I remember when I was training for my first triathlon. I was going at it alone and I basically had no idea what I was doing. Needless to say, through a lot of trial and error, I learned a lot of valuable lessons.
Looking back, I wish that I had someone to talk to… someone who could answer all of my questions and give me training tips and advice. So, if you’re thinking about doing a triathlon or if you’re already training for one, here are some answers to 10 of the most frequently asked beginner triathlete questions.
1. I’m not a strong swimmer/biker/runner, can I still do a tri?
YES! The beauty of a triathlon is that you don’t have to be good at all 3 sports to be able to race. Most people usually have a strong sport and a weak sport. When I was a beginner triathlete, I found out that I was actually a pretty fast swimmer but I ran like a turtle. Davey dreads the swim but is super fast on the bike. The point is… you CAN do a triathlon even if you’re not “good” at swimming, biking or running.
And if that’s the case, then you will probably need to devote a little more time training for your weakest sport. Be sure to check out our swim, bike and run sections (on the menu at the top) for all of our best tips, strategies and specific workouts you can do to gain confidence and turn your weakest sport into a strength!
2. What distance triathlon is the best for a beginner?
A sprint triathlon is the PERFECT distance for a beginner triathlete. A ½ mile swim, 12.4 mile bike and 3.1 mile run creates a challenging, but achievable distance for anyone who wants to get started in the sport of triathlon. The great thing about this distance is that you can still have a life… you don’t have to devote hours upon hours to your triathlon training (see #4).
Have you completed your first sprint triathlon already? Why not continue to challenge yourself and try a different sprint race that has a more challenging bike course or a run route with more hills? Or take the plunge and train for an Olympic! You’ve got this! For more on triathlon distances, click here.
3. Do I need to buy expensive gear?
NO! So many people don’t do triathlons because they think they have to spend a ton of money on the gear. I did my first triathlon with a pair of cheap goggles, a borrowed wetsuit, a Wal-Mart bike and an old pair of sneakers. Even though there were moments when I wished I had a fancy triathlon bike or a custom pair of running sneakers, I made do with what I had, borrowed what I could and found great deals on inexpensive gear that ended up working out great! Only after I completed my first triathlon and fell in love with the sport, did I decide to invest in a nice bike that would carry me through many more triathlons.
While you don’t need to spend a ton of money on gear, there are a few things you don’t want to skimp on. Make sure you get a helmet that fits properly, a pair of goggles that don’t leak and a comfy pair of sneakers. And then shop around for good deals on everything else! Check out our swim, bike and run gear guides.
4. Will triathlon training take over my life?
If you’re doing a sprint or an Olympic triathlon, then it shouldn’t. (Training for a half-ironman or an Ironman is a different story…) For your first triathlon, you should spend about 30 minutes to an hour training 4-5 times a week. If you’re already going to the gym or getting in daily workouts, then you’re set!
However, if you’re going from couch to triathlon, (which we think is SO AWESOME, by the way!) then you will have to schedule some time and perhaps rearrange your schedule to make sure you get your workouts in.
And if you’re really worried about missing out on spending time with your friend or family, then invite them to do the triathlon with you, or to join you for a bike ride or a swim! Training with someone else will help keep you accountable and you can encourage each other along the way.
5. Will a strength-training program make a difference?
Yes. Strength training helps prevent injury, swim stronger, bike harder and run faster, not to mention, makes you look great in your spandex! We have a ton of great swim, bike and run specific strength training workouts that are fun and will improve your endurance, increase your speed and make your legs feel less like Jell-O when running after the bike.
As a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Triathlon Coach, Davey has created lots of great triathlon specific strength training workouts that will not only help keep you injury free and feeling great, but they’ll help you tone up and look awesome in your race day spandex! And stay tuned for our Triathlon Strength Training Program (Coming Soon!)
6. Should I use a beginner triathlon training plan?
Totally! The reason a beginner triathlon training plan is the best option for anyone doing their first triathlon is because it takes all the guesswork out of your training! You’ll be able to train with confidence, knowing that you’ll be ready for race day. A good plan should have swim, bike and run specific stretches and strength training routines to keep you feeling great and to help you gain strength and endurance for your race. Check out our plan here.
7. How will I know if I’m ready for my triathlon?
Most everyone wonders this as race day approaches. If you’re already in decent shape, then a 12 week training program is the perfect amount of time to get ready for your triathlon. If you’re going from couch to triathlon, then you’ll want to train for at least 16-20 weeks.
If you can do each of the individual distances by about ½ way into your training, then you’re on track! Once you have built your base (aka, the ability to do each distance separately), then it’s a good idea to do some bricks, or back-to-back workouts. Try to swim ½ your distance and then bike 8-10 miles or bike 10 miles and run 2 miles. This will help you get comfortable with transitioning from one sport to the next and it will help you get used to how it will feel to bike after swimming and run after biking.
Make sure you get in at least 1 open water swim, and a handful of outdoor rides and runs before your triathlon. And make sure you practice your transitions! As long as you don’t take too many days off and you’re diligent about getting in your workouts, you will be ready for your sprint triathlon!
8. What should I eat before my triathlon?
Whatever you want! We don’t recommend eating something new the night before or the morning of your race, but the point we want to make is that you should eat whatever energizes you and whatever doesn’t upset your stomach. One of my favorite parts about a triathlon is carbo-loading! Now it’s not 100% necessary to carbo load, but who doesn’t love a big plate of pasta… or an excuse valid reason to indulge!
You may be tempted to try a new energy bar or sports drink, or even a gu or sport gel the day of your race. DON’T DO IT! You’ll have plenty of time after the race to try out all those things. Nothing is worse then swimming, biking or running with… well… the runs.
We like to go out to our favorite local Italian restaurant for dinner and order a dish we’ve had before that we know won’t upset our stomach.
Then we make sure to drink lots of water and the morning before the race, we’ll make whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and banana slices for breakfast… the same thing we eat before our morning training sessions. Go with what your body knows.
9. What should I wear?
Here’s what we usually wear for our triathlons:
As a beginner triathlete, I had a bit of a spandex phobia and so those one-piece tri suits were out of the question. Years later, I still haven’t worn a tri suit because I like the flexibility of putting on my tank top after the swim. Davey has just warmed up the whole spandex culture, but my brother still wears baggy shorts when he races. It’s all about preference and whatever you feel comfortable and confident in.
We try to stay away from cotton shirts and shorts because they chafe and stay wet FOREVER. Another good rule of thumb to follow is that you want to change as little as possible during your race, so wear clothes that can take you from swim to bike and bike to run. I forgot to put my shorts on over my spandex so during my first race, so I’d recommend that you either make friends with spandex or don’t forget to put on your shorts.
10. What can I expect on race day?
An AWESOME DAY! The day before your race, you should’ve picked up your race packet. Read through your races’ rules and any specific directions they’ve provided. Ask questions when you’re at the race expo so that you know exactly where to go on race morning.
You may not sleep very well the night before the race as a mix of excitement and nerves will probably cause you to wake up a few times before your alarm goes off. If that happens, just lie in bed and rest until you fall back asleep. Make sure you think positive thoughts and remind yourself that you’ve trained well and that you’re going to have an awesome race!
Once your alarm goes off, hop in the shower to help wake yourself up, get dressed, have breakfast and double check that you have everything you need. We recommend packing the night before so that you’re not scrambling around the morning of your race looking for your missing sock. Check out our race day checklist here.
Once you arrive at the race, you’ll have to get your race timing chip and body marked. If you’re not sure where to go, just follow the crowd. Put your timing chip around your ankle, chip side facing out so that it doesn’t rub up against your other ankle when you run. Someone will write your race number on both of your arms and your age on your calves. Then you’re ready to set up your transition area. Check out our transition area tips here.
Once you’re all set up, do a light jog from the swim start to your transition area. This will help you be able to find your spot easier during the actual race. If you’ve got time to spare, stretch or chat with some of the other triathletes… you may get some much needed encouragement before the race!
Be aware of the time and make sure you are at the swim start a few minutes before your wave starts. Then when the whistle sounds, run into the water and have an amazing race!
We hope that many of your questions were answered in this post and that you now feel more confident about your first triathlon!
Feel free to leave a comment and ask us any of your questions!
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