Triathlon: Beginners’ Guide (I)

Triathlon: Beginners’ Guide (I)

We are in an ideal time to start in the triathlon, a sport that brings together three endurance sports, each harder than the other:

  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Running

In good weather, we all feel like going out for a swim, taking the bike ride or running a few kilometres at sunset to relax our minds after a day of work or a day at the beach (which stresses us out too).

Why practice triathlon: my personal experience

Five years ago I trained myself for an Ironman, and during 9 months I practiced these 3 disciplines non-stop, guided by the great Josef Ajram, and I managed to finish the Ironman with a great time for it being my first: 11h:16min.

Since then, I’ve started interchanging between the weights and my dedication to this sport, as the triathlon is very similar to the “irons” as far as the constancy is concerned, and at the same time it possesses a good dose of sacrifice and effort that no other sport discipline can offer you: not only because of the frequency and intensity of the training sessions, but also because on many occasions you’ll kiss the ground (bike falls), get stung by jellyfish while training on the beach, and you’ll get injured because of the hours of volume on asphalt.

But you will enjoy every event you take part in to the full, and when you finish, nothing in the world will give you the same pleasure as managing to finish a triathlon, although the longer and harder it is, the more mental pleasure it will give you to cross the finish line.

Triathlon

Triathlon beginners’ guidelines

This post is aimed at all those who want to start in the world of triathlon, and from my point of view as an amateur, give you the best advice I can to take into account when it comes to training for this exciting sport:

Basic equipment

You don’t need to spend a lot of money, you don’t need to go pro, I’ve seen unusual cases, people who buy everything, you’ll have to spend quite a lot on race registration… so let’s go to the basics and necessities:

  • Road bike: it doesn’t need to be a time trial bike, in fact for the short tri it’s not good, they only let you use it in long distance, and you can buy short or long models depending on the discipline. You have the option to go to the second hand market, in Spain it’s huge and there are incredible bargains… Follow the social networks of the semi pros, they usually help people selling good bikes.
  • Bicycle helmet: obviously it is essential or you will not be allowed to participate. My recommendation: spend good money on it, it has saved me from several hard falls, so whatever your economy allows, and don’t buy it second hand, it may be damaged.
  • Triathlon suit: it’s useful to wear underneath the wetsuit, for the bike and for running, buying one for about 50€ will be enough.
  • Swimming goggles: don’t buy cheap ones, I ended up buying 5 pairs because I was racing. In the end, I bought some with a mirror so I could swim with sun and everything, and they cost me 30€.
  • Running shoes: as minimalist as possible, within your footprint type, that will last you a lot of kilometres, and with elastic laces to put them on easily when you get off the bike and do the transition.
  • Bike shoes: don’t invest a lot of money, don’t go high end, buy cheap and comfortable, the key is that they don’t hurt you, so you can use a half or one size bigger than normal.
  • Swimsuit: it’s not always compulsory but in some tris it is, you can look at second hand, or on the Internet. I bought a cheap one on the internet and it’s been a luxury, it didn’t even cost me 100 euros. You could also rent it, but if you are going to do it in the long run this’ll be expensive.
  • Chronometer: with heart rate monitor and gps would be the ideal, and you get rid of needing more gadgets. I’ve spent a lot on gadgets and now I only use the Tomtom Runner Cardio, which connects to the heart rate monitor on my wrist, but I repeat, the gadgets are not mandatory, but great to control your performance and effort, and control variables that prevent us overtraining.Triathlon bike

Practice incessantly

You need to practice until you have mastered all three disciplines before starting a triathlon. Riding a bike is not the same as riding a road bike, nor is swimming in a pool the same as swimming in the open sea or in an estuary, with or without a wetsuit… so practice as much as you can as it will be in the race. It’s important to learn to ride and swim in a group.

Nutrition

This is vital. As in any sport, you need to try to balance the whole, weighing less is not everything, perhaps the excess muscle is too much, and the fat helps you swim better, because it improves buoyancy, so you must seek a balance. Follow a balanced diet avoiding saturated fats and refined sugars, put in fruit, vegetables, rice and wholemeal pasta, oily fish, chicken, turkey, nuts, seafood, fish… and cook mostly on the grill. If you don’t have someone to advise you, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to read the nutritional guide for beginners.

Training sessions

Look for a 2 and 4 month training programme to prepare for the first short tri (provided you have mastered the three disciplines before). 1 to 2 hours on weekdays is enough, and use the weekends for long bike rides..

Triathlon transitions

Practice the transitions

With bike shoes, barefoot, getting on and off… everything requires a lot of practice, and everyone has their own technique, leaving your bike shoes on, taking them off, putting on your shoes, taking off your swimsuit… it seems silly but it takes skill and a lot of practice, and it will buy you vital time if you give it a lot of practice.

Short triathlons to start with

The shorter it is, the better to start with, to get a good feeling, to try out transitions in competition and to gain confidence for the longer distances. If the first thing you do is an ironman, you will have a very very bad time, I can assure you. That’s why a good starting point is the so-called “Sprint Triathlon”, which are similar tests to the Ironman, but with scaled distances (shorter).

The most important thing: enjoy the triathlon competing against yourself, you’ll see how you get hooked on it!

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About David Diaz Gil
David Diaz Gil
David Díaz Gil contributes with excellent articles in which he deposits the essence of his experience as well as scientific rigor.
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