Training for a Triathlon

Have you ever had the experience of striving for something and finding out down the road that you dont have the time, energy or motivation to follow through until completion? Or worse, you killed yourself physically, mentally and spiritually to accomplish a goal, only to realize that you didnt enjoy one single bit of it?

If you want to succeed in finishing your first triathlon or meeting some new time goals, youve got to set a realistic goal.

Everyone has a different definition of realistic, and what may be realistic for one person is totally insane for someone else. The trick is to determine a commitment level that will contribute to a balanced lifestyle without too much stress. Most people can train for an Olympic-distance triathlon while balancing other obligations. But if you have your sights on a half or full Ironman-distance race, expect it to take the large majority of your free time for several months.

With that in mind, lets move forward with some triathlon tips and training schedules that will help you succeed in triathlon.

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Decide on the right distance for you

Dont make the mistake of setting your race goal too high above your current fitness level, especially if your base training has been minimal. (Base training is a term that describes a fitness foundation of regular aerobic exercise in an endurance sport over an extended period of time.)

Are you willing to put in the training that is required before attempting a sprint- or Olympic-distance triathlon? If not, what about a relay? If you have a specific race youd like to finish, do you have enough time to train? For example, if you come from a running background, but your longest run this year has been six miles and your cycling and swimming have been nil, a half-Ironman race in the next couple of months isnt very realistic.

Besides your current fitness, consider how much time you have to train, how training will affect your family life, career or both. While a sprint distance requires a relatively small amount of training, training for an Ironman can be like taking on another full-time job.

Set your sights on a specific race

Now comes the moment for you to put it all on the line and choose a specific race as your triathlon goal. Check the race calendar at the back of MetroSports for a list of multisport events in your area.

Some things you should look for when reviewing races:

How long has the race been around?

Is it USA Triathlon sanctioned? (This isnt absolutely necessary, but most good races are.)

Try to find other athletes who have completed the race. What do they have to say about it? Is it a course thats suited to you?

Are you comfortable where the swim course is being held? Are you prepared to be swimming in a lake with lots of other people around you?

Are there aid stations on the course?

Whats the race application fee?

Are there any postrace food and activities?

Is there overnight lodging in the area?

Ideally, you should be looking for a race that gives you ample time to get up to speed. Dont plan for a race that will rush your training. Thats the surest way to get injured or stressed or both. Remember, you should also enjoy your training. The race will only last a couple of hours, but youll be spending months of time training for it. Dont treat it as something you have to get through.

If youre new to the sport, its best that you keep things as simple as possible. Local events within driving distance are better than having to deal with air travel and taking apart your bike to fit into a bicycle case. (Although the multisport air travel vacation is a great little getaway ideal for the veteran, its not the best choice for the beginner.)

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Decide what you would like to accomplish

There are three reasons to race: to finish, to improve or to win. Unless youre a professional athlete or top age-grouper, your goal will likely be to finish or improve upon previous finishing times. Ask yourself, Is this a race I just want to finish, or am I willing to put in the necessary higher level of training to set a personal best?

If your next triathlon will be your first, you may simply want to set a goal of finishing comfortably. By taking this approach, youll take a lot of pressure off yourselfexpectations coming from within or from othersconcerning some preconceived notion of performance. Youve got enough to worry about with your first race; dont create undo tension by demanding that you cross the finish line at a set time.

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Tips for each sport

Whether you come from a background in running, biking or swimming, youll have one sport where youll feel more comfortable. The tendency is stick to the sport youre good at, and just get by in the others. You can finish a race this way, but youll have more fun (and do better) if you try to improve your techniques in your weaker sports. Running: While running may sound like the easiest sport, at least when it comes to technique, if you dont come from a running background, it can be tough to train for the 5K or 10K in a triathlon. The best advice is to take things slow. Dont worry about distance when youre starting. Shoot for running by timesay 20 or 30 minutes. If you cant run that far, just keep moving, even if it means walking. Youll eventually be able to run the entire distance.

Dont increase your mileage too drastically. The general rule of thumb is to avoid increasing your mileage more than 10 percent a week. Overtraining is the No. 1 cause of injuries in running.

Once youre comfortable running 45 minutes to an hour, you can start running tempo runs, which are shorter runs at your projected race pace.

Biking: The key to a good bike leg is to spend lots of time on your bike. Sounds easy, but this is the leg that many people neglect. Try to mix in a long, easy ride with a shorter ride followed by a short run each week. Just remember to bring along plenty of energy bars and wateryoull need to refuel on longer rides.

Swimming: While swimming can be one of the most intimidating parts of a triathlon for many athletes, it can actually become one of the easier legs with some practice. But unlike running and cycling, learning to swim well requires a much greater emphasis on technique than endurance. If youre not a good swimmer, get some help in learning how to swim correctly. Join a masters swim program or take a class. There are also swim videos and books that can help you learn the correct technique. (Terry Laughlin offers some of the best. You can find out more about him at www.totalimmersion.net.) Once you get some guidance, spend a significant amount of your swim time practicing drills, rather than swimming endless laps. Your endurance will come with time, and the drills will do wonders to make you a better swimmer.

For most novice swimmers, the toughest part of a triathlon is adjusting to an open-water swim. And that can be difficult for first-timers. Chances are youll be crowded, bumped or kicked during the course. The key is to remain calm and try to stay in your stroke at your own pace. If youre not a strong swimmer, stay in the back of your starting group. Of course, that doesnt help when the next wave of triathletes comes swimming past you, so if you want to avoid crowds, stick to the least-traveled part of the swim course.

Many smaller triathlons have the swim leg in a pool, which is a good place for beginners to start. If your first triathlon is not in a pool, try to do some swimming in that body of water beforehand so you can get a feel for what it will be like.

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Sample Training Schedules

The following is some sample workout schedules for both the sprint-distance and the longer Olympic-distance triathlons. Youll notice that brick workouts play a large part in the schedule. These are workouts where you transition from one sport to another, simulating what you might go through in a race from the swim to the bike or from the bike to the run.

These training templates are loosely based on the key workout method pioneered by eight-time Ironman triathlon champion Paula Newby-Fraser. If youre interested in not just finishing a triathlon, but doing well, this approach includes one workout in each sport that is specifically designed to improve your overall performance by simulating race conditions or building endurance.

Youll also find some workouts are optional. Gauge how you feel on those days. If there are signs of overtrainingelevated heart rate, moodiness, fatigue and sensitivity to lightback off and take a recovery day. n

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John M. Mora is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He is co-author of Paula Newby-Frasers Peak Fitness for Women and author of Triathlon 101. Hes competed in triathlons from sprint to Ironman distance.

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Sample Training for Sprint-Distance Race (.75k swim, 22k bike and a 5k run)

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Swimming Cycling Running

Mon Off Off Off

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Tue Brick 1 Brick 2

500-yard, open-water swim 30 minutes of easy spinning Off

with transition to bike

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Wed Practice swimming drills Off 15 minutes of easy running

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Thu Off Key workout Off

30-minute time-trial ride at

or near race pace

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Fri 400-meter easy swim and (optional) 20 minute tempo run

drill sets 10 miles of easy spinning

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Sat Practice swimming drill Off Off

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Sun Off Brick 1

45-minute easy ride followed by Brick 2

an immediate transition to the 30-minute tempo run

run workout.

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Sample Training for Olympic-Distance Race (1.5k swim, 40k bike and a 10k run)

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Swimming Cycling Running

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Mon Off Off Off

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Tue Brick 1 Brick 2

1,000 yard open-water swim 45 minutes of easy spinning Off

with transition to bike

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Wed 40 minutes of drill practice Off 25 minutes of easy running

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Thu Off Key workout Off

45-minute to 1-hour time-trial ride

at or near race pace

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Fri 800 meters easy swim (optional) 30 minute tempo run

and drill sets 15 miles of easy spinning

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Sat 30 minutes of drill practice Off Off

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Sun Off Brick 1 Brick 2

45-minute hilly or fast-paced 30-minute easy run

ride followed by an immediate

transition to the Brick 2

run workout.

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