Having just gone from a guy who could barely swim and didn’t have a bike to a guy who could finish a sprint triathlon (albeit at a modest pace) in the span of 5 months I thought I would offer up a few tips in case any of you are thinking of heading down this road. Now, I took 5 months to train mainly because I was scared to do it any sooner. There were, in fact, a few races before the 5 months were up and in retrospect I probably could have completed a sprint in 3-4 months. A lot will depend on how much time you have available to train and how proficient you are in the swim, bike and run starting off. Assuming you are currently in the same shape I was in March, which was: could only really swim about 100 meters without stopping, could probably bike 8-10 miles comfortably but hadn’t spent a whole lot of time on a bike in years, and could run 3-5 miles at a 8-10 minute/mile pace…..then I say you can be ready in 3 months with 3-4 days a week training. Here is what I would recommend.
10. Pick a race and set the date. Hold yourself accountable. I did so by starting this blog. It was always right there in front of me. The race date changed, but I knew I had to keep training because I was blogging about it. People would ask me how I was doing and I knew I couldn’t just quit. Look up triathlons in your area online. Almost every area has a group that organizes races and likely has a website with an event calendar. Plus, it’s fun to set a goal a few months out and start the journey.
9. Invest in quality gear. For me it was a bike for starters. Obviously I needed one if I was going to do this. I asked a few people I know about their bikes, read some online articles and went to a nice bike store and talked with the employees there. It helped that my friends here on Guam were very knowledgable and the guy at the bike store just competed in the London Olympics in mountain biking for Guam. I was able to get a good bike at a decent price. Expect to spend $400-$1000 for a nice road bike. You can spend more than that, but I think that is probably a good start. Also, I invested in things like bike clips, bike shoes, bike helmet, bike gloves, a GPS on my bike, swim goggles, triathlon shorts and shirts, a nice pair of running shoes, and a sports watch for triathletes (Garmin). Most of this stuff is fairly cheap at your local sporting goods store. I would say everything I bought (including the bike) added up to around $1000-$1200. Again, not cheap, but in the end having good equipment makes a big difference and makes it more fun to train.
8. Make a schedule for yourself. try and outline a routine that works for you and your lifestyle, and of course try and stick to it. In the beginning I was pretty good about keeping to a schedule. I tried to alternate run/bike/swim/rest days. It gets tough when you go on vacation or a life event gets in the way. That’s OK. I had those and took a week off here and there. In fact, I think I took about 3 weeks off in the middle of my training when I went on vacation and then struggled to get back into a routine. It happens. The good part is that once you start back into it, your body will tell you to keep going. I would recommend at least one day a week of each modality (run/bike swim) and at least 1 day off a week to rest (I usally took 2 days off a week even when I was going full go). Then again, I am 41, so your body might recover quicker than mine.
7. I would attend a sprint race. Go to an event in your area or view one on TV or online if that is all that is possible. Know what you are getting into and make sure it is something you want to do. Having seen a few in person last January and February I knew it was something that looked fun and was attainable if I worked hard enough. I saw the comraderie between the triathletes and thought that would be a fun thing to be a part of. And, I saw folks that were either older than me or were in the same condition as me doing it and knew I wasn’t completely over my head. Seeing it live got me psyched to know it was something I wanted to shoot for.
6. Listen to your body. There were days when I went out to train intending to do a 5 mile run and my knees would hurt after a mile or two. Or I would want to do a 1500 meter swim and I was just worn out after 750 meters. Could I have pushed through? Yes. But to me this is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. It does take some effort and you must endure a little pain in training to improve…no question…but if you think you are pushing towards an injury or your body just isn’t responding to the push…shut it down and live to fight another day. Like I said, I am a quadragenarian and I know that a knee or back injury would spell doom for me. It could put me on the shelf for weeks. So, if I had put some training time in for the day and was feeling pain, why risk it? Know your body and know what you can endure. Now, that isn’t to say that on a day when you just don’t feel like working out you should not do it. That is more often mental fatigue and that I had to push through many times. I think we all do or else we tend to be satisfied with the status quo and we don’t progress. Getting through that, believe it or not, is part of the enjoyment of the trianing.
5. Try and eat right. Not to say that you cannot enjoy fast food here and there, but for the most part try and stick to a good diet filled with protein and low in fats. I am lucky that my wife and I both love things like chicken and vegetables, fish (well I like that, my wife not so much) and light pastas. We hardly ever eat out and almost never eat fast food. It is a bit of a blessing because I know that sometimes a person’s lifestyle dictates what and when they can eat and fast food is the best option. There are plenty of online recommendations for quick food recipes that are cheap and easy. We tried a few over the months, but found ourselves sticking with a lot of chicken, rice and spinach. Oh, and I also did consume a fair number of protein bars. Not sure if they work, but it is a nice pick me up in the middle of the day when the blood sugar dips. Beats grabbing a candy bar or donut. Hydration is another underrated concept. My body just felt “better” when I was hydrated. It takes some work to stay up on your fluids with all the training, but you get used to it.
4. Swim in the open water early and often. This was my biggest regret in retrospect. I swam almost entirely in the pool to train. I was able to build endurance and practice my stroke and breathing, and for that it is extremely helpful. But having now done an open water race, you need to get out there and swim in the ocean (or lake/river etc…..wherever the race will be held). There are so many variables that the open water race brings to the table that are hard to train for in a pool. The chop of the water, the current, the depth, the salinity, the bouyancy, etc.. You may never get the chance to train while swimming next to a group of people, and for that you will just have to figure that out on race day, but you can eliminate a lot of fear and anxiety by doing some open water swim training before the big day.
3. Brick workouts are great. This is when you do 2 or more modalities on the same training day back-to-back. For example maybe you do a 1000 meter swim and then follow it up with a 10 mile bike. Or maybe you do a 12 mile bike and then a 3 mile run. It helps to feel what it is like to make that transition and use different muscle groups. It also helps with the transition piece of the triathlon (switching shoes or drying off and putting on the bike gear). That is a piece of the race that is probably overlooked, but is important. You need to know what to bring and how to go from one event to another. It won’t be the biggest thing to worry about, especially if you are a real novice like me, but it is something to practice nonetheless. Brick workouts made me realize that I needed to keep pushing to increase my stamina. It’s one thing to be able to run 3 miles….it’s another to run 3 miles after riding a bike for 12 miles. Trust me, they are very different runs.
2. The week before the race, try and rest up. I did a few smaller training days, like a 3 mile run one day and a 750 meter swim another day. No brick workouts. No rigorous routines. And I did nothing for the 72 hours before the race. I just let my body rest. I think it helped. Sort of like the concept of cramming for a test. Cram all you want, but then take the day or two off before a test to let your mind relax. Same with your body. Once you reach the week of the race you should be fine, so just let your body relax, let the inflammation cool down, eat well, try and get good nights sleep and prepare mentally for the race.
1. Have fun on race day. I was lucky to go to the race with a friend who also is a very relaxed guy. We met another friend there who was very supportive and fun. All the other triathletes I spoke to before the race were enjoying themselves and were being supportive of my first race. I am sure folks were a little anxious, as with any competitive event, but for the first one don’t worry about the time. Just get it done, enjoy the experience and then get ready to do it all over again…because it is pretty darn cool.