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Keen on trying a triathlon, but can't afford to hire a high-performance trainer, J.Lo-style? Not to worry!
"If you can swim, ride a bike and run, you're in essence already a triathlete," says Libby Burrell, the Whistler, B.C.–based director of high performance for Triathlon Canada and a former coach of the South African Olympic triathlon team.
What kind of triathlon is right for you?
Once you've decided to commit to your first triathlon, the first step is to choose one. To accommodate different skill levels, there are several types of triathlons composed of varying distances, including a sprint triathlon, an Olympic triathlon and a full or half Ironman.
A sprint triathlon involves a 750 metre swim, 20 kilometre bike ride and 5 kilometre run, while an Olympic triathlon features a 1.5 kilometre swim, 40 kilometre bike ride and 10 kilometre run. A full Ironman consist of a 3.86 kilometre swim, 180 kilometre bike ride and a 42.2 kilometre run.
If those sound too daunting, a "try-a-tri" might be your best bet. There aren't really set distances for these shortest of all the triathlons, and in some cases the swim portion may be in a pool rather than in open water. Generally, a "try-a-tri" is made up of a 300-500 metre swim, 7-15 kilometre bike ride and a 2.5-4 kilometre run.
"Regardless of your fitness level and which triathlon you choose, you need to set specific goals and create a program to carry them out," says Burrell, 56, who has completed several triathlons since her first in 1992. "That will be critical to both success and enjoyment."
It's important to keep in mind that most triathletes don't set out to finish first.
"It's not about winning," says Burrell. "It's about finishing and clocking a personal best time," she explains.
Burnell's 6 training tips for beginners
1. Get the green light from your doc
Even if you're in good general health, it's wise to let your doctor know that you're planning to train for a triathlon and to get a complete physical before you begin.
"You especially want to ensure that you have the heart and lung capacity to handle the training," says Burrell.
2. Buy the right gear
You'll need the basic equipment for swimming bathing suit, bathing cap and goggles), biking (bicycle and helmet) and running (properly fitted shoes).
"You don't need anything fancy, just the basics," says Burrell. "But make sure that your equipment is in good working order and that it's sized to fit you."
3. Hone your technique
Paying attention to small technical details can make big performance improvements that may save a lot of time and make your training a more pleasant experience.
"A good swim stroke, the right bike fit and decent running shoes make all the difference," explains Burrell.
4. Find training mates
If you don't have a regular group of training companions, join an existing one.
"Training in a group adds a social dimension to your workouts and is a great motivator," says Burrell. "You'll be more committed to get up early to go for a swim, bike or run if you know there's at least one other person counting on you to show up."
5. Draft a weekly plan
Depending on your fitness level and schedule, you should plan to train for a minimum of eight to 12 weeks leading up to the race. Try to do two to three weekly sessions of each sport, depending on your level of fitness and the amount of time available to you. This means you'll need to schedule six to nine training sessions each week.
"Keep in mind that you need to have one complete rest day per week," says Burrell.
Your week might look something like this: swim on Monday; bike on Tuesday; run on Wednesday; swim on Thursday; rest on Friday; longer bike on Saturday; longer run on Sunday.
6. Nurture your psyche
It's important to not only warm up well before each session and never train if you have a cold or the flu, but also to cultivate the right mindset.
"There will be times when your motivation will be low and you'll feel like skipping a session or you'll be discouraged by your performance on a particular day," says Burrell.
When that happens be patient and forgiving – and don't overdo it. "Follow a hard day of training with an easier day," suggests Burrell.