Training For A Triathlon?
10 Articles To Help You Get Ready
By: Mark Sisson
The first thing I do when I wake up is check my email. If it’s not urgent (and it usually isn’t), then I open it up and skim through the most recent messages.
Sometimes there are some fun stories from other readers, but mostly they’re just questions or comments about various topics. There are always those occasional links to articles or videos that I think might interest you.
I don’t really read all of them, though, because if something catches my eye, then I’ll respond with an answer. Otherwise, I’m too busy doing other things like preparing for work and trying to get ready for the day ahead.
Today’s question comes from “Mike” who asks:
Hey Mark! Thanks so much for writing your book!
I’ve been following your website since it was first launched, and have found yourself becoming a bigger fan over time. One of the best parts about reading your blog is that you give advice based on real world experience. I recently finished my first triathlon, and wanted to take the opportunity to ask you a few questions about what worked well for me, and what didn’t.
First off, how did you prepare for this race? What gear/equipment did you use? Did you ever experience muscle cramps?
I was cramping the entire last mile of the run, to the point where I couldn’t even put in an effort to sprint the last 100yds of the race!
Before I dive into this week’s topic, let’s take a look at some reader questions from fellow bloggers.
Today’s blog is dedicated to answering your questions about training for a triathlon. To be honest, I never thought I’d write a “training” blog, but I’m sure glad I got the chance.
If you’ve ever thought about training for a triathlon, or wanted to know what it takes, then this is the article for you.
I’m going to break this up into three parts. First, I’ll talk about the basics of training.
Second, I’ll give a few sample training plans so you can fill in the gaps yourself. Finally, I’ll provide some answers to your questions about muscle cramps and equipment. Let’s get started!
The Fundamentals of Training
There are two keys to successful training: your mindset and your routine.
First off, you need to be in the right mindset for this lifestyle. You can’t expect to go from couch to triathlon star in a month.
It takes time, effort, and most of all consistency. You also need to enjoy the process or else you’ll give up.
You can’t just train and expect your life to stay the same. You need to make changes, otherwise known as “life hacks.” These are changes that support your training, like cooking at home to save time and money rather than going out to eat.
They’re also changes that support your training, like drinking more water so you have enough fuel in your body for long runs or rides. These changes aren’t just for the week you’re training, these are for life.
So what does that first category – mindset – look like?
It’s cultivating an attitude of “I can do this.” It’s deciding you’re going to make exercise, not just part of your routine, but a priority. It’s realizing you aren’t just working to make a living, you’re alive to enjoy life. It’s about being as healthy as you can.
Because your health is the only thing you truly possess.
We all have to hand over our IDs and shoes before going through airport security, but do you ever really hand over your health to anyone or anything?
No. It’s yours. Your health isn’t something to be cast aside when it’s convenient or ignored when you’re having a bad day. Rather, it’s something to be cherished every day.
But there’s more to it than just health. As humans, we thrive on competition.
We compare our running times, mountain bike distances, and dive scores. The need to compete is part of human nature. I don’t know of a single elite level athlete who got there without a killer mindset and the drive to compete.
As you begin your training, know that you’re going to have ups and downs. You may have days where you don’t want to get out of bed, or you feel sick, or you just don’t feel like training that day.
You’re going to reach your goals. You are more than capable of achieving anything you set your mind to.
See yourself accomplishing your goal and take the first step in moving towards that goal by getting out of bed and heading to the track, pool, or open road.
The second part of your training is your routine. There are three types: endurance, energy, and strength.
Endurance is about pushing yourself to the limit of physical exertion. As an example, a long-distance runner trains their endurance by running long distances.
Strength training exercises increase your muscles’ strength and ability to do work. As an example, weightlifters and bodybuilders train their muscles by lifting heavy objects.
Strength training exercises include (but are not limited to) the bench press, squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.
This routine is about building up your energy stores and recovering from your endurance training. It includes activities such as easy jogging, recovery rides, and stretching.
The way you structure your routine depends on your goals and your current state of health. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, and remember that consistency is the key to success!
The third and final part of your training is your diet. We’ve all heard it a million times, but this bears repeating: you can’t out-train a bad diet.
No amount of training can turn a Twinkie into a nutritious meal. Good nutrition is the key to good health, and good health is essential to your success.
As mentioned earlier, the Western culture’s fondness for sugar has resulted in health problems for many of us. This is an easy problem to overcome: stop eating sugar.
As a guideline, try to avoid processed foods whenever possible.
Other than that, just make sure you’re getting a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Protein sources like fish, lean meats, eggs, and beans are also important.
And, of course, you need to stay hydrated, so make sure to drink plenty of water (and other healthier drinks like tea and juice).
After following these guidelines for a few weeks, you may find that intense workouts and long race days leave you feeling hungry. If this is the case, try snacking on raw almonds or another nutritious snack high in protein and unsaturated fats about an hour before a workout.
These guidelines should keep you on the right track, but everyone is different–especially in the area of diet. See what works for you, but make sure to stay healthy because no amount of training can make up for a poor diet!
Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to plan out your year.
The first thing you need to decide is a goal event. This could be anything from a 5k fun run to an Ironman Triathlon.
Personally, I would recommend choosing a race that has a hard qualifier. This means that in order for you to sign up for the race, you need to meet a certain time requirement (usually given when you register online). This creates a nice incentive to train and a deadline by which you need to achieve your goal.
After you’ve chosen your goal event, it’s time to start structuring your training schedule. Each week should include a combination of heavy, medium, and light days as well as strength training and rest days.
Make sure to build up your heavy days gradually and adapt the schedule to your personal needs. Also, if there are any races you want to do during the year, build those races into your training schedule as well.
Remember, consistency is the key to success. Good luck!
Sources & references used in this article:
Physiological and biomechanical adaptations to the cycle to run transition in Olympic triathlon: review and practical recommendations for training by GP Millet, VE Vleck – British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2000 – bjsm.bmj.com
Survey results of the training, nutrition, and mental preparation of triathletes: practical implications of findings by SH Dolan, M Houston, SB Martin – Journal of sports sciences, 2011 – Taylor & Francis
… between gastro-intestinal complaints and endotoxaemia, cytokine release and the acute-phase reaction during and after a long-distance triathlon in highly trained … by AE Jeukendrup, K Vet-Joop, A Sturk, J Stegen… – Clinical …, 2000 – portlandpress.com
Maximising performance in triathlon: Applied physiological and nutritional aspects of elite and non-elite competitions by DJ Bentley, GR Cox, D Green, PB Laursen – Journal of Science and …, 2008 – Elsevier
Triathlon related musculoskeletal injuries: the status of injury prevention knowledge by CMR Gosling, BJ Gabbe, AB Forbes – Journal of Science and Medicine in …, 2008 – Elsevier
What mental skills Ironman triathletes need and want by K Grand’Maison – Journal of excellence, 2004 – zoneofexcellence.ca
Triathlon, suffering and exciting significance by M Atkinson – Leisure studies, 2008 – Taylor & Francis
Introduction to triathlon for the lower limb amputee triathlete by R Gailey, P Harsch – Prosthetics and orthotics international, 2009 – journals.sagepub.com