Before my first triathlon, I hadn't swum in a race since I was 8 years old. I was also pretty shaky on the bike and was a solid back-of-the-pack runner. Still, there was something so appealing to me about putting all three of these events — swimming, cycling and running — into one race and challenging myself in a new way.
So I took the plunge and signed up. And I've never regretted that decision. Over the years, I've been met with nothing but support from the triathlete community. Even at the Ironman level (that's right, this beginner triathlete went on to complete an Ironman race!) triathletes were always willing to show me the ropes and teach me tricks to make my day a success.
If you've ever wondered about doing a triathlon but thought it was out of your league, I'm here to tell you that it's not. And to back that up, I talked to two experts — Erin Beresini, five-time Ironman and editor in chief of Triathlete Magazine (a great resource for triathletes at all levels) and 11-time Ironman and triathlete coach Marni Sumbal — to share the best advice they have for anyone considering a triathlon. Here's what Beresini and Sumbal have to say about training for a triathlon:
Step 1: Sign up for a race
That's me on the right, getting ready to hit the water for my first tri. I was nervous but calmed by my good friend Carol, on the left, who swims like a fish and has always been more than happy to share her secrets. (Photo: Jenn Savedge)
"The act of entering can be incredibly motivating and light the training spark — once you have that carrot dangling in front of you, you can figure out a plan of action to fill the weeks until you'll toe the start line," said Beresini. Just be sure to give yourself at least eight weeks (12 to 16 is ideal, says Sumbal) so you can get in enough training to feel competent and confident on race day.
Ask triathlete friends or check in with an online forum like this Reddit forum for recommendations about good races for beginners. Next, find a training plan (like this one) or seek out a triathlon coach to help you develop a plan that will fit your time frame and level of fitness.
Step 2: Assemble your gear and find your peeps
"All you truly need to do a triathlon is a swimsuit, goggles, any kind of bike, a helmet and running shoes," said Beresini. If you're nervous about the swim — and believe me, you're not alone if you are — Sumbal recommends going with a triathlon that has a pool swim. That way you can get your feet wet (see what I did there?) in the sport without the added anxiety of open-water swimming.
And don't feel shy about reaching out to your local triathlon club or group. Tell them that you're a beginner who is ready and willing to learn, and "they will welcome you with open arms," said Beresini. She added, "You’ll meet wonderful people who will train with you, teach you, keep up your motivation and likely become lifelong friends."
Step 3: Have the time of your life!
For the next couple of months, you will be focused on putting in the training to make your first triathlon a success. And believe me, the first time you cross that finish line will be amazing — like "beaming with pride from every pore and hurting your face from all of the smiling" amazing. But let me fill you in on a little secret. Training for that triathlon is fun, too. I'm not saying it's easy. Waking up early and heading out for a swim, bike or run (or all three) is tough. But you will meet new people and make new friends and learn new words (like brick, short course and aero) and the whole process will make you feel strong, powerful and alive.
Then on race day, you will put it all together into a life-altering experience that really will make you see yourself in a whole new light.