I firmly believe that anybody can do a triathlon, even if you haven’t worked out in years. All it takes is patience, willpower, squeezing some training into your lifestyle and a touch of insanity. How difficult is that? Once you align these equally important elements, the training will come easily.
First up you just need to start training. The key to this is simply scheduling it into your day. Set aside a certain time of your day, three to six days per week and call that time “An appointment with your workout.” Think of it as something as important as an appointment with your banker (keeping your life in order), doctor (keeping your health in order) or hairdresser (keeping you looking good). Typically for a sprint triathlon, you only need to train twice a week in each of the three sports. That is six days with one rest day, or you can have one day where you do two disciplines during a day, say a swim and then a run. Then four other days where you just do one training session per day. That will give you two days off per week.
Finally, join a local triathlon squad. You’ll not only meet some great people, but also get more tips and insights into the sport than I could never convey in this article.
You know what comes next: race day! When it comes to actually doing a race, it is important to enter the race knowing that the real challenge is not merely the swim, the cycle and the run, but also the logistics and organisation that comes with remembering all those elements. Things like forgetting where your bike is racked, how to take your wetsuit off or losing a water bottle on the bike can cost you valuable time. I actually have a friend (he’s Australian, which could explain it) who drove to a triathlon once, checked in, put on his wetsuit and then realised he’d left his bike at home! It sounds crazy, but it really is hard to be on top of all the elements, all the time. I’m not saying this to deter or overwhelm you. Just know that being organised and always using your brain is a great asset to a triathlon.
Race day does not have to be scary. These six tips will help you prepare and keep on top of things once the start gun goes off:
- Pre-race: A key element when you are preparing your transition area involves racking your bike. Count how many rows separate it from the swim and bike exits and mark it on the back of your hand. When you’re running from the swim or after your bike leg, count out loud how many rows you’ve passed until you reach your spot. It will make finding your spot easier amidst the hundreds of bikes. Yes, you will look like a crazy person who is talking to the back of their hand, whilst you run toward a bike with a confused expression on your face, but I reiterate: if you sign up to do triathlon don’t expect to maintain all of your sanity!
- Swim: During this leg, if you start panicking, don’t flip on your back and gasp for air. Instead, slow your swimming and concentrate on blowing bubbles in the water. You know how people tell you to breathe into a paper bag when you’re hyperventilating? Well, this is the aquatic equivalent.
- Swim exit: At the end of the swim, don’t stop swimming just because you see the bottom of the dam! Instead, swim until your fingers touch the ground, then push yourself up and exit the water. It’s much faster than trying to run through deep water and tripping over yourself. If you do trip over yourself, make it look intentional, as if it was faster to face plant than run daintily. It’s important to maintain your pride out of the water, because if it’s crushed so early in the race it will be a long bike and run!
- First transition: Once you’re out of the water and heading to T1, start thinking about avoiding penalties such as fumbling around with a helmet while you run in and out of transition. Make sure that as you get to your bike you take a breath and relax, take off your wetsuit (if you’re wearing one) and put on your helmet before you take your bike off the rack. The same goes when you get off the bike – wait until the bike is racked before you even think of unclipping your helmet.
- Bike: On the bike I would recommend keeping at least two bottles of water or whatever sports drink you prefer. Only use sports drink if you are used to it and have trained with it before (it’s important to not try anything new on race day). If in doubt stick to water! Though most people will only require one bottle for a sprint triathlon, it’s possible you may drop a bottle somewhere on the course and you’ll be thankful for a backup.
- Run: When you get to the run, stay in the moment. Don’t worry about what just happened or what is coming up. Focus on the here and now. You’ve come this far and got through all the tricky parts, now it’s a simple case of just running as hard as you can, letting your mind go and enjoying every second of it.
Once you have completed your first sprint triathlon, I can guarantee you’re going to feel the urge to graduate into a full on tri geek with every gadget and piece of material and technology you can get your excited hands on. But wait! Forget all the gadgets and just race a bit more. If you enjoy it there will be time to pick up those items.
More does not always equal better: too much gear, too much training, too much nutrition and too many races. There is going to be the temptation to go overboard with everything. Keep it simple. Often, less is actually more.
May your first sprint triathlon be a happy day out and may you keep coming back for more.