Beginning tri training, week 1: Take it slow -- you'll be hooked soon enough

Triathlons are cool, for a variety of reasons which I won't go into now. You'll find out soon enough. But starting out can be a drag.

So I'll make you a wager. Do 10 workouts. Even if you miss a workout, or two, or three, don't fret. Just do 10 total workouts. If after that you decide this is all a big pain in the ass, then fine. You gave it a shot. You can go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before. But just give me -- and yourself -- 10 workouts before you bail out.

It's no skin off my teeth whether you continue or not. You can convert to my religion of multisport or no, and it doesn't shake my faith in what I'm doing if you choose not to.

These workouts are for free, so if you stay or leave it makes no difference to me. The reason why I suggest sticking around for 10 workouts is that it is an achievable, reachable, goal. You can tick them off, and they'll go quickly: one, two, three ... nine, 10. Ten workouts is the point -- according to me -- that you'll have reached a point where your body will have acclimated, and you'll start looking forward to your next workout.

These workouts will be broken down into weekly segments. I don't care what days you choose to work out. You'll have "so many" runs per week, and "so many" swims, etc. You may have 6, or 8, or 10 workouts per week. You can choose to do them over four days, six days, or one day (although you might find that day a bit hectic).

Although it is not mandatory, my preference would be that you have one day off from training per week. That day should not be filled with activities that wear you down. Your day off should in general be a day in which you actually accomplish getting some rest.

Two elements will be included in every week's training: Mission, and Execution. By Mission I'm talking about that overarching theme behind the week's activity -- the week's "lesson," if you will. Execution refers to those workouts you'll specifically do.

And with that, let us commence ...

Week 1: Mission

I never served in the armed forces. As I was just about to become chronologically draftable the Vietnam War wound down and the draft was discontinued.

This reminds me of a story of a friend of a friend who, upon being asked if he wanted to go see Apocalypse Now in the theater (this was back in the '70s, of course), replied, "No, it's just too painful." My friend said, "I didn't know you served in the military." My friend's friend replied, "I didn't, but I almost had to."

This remains one of the most lamely funny comments I've ever heard, and if it describes how wimpy many in my generation had become, it is perhaps illustrative of the degree to which the mere thought of serving in the armed forces gave us the willies.

I obviously don't know whereof I speak, then, when I liken the first days of triathlon training to boot camp. I can only reach back to Gomer Pyle and No Time for Sergeants for reference. I must assume, though, that there is a lot of paperwork to fill out, lots of testing, and of course one must get fitted up for all that army garb: boots, fatigues, the helmet.

Likewise, getting your paraphernalia in order will be your mission this week. You've got to go out and do a lot of roadwork, just like the marines and the army. While you won't have to do it in stiff leather boots, you'll still have to take care of your puppy dogs. What can slow an army down more than bad feet? Same with a triathlete. There'll be no trench foot in this outfit.

What type of running shoes should you buy? I'll not tackle this here. But you need to make sure your shoes work for you. Your mission this week is to go out and find them.

Same with clothing. Go out and spend a buck or two and get into some running clothes that allow you to be prepared for whatever weather you're likely to face. This clothing doesn't have to be expensive, just functional.

Personally, I rely on layers, and I often use the same clothing for both running and cycling. That common clothing consists of (starting from inside and workout out):

Wife beater undershirts. My wife and I call them by this name because these are the tank-top-type undershirts you expect middle-aged redneck trailer trash guys to wear. These are great for helping keep your core torso temperature nicely regulated. I wear these both running and cycling when I've got to put something extra underneath either my cycling jersey or running T-shirt.

Tights: no need to have tights specifically made for cycling. a good stretchable tight will work for both running and cycling.

Vest: this is another layer type item. You need to make sure your core is kept nice and warm. If you get too warm, no harm done. Just take it off and stick it in your cycling jersey pocket, or under the waistband of whatever you're running in.

Arm warmers: I first became hip to arm warmers as a cyclist. But now I use them for a lot of my winter running. I prefer a very stretchy knit fabric arm warmer, like those made by De Feet. If it gets too hot, you just push them down toward your wrist.

Ear warmers: Again, I use the same ones for cycling and running. Just a stretchable ear band, three or so inches wide. I like a relatively thin, lighter-weight fabric, so I can fit my helmet over it.

Gloves: cheap cotton ones. You can buy them for $6 a pair and they'll have your favorite shoe company's name on them, or you can buy them from Home Depot or some similar place for $2 a pair and they won't say anything. Again, I use the same gloves for running or cycling (you may choose to wear cycling gloves for summer cycling).


Let's back up for a moment. I'm making some assumptions -- well, an assumption -- that you're ready for this, healthwise. You don't have to be Carl Lewis or Jackie Joyner-Kersee. But hey, look, you've got to be sensible.

What does sensible mean? I don't know. Can you do this kind of training if you've had a previous heart attack? Sure, on paper. In fact, one of those my wife coaches is a former heart attack victim, and you can read Tim Hampton's story (and about his experience being personally coached, if you want). But I obviously have no idea where along the gradient you are between perfect health and almost dead. Your doctor is the one to consult about a program like this.

Having said that, we'll start very slowly. In fact, we'll start with a 20-minute walk. We'll not even worry about cycling or swimming this week. We'll start with running, and, actually, "running" will begin with just putting one foot in front of the other in any way you can. What I want is for you to do the workout. Not hard. Not fast. Not a particular distance.

So. Assuming you're reasonably healthy -- as defined by your doctor -- my question is: Can you put one foot in front of the other for 20 consecutive minutes? Walk it. Jog it. Or a little of both. Your workout this week is to do that four times. Just put one foot in front of the other for 20 consecutive minutes four times this week. You can do it slowly, but you can't do it overly fast. That is against this week's rules. You should be able to hold a conversation during the entire 20 minutes. If you're too breathless to do that, you're going too fast.

If you're currently swimming, you may continue. But if you're not yet swimming or cycling, don't worry about either of those activities this week.

Swimming: None
Cycling: None
Running: 4 x 20 minutes

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