How To Train For Your First Triathlon


Learn how to mix up work outs and move beyond running with a sprint triathlon.: Photo credit: PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus collection/Getty Images

If you have burned out on 5K runs, don’t relish getting dirty in a mud run and aren’t quite ready for a half-marathon, you might be ready to train for a sprint triathlon.

Such an event — which is generally comprised of a half-mile open water swim, a 15- to 20-mile bike ride and a three- to four-mile run — offers a great way to see if you like doing all three sports together, according to Heather Blackmon, certified running and triathlon coach and founder of FITAspire.com.

You will want to allow eight to 12 weeks to train, so take that into consideration when starting your search for events and committing to them with your credit card, Blackmon says.

Once you’ve submitted your registration, here are five things to know about training for your first triathlon.

Seek Advice for Your Workout Plan

Check with the event sponsor or local running store to see if they offer a similar event or have sample training plans. Talk with and learn from more experienced athletes. You don’t have to hire a coach to train for your first tri, but it never hurts to ask an expert when learning a new skill.

“I was lucky enough to have gone to a ‘newbie night’ that was put on by the race company, so that answered a lot of my questions the first time around,” said Chrissy Carroll, personal trainer and blogger at Snacking in Sneakers, about her first triathlon.

Build a “Brick” House

You will want to adopt a so-called “brick workout,” which is any “workout that includes two disciplines, like a bike-run,“ according to Blackmon. This type of workout not only trains your body for the effort of doing two activities back-to-back, but also gives you a chance to practice transitioning from your wet suit to biking attire.

Time for New Gear?

You don’t necessarily need specialized gear for a triathlon, but it helps. Carroll, for example, used a mountain bike for her first race, but prefers a road bike. When deciding whether a wet suit is needed, make sure you factor in the water temperature for the swim.

If you’re hesitant to make the investment in new gear but want to have the best tools, see if you can borrow them or find them used.

Don’t Forget About the Gym

In addition to brick training, you will also need to incorporate at least two sessions a week of strength training into your plan.

“This is important for injury prevention and improving performance in your sport,” Blackmon said. “You should include exercises that target common weaknesses and any prior injuries in your workouts to get the most out of your time.”

Expect the Unexpected

Weather is something you can’t control and it’s hard to practice for every condition or issues like a flat tire or foggy googles.

The good news is there is a great camaraderie among racers and plenty of people on the course to help when things get tough.

“Other athletes and volunteers would offer words of encouragement on the course,” Carroll says. “I found it really motivating and one of the reasons I’ve stuck with it.”

Perhaps the best tip is from Vic Pardue, ACSM certified exercise physiologist and a veteran of numerous triathlons: “Have fun and enjoy the experience. Don’t worry about the time. Just finish.”

About the Author

Pamela HernandezPamela Hernandez is a certified personal trainer and health coach who specializes in empowering women with fitness. When she's not in the gym you can find her writing, drinking tea and planning her next trip.