How to Train for a Triathlon

Becoming a Triathlete in 5 Steps
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Are you looking for a multisport challenge? Try a triathlon, which incorporates running, cycling, and swimming in a single race. While the thought of a triathlon sounds intimidating at first, the event has a reputation for being welcoming and supporting beginners. In this post, we’ll guide you on how to train for a triathlon so you can register for a great race near you.

Let’s get started!

Triathlon Basics

By definition, a triathlon is a single race that involves running, cycling, and swimming, usually starting with swimming. This is because open water poses the greatest threat to an exhausted athlete to complete the riskiest event first. Likewise, running is usually the last event due to the minimum injury risks from the consequences of an exhaustion-related mishap.

The main variables in a triathlon are the distance and location of each event. These variables set the difficulty level so you can plan your triathlon training accordingly. For instance, swimming could take place in a swimming pool, a lake, or the ocean. In the same way, you could be cycling in steep mountains or on a smooth freeway.

See below the table for the basic triathlon distances to get a better idea:

Race Swim Bike Run
Sprint 0.5 mile 12.4 miles 3.5 miles

(International Distance)

0.93 miles 24.85 miles 6.2 miles

(70.3 Triathlon)

1.2 miles 56 miles 13.1 miles

(Long-Distance Triathlon)

2.4 miles 112 miles 26.2 miles

The Essential Gear

Before we get into how to train for a triathlon, you need some essential gear. This basic equipment doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s recommended you buy the right training gear before starting. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Swimsuit and goggles. If you have long hair, get a cap as well.
  • A bicycle, preferably a hybrid for different terrain conditions.
  • Cycling shorts for training to make riding comfortable.
  • A water bottle to stay hydrated during long bike rides.
  • Running shoes that fit your feet perfectly.

How to Train for a Triathlon

If you exercise regularly and know how to swim, you’re ready to begin your triathlon training right away. However, if you’re a couch potato, you’ll need more training, likely a few months, so you can transition from an out-of-shape person to a fit triathlete. If you can’t swim, you’ll have to take lessons and spend time in the pool to learn the basics.

Here’s how to train for a triathlon in 5 simple steps:

Step 1 – Pick a Race

The first step in your triathlon training and becoming a triathlete is finding your first race, preferably a local event. Beginners should avoid triathlons with ocean swims due to tricky waves and currents. Remember, the goal of your first triathlon should be finishing, not necessarily winning, because that takes extreme athletic prowess.

Every event has cut-off times, which is the maximum time a race allows you to finish a course, so check before registering. Many events even have sweeper vans that pick up runners sat the back of the pack to ensure they finish. Next, choose a date according to your fitness and training level. Beginners should choose an event that’s at least three months away.

Step 2 –Fitness Plan

Depending on your current fitness levels, you’ll need at least 6-12 weeks of regular training before becoming a triathlete. Here’s a rough guideline for your workout structure for 5 days with 4-6 hours of toral exercise:

  • Two swim workouts
  • One bike workout
  • One run workout
  • One combination workout

As you get better in each discipline, you can add more combination workouts. Most people struggle with swimming, and if you’re one of them, you should dedicate more time to it until you master the basics and get more confidence. The swim is the riskiest part of an event, and you should only attempt it when you’re a good swimmer (not necessarily fast). If you’re not, then stick to a swimming pool triathlon.

Step 3 – Understand Your Training Workouts

A basic triathlon training plan includes workouts to improve your swimming, running, and cycling endurance. Here’s a breakdown to help you understand:

  • Fitness Building Runs and Cycling

These workouts are designed to make sure you physically cover the distances in each course of your triathlon. The goal of the workout is to improve your fitness and build your confidence.

  • The Brick Workout

A brick workout involves back-to-back bike/run or swim/bike training to prepare you for switching during an event, which is the most challenging part.

  • Open Water Swimming

Most triathlons involve open water swimming in a lake, river, or ocean instead of a swimming pool. While you can do basic swimming training in the pool, practicing in open water before a race is important.

Step 4 – Get Organized

Organization is an essential part of any training program. In triathlon training, you’ll be focusing on three different sports, so here are a few things that can make constant training better:

  • Training with Others

Bringing your friends into the action can keep you committed to your training. Plus, you can treat it like a recreational activity, so you don’t skip out.

  • Eating Properly

You cannot skip meals or eat unhealthy during your triathlon training. Refueling after a workout is essential, no matter how tired you are. If you don’t have the energy, at least carry a post-workout snack with you or get a smoothie on your way back.

  • Preparing Meals Ahead of Time

Prepare meals ahead of time to avoid take-outs and succumbing to cravings following a workout. You might be tempted to order a pizza instead of cooking a healthy meal, keeping your fridge and freezer stocked with full or half-prepped meals can help.

Step 5 – Get Social

Triathletes are a social group. So, if you can’t bring your buddies, you should befriend other trainees. Here are some options for finding companionship as you learn how to train for a triathlon:

  • Find a cycling group.
  • Join a swimming program.
  • Join a gym.
  • Join a running or tri-club.
  • Visit triathlon events as a spectator.

Our Final Thoughts

Undeniably, triathlons are notoriously time-intensive, and excelling at three different sports requires great sacrifice. However, if you approach your triathlon training intelligently, you can achieve remarkable gains by becoming a triathlete.

With this comprehensive guide on how to train for a triathlon, there’s nothing to do except get started. There’s no better time than now, so get swimming, cycling and running!

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