Immersion methods (see their website and books).  I never took formal private swimming classes, although if you have the time and money for that, I would recommend it. Swimming is highly technical and learning the appropriate technique is fundamental.  This year for the first time I joined a local master swim team. I am still in one of the slowest lanes, but my swim times have dramatically improved.  You should probably plan to make your first race one that involves swimming in a pool, rather than open water. Once you are comfortable with the swimming “thing” you can attack the open water.
  •     As far as the bike you don’t need anything fancy. Many people race in local triathlons with mountain bikes, although a good road bike will make you much faster. Or just mount slick tires on your mountain bike if you just want to give “tri a try”.  I am still racing with the bike I bought 9 years ago, when my friend pushed me… I have added aero bars and I am only now considering an upgrade to a real triathlon bike.  If you add aero bars to your bike, be sure to practice using them before a race. An empty parking lot is the perfect place to get familiar with them.
  •     As far as training: for the bike you should be using the same principles that you use for running: hills, repeats, long rides alternated to short rides.   For swimming try concentrating on technique until you can swim comfortably freestyle for at least 500 yards.
  •     If you just want to try a short triathlon you don’t need to invest hours and hours either. I would start with 2 running workouts+1 swimming+1 biking a week. You can increase or change the basic schedule I outlined, based on your availability and on your weakest sport. For example if you already are a very strong runner, you should cycle twice a week and only run once.
  •      Nutrition is an important part of triathlon, because in general triathlons are long events. Even for a sprint distance triathlon you should expect to be “sweating” for at least one hour.  Basic guidelines are to consume about 30-60 grams of carbos per hour of exercise and drink 5-8 ounces of water every twenty minutes.  There are many kinds of solids, gels, and liquids that can provide the appropriate replenishment nutrients. Experiment with them during training to see which ones your body prefers. I prefer to stick with liquids and gels, because my stomach does not like solids much when it is exercising hard.  Also, you don’t necessarily need to buy expensive supplements. I often use pure honey packets (those you get at your local coffee shop) instead of expensive gels. Don’t drink frozen cold water while exercising. Room temperature water may not taste great, but it is less likely to give you an upset stomach while running or biking, plus it takes your body less energy to assimilate it than cold water.

 There are many more aspects to triathlon that makes it an interesting sport: transitions, gears, bike repairs, open water and wetsuits, brick workouts, 5AM swim workouts, schedule fitting, priority setting…  Contact me or search for a local triathlon team if you need more directions.  But before you start make sure you decide to have fun. After all, triathlon is just a sport. Your body and your family at home will thank you for that.

Enrico Contolini

Triathlete and ACE Certified Personal Trainer


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date: August 31, 2004



family, God, triathlon, nutrition, mountains, geography, astronomy, computers, tennis, pro-life work



family, God, triathlon, nutrition, mountains, geography, astronomy, computers, tennis, pro-life work

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