Multisport: 'Cross-training with a finish line'

Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
Traditionally, the term "multisport event" has been used to describe biathlons and triathlons. Now, too, we can include adventure racing in the mix, as it encompasses many sports in one event.

To most people who have never participated in a multisport event, even the idea is rather daunting. Those of you out there who are single-sport athletes, going about your usual training in running or swimming (or whatever your sport), may not have thought of this: you are, most likely, a multisport athlete already.

"The training is not that complicated," says Jay Marschall, an accomplished Atlanta athlete who has raced more than 250 multisport races, including seven Ironman events, since 1987. "It's just cross training with a finish line at the end. People go to the gym and run on a treadmill for 20 minutes and then cross over to the stationary bike for half an hour all the time. This is the same thing."

Though everyone begins at a different fitness level, a single-sport athlete in relatively good shape can train for a multisport race in as little as 90 days.

"My advice is to get some instruction and do things right from the start," Marschall says. "Even if you only talk with a coach for an hour to get some guidance. It's better to stop mistakes before they happen."

Two sports, many formats

Biathlons follow various formats, depending on the race. Most beginner races are made up of a bike ride sandwiched between two short runs. For example, the race may start with a two-mile run, then a 10- to 15-mile bike ride, and end with another two-mile run.

Beginning runners often are intimidated by the race because it can be painful. If you're out of shape or overweight, it's difficult to start running.

"[Running is] hard on your legs and joints," Marschall says. "On the other hand, it's an easy sport to get involved in because all you need is a pair of good running shoes."

The majority of a biathlon is spent on a bike. Though training on a stationary bike is OK in the beginning, it's important to train outside and become comfortable on the road.

"If all you're doing is riding a stationary bike, you're going to get hurt when you take the bike on the road. You should train the way you're going to be racing," says Marschall, of both running and cycling. "You don't want to get in the race and experience something for the first time. You want this to be a good experience that ends with a smile on your face not scars on your hip."

Unleash the triathlete in you

Most people whove thought of entering a triathlon but whove been a bit fearful would probably tell you its the swimming thats kept them from doing it. It is the most technique-intensive part of the event and people find that it can be intimidating when youre in open water in a crowd of people.

For this reason, it is important for first-time triathletes to choose a race catered toward beginners.

Like the biathlon, the triathlon also follows a variety of formats, but incorporates three events instead of two: running, biking and swimming. Many beginner triathlons have a trial start in the swimming event: Racers line up in the water and one is sent off every five seconds.

Mass starts are more likely to intimidate first-timers, with racers swimming on top of one another and fighting for position.

"The two things that can make a triathlon event a bad experience are if you freak out in the water or get in a wreck on the bike," Marschall says.

Test your threshold for pain

If youve never participated in an adventure race, and you think youve experienced intense, think again. Adventure races generally comprise coed teams that race through nature and its terrain in a variety of events. Most races include three or more of the following: trail running, canoeing or kayaking, skydiving, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting and horseback riding.

Most include at least a couple, if not all, of the events in the format of mystery events: Teams are not told until just before a race what will be included. The point of an adventure race: the first team to reach the finish line wins.

Most races are multi-day, nonstop races that range from four to 10 days. Most require sleep deprivation. For the first-timer, there are sprint adventure races that last from four to eight hours. Also, "weekender" races are becoming very popular, as they are still a multiday race but allow you to sleep at night. The weekender races typically run from 20 to 60 hours.

Because the teams dont know in advance what they will be faced with in a particular race, training for an adventure race can be much more complicated than training for the traditional multisport events. It is best to consult an adventure racing coach or training group for tips prior to beginning a training program.

Training for a multisport event requires dedication and targeted, hard work. Most multisport athletes will tell you these two things: its worth the feeling of accomplishment, and the high is addictive.

Tips for multisport training

1. Generally, the minimum required when training for a multisport event is two workouts per week in each event. For the first three weeks, follow a five-day schedule. Alternate a running workout and biking workout each day with a bike/run transition day once a week to get used to "rubber legs." For triathlon training, add a swim on the two to three days that you run.

2. During the following two weeks, increase both the distance and intensity of your workouts, making sure to accomplish more than the distance of the event once a week in each sport.

3. During weeks seven and eight, increase the intensity of your training and try to simulate actual race conditions. If the race will be outside on hilly terrain, train there.

4. The week before the race, (week nine) taper your workouts. Stay hydrated and make sure you're eating right.

5. When training for a multisport event, focus on your weaknesses. In general, training should include two workouts each week in each event. But if you swam in college, for example, or are an experienced runner, you may not need as much training in that area. It would be better to cut one workout a week in the event that you feel most comfortable and concentrate training on a weaker event.

6. Everyone begins training for a multisport event at a different level. Spend the most time training in the sport that you feel the most uncomfortable.

7. You need to eat to win. Proper nourishment and healthy eating during your training is essential.

Find and register online for a triathlon, biathlon, duathlon or adventure race in your area!

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