Help! I've Entered A Triathlon And I Don't Know Where To Start.....

We've all been there (read the coaches bios!) where we've entered an event not really knowing what it entails, egged on by a bit of peer pressure, Fear Of Missing Out or just because it sounded like a good idea at the time.  Below we discuss the elements you need to include in your training to help you complete your first triathlon.....hopefully the first of many.

I'm going to make the assumption that you're reading this because you have entered your first triathlon and you're really not sure what you should be doing. I'm also going to make the assumption that it is a sprint distance (400m or 750m swim/20k bike/5k run) event that you have entered.....if you've entered an IRONMAN/long distance event as your first triathlon - I take my hat off to you (and I suggest you read this blog as well)!

Rule number 1 - Don't panic

Unless your event is in the next 4 weeks, you'll be ok.  You will be able to make it round the course and you don't need to suddenly go from doing nothing to swimming lots of metres in the pool, riding for hours and running 5k everyday.
What I would suggest is that to ease the feeling of impending doom, that you sit down with a calendar - circle the all important race day and work out how much time you do actually have.
Then work out how much time you actually have to train and on what days.  Be realistic here - it's better to add more in later than it is to realise you can't do it all and become downhearted with the missed training sessions.


Rule number 2 - Apply some logic to your sessions

Now that you've calmed down and realised you've got a few weeks to train, now is the time to get into some detail.  For all of the opportunities that you have to train, start allocating them to various sports.  For example, Saturday could be Park Run, Sunday a bike ride, Monday and Thursday a swim session (be armed with the local pool timetable at this point...nothing is more frustrating than turning up to the pool to find it is a family playtime session!), Tuesday another run session etc.  You want to aim to have one day off in the week and at least one session for each discipline.

Rule number 3 - Train with purpose

Having a session to undertake is motivating; going to the pool or starting a run without any idea of what you are going to do is neither motivating or purposeful.
Try not to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to swim 400m/750m so go to the pool and just swim this amount.  Same applies to running and cycling - to get better you want to build your endurance and speed so that you can complete the distances with either less effort (bonus!) or quicker.  By building interval sessions into your training, you will work at a harder effort for a short period of time.  Try something like 5 x 100m in the pool with a good rest in between (note: good does not equal 5 mins of chatting, it's more like 30-45 seconds).  the following week, up this to 7 x 100m and then 9 x 100m.  Add a bit of variety by doing every other 100m fast and the other comfortable.  Write all of this down and take it with you so that you know what you are doing and you have a purpose.
Running and cycling can be the same - run for 2 mins easy and 1 min hard, the following week make the hard a little longer - or run up some hills to gain some leg strength.  You could use Park Run as a nice steady 5km run each week.  Steady though, save the 5km sprint for race day!


Rule number 4 - You are not alone

If it helps you to get out and train or you want some structure in a session without thinking about it, then look for your local triathlon/swim/cycle/run clubs.  These group environments will help push you through the harder sessions, provide some structure for you and introduce you to some like minded individuals.  Check this club blog out.  You won't regret joining a club if you like to train with others (or just need some general motivation).

Rule number 5 - Get in the pool

Unless you have come from a swimming background, this is usually the part of triathlon that has newcomers a little worried.  I'm afraid there is only one solution to get better at swimming and that's to swim more and swim often.  If you can swim more than once a week then I would urge you to do this...even if it is two 30 minute sessions rather than one hour session.  Swimming is so technical (and not an environment our land based bodies are used to) that you need to keep practising it regularly.  Human muscles will be quick to forget swimming as it's not something we need to do.  We all need to walk and move on our legs so our bodies remember this....I wonder how many kilometres you've walked in your life as you go about your day.  Compare that to the number of metres you have swum in your life......see my point?

Rule number 6 - Be kind to yourself

Training for a new sport is exciting and exhilarating at the same time - and in case it has escaped your attention, you're embarking on three sports in one.  Triathlon is an endurance sport and can be tough on the body.  Be kind to yourself and try not to overdo it (see rule number 1; Don't panic) - little and often is what you need to remember.  When we talk about consistency, this is what we mean.  Doing half a session is better than no session.  Running once every 3 weeks is not consistent, running twice a week even if it is for half the session planned is more consistent.

Rule number 6 - Enjoy yourself!

Triathlon is an amazing sport and has some of the friendliest athletes.  Everyone has a story to tell of their journey and everyone has one sport that they are less competent at, you're not alone!  Don't forget to look back to see HOW far you have come....and practise that finishing line smile :)