Many people enter the world of triathlon through one of the three disciplines, which in my experience is usually running. The endurance developed through running is often excellent in beginner triathletes, but the technical abilities in swimming in particular are often lacking.
Here is an introductory guide to help you frame your training for your first triathlon, based on the Olympic distance triathlon, which is:
1.5 km swim, 40 km ride and 10 km run
(Although this is not exactly the same for every race). Since abilities can differ so wildly, even among triathlon newbies, please take it as a starting point and a framework, and adapt and adjust according to your own abilities. The time frame is 10 weeks.
Your training should revolve around one word; variety.
There is little to be achieved by simply swimming, cycling or running at exactly the same low pace day in and day out, no matter how many hours of training you clock up: quality is the key, not quantity.
Besides being boring and inefficient, you only utilise one of your three muscle fibres – slow twitch (the others being medium and fast twitch muscle fibres). You therefore want to ensure your body experiences the stresses of both explosive speed and endurance, and also somewhere in between (stress in this sense being a positive thing!) With that in mind, there is one additional element to be added to your triathlon training to make a quartet: the gym!
✓ The strength you can acquire in the gym will work wonders on your time, and you can also give the individual disciplines a bit of added impact.
✓ A good place to start is to try and ensure that you have three sessions of each discipline a week, plus one or two visits to the gym!
The majority of people looking to do their first triathlon are usually less experienced swimmers. They may have run marathons, but swimming can prove particularly daunting in light of how technically challenging it is.
It is therefore worth your time to focus on swimming, especially if it’s early on in there year – and the prospects of a heated pool are far more enticing than an icy run or ride!
✓ Since you want to aim for at least three sessions a week, you can divide these into speed, race pace and endurance sessions.
✓ Speed sessions should be a maximum of 30 minutes, race pace about 30-40 and endurance anywhere between 40 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes, depending on your particular goals.
✓ Try to get at least one bike session in during the week, and then an endurance session in over the weekend.
Finding the time for a ride during the winter months with early darkness can be hard, so it is a good idea to stick to the weekend slot. Bearing in mind that you will only be required to cover 40km in the race itself, there is no need to go all out for the endurance ride; 60km ought to suffice, but adapt this to your level.
✓ For the other ride, try and be on the saddle for at least an hour to keep up your fitness.
✓ You may also want to consider the stationary bikes at the gym if you are unable to make it outdoors during the day.
Dedicate your time on these to speed and power (primarily because you may only have a 20-minute limit on cardio machines at your gym), but also to engage your fast twitch muscle fibres!
Apply the same principles of three sessions per week, with one speed, one endurance and one race pace.
✓ For a bit of added kick, a lot of people go for a speed session the day after endurance.
✓ Make your speed sessions between 20 and 30 minutes (including warm-up), and find a good playing field or hill to time yourself doing “laps”.
Again, since the run is 10km, your endurance run does not need to cover a marathon, but maybe 12-15km.
✓ Keep your race pace session to below 10km in order not to burn out.
BONUS | The Gym
Adding another element to a sport which already involves three seems like over-doing it, but if you can make it to the gym once or twice a week for 30-40 minutes and train the muscles specific to your sport, you will notice marked improvements.
✓ Focus on lifts like squats, deadlifts and other complex movements, and avoid lifts like bicep curls, which are not going to help you in your different disciplines.
✓ You can also add a spin on the stationary bike while you’re there.
BEGINNER’S TRIATHLON TRAINING | 10-Week Schedule
The four elements above form the rough outline of your training schedule, but below is an example of how it might look when you draw one out for yourself.
In the next few days you will find more details about each session and how to make the most of the time you have to train, but for now, take an overview of this to get you in the right mind-set!