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Whether you’ve just decided to do your first triathlon or you’ve already done 30 of them, it’s important to identify a specific triathlon race that you are training to compete in.
Doing so gives you a solid goal to work towards, and a focal point to build your training program around.
Triathlon training is a year-round commitment with the following phases:
Base Training — building an endurance foundation
Intensity Training — developing speed, force, and increased anaerobic capacity
Peak — tapering and becoming race ready
Race — competing in your key race
Recovery — resting the body, and preparing to begin a new cycle
What’s Your A-Race?
As far as triathlon races go, your key race (or “A-race”) would be at the culmination of the Peak phase, and you want to organize your training program to properly build toward it.
Along the way, it’s likely you will want to do other races in the Base Training and Intensity Training phases as part of your preparation.
For example, my A-race this year is a Half Ironman at the end of September. As part of my endurance preparation for this race, I did a half marathon, and a 100-mile (Century) bike race. I’m also doing 3 triathlons of lesser distances leading up to the Half Ironman.
As a reminder, below are the main triathlon distances in miles:
Sprint: S-0.5, B-12.4, R-3.1
Olympic: S-0.93, B-24.8, R-6.2
Half Ironman: S-1.2, B-56, R-13.1
Ironman: S-2.4, B-112, R-26.2
How To Train For Your A-Race
One Sprint triathlon, and two Olympic triathlons are part of my preparation this summer for the Half Ironman in September.
Doing a Sprint triathlon is a great goal for a newcomer. Some Sprint triathlons do the swim in a pool, but expect the swim in most other cases to be in a lake.
Make sure you do some lake swimming as part of your training. Most people do their swim training in a pool, but it’s very different doing open water swimming, and involves an added swimming maneuver called “sighting.”
Find Upcoming Triathlon Events
The best way to find triathlon races near you is through sites like these:
You may also want to check with your local YMCA to see if they are hosting a triathlon event in your area.
How To Save Money On Triathlon Races
Running, cycling, and triathlon races are not cheap. Also plan on purchasing a USA Triathlon membership, or pay an additional cost for your specific event.
When registering for triathlon events, it helps if you can catch the price break during the “early registration” phase. If you wait until the last minute, you’re going to pay.
Another option is to stage your own triathlon race. Find a few triathletes in your area, and do a mock triathlon. Identify a nearby lake or pool as your starting point and transition area, and add a bike and run loop that begins and ends at that area. This will help you prepare for your A-Race.
What To Expect At Your First Triathlon Event
Most triathlons work the same way. (This triathlon checklist is quite helpful.)
You pick up your race packet the night before or morning of the event. On race day, I normally get there an hour or so before start time to get my transition area all set up, and become familiar and comfortable with the course.
I’ll normally do a little jog and bike warm up, and jump in the water for a brief swim, as well. It all helps calm the nerves.
The swim course is marked out with buoys, which you swim around.
With the swim, either everyone begins in a mass start, or waves, or they stagger swimmers one at a time on 7- to 9-second intervals.
TIP: For your first triathlon if it’s a mass start, consider staying to the left and in the back as opposed to the middle of the mayhem.
In Preparation For Your First Triathlon:
#1 Stage a mock triathlon that slightly extends the swim, bike, and run distances of your first triathlon.
#2 Try not to train in a lake by yourself, unless you can train in water that isn’t too deep or an area close to a floating barrier. The ideal scenario would be a friend with a canoe or kayak who wouldn’t mind going with you occasionally.
#3 Learn more than one swim stroke. In my first triathlon, I was struggling with my freestyle due to nerves, and because I had a hard time seeing where I was going. The breaststroke, had I known how to do it properly, would have been a perfect solution because it allows you to see better, and is generally a more calming stroke. Also, knowing how to do a gentle backstoke would help if you get tired in the water.
#4 Know the rules of triathlon racing.
#5 Just finish. Don’t worry about what other competitors are doing, or trying to keep up with their pace. They were once where you are now, with the goal of simply finishing. It doesn’t matter how ugly or slow it may be, the goal of your first triathlon is simply getting to the finish line.
It’s fine to push yourself during the race; I’m not saying do it leisurely. Just don’t let what others are doing force you into doing things you otherwise wouldn’t. For example, let’s say two or three swimmers who started behind you catch up and pass you. Who cares?! Should you speed up for that reason? No! For all you know, you may pass them on the bike. Remember, it’s swim and bike and run.
I’m over 40 years old, but I don’t give up easily. It wasn’t too long ago that I was exploring the idea of doing my first triathlon. If I can do it, you can too! I'm proof that with a little determination and training, you can get a great deal of fulfillment participating in marathons, triathlons… even ultramarathons.