Training for a triathlon

The triathlon requires speed, endurance and technique and as a result, this rapidly growing sport is a great way to get fit.

training for a triathlon
training for a triathlon

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Consisting of swimming, cycling and running, the training will improve cardio-vascular fitness, muscle strength and endurance and completing such a challenge, no matter how fast or slow, will leave you with a fantastic sense of achievement. If you're new to the sport here's what you need to know to get started.

What does a triathlon consist of?
There are three types of triathlon ranging from the shorter spring variety to the hardcore Iron Man.

A sprint triathlon includes a 750m swim, 22km cycle and 5km run. The Olympic version consists of a 1500 m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run, while the challenging Iron Man extends those distances to a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile cycle, followed by a 26.2-mile marathon. In many cases, the swim section of the event will take place in the sea, though some require contestants to use a pool.

Competitors often call the transition between each stage, the time it takes to prepare for the next event, the 'fourth discipline' as a quick change can shave minutes off your overall time.

Where do I start?
How you start training depends largely on your current level of fitness. Whether you want to get seriously competitive or are just determined to complete, a local triathlon club will be happy to impart their invaluable knowledge and offer helpful tips.

If you plan on training alone, however, don't rush headlong into 5km runs - endurance is the key to triathlon success and as such requires a steady build-up of fitness. As your general fitness and endurance improves, you can gradually increase your speed before simulating the three-phase experience over shorter distances.

Since the swim is the only section where technique is more important than fitness, it's a good idea to go to your local pool and ask about a few lessons to help you with technique. Since you'll need all your leg strength for the cycle stage that follows, front crawl is the best stroke for this first section as it uses mostly upper body strength. If the event you have entered requires a sea-swim, it's important to train a couple of times in the sea to enable you to get used to swimming with a wetsuit on, as they are required by many event organisers.

Once you've established some swimming technique and assessed your fitness level, it's time to make a training plan. The bike ride in a standard, Olympic triathlon is usually the longest section and therefore, plenty of cycle training is advised. Though you don't need to spend thousands on a new bike, it's worth getting a service done to ensure that everything is in good working order. Proper safety equipment is a must so do invest in a helmet.

Also make sure the saddle height is correct (put your heel on the pedal at its lowest point - your leg should be straight) and spend time learning how to use the gears. Staying in a lighter gear can seriously reduce your race time so use heavier gears only when necessary. If you're not a regular cyclist, it will take time to build up the strength and fitness required so gradually increase your rides as your fitness improves. A spinning class can work wonders if your muscles need an extra boost.

As the final section of the triathlon, the run presents its own challenges - if you haven't paced yourself in the first two legs, you could find yourself struggling. As with the cycling, endurance is the key and a slow build-up in terms of distance while you're training is essential. Don't be tempted to push yourself speed-wise, a steady pace is the best way.

It's also essential to practise the cycle-to-run transition. Most competitors will experience what's known as 'jelly legs' as they get off the bike so a short run after a cycling practise session will allow you to get used to this strange sensation.

Beginners training for their first triathlon should be aware of the particular challenges their race presents. Knowing whether the landscape is hilly or the race involved an open water swim will enable you to tailor your training to fit the race.

Above all, set yourself a realistic goal. Push yourself too hard and too fast and you risk injury. Completing such a test of stamina, technique and speed alone will give you an enormous sense of achievement, and there's always the opportunity to improve your time once you've been bitten by the bug!

Have you risen to the triathlon challenge? What are your tips for success? Leave your comments below...