10 Tips for the New Year

Planning goals, races and training will help keep you motivated and on track.

Triathlon is an exciting sport, catching the attention of every level of athlete from beginner to podium seeker.

The sport of triathlon offers common distances such as sprint racing (450-yard swim, 11-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run), Olympic-distance events (0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike and a 6.2-mile run), Ironman-distance events (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run) and variations of those basic distances.

Along with varying distances, participants have many options for triathlon participation. For example, there are special races for kids, off-road events and women-only events, to name a few. Athletes can participate as individuals or as members of a three-person team.

It doesn't matter whether you are "just thinking about doing a triathlon," consider yourself a committed newbie or whether you're an old-dog-triathlete. It's time to decide to go long or short, go for the road or dirt, participate as a member of a team or go it solo. This column offers 10 valuable tips that can help you this New Year:

1. Set a Goal

A goal event, whether it is a sanctioned race or a self-designed outing with your buddies, gives you a good reason to get into shape or to maintain good fitness. Goal events provide purpose for training--a motivating reason not to miss a workout.

How far out should you set a goal? The answer to that question depends on your current fitness and your ability to complete the goal event. Some goals are appropriately set a short six weeks away, while other goals may be a year or more away. The further into the future your goal is, the more you need subgoals or small markers of successful achievement along the way.

2. Periodize Your Training

There is good news and bad news about your body. First the good news: What seems difficult today, like a six-mile run, will seem easy after the appropriate amount of training. The good news is your body adapts to training stress.

The bad news is your body adapts to training stress. If you are looking to take your fitness to new levels, change is necessary. Training variables to change include overall training volume, workout intensity, individual workout session duration and the frequency of training sessions. By carefully planning changes that stress your body, new levels of fitness can be achieved.

3. Rest

Carefully planned training stress can not be converted to new levels of fitness without rest. You need to plan rest days and rest weeks. Too many athletes get trapped in the ever-increasing-volume-by-10-percent syndrome and drive themselves into injury.

Plan days of rest where physical "training" is reduced or totally eliminated. The rest category includes adequate sleep. Good athletes know that cheating on sleep night after night is inviting fatigue, illness and injury risk.

In addition to rest days, you need rest weeks. Vary the training load so that volume and intensity is decreased every three to four weeks. Rest is what allows your body to rebuild following stress and become stronger and more fit. 

4. Health First, Performance Second

Triathletes know that optimal performance can not be achieved with an ill or injured body. In addition to exercise, good health is achieved by eating nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, low-fat dairy products and whole grains.

An athletic body requires the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), antioxidants and phytochemicals found in minimally processed foods. What are minimally processed foods?

Eating an apple picked off of the tree in your back yard is an example of a food requiring no processing. Examples of foods that are highly processed include those found packaged in a bag or box, along with a long list of ingredients on the label.

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