Beginner triathlete tips: Why good things come in 3s!
So, you’re a beginner triathlete? Then, listen up!
Forget The Fast and the Furious. The ‘Swim-Bike-Run’ fraternity – aka triathletes – are best described as The Fast. The Fabulous… and everything in between. Every shape, size, age group and ability, from grey nomads in Nikes to gap-toothed kids.
Not what you expected? Brilliant. Chances are – if you’re still in the navel-gazing phase – you’ve just taken your first positive step. Particularly if, like countless others, you’ve floundered under the misconception that triathlons are purely for the uber-fit.
With that hurdle cleared and Queensland voted a fit-cation capital, there’s no better time to take the plunge and discover what drives the world’s happiest travellers to enter bucket-list endurance events.
Triathlons stand proud in a line-up of epic endurance events across Queensland, including marathons, mountain bike challenges and ocean swims. What you may not realise is the majority offer novice formats you can totally tackle as a beginner.
That said, starting your sweat-worthy journey with a triathlon is a very smart move.
Why? Inherent cross-training (swim-bike-run) puts less strain on the body, distributing stress more evenly across muscles and bones. The result? Balanced fitness and less chance of falling in a heap.
You betcha good things come in threes!
KEEPING IT REAL
Sure, a marathon might be your end goal – which for die-hard TRI-hards means the run leg of a full IRONMAN.
But, let’s be real. Few mere mortals wake up one morning and run like Forest Gump, even in Superman SKINS. At least not without risking shin splints, knee issues, tendinitis and a host of other ailments caused by over-use.
What’s more, for newcomers to any sporting discipline, too much of the same repetitive exercise can lead to potential burnout or boredom. A word NEVER uttered in TRI-speak.
Which leads to a vital point. Triathletes, as a collective, are a mega draw-card to entering the sport. Good humoured, sometimes irreverent, but always welcoming. And never, ever boring.
Indeed, the sheer comradery that characterises triathlons, is what makes the sport one of the fastest-growing globally.
Bottom line: having fun and supporting others is as much a part of the TRI-code as… well, anti-chafing cream!
A BIT OF TRI-VIA
Aptly a sporting love-child of the ’70s, the triathlon was first conceived in America (originally by the San Diego Track Club as an alternative to high-intensity track training), making its Olympics debut at Sydney 2000.
Today, it’s one of the few sports where everyday heroes rub shoulders with the world’s best. Not just pro triathletes, but legends from other sporting codes. Australian rugby international Mat Rogers; Superfish Susie O’Neill; and Supercars champion Will Davison, to name a few.
Dubbed the ultimate leveller, the beauty of triathlon as a sport is that everyone runs the same course. A 65-year-old age grouper, MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra), first-timer or Kona world champion.
In fact, you never know who you’ll bump into or overtake on course. Celebrities bitten by the Tri-bug include Gordon Ramsay, J.Lo, Sporty Spice, Matthew McConaughey, Eddie Izzard and Sean Austin (hairy-toed Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings).
DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TRIATHLETE?
Beginner triathlete, rest assured, there’s no such thing as a natural-born triathlete. All triathletes are TRI-hards and wear the title like a badge of honour – striving to achieve personal goals and, in the process, PBs (Personal Bests).
The fun-seeking FOMOs, the young, the old and the restless. You’ll find them all. Each one drawn to the sport for a myriad of reasons, from health scares to serendipitous dares or the battle against middle-age creep. Ironically, many too have literally fallen into the sport – stumbling upon the triathlon fraternity when swimming or cycling for injury rehabilitation. The rest is history.
Few get into the sport expecting to be hooked for life. Even fewer stop at one triathlon. What develops for countless thousands, is a lifestyle that feeds the universal quest for fulfillment, meaningful social connection, and personal betterment.
So, before writing yourself off as not having what it takes to be a triathlete, ask yourself this. Would you like to live a fuller life, meet new people and venture to winning destinations?
If the answer is yes – and you know how to swim (or are willing to learn), can ride a bike and manage a sustained walk-jog – you have what it takes to be a TRI-hard.
On the flip side, a triathlon is not for you if you’re allergic to fun, agoraphobic, or prone to fits of anger should Mother Nature play havoc on race day. Competitor safety is paramount, meaning cancellation or format change can occasionally occur at short notice.
WHERE ON EARTH TO START?
The answer is simple. Queensland.
If you’ve never experienced a triathlon, there’s no better way to get a taster of the TRI vibe than to get out there as a spectator.
Make a weekend of it, taking advantage of idyllic destinations, including:
Gold Coast: 2018 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final and World Championships Gold Coast,12-16 September.
Sunshine Coast: Noosa Triathlon Multisport Festival, culminating in the largest Olympic-distance triathlon on Earth, 31 October – 4 November.
Tropical North Queensland: Cairns Airport Adventure Festival, 6-11 June.
The Whitsundays: Hamilton Island Triathlon, 17 November.
TALK THE TALK
Don’t be shy to talk to triathletes (be warned: they can talk underwater). Explore the athlete’s village. And don’t forget your credit card!
Most triathlons and multi-sport festivals host eye-boggling sport and lifestyle expos. Veritable treasure troves for beginner triathletes wanting to find out more about the sport, local triathlon groups, training tips, nutrition and, of course, TRI gear and gadgets.
A word of advice: Don’t fool yourself into thinking you need an all-carbon, aerodynamic superbike before your first triathlon. You don’t. Any bike (a trusty road or mountain bike) will do the job. It may not be as fast or sexy but only needs to be safe.
Alternatively, if you want to switch up to a higher performance bike on race day, think about hiring a bike a day or two before you compete. Most event organisers will be able to point you in the direction of local hire businesses.
Gear worth investing in: Good quality swimming goggles that don’t leak, pinch or fog up; comfortable running shoes; elastic laces; a decent set of bike pants; and chafe cream. Plus, check out this guide on how to pack for a destination triathlon.
SPRINT, OLYMPIC, ENTICER… OR TEAM?
Beginner triathletes should seriously consider a Sprint distance triathlon (750m swim / 20km bike / 5km run) before tackling an Olympic ‘Standard’ distance course (1500m swim / 40km bike / 10km run).
Many events will also offer shorter ‘Enticer’ or novice courses (swim less than 750m / ride less than 20km / run less than 5km).
And finally, there’s the option to sign up as part of a team in any of the distances (competing in one or two legs).
Choose your option carefully (be honest and kind to yourself). Then register as soon as you can – even before you start training. In fact, the earlier the better if you want to reap the rewards of early bird rates.
Most importantly, shout it to the world.
BRICKING IT! AND OTHER BEGINNER TRIATHLETE TIPS
Completing your first triathlon will be challenging, but not insurmountable or anything to panic about. In fact, ‘bricking it’ has a totally different meaning in TRI terms and won’t leave you in a cold sweat.
The so-called brick workout simply involves stacking two disciplines – most commonly, a bike/run, although it’s also fun to throw in a swim/bike.
If you’re a beginner triathlete, however, it’s best to leave this method until later in training and to only tackle it in short bursts – more than anything, to get a feel of what it’s like to fast-track from one discipline to another.
Brick training will also give you an idea of how your body may react during a triathlon. Here, it’s totally normal for your legs to initially feel heavy and ‘brick-like’ after finishing a bike workout then running straight away.
Take it slow and steady, particularly if you feel a cramp coming on early in the run.
FIND YOUR GROOVE
As you embark on training for your first triathlon, expect to read and hear a lot about the importance of a training plan. Don’t get too flustered. You’ll organically find out more about different plans and what works best for you as you progress in the sport.
Starting out, it’s more important not to get too bogged down and simply get out there and start swimming, biking and running.
Think of the first couple of weeks as the ‘honeymoon period’ – pretty much, getting to know the sport and all its idiosyncrasies. Consider joining a local triathlon club, community swim squad or running group (park runs are a brilliant option too).
After all, you will be competing as part of fun-loving crowd. So, why not join one?
From personal experience, a perfect place to tick off your first triathlon is Queensland’s sporting golden child, the Gold Coast. Brilliant too for bragging rights, tackling the same course Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games athletes conquered.
Do yourself a favour and register for the 2019 Gold Coast Triathlon – Luke Harrop Memorial renowned for its feel-good vibe. Then, look up local legend and ASICS Global fitness ambassador, Adam ‘Adsy’ Gordon, who mentors beginner triathletes to pros.
Arguably one of the most insanely positive and motivating advocates for the sport, Adsy works with groups across Australia and in America, Bermuda and Japan. The best kind of payback for a school teacher who once told him he was ‘too fat’ to run.
Whatever path you choose (with or without expert guidance), as you find your groove, aim to swim and bike at least twice a week and, time permitting, run at least once a week to develop skill and fitness, keeping in mind it takes about two months to form a new habit.
Don’t sweat it if you have off days.
In fact, whatever level of training you’re at, always build at least one full rest day into your week and never underestimate the transformative power of sleep.
The importance of stretching also can’t be overrated! If you don’t have one, buy a foam roller.
JUST KEEP SWIMMING! JUST KEEP SWIMMING!
In all likelihood, the swim will be the toughest leg of your first triathlon.
For the beginner triathlete, sometimes just the thought of swimming in open water is reason enough to hyperventilate, let alone in a washing machine of sorts with hundreds of other people.
Lifeguards on boards, kayaks and boats, dotted around the swim course, are there for a reason – including moral support. Check the rules of individual events, but most allow swimmers to hold onto a float or vessel for a rest period aka mental health break (so long as there is no forward movement).
Targeted training will help avoid this, so be brutally honest with yourself about your swimming ability. Don’t expect to wing it at your first triathlon or make the mistake of leaving your first attempt at open-water swimming to race day.
On the same token, if you can’t make it around the course at your first TRI… try, try again. It happens all the time. There’s no such thing as failure in the triathlon fraternity. All effort is celebrated. You’ll come across competitors who registered for a triathlon a year out, before they could swim a stroke (not even doggie paddle), or those who signed up to help overcome a fear of open water.
Start training in a pool. Seek help if you have your heart set on a triathlon but can’t swim more than 25m freestyle or harbour phobias you want to banish. For me, my dad taking me to see JAWS when I was eight.
Once you have a handle on stroke technique and can swim roughly a kilometre in a lap pool with few stops (at a steady, not flat-out pace), the real secret to success (knowing you can make it around the buoys – and keep telling yourself this) is mastering breathing and learning how to relax.
Swim squads and drills will help with this. So too will exercises like breath holds (above and underwater). Yoga and meditation can also be beneficial in developing strategies to calm your mind and focus on breathing.
Beginner triathletes quickly build confidence by investing time into practising swim leg entry and exit drills – something perfectly incorporated into an ocean swimming intro course. There are plenty of experts out there, but if in doubt, seek advice from your local triathlon club or Triathlon Queensland.
On the Gold Coast, surf legend, coach and former professional Ironman Phil Clayton – who is launching Phil Clayton & Co, a mentoring business designed to equip athletes, coaches and even parents with the necessary tools to reach their potential – is like Yoda when it comes to teaching safe, strong ocean swimming skills.
Not forgetting, of course, perfecting the so-called dolphin dive at the start of a triathlon swim leg and duck-like (high knees) run into the water. It’s also a great idea to swim with a higher arm stroke to avoid thwacking other competitors and get into the habit of looking ahead occasionally to be able to ‘sight’ a buoy/landmark.
At your first triathlon, hang back and don’t try to be first in the water unless you’re comfortable being kicked and swum over. If you’re a strong swimmer, you’ll likely overtake some of the front-runners, but in your own time.
Did you know? Ocean swimming can help you live longer, look younger, burn more calories than running and football and even boost your IQ! Getting comfortable in the open water can also extend to other fun activities like stand-up paddling, SUP yoga, kayak adventures, surfing, snorkelling and dive-in movies. Just get out there and have fun!
TRANSITION LIKE A BOSS
So important is the transition between triathlon legs that it’s often hailed as the fourth discipline.
Smooth transitions come through trial and error. Your best bet is to sign up for a transition tour pre-event or seek advice from a seasoned triathlete on ways to plan for a speedy transition, including laying out gear and tips on finding your trusty steed in a sea of racked bikes on race day (note to self: always arrive early to rack your bike before the transition areas closes).
Transition is also not devised as a rest break. Last but by no means least, if you do get lost on the big day, breathe!
TIME TO SHINE
When the big day arrives, it’s your time to shine. You’ve put in the hard yards and can technically already call yourself a triathlete. Race day is the party!
So, have fun. Get there early, soak in the atmosphere, don’t try anything new (like energy gels not tested in training). As a first-timer, it’s natural to feel nervous, but you don’t want to regurgitate anything on course.
Finally, strike a pose as you cross the finish line. Smile. Cartwheel. And be sure to high-five spectators on the final lap (plenty of arms will be outstretched, so don’t leave them hang’in).
Make every second count! Whatever time you achieve at your first TRI, you’ve already clocked a PB!
Ready to sign up?
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