Triathlons are no longer just for the best athletes amongst us. Over the last several years, they have become a place where healthy people like to test their skills in three areas, as well as their stamina. Swim, run, and ride – all at the same time! Training for one of these events is a great way to get in shape, and most people who participate for years tend to get lean and mean. So if you are mildly curious, then read on to learn about what triathlons are, how you train for them and – when you’re ready – where you can compete.
What Is It?
A triathlon is composed of three distinct athletic events – swimming, cycling and running, in that order. Each segment of a triathlon runs one after the other, with the time in between counted as part of your total time.
There are several different types of triathlon, which is why the event is challenging to beginners and experienced athletes alike. Here is a summary of the some of the most common triathlons:
The Olympic Distance Triathlon is sometimes referred to as the international distance or standard course. It includes a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike ride and a 10 km run.
The Sprint Distance Triathlon is the shortest. In involves a 500 or 750 m swim, a 20 km bike ride, and a 5 km run.
The Half-Ironman Distance Triathlon is sometimes called the Tinman. It includes a 1.9 km swim, a 90 km bike ride and a 21 km run.
The Ironman Distance Triathlon is a very common long distance triathlon involving a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike ride, and a 42 km run.
There are also some non-traditional variations on the standard triathlon. In winter conditions, the variation may include cross-country skiing, speed skating and running. There are also “off-road” triathlons which still incorporate swimming, biking and running, but include slight changes in that it involves mountain biking and trial running.
Just like most sporting events, there are certain rules that govern triathlons. Because it is an individual sport, each competitor cannot receive any help from those inside or outside the race. The event is timed in the three sections, starting at the beginning of the first section until the end of the first transition into the next phase and likewise for the remaining two stages.
Training For The Triathlon
Learning how to develop endurance to make it through each segment of a triathlon is often the hardest part of training and the most intimidating for beginner triathletes. If you are already in excellent physical condition and are just looking for a new and challenging way to stay in shape and improve your endurance and stamina, then training for a triathlon is an excellent way to do so. But, if you are just a mediocre swimmer, runner and cyclist at best, don’t fret. Proper training and the right triathlon distance can turn even the couch potato into a triathlete.
Most triathletes will advise newcomers to practice each of the three segments equally so that you are not relying on one of your better skills to carry you through the other two. If you are planning on entering a Sprint distance triathlon and haven’t done one before, John Mora, author of Triathlon 101 recommends a solid 4 months of training in each of the three sports before competing. Once you develop an overall fitness level, you can concentrate on improving your weaker ones, but not at the expense of the others.
Before you start training for your swim, find out whether you will be swimming in an outdoor lake or an indoor pool, as each is significantly different. If you have trained in a heated pool and come the event have to swim in a cold lake, you will struggle.
The Bike Ride
This is the longest part of the race and too many people think that a bike ride is a cake-walk compared to the swim and the run. Find out as much about the course as you can beforehand (uphill, U-turns etc) in order to enable you to practice under similar conditions.
Once you get to the run, you will already have completed two sections and will be tired. Learning how to save enough energy for this last segment of the race is very important and something that beginners struggle with. If you are used to long-distance running and think that a 5 km run doesn’t sound too difficult, practice doing it after the other two segments when you are exhausted and want to collapse.
General Training Tips
Depending on your health status, you may want to discuss your new exercise regime with your doctor before starting. Going from little or no exercise to a full-blown routine may hit you harder than you expect and you don’t want to suffer any significant injuries or harm.
It’s also a good idea to train with someone else. Got a friend interested in triathlons too? Get together to keep each other motivated throughout the training. If you can’t find anyone to train with you, then consider joining a club or gym where there may be a group you can join for support and assistance.
Most importantly, figure out a training schedule and stick to it. If you are just going to try to train 4-5 hours/week without specific days and times dedicated to each segment, you will likely be less inclined to stick to that schedule than if you have it written down and regimented.
Lastly, it is vital that you spend the extra money and get decent equipment: a great bike with make a world of difference in your training, as will suitable running shoes.
Now that you’ve done the training and are ready to show your family, friends and yourself that you have what it takes to compete in a triathlon, it’s time to get registered in one. In the US, the fastest growing triathlon distance is the Sprint, so you are in luck if you are training for that distance.
Go online and you will find websites devoted to triathlon and clubs that post details on triathlons and how to register. There are also international events you can register in, if competing and traveling interests you. There is a wealth of information online for when you are ready to test those skills you’ve developed! Happy training and good luck!