Triathlons are for Everyone: How to Get Started

Sometimes, when we think of our own capabilities, our self-limiting beliefs stop us from being able to achieve what we want to. "I can't do that," we think, and then we never even try. Of course, we can't do it if we don't even try, which is why Theodore Roosevelt said, "Believe you can and you're halfway there."

So can just anyone do a triathlon? Yes! There are no prerequisites for triathlons. All you need is time to prepare and the willpower to prepare. Also, you don't have to start off with the toughest race there is, the Ironman. You should start with a Speed Tri, and continuously work your way up!

No matter what your objections to starting are, if you want to, you will. It doesn't matter if you don't know how to swim, can only run .5 miles, or have never really cycled. You can train!

So how do you get started? Here's how!

1. Prepare for the swim.

Let's say you don't know how to swim at all and you're terrified of that water. In that case, you definitely want to sign up for swimming lessons. Yes, there are swim lessons for adults. You need to sign up for swim lessons because just like any other skill, you need to be taught! Plus, you won't have to worry about safety when you are being taught by a Swim Instructor that is lifeguard-certified.

Okay, what if you know how to swim, but you're not good at it? In this case, you may still want to sign up for swim lessons, because the Swim Instructor will teach you proper form and breathing techniques. There are certain ways you can swim to lower your energy expenditure and make you faster in the water.

If you feel you're relatively good, but just need a little more help, you can sign up for a Master's Swim class. Either way, if you're not totally confident in your form and technique, you definitely want an expert watching and analyzing your swimming. They'll instruct you on how to get even better!

And if you are an expert swimmer, but you haven't been in the pool in a few years, then you just need to start practicing on your own. Remember that you know all the form techniques, you just need to get your body back to a place of muscle memory. Remember how you used to take a week off and you'd feel slower? So don't be frustrated if it's been years and you feel really off. With practice, you'll get back to your old pace, and you already have the foundational work behind you!

2. Incorporate biking into your routine.

Luckily, almost everyone knows how to bike. Most people won't have to start from scratch, like they might have to with swimming. Start by slowly incorporating biking into your routine. Maybe you decide to bike to work, even once a week, or maybe you bike with your friends to the brewery. Try to incorporate it into your routine, but you can keep it fun!

You can also try cycle classes. These are especially beneficial because there is an instructor there that will teach you the proper form that you should maintain while cycling. Many people ride with improper form, which lessens their power and increases the chance of injury.

Generally, biking does not have a high rate of injury (compared to running), but it can hurt some people's knees. The most common reasons for knee pain during cycling are saddle height, saddle positioning, foot placement, and overtraining. Cycle instructors can help with the first three reasons, because they can teach you how to properly set up your bike.

As for overtraining, training for a triathlon will reduce overuse injuries because swimming, cycling, and running all use different muscles. It would be different if you were cycling every day for hours on end, but since you will be alternating your training between swimming, cycling, and running, you'll avoid overuse injuries.

3. Increase your running endurance.

Running, similarly to swimming, is where a lot of people have trouble. Especially since it is the last of the three exercises, you are also more likely to be tired by this point. But when has being tired ever stopped us?

If you were never a serious runner, then you may have to start from scratch and learn to run, similarly to the way you learn to swim. There are Personal Trainers or Triathlon Coaches that specialize in teaching the proper form and technique of running.

Proper form while running is essential because recent research estimates that 82% of runners will be injured at some point. This high rate of injury is because running is a high-impact cardio, whereas swimming and cycling are low-impact. High-impact exercises have a high impact on the joints and put you at a higher risk of injury.

But if you have the proper form, and you alternate training between swimming, cycling, and running, your chances of injury will be reduced. So if you are unsure of your form, it's definitely worth having an expert take a look at you while you run.

To increase your running endurance, simply add more minutes to your runs gradually. Notice how I said minutes and not miles. Miles are great, but adding a lot of miles quickly can be intimidating, and sometimes people can add too many miles too fast, leading to injury. Work your way up by adding more minutes.

Maybe you run past a few more houses today, and then walk the rest of the way. Then the next day, you run just a little further. These increases may seem tiny, but they will be huge in strengthening your running endurance.

How to Train

Similarly to running, you should also attempt to slowly increase your swimming and cycling endurance. Maybe you just add 5 more minutes each time you train, or you just try to go a little further than you did last time.

You know the saying: "It's a marathon, not a sprint." A triathlon isn't a marathon, but the long distances definitely don't qualify it as a sprint. For your first triathlon, focus on completing, not how fast you go. Once you become more comfortable with triathlons, you can focus on increasing your speed. But for the initial training, focus on endurance.

How you choose to split up your training between swimming, cycling, and biking is up to you. It would definitely be beneficial to have workouts that transition between two of the exercises. For example, maybe you start off cycling, and then you run for the second half of your workout.

Try to split up your training equally between swimming, cycling, and biking, with transition exercises included. How you choose to approach that split is up to your preferences. Maybe you swim 2 days a week, and have a running and cycling workout 3 days a week. Or maybe if you're especially weak at swimming but very strong in running and cycling, you put more of an emphasis on training for the swim.

Everyone's training splits are going to look different based on their individual needs, but everyone needs to be taking a few rest days a week. In "How to Train for a Triathlon (From Scratch," Gale Bernhardt writes, "When learning how to train for a triathlon, it's tempting to add more and more volume, but the body makes advances in fitness with a balance of stress and rest."

If taking rest days or reduced volume days seems challenging to you, then try to remember that when you exercise, your muscles tear. When you rest, your muscles rebuild and become stronger.

The Equipment You Need

Finally, let's talk about the proper equipment you need:

  • Swim: Swimsuit, goggles, and cap. You may also want some extra materials to train with, including a snorkel, kickboard, flippers, and pull buoy.

  • Cycle: Most triathlons will require that you have your own bicycle, but some will offer stationary bikes. If you need your own bicycle, make sure it is in good condition and is set up to fit you well. You also may want cycling shorts and a helmet. In "How Do I Train For My First Triathlon?" Matt Fitzgerald writes that you may also want a tire pump, a spare tube, and a hex wrench set for tightening and loosening bolts.

  • Running Shoes: It's worth it to invest in some running shoes perfectly fitted to your feet. You can visit a store that specializes in running shoes that are specialized for your specific foot and technique of running and walking.

Final Tip: Just Try

You'll never succeed unless you try. There's nothing to do except get moving! Prove yourself wrong. You can do a triathlon. It's just a matter of training.

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