So, you want to be a triathlete? There is a LOT of information you’ll need to brush up on to kick off triathlon training right. So, we’ve compiled this beginner guide. From standard race lengths to gear to a 13-week training plan, here’s everything you need to know to get started.
1. Pick your race
The first step is knowing what you’re signing up for. As a triathlon can vary from the 6.75-kilometre Relay to the 226-kilometre Ironman, the amount of training you’ll need can vary drastically.
Super sprint: swim 250-500 m, cycle 5.5-13km, run 1,7-3.5km
Sprint: swim 750 m, cycle 20 km, run 5 km
Standard/Olympic: swim 1.5 km, cycle 40 km, run 10 km
Half Iron: swim 1.9-3 km, cycle 80-90 km, run 20-21 km
Iron: swim 3.8 km, cycle 180km, run 42.2km
If this is your first-ever triathlon, starting with the Super Sprint or Sprint is best. Even if you’re a strong swimmer, runner, or cycler, doing all three in a row is an entirely different animal than focusing on one. Starting small will give you all the triathlon basics without draining too much time, energy, or money.
You’ll get the fundamentals of the T1 and T2 switch (the swim-to-cycle and cycle-to-run transitions in the race), learn how to eat, drink, and manage fatigue on the go, and learn from other racers. So, if you eventually go for the half or full Iron, you’ll have an easier and much better experience.
2. Research your course
After you’ve picked your race, look into the terrain and race rules to help you prepare better. For example:
- Will the bike portion be hilly? You’ll need to practice gear-switching and climbing up hills.
- Will the water be somewhat smooth or very choppy (lake vs ocean beach)? You’ll need to practice in similar open water to get the hang of it.
- Will you need to cover your torso? Some triathlons forbid bare torsos for the bike and run legs of the race.
3. Get the gear
Next, get essential triathlon gear. You likely won’t need to spend that much money on equipment for shorter-distance, first-timer triathlons. You can get away with using what you have.
- A helmet
- A decent bike. A road bike is usually best as it can go faster with less pedalling effort, but if you have a mountain bike, it’ll serve just fine.
- Swimming goggles for seeing underwater and not getting lake gunk or ocean salt in your eye
- Running shoes. They’ll need to have enough squish to cushion your strides, arch support to support the natural roll of your foot and be relatively fresh. Experts recommend swapping out a pair of sneakers every 500-800 kilometres.
- Swim gear. You can wear a swim cap, bathing suit, and/or wetsuit depending on what you're comfortable in and how chilly it will be.
- Clothing. A breathable T-shirt and shorts will do (plus a sports bra if you need one).
- Triathlon bike. They are lighter and faster than road bikes and have a steeper seat angle to minimise the workload on your running muscles. Do note that it can cost 5+ times as much as a regular road bike, so it’s generally not a justifiable expense for first-timers.
- Triathlon suit. These have special padding to make running and cycling more comfortable. A triathlon suit won’t be that much more expensive than a wetsuit (maybe netting an extra $20-30), so you might look into getting one if you don’t have a wetsuit you can use.
- Cycling shoes. These have stiffer and smoother soles and metal cleats for optimal cycling.
4. Get supports
Sports Compression Calf Sleeves
Training and race day will demand a lot from your body. So, be sure to give it some extra support and protection through compression.
- Boosts venous return: the rate at which your veins pull blood out of your extremities and towards your heart. This boost improves performance and endurance as your muscle gets oxygen faster.
- Reduces muscle oscillation, the uncomfortable vibrations that shoot up your legs when your foot hits the ground.
- Warms up your muscles and provides support, making you less prone to injury.
Every Bauerfeind support is also moisture-wicking, breathable, and quick to dry. They’ll sit snug and flat and are a-okay to wear in water as long as you wash them when you finish. In terms of what to wear and when, we’d advise arm sleeves from swimming, leg compression (calf or sock) for running and cycling, and back support if you feel it’s needed. Long runs and bike rides many weeks in a row can fatigue the core muscles, so offering them compression support if you feel them flagging is a good idea to avoid injury.
Still trying to decide whether to get compression socks or calf sleeves? Here are their pros and cons in triathlons to help you decide.
5. Practice the basics
Before you race, get down the triathlon basics for smoother transitions and fewer surprises.
Practice changing out of your swimsuit into clothes, pulling on your socks and shoes (especially if the socks are compression and you didn't want to wear them for your swim), Getting on and off your bike, and putting on and taking off your helmet. Getting this down to a science can shave precious seconds of your race time. It will also let you know how comfortable (or uncomfortable) running in a wet suit will be.
You MUST practice in open water like a lake or the beach at least a few times during training. Open water is generally darker, deeper, has no walls to hang on to, and may have a current or choppy waves. It will be a different racing experience than in the very controlled environment of a pool.
Practice shifting gears on your bike.
Do Bricks - running after you finish cycling. It will help you avoid the jelly-legs feeling.
6. Follow the plan
Click the image below to download our 13-week Triathlon Training Plan!
Build your strength and endurance and be ready to become a triathlete.
Training for a triathlon burns a lot of calories - and you do not want to run on a calorie deficit as it will negatively affect your focus, endurance, and overall performance. Speaking to a dietician to determine your caloric needs is always best. But as a general guide, the average person needs around 2000 calories daily to maintain bodily functions and energy levels. On top of that, you’ll need extra food to accommodate the swim, run, and cycle training, which can be calculated through MET (Metabolic Equivalent).
The formula to use is METs x 3.5 x (your body weight in kilograms) / 200 = calories burned per minute. So, for example, doing a 3 MET activity (walking at a leisurely pace) when you weigh 70 Kg would burn ~3.6 calories per minute or ~220 calories per hour.
Swimming: a freestyle swim can be a 5.8 to 9.8 MET activity, depending on how much effort you put in and where you’re swimming. A rigorous stroke in open water will be more draining than a practice one in the pool.
Running: running METs can also vary quite a bit - from a leisurely jog at 6 METs to running full tilt (16 km/h) at 16 Mets.
Cycling: 16-25 km/h can net 6-10 METs.
You’ll also want a good mix of fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and proteins.
- Carbs are crucial for building up glycogen, which is the energy reserve your muscles will draw on during your runs.
- Proteins help build muscle tissue. For obvious reasons, the stronger and tougher your muscles are, the better your running speed and endurance.
- Fats are also an energy source (albeit less critical than carbs) and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
To sum up
Ready to get started? A triathlon may not be easy, but as long as you get the right gear, stick with your plan, and fuel your training right, you’ll be well on your way to finishing your first race!
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