Sprint Triathlons: The Possible Dream

It's possible--no matter how busy your life--to train for and compete in triathlons.<br><br><em>Credit: Sandra Mu/Getty Images</em>

As I look at the front tire on my racing bike, I discover that my twin 3-year-old sons have removed the bolt and spring that holds the wheel in place. In other words, I've trained for months, packed all my gear into my car, gotten up at 4:45 a.m. so that I could be here by 5:45, and it looks like I'm not going anywhere.

But the real question is: What's a slow, slightly overweight 46-year-old doing entering the Carlsbad (California) Triathlon?

When most people think of triathlons—events that combine swimming, bicycling, and running—they imagine Ironman contests of strength and endurance that originated in Hawaii and now take place all over the world. In an Ironman triathlon you swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and then run a full 26.2-mile marathon.

Yet many may not be aware that shorter-distance triathlons take place throughout the year in many parts of the world. The shortest triathlons are called "sprint-distance triathlons" and cover about a quarter of the ground of their much larger cousins. Typically, such events involve an ocean, lake, or river swim of a half mile; a bicycle ride of 15 to 20 miles; followed by a run of three to four miles.

A triathlon actually consists of five events—the swim, T1 (transition from swimwear to bike gear), the bicycle component of the race, T2 (transition from hiking to running), and the run. Books, websites, and magazines are devoted to showing the novice triathlete how to prepare for each of the three athletic portions of the race and for the transitions as well.

The Possible Dream

When I started triathlons, I had just turned 44. My wife and I had gotten married three years earlier and had subsequently produced a honeymoon baby girl and twin boys. As I do now, I owned my own business, a ghostwriting and coaching service. This meant that my time was my own so I could schedule my race training around my family and work responsibilities.

I mention family and work because I want to make a point. It's possible—no matter how busy your life—to train for and compete in triathlons. This is true even if you're starting at a relatively advanced age as I did. You don't have to be Olympics-bound either.

I've got more body fat on me than any 20 other triathletes. I'm also speed-challenged and tend to finish way in the back of the pack. But that's not the point. The simple fact is that I found it possible to train for, enter, and complete triathlons—and a couple marathons along the way—despite the fact that at first glance (and second and third), I don't have the time or body for that type of racing.

Triathlon Training

If you can find an hour a day for exercise, you've got all the time you need to prepare for a triathlon. The simplest schedule, recommended by many triathlon experts, is to alternate your training: Run, bike, swim, run, bike, swim, then rest on the seventh day.

They say that the hardest thing for a triathlete to do is take a day off because with three sports to master, you feel like you should always be out there doing something. But giving your body some downtime is absolutely essential.

Much of competing in a triathlon has to do with conservation of strength. When swimming, you need to know the most efficient ways to pull yourself through the water with your arms so you can save your legs for the hiking and running. On your bike, you need to know how to pull up with your legs instead of pumping down so you can save your running muscles for the run. It's quite exciting to get coached and learn the latest techniques in each of the three sports.

Another important triathlon technique is called "bricking," which means combining one or more activities in a single workout. You hit the pool, get in your laps, then jump on your bike. Or you start off your exercise session hiking, then transition to running; either outdoors—if weather permits—or on the treadmill. Bricking gives your body a chance to get used to the physical transitions you'll make on race day.

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