Here's a secret well known by many age-groupers in the triathlon world: One of the more powerful ways to make a goal stick is to get out the proverbial checkbook and drop a completed race application into the mailbox. Of course, this is all done on the computer now, with credit cards and online services like Active.com, but you get the point: The financial commitment to doing a first triathlon makes the entire concept real and triggers a stream of adrenalin into your system, awakening some hibernating section of the brain that thinks, "Oh crap. It's for real this time. We have to get moving."
Indeed, becoming a triathlete is a way to dislodge a human being from the destructive patterns eating crappy food and making daily excuses to not exercise.
But you have to do it right, or at least close to right, or it probably is going to make for a wretched memory. Racing a triathlon without training properly is a magnificent way to ensure you hate the day and the sport. Doing the bare minimum is better than not training at all, but this generally means you will just spend the day hanging on for dear life. And if your first triathlon is a long one, the discomfort and misery is multiplied by some all-too-large mystery number that one might call the "suck factor."
On the other hand, executing a smart, patient training plan that builds to a reasonable race (reasonable length, course difficulty and conditions) is almost a sure way to drug yourself with the cult-spirit that has made triathlon the globally popular endurance sport that it is today.
With that said, here are some tips toward helping you get the most out of the journey to the starting line.
1. Don't let inconsistency ruin your training.
In an interview with six-time Hawaii IRONMAN legend, Mark Allen, he said the one ingredient that was most important for his incredible success in the sport was consistency. "I never dreamed I would accomplish as much as I was able to," Allen said. Looking back, he believes it was the power of consistent training that made the difference, and he sees the same pattern in the age-group athletes that he coaches. The action item? Focus your attention on the drumbeat of executing your swim-bike-run and strength sessions on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and do your best to avoid skipping workouts. Skipping a week or two of training and believing that you can cram like you would for a history final to make up for it akin to dropping a grenade on your foot.
2. Don't skip strength training.
According to Allen, another key to his success was his elevation of strength work in terms of its importance within an overall schedule. "A visit to the weight room is usually the first workout that gets dropped from a weekly schedule when things get busy," Allen says. Rather, strength training should be held on the same level of value as the key swim, bike and run workouts of a week. If something needs to go, drop a recovery bike ride, run or swim before you scratch out a visit to the gym. The benefits? Routine strength work will help you handle the pounding from running, recover faster from training and races, and build the kind of hip and core strength that will allow you to generate more power from the torso and hold better positions in all three disciplines.