So you’ve decided a triathlon is your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Well done – after all, why choose just one activity when you can make it harder by combining three? So let’s look at a few vital pointers that will take you from zero to triathlete-completing hero.
First up, it’s important to select a goal race to start with and lock it in your schedule because if you don’t race, then you’re not a triathlete – you’re just someone who does a bit of swimming, noodles around on a bike, and goes for the odd jog. There’s no need to set your debut race in some faraway future, either. Enticer triathlons make are available around the country so that almost anyone can dive right in and experience be confident of completing their first event without testing the ambulance cover on their health insurance.
There is no set format for enticer triathlon – they can be as short as a 200m swim, a 2km cycle and a 1km run, and they will all be less than the standard sprint distance triathlon, which is 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run.
If your swimming is holding you back, look up duathlons, which combine running and cycling. If it’s the cycling setting you back, then seek out an aquathlon (running and swimming).
Triathlon Australia recommends that anyone with a base level of fitness can train for an enticer triathlon in as little as four weeks, while someone just beginning to get active can get by with six weeks.
Aim to train five days out of seven – it sounds daunting, but the actual training time in some of these sessions can be as little as 20 minutes. When you’re starting out, the important thing is to learn to pace yourself, which means that your running and cycling intensity should be done at a controlled intensity where you have enough breath to maintain a conversation. If you’re getting too breathless trying to run for 20 minutes, then start by alternating between running and walking every minute, then extend this to two minutes, then three, and so on. If you can run 20 minutes OK, you can work in some sessions of sharp intervals of 60 seconds each. For cycling, you can do some training indoors, but it’s important to also get outdoors and hone your skills braking, cornering and dodging. In the pool, you can swim 50 or 100m at a time and then rest. Wearing flippers are also a good way to increase the amount of time you can swim for (but they’re not allowed for racing).
A typical weekly training format for beginners will be:
MON – swim
TUES – cycle
WED – run
THURS – rest / recovery day
FRI – swim
SAT – cycle + run (‘brick’ training)
SUN – rest / recovery day
The ‘brick’ training is important to condition your legs and hips for the strain of going straight from bike to running (even elite triathletes feel a bit of stiffness and they have to ease themselves up to full running pace), plus it’s a chance to practice your transition.
Your rest /recovery days are not meant to be a total bludge – they’re a chance to work on maintaining your body with stretching, massage or active recovery methods such as yoga or walking in a pool in water between mid-thigh and waist height.
The surest way to maximise your progress is simple: don’t get injured! In beginners, the root cause of injuries comes down to two things – overuse and poor technique. ‘Overuse’ is a relative term. Just because the next guy does three times your distance in training doesn’t mean you can’t get overuse injuries. It’s all about whether you’ve done too much too soon for what your body is ready to handle. That’s why you should only increase your training volume in small increments, and don’t do it every week – always give your body a second crack at a session so it has a chance to learn and adapt.
As you build up your training volume, you can be sure that poor technique will eventually come back to bite you. Low hips in the water and low elbows in the arm cycle of the stroke can lead to shoulder injuries. Positioning your seat on the bike too high or too low can cause lower back and knee problems, and too much downward pressure on the pedals from not knowing how to use the gears efficiently can lead to leg and knee issues. Over-pronating feet (excessive inward foot rolling), landing your foot too far out in front of you, ‘dropping’ your hips as you run can, over time, cause injuries anywhere between the hips and the soles of your feet. This is why the best investment you can possibly make when you begin training for triathlon is not a carbon fibre bike or a fancy wetsuit or $280 shoes – instead, get your technique checked out by specialist trainers or very experienced triathletes, get advice on your bike set-up and how to use the gears. (See herefor a guide to gear when starting out in triathlon.)
Finally, go see some triathlons live and get close to the start and the transition areas – it’s the best way to learn all the tricks and techniques for transitions and dealing with the pack start safely and effectively. Best of all, it will get you excited – that will be you one day soon!
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