Beginners: How Many Races Should You Do?

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It may have been a resolution, a significant birthday milestone or perhaps urging from a friend; in any case, you've decided to do your first triathlon this season. As you shop the event selections from your comfy chair or couch, you may begin to wonder if you can do more than one. Maybe you should capitalize on that great fitness you'll be earning. The question is, how many can—or should—you do?

Eager for More

It's best if you can end your first triathlon season eager for more instead of feeling tired, injured or burned out. Because I want athletes eager for more after that first season of racing, I suggest doing one to three races.

How much training time is necessary?

An athlete that is currently dormant can easily be ready for a sprint triathlon in about 12 weeks training from 2.5 to 4 hours per week. A currently fit person can be ready for a sprint triathlon in about 9 weeks of training doing around 3.25 to 4.5 hours of endurance work per week.

If you would like to do a sprint triathlon, but an Olympic-distance event is the only one that fits into your calendar, you can still be ready in 12 weeks for the Olympic race, but it requires a bit more time. With limited fitness before you begin training, you'll need 2.75 to 7 hours per week for a dozen weeks to be prepared for the event. If you have more fitness before beginning your training, you can be ready in as little as six to nine weeks.

How do I structure training after that first sprint race?

After your first race, don't forget to allow some time for recovery. Depending on several factors that affect race recovery, you might be fully recovered after about a week, or it might take you slightly longer.

If your second event is a week after the first one, which I don't recommend for beginners, keep volume low between the two races and include some speed work. One option is to just repeat the last week of your pre-race training plan.

If the next race is several weeks away you can use the last few weeks of your training plan again, after you've recovered from the first event. Depending on how you're responding to the training and your goals, you can increase all of the training sessions by about 10 percent.

Will I improve using the same plan?

Even if you're using the exact same training volume and interval times that you used for the first race, you can still improve at your second and third races. How can this be?