Written by David Henkel, head coach at Speed Sherpa.
Whether you are a runner, swimmer, or cyclist looking to become a multisport athlete, or a newcomer to the race scene altogether, here are the basics you need to know about how to start training for a triathlon:
Set the Right Goals
Simply completing a triathlon is a badge of honor. Reading blogs or hearing other triathletes speak about race goals can inflate your expectations and the associated pressure you put on yourself. Every athlete’s goal for a first race should be to finish.
Start Small: Get Faster and Stronger Before You Go Longer
Triathlon has multiple distances and an “Ironman” is not your only option. The vast majority of triathletes start with a local sprint distance triathlon. In fact, for those without a swimming background, you can start with an indoor triathlon before moving into an open water swim event.
Check out trifind.com to get started and focus on getting stronger and faster with better technique before going long!
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
There is impressive consensus within the triathlon coaching community that consistency in training is the best way to see improvement. As you set up your training plan remember that guideline. Though it is tempting to put in huge workouts on the weekend, especially if you are accustomed to marathon training, sprinkle in multiple, shorter runs (including a run off the bike) each week – same with your swimming and cycling. Do not feel pressure that you “must” complete the full distance you are racing in each discipline before the actual race.
Keep Equipment Simple to Start and Get Comfortable With It Before Race Day
You do not need every bell and whistle you read about for your first races. Keep it simple on race day and use equipment with which you’ve practiced and are comfortable. Remember to practice swimming in your wetsuit (you can take your rented wetsuit to the pool first) because it feels different than swimming normally. Ensure a proper fit that is not overly restrictive.
Stay Balanced in Your Life
Mold triathlon around your life and not the other way around. Involve your family in race decisions; seek their support and blessing before taking on a huge commitment like a long distance triathlon. Speed Sherpa’s coaching philosophy is all about staying mindful of the need for balancing triathlon with your life outside of swim, bike, run.
Have Fun While Training
Be warned, once the endorphins start flowing, you might become an addict. Tap into the multisport community and check out local tri clubs for group training opportunities, clinics, and more. Of course you are welcome to plug into the Speed Sherpa Nation for coaching or for a tri club option! Feel free to send us a message through Facebook or speedsherpa.com for more information or if you have any questions as you start the triathlon journey.
Speed Sherpa Head Coach David Henkel swam competitively in college before conquering the hills of Pennsylvania as a Category III cyclist. He recently qualified and raced in the XTERRA World Championships off-road race. As an elite road triathlete, he has consistently won podium and qualified for world championships at multiple distances. Dave lives in Fairfax, Va., with his triathlete wife and super dog. He coaches athletes across the United States.