A Complete Triathlon Guide for Beginners

Think you have what it takes to compete in a triathlon? Once reserved only for hardcore, advanced athletes, more people are training and competing in triathlons across the world. As a true test of endurance, you need to be well-prepared and well-conditioned to reach the finish line.

Not sure what a triathlon is or just getting started with your training? This guide will give explain the ins and outs of competing in this intense sport.

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What is a Triathlon?

A triathlon is a multi-stage competition that requires participants to complete three continuous, sequential stages of endurance-related sports.

There are many variations of triathlons, but most involve running, swimming and cycling.

Winners are chosen based on the time it takes to complete each course, including the timed transition between each course. Transition areas are set up in between each course, where athletes change gear for the next round.

Triathlon Training – Getting Started

Triathletes train hard, and each competition is a serious test of endurance. While there are longer courses, beginners often choose to start with a “sprint triathlon,” which includes a 750m swimming course, a 20km biking course and a 5km running course.

Most athletes can successfully train for a sprint triathlon in nine weeks, provided they are already in relatively good shape. If you have little experience with swimming or happen to be overweight, training will inevitably take longer. Even in this, training should only take a few weeks more at most.

Creating a Training Plan

To compete in a triathlon, you need to take your training seriously. That means sitting down and creating a training plan that will help you reach your goals.

swimmingFor Weeks 1-3:

  • Calculate how much time you can spend on training each day.
  • Break your training sessions into: 2-3 bikes, 3 swims and 2-3 runs.

The goal here is just to focus on being consistent and enjoying your training. If you can’t go swimming, a good alternative to help you build up your stamina is to jump on a water rowing machine.

Weeks 4-6:

  • Allocate 10% more time to training each day.
  • Divide your new time into similar sessions as the first three weeks: 3 bikes, 3 swims and 3 runs.

The focus now should be on technique, endurance and being consistent.

Weeks 7-9

  • Add an additional 10% to your training time.
  • Split your training into the following: 3 bikes, 3 swims and 3 runs.

In each of these three-week blocks, you’ll want to combine workouts if you’re pressed for time (e.g. run and bike in the same session).

The Importance of Setting Goals

Setting goals is an essential part of the training process. Without goals, you’re moving blindly forward and completely unsure of your progress.

The first and most important thing is to ask yourself this one question: What do you hope to achieve?

Do you want to make it to the finish line? Is losing weight your ultimate goal? Maybe you want to not only finish, but win the competition. No matter what it is, write down your vision and always keep it in mind.

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Next:

  • Set short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals are easier to achieve, which motives you to keep going. Long-term goals help you see big gains, but require more time and patience. These two types of goals can work together to help you achieve your endgame without getting discouraged and frustrated along the way.
  • Track and Measure: Always track and measure your progress to ensure you’re moving forward. If you’re not seeing results, tracking will help you decide where you need to change course.

While it’s entirely possible to train for a triathlon on your own, a coach can help you set realistic goals and motivate you to achieve them. If it fits into your budget, consider hiring one.

Eating Right

Training is important, but what are you putting into your body? If you’re used to looking at food as pleasure or reward, it’s time to change your focus. Food is fuel – nothing more, nothing less.

And just like poor-quality fuel will make your car run terribly, poor-quality food or the wrong kind of food will make you perform terribly.

Here are some tips:

  • Drink plenty of water (at least half a gallon – one gallon preferred)
  • Eat five meals per day (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner)
  • Cut back on the sugar and eliminate refined sugar completely
  • Limit your carbs
  • Boost your protein intake
  • Add more fiber into your diet
  • Eat smaller portions

Be consistent with your diet, and weigh yourself regularly to keep track of your progress.

Supplements can also help you meet your nutrition goals, like protein shakes.

Lean protein should be an important staple in your diet. Great sources include:

  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Greek yogurt
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Tuna and other fish
  • Turkey

 

Carbs will give you energy and help you recover after a training session. Great sources include:

  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Wild rice

Healthy fats should be a part of your diet as well, including:

  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts

Of course, vegetables should be on your plate at every meal.

As a general rule of thumb, most triathletes aim for: 15-20% protein, 50-60% carbs, 20-35% fat. The ratio will depend on the time of year.

Opt for quality when buying food – not quantity. High-quality food will contain more nutrients, which will give you energy, help you feel fuller for longer and give you the endurance you need to get through training.

The Right Gear

Just like any other sport, you need the right gear to succeed when competing in a triathlon. Unless you’re a pro, there’s no need to worry about buying the most expensive or advanced gear. Just focus on buying quality items that will fulfill their purpose.

Here are the basics that every triathlete needs:

  • Running shoes
  • Wetsuit
  • Helmet
  • Bike
  • Tri-shoes
  • Goggles
  • Swimming cap
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Clothing
  • Sunglasses

Choose clothing that is most appropriate for each course.

Training for a triathlon requires dedication, patience and hard work, but the results are well worth the effort. There’s no greater feeling than crossing that finish line and seeing all of your hard work pay off.

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