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Helpful information for beginner triathletes. By Bruce Thomas.

My First Triathlon by Bruce Thomas

 “I want to do a triathlon!” If you have never attempted one before then you should start with at most a sprint distance triathlon, comprising a 750m swim, a 20km bike ride and a 5km run. This is an achievable distance and will certainly allow you to experience the sport of triathlon. So given that a sprint race is your initial goal, what do you need to do to achieve the goal?

Equipment The minimum equipment requirement would be:

Swim: Swimming costume and goggles. (I would recommend the first race being in summer so that the water temperature is warm enough for you to enjoy the swim).
Bike:  Bike (road or mountain bike), helmet, water-bottle, running shoes for clip-less pedals /cycling shoes for clip-ins, shorts and T-shirt/singlet
Run: Running shoes, shorts and T-shirt/singlet

This is enough equipment to allow you to finish the event. Some optional equipment that will make the event a little more comfortable includes:

Swim: Wetsuit (aids in flotation and keeps you warm)
Bike: Cycling shoes (allows more efficient transfer of power to the pedals), Clip-in pedals (allows you to pedal in full circles rather than just pushing on the pedals), Aero bars (makes you more aerodynamic on the bike)
Run: Elastic laces (makes the change into running shoes quicker, Running cap


"A club is one place that
you can hook up with
like-minded people and
most clubs have members
at a range of athletic

Once you have the gear organised it is just a matter of ensuring that you are physically capable of making the distances. For your first race this is simply a matter of spending enough time training in each discipline. If you are starting out, the training does not have to be hard; it should be achievable and enjoyable so that you are keen to do another session. One way of making sessions enjoyable is to train with other people who are at your ability level. A club is one place that you can hook up with like-minded people and most clubs have members at a range of athletic abilities.

So what training volumes do you need to achieve? For the first event, you don’t only need to be able to cover the distances of the race but also have to be able to complete the run after a swim and a bike. Let us consider each discipline:

Swim: Swimming is the easiest discipline to improve to a level at which you can swim non-stop for a given distance; however, it is the hardest discipline to master and to move from a survival level to being a proficient swimmer. To get the swimming to a level at which you can complete a 750m swim you will need to get to a pool 2-3 times a week. After 3 to 4 weeks you should be able to comfortably swim 1km non-stop. If you have not swum much in the past you should build the swimming up by adding 50-100m to the distance that you can swim non-stop each time you go to the pool. Once you have swum the “non-stop” portion of the swim, swim 50 or 100m with rest between each until you have been in the pool for at least 20min.

Open water swim tips: when swimming in open water, give yourself some room to swim. Keep out of the centre of the swim and get into a good rhythm. Once you are underway you can work your way towards other swimmers to get some drafting assistance. When swimming select an object on the horizon that is in line with the swim buoys. This will give you something easy to see when you look up to swim towards. As you approach the end of the swim, kick a little harder to get the blood circulating in the legs so that you are ready to run to your bike and continue with the event.

Bike: The bike is the most time consuming discipline to train. To achieve a worthwhile return for your efforts on the bike a ride on the road of at least 1hour is needed. Much under an hour on the road and the body doesn’t really get enough stress to start to adapt to the workout. When riding you should be riding in the saddle as much as possible in gears that mean your cadence (revolutions of the pedals per minute) is 80rpm or greater (so the pedal turns just a bit faster than 1 revolution per second). You should aim to get in a longer ride on the weekend and at least one other ride during the week (early spring mornings are awesome at the moment and it is great to be up to experience them).

Run: Running is the most taxing of the disciplines, as you have to carry your own weight. With the run, build up gradually. Start with whatever distances you can cope with running at an easy pace. If this is a minute, great, if it is 5 minutes, even better. Just run for as long as you are comfortable and then walk for a minute. Repeat this for at least 20minutes. If you can aim for three of these runs a week, aiming to reduce the duration and frequency of the walks in each run, in 3 to 4 weeks you should be able to run 5km.

Transition: an important part of triathlon is the transition. There is the transition from swim to bike and then from bike to run. Before the event you should practise riding the bike and getting straight off and going for a run. The first time you do this it will feel like you are running on someone else’s legs; however, a few of these transition sessions will soon make it feel more comfortable and allow you to enjoy the experience on race day.

Now that you have the gear and can physically make the distances it is worth thinking about how you are going to fuel yourself for the race (and in the lead up). As a general rule of thumb your daily diet should be well balanced with plenty of grains, fruits, vegetables and protein and restricted in highly processed and fatty foods. This gives you a good mix of fuel to burn and to help you recover from training. On race day you should have a very light breakfast a couple of hours before the event. Sip on water up to the race but don’t drink more than 750mL- 1L, particularly if you are not normally a big drinker. For a sprint distance race you will not need food during the event but will need to have a water bottle to drink from on the bike (you should drink 200-250mL during the ride). On the run take water at the aid stations – a good mouthful at each one is enough.

Well that should pretty much set you up to get through your first triathlon. Make sure that it is an enjoyable experience by preparing properly, not taking it too seriously and being realistic in your expectations. Good luck!

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