Preparing for Your First Triathlon

This time around, you’re going to trade in your Giro Union MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) helmet for an Aether MIPS. You’ll still hit the snowy mountains of Utah, but now you want to start training to compete in a triathlon, one of the most endurance-challenging sports competition there is today.

You’re pretty good on a snowboard and have competed in the Olympics. But you’re looking to explore the possibility of expanding your sports repertoire. You bike as a hobby, and you swim and run as part of your exercise routine. Now you need to train hard to join a triathlon race. What does one need to know about competing in a triathlon?

An Overview of Triathlon in America

Back in 2006, there were fewer than one million Americans who competed in triathlons. In 2017, the number of triathletes in America was more than 4.04 million people. There’s a slight decline compared to 2015 and 2016 when the registered numbers were 4.24 and 4.08, respectively.

USA Triathlon (USAT) is the body, which oversees the organization of about 4,300 races every year. Its members are composed of athletes, coaches, officials, and even parents.

You’ll probably not run out of any race to train for.

Preparing for the Race

There are, of course, three events: swimming, cycling and running. The first thing that you need to know is that not all triathlon races are the same. You will encounter what is called a “sprint tri,” the “Olympic tri,” and the holy grail of the tri-races, the “ultra” or Ironman. The differences are in the distances, of course. The swim race in a sprint is just 750 meters (0.47-mile), whereas, in the Olympic and ultra, it’s 1.5 kilometers (0.93 miles) and 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles), respectively. Here are a few more things to wrap your head around when preparing for your first triathlon.

  1. Gear up. Eventually, you will end up spending on equipment. You must do so because swimming in open water is better with a proper wet suit. But make “splurging” a middle-of-the-road goal and not a for-your-first-race goal. Some expert advice that you look for a race where swim events are held in a pool where a regular swimsuit and goggles will suffice.
  2. Sprint first. While you’re used at some level doing all three sports, be prudent. Train and participate in a short event first, like the sprint tri. Build up your endurance and strength first before going for the ultra-triathlon. Test your body and determine how long you’re able to recover or if you feel that you might have an injury.
  3. Master the transition. A tenth-of-a-second count in any race. You need to master the transition from swimming to riding your bike and from your bike to running. If you don’t practice and do the changeover inefficiently, you’re going to lose time.
  4. Realistic goals. It’s your first race, so don’t expect that you’ll be training for a podium finish. The most realistic goal you can set is to finish the race and finish it uninjured. With this goal, you can train adequately without burning yourself out. Meredith Kessler advises longer training is not necessary to compete. She says that the trick is to get short quality work out rather than spend your whole day training.

You’ll find sources that discuss 15, 20, or more tips about how to prepare for your first triathlon. They’ll discuss critical details about shoelaces or how to ace the swim start. These are some things that you can focus on as you complete your preparations.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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