Tips for Prepping for Your First Triathlon

Triathlons are challenging competitions that involve three fitness components: swimming, cycling and running, and can take months or even years to prepare for, with an average preparation time of 7 months. During this time, participants train between 20 to 30 hours each week, exerting themselves to extremes to get ready for the competition. There are a lot of psychological phases and physical obstacles between starting to train and reaching your goals. Here are some preparation tips to be ready for the challenges a triathlon will throw at you.

The Swim

The intensity of the swimming portion of a triathlon depends on the distinction of the triathlon you’re participating in. For your first triathlon, it may be a good idea to start with a local competition that has shorter distances for each section. This can help get your feet wet for more intense competitions.

Swims are typically held in natural bodies of water, where the current can be either an element that pushes you forward or back depending on your preparation for the swim. Some beginner triathlons are done in pools where the swimming distances are significantly shorter than those of prestigious triathlon competitions. According to the Ironman FAQ, the average preparation for a mile swim course is swimming 7 miles per week.

For swimming segments that are held in natural bodies of water, wetsuits are allowed and suggested due to the the benefits they offer. The exception is for triathlons in bodies of water at temperatures above 78 degrees, where participants run the risk of overheating due to the insulation wetsuits provide. If you’re not used to wearing a wetsuit, make sure to prepare for the swim by wearing the suit when training.

The Bike

The cycling portion of a triathlon also requires extensive preparation for several reasons. The transitions between each triathlon section are challenging in different ways and it’s important to be well versed with the rulebook to make sure you don’t get penalized for breaking any rules. Rules may vary based on the competition; for example, drafting in the cycling portion is allowed in some races but not all.

A few key rules of the cycling segment are enforced for safety reasons. Cyclists are required to wear helmets at all times when riding a bike. If at any point this rule is not followed, the participant will be disqualified. Additionally, riders must be on their bikes at a marked point of the course and cannot propel themselves on foot past this point without incurring a 15-second penalty. When training for this part of the course, mark lines in your practice space to make sure you don’t think twice about passing them before getting on your bike.

Due to the physical demands of lengthy and speedy riding, it’s important to have a bicycle that is in tip-top shape with the proper aerodynamics to get you through the course with minimal complications.  Keep your seat tube at a height that saves your leg muscles from doing too much of the work and saves them for the running portion; you’re going to need it. The cycling portion is the only part of the race that depends on something other than you, so check your bike as many times as you need to make sure it works perfectly.

The Run

The run is recognized as one of the most difficult parts of the triathlon to prepare for simply because it is the last part. By the time you begin the run, your body is already exhausted from the miles you’ve moved through in water and on a bike. This home stretch is a long one.

Preparing for the run is usually done by back-to-back workouts of cycling and running, which is done to hopefully prepare the body for the feeling of exhaustion after miles of biking. Giving it your all during the competition usually results in a slower running time than any acquired throughout your training. Training at a pace that exceeds your expectations for the competition can help ensure you keep a good running time when it comes down to it.

After the months of preparation for your first triathlon, you’ll have  to plan how to get there. Pack your bike, wetsuit and running shoes, and map your journey to the triathlon destination. Choose scenic areas on the way where you can continue to train for the running and cycling portions of the competition. A road trip to the triathlon can save you the trouble of shipping your bike and can add a relaxing touch to the event.

Participating in a triathlon is a huge commitment that requires tons of physical and mental preparation, which is why participants are often in the best shape of their lives for the competition. It requires learning to train for each individual segment as well as the transitions between them. You must pace yourself very carefully and train the way you hope to compete. Completing a triathlon is a huge accomplishment, whatever place you take. Prepare to make it to the finish line.