What Should I Know About Triathlon Training?

Starting a triathlon exercise program is a great way to jump start all levels of fitness. The word “triathlete” can be intimidating to some, but never scary. Whatever your fitness, becoming a triathlete is possible with the right triathlon training plan.

The first step to any triathlon training program would be to define a goal by finding a race. There are a number of different types of races. A sprint triathlon is usually the shortest distance triathlon race, averaging a 1/2-mile (0.8 km) swim, a 13-kilometer (21 km) bike, and a 3.1-kilometer (5 km) race. International or Olympic distance triathlon is double the distance of a sprint. Then comes the half ironman, or half-iron, distance of a 1.2-mile (1.9km) swim, a 56-mile (90km) bike, and a 13.1-kilometer (30km) race. Ironman, or full, triathlon is double the distance to half iron. Once a race has been selected, triathlon training can begin.

A triathlon consists of swimming, cycling and running, so a combination of these sports in a triathlon fitness plan is important. The longer the distance chosen, more weeks of training will be needed. At the beginning of a training program, the first goal is to build a good base in each sport, starting with lower mileage and as the workout progresses work to the higher mileage of the race. A simple training plan includes two days a week for each of the three sports, leaving one day a week to rest.

When choosing a race, be aware of the type of swim involved, as this will affect the type of training needed. The races will have either a pool swim or an open water swim, which is done in a lake or in the ocean. For a pool swim, it may be beneficial to participate in a swimming or triathlon program to learn how to count laps and move off the walls as quickly as possible. For open water swimming, it is advantageous to practice swimming in open water or at least a long course or 50-meter pool. Another skill needed for open water swimming will be “sighting”, which is to lift your head up out of the water to check your direction and progress towards the buoys that mark the swim course.

The bike training can be done with a combination of stationary bike and on-road bike rides. It is important to get comfortable on the road with a bicycle before the race: changing gears, getting water, and the basic rules for riding with or around others.

As triathlon training evolves, it is important to practice the details of the race that are not addressed when working on one sport one day and another the next. This is where transitions and bricks come into play. Practicing the change from one modality to the other is appropriately termed the transition. In a race, each triathlete has his / her own transition area to set up everything needed to change sports. Practicing putting bike shoes on wet feet or how to discreetly change wet clothes in an open area are important components of this.

A “brick” is a term used to practice more than one sport with little or no time in between. For example, a walk / run brick goes for a 5-mile (8 km) bike ride and then gets off and runs two miles (3.2 km). The bricks are an important part of training for triathlons, as they simulate what will happen during the race day and how the body responds to changing muscle groups used in each sport.

If becoming a triathlete seems independently overwhelming, there are a number of programs, nationally or locally, that sponsor triathlon programs or coaches that post triathlon fitness plans that can be the encouragement or incentive to enter the world of triathlon. Setting your mind to it, training for a triathlon and participating, whether competing or just completing it, can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

  • A female triathlete.
  • Choosing a good bike can mean the difference between a fast and comfortable ride part of a triathlon and a miserable day on the bike.
by Abdullah Sam
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