Triathlon 101

Triathlon isn’t a complicated sport, but we do like trying to make it that way! When we see established athletes ripping around on their fancy bikes, in all that tight lycra with the latest and greatest gadgets to monitor, measure and record everything, it can be intimidating or daunting to think about starting. Every leg of a triathlon has a gadget for either racing or training that is meant to help you train or supposed to make you faster ! In this piece I will try and break it down and keep it simple! Lets apply the ‘KIS’ philosophy to triathlon, after all it is just a sport or in my case a lifestyle!

Simply put triathlon is three sports rolled into one sport! First you swim, then you ride and you finish with a run. All sound simple enough and I’m sure a lot of people out there are going, yeah I can swim, I can ride a bike & I can run, so triathlon will be easy! Quick reality check triathlon isn’t any one of these three disciplines, a swim, a bike or a run, its all three and it takes time and effort to ensure your success! Why do I say this, not to scare anyone away, but to highlight that triathlon takes disciplined and consistent effort, don’t head into a race ill or under prepared, it will hurt you.

So lets assume your interested in doing your first triathlon, where do you start! Like most people I bet you headed to google and found a beginners training plan or even worse spoke to a friend about what they are doing.

Starting out triathlon should be fun and the training should integrate into your lifestyle easily, it shouldn’t be the all encompassing time sucking vacuum it can become! When a new athlete approaches us/me here at Starfish with zero experience we sit down and look over our club program together and pick 3 up to 5 session each week for 4 weeks to get started. That’s approximately 3 up to 5 hours of training per week, that will be a massive shock to anyone’s body if you have not been active before. Build up slow, don’t be afraid to walk on your training runs, to cut the swim a few intervals short, but be prepared to get in and enjoy the environment of others around you giving their all to be the best they can be! The joy of club coached programs is the number of people that have already been on your journey starting from nothing to where they are now (possibly an Ironman athlete or worse)!

If your already a seasoned singular sport athlete, say a swimmer, cyclist or runner, remember your not a ‘triathlete’ (yet). Similar rules apply as above. Start easy and take your time to build up. My top 10 tips for a beginner starting out are:

  1. Find a coach or a club training program
  2. Surround yourself with like minded people
  3. Start slow, don’t try to over to it early!
  4. Pick a short race to be your first event! Work with your coach and club toward that event! Most beginner programs are 4 to 6 weeks to get you well prepared!
  5. Be patient, you waited this long to start, wait for your body to adapt before chasing the dream event, distance or time!
  6. Ask questions, there are no silly or dumb questions, speak up and get clarity!
  7. Listen to your body, if you need to skip a session because your getting tired or sore, talk to your coach!
  8. Talk to your partner and or family and get them involved! Happy family, happy life!
  9. You dont need all the fancy gear or fastest bike, you need to crawl before your walk, walk before you run!
  10. Most of all, find your fun, the decision to get into any sport should be one that adds value, fun and happiness to your life!

With all of that said, hopefully you’re still keen on the idea of doing a triathlon. If you are here is the only equipment you need to start!

  • Swimmer or togs (a tri-suit is an upgrade item, if you can/want), men will need a singlet, triathlon rules require the torso to be covered.
  • Googles (cap is not necessary in training, but is compulsory in racing)
  • A working bike! No it doesn’t need to be the fancy time trial bike, a mountain bike, a road bike will do!
  • A helmet is compulsory by law in Australia.
  • Running shoes.

That’s it to start with, simple hey! What to wear when training is even more simple, wear anything that makes helps you feel comfortable. Remember you are not alone in those self doubting talk and feelings. Every person has those feeling and self talk when starting something new! The club and people you train with should help ease those feeling and give you the confidence required to tackle your first event!

OK, so the training is done and your first race is approaching. Now all those butterfly start again! I don’t know what to do? Where do I start? What about the transition? How will I find my way to my bike? What if I’m last? Are just some of the questions I have been asked! Well here are some of my tips for racing:

Tip 1 – Arrive early and get registration for the event and collect your race pack (normally on the day before the race, but can also be done on the morning of the race)! In this pack you will normally have a swim cap (colour will match your wave start) a bike sticker, helmet sticker and a timing chip. You must place your bike sticker attached to your bike seat post and the helmet sticker tot he front of your helmet! Some races also require you to wear a corresponding numbered ID wristband to enter transition.

Tip 2 – Know the lay of the land! Not just in the transition area, but take the time to understand the road closures and how you are going to get around this event! Take the time to review the event guide and read the maps and know the lay of the land!

Tip 3 – Reduce your chance of forgetting anything for race day by doing a pre-race layout! Layout everything you need for each leg of your race, swim (goggles, trisuit, spare cap, towel, wetsuit JIC) bike (shoes, helmet, drink bottles, nutrition, bike, pump) run (shoes, cap, number belt or safety pins, sunglasses)! Everything else is superfluous, but missing race gear will cause you undue stress before your race!  I do mine at home on Saturday night (& before packing, if i’m travelling to a destination, I’m ok if I forget undies, but can’t race without my trisuit)!

Tip 4 – Setting up your transition. Remember to ask the officials the flow of transition, where do you enter from the swim, where do you exit onto the bike, where do you enter from the bike and where do you exit to the run! Pick a spot to rack your bike and go walk the transition area a few time, returning toy your position each time! Layout your towel, place your running shoes, cap and number belt down first, then your bike shoes and helmet after that. Remember to ask question if your concerned, triathlete love to help each other, this is a super friendly community!

Tip 5 – For many first timers the swim is the most daunting! So my next tip is all about the the swim. First make sure you know your wave start time, your cap colour and be early for your start! At the start, move over to one side (either left or right opposite to your favorite breathing side). Take a couple of deeps breaths before the gun goes and then hit the water! Once you start, find clear water breathing to the side where the crowd is, lift the eyes (crocodile style only) to spot your next buoy, settle in and like Dory, just keep swimming! 

Tip 6 – Transition, is the art of moving from 1 discipline to another! Its no different in triathlon. Try and remain calm, yes your heart is racing, calm down and go through the process! Cap and googles down, bike helmet on, bike shoes on and your set! Yes it is that simple!

Tip 7 – You made it out of the water have navigated through transition and find yourself out on the bike course. Trust your training and ride to feel. This is my favorite part of every race, feeling the wind in your face and the burn in the legs! If your course has any hills, don’t be afraid to use your gears and get out of the saddle, the burn in your legs is only temporary and will stop when you cross the finish line!

Tip 8 – The Run, if it’s hot head for the sprinklers, the shade, use the water and ice at each aid stations to keep your cool!  Remember this is the final stage of your race, you’ve done all the hard work, so put on a smile, high 5 a few people and smile! That finish line is just around the corner!

Tip 9 – Let’s not over think it! As you cross that finish line make sure you celebrate with the biggest smile on your face and savor what hopefully is the start of your own very special journey into the amazing world of triathlon!

Well if your still reading, hopefully I have provided enough information that your keen to give it a go! If you are ever at a race here in the South East Corner of Queensland Australia, keep an eye out for me and my club and make sure you come and say hi! I would love to hear about your journey to get you to that race!

If you’re not active at the moment & need some inspiration, follow me on Strava, Instagram, YouTube, like my facebook page and let’s get back out there swim, bike or running.   Make sure you subscribe so you never miss a blog post from me!

I believe the biggest regret we can have in life is to not TRI!  So get out there and give it a go!  If you ever have any questions please reach out, I’m only a message away.

Trainingpeaks – Coach Ted

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Till next time, build consistency, keep smiling and live to Tri!

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