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Triathlon Training Tips for Nurses

Happy Nurses Week!

For nurses, a long 3-day stretch of back-to-back 12-hour shifts is like an endurance event in and of itself. And if you had to do CPR during yesterday’s shift, that means you’re coming to work sore in places you didn’t even know could get sore.



So if you leave your shift dehydrated and ravenously hungry because you haven’t had time to eat, drink or pee; if you clock out 30+ minutes late because it’s so busy and you walk out of the doors with aching feet, so tired that even your hair hurts, then you may be wondering why in the world would you want to also willingly train for a triathlon?

I’ve been an Emergency Room RN for 10 years and I also love to train for triathlons. I signed up for my first triathlon while working in an insanely busy Emergency Trauma Department in New Jersey. I had no idea what I was doing when it came to training for a triathlon so I took the “fake it till you make it approach”. You know, the same approach you take when you’re starting an IV for the first time ever and the patient asks you if you’ve ever done this before…

Triathlon Training Tips for Nurses |

While training for my first triathlon, I noticed that my self-esteem sky-rocketed and my confidence soared. I found that I had more stamina at work, I could think clearer and I was even a nicer person–probably because I worked out all my stress at the gym. I was amazed at how my body was created to be able to do something as challenging as a triathlon and also work a 12+ hour shift without a break.


So here are some of my triathlon training tips for nurses:

1. You HAVE to eat and drink during your shift.

I know, I know. You don’t have time. It’s too busy. There’s no one to cover for you. I’ve been there. But the “put your own oxygen mask on first” rule applies here. I know that when I don’t take a few minutes to step away and grab a drink of water and a bite of food, I get hangry, my brain feels foggy, I get a headache and I am irritable. Do yourself and your patients a favor and go get a drink of water. Your kidneys will thank you.

Being hydrated and properly fueled is really important, not only for triathlon training, but also for your shift. I pack things that are easy to snack on throughout my shift, like Picky Bars, dried fruit and nuts, pre-peeled hard boiled eggs and even a Huma Gel!

Triathlon Training Tips for Nurses |

2. Wear compression sleeves at work. 

Not the ted hose that are impossible to get on your patient, but cool compression socks like these from PRO compression. They are awesome and help your legs recover faster from your latest workout and they also give your legs a little bit of umph during your shift.

I like the sleeves because I find that by hour 10-11 of my shift, my legs are screaming for mercy, so I can just slip them down or even take them off really easily because they’re not the full socks.

3. Sleep is vital. 

I’ve worked day shift, night shift, 3p-3a, 11a-11p and now I work 12p-12a. Each one of those shifts has it’s own challenges when it comes to sleep. But sleep is really important, especially when you’re training for a triathlon because that’s when you do most of your recovery and when your muscles repair and rebuild themselves. So whether you need to invest in some black out curtains or take some Melatonin, do whatever it takes to get adequate sleep.

4. Save your tough workouts for days off. 

If you work 3+ shifts in a row, go ahead and go for a short swim or do a strength training routine before work, but save your brick workouts and long bike rides for your days off.

5. Enjoy the path all to yourself!

As nurses, we work weekends and holidays. The silver lining to that is that we get days off during the week. It’s pretty amazing to have the whole trail to yourself when you’re running and to bike on a path without having to dodge dogs and baby strollers and people who are walking and taking up the entire path.  So, while it sucks to work weekends, enjoy your weekday workouts while everyone else is stuck at work.

6. Don’t wear your running sneakers to work. 

Your sneakers will wear down differently–and quicker– if you also wear them to work. They’re also covered with germs and gross stuff so keep your work shoes separate.

7. Do a “brick workout” after your shift.

Depending on what shift you work, go for a run afterwards. Your legs will already be tired from running around like a crazy person all day and that will simulate the bike portion of your triathlon. Go for a short run after work and you’ll be used to running on tired legs when race day arrives. Triathlon Training Tips for Nurses |

8. If you swim before your shift…

don’t forget to put on lotion. Chlorine is terrible and dries my skin out. If I forget to put lotion on before I go to work, the day is miserable. Also, I’m not a huge fan of swimming before work anyway. I swear I can smell the chlorine ALL day. Also, my goggle marks take FOREVER to go away.

9. Make sure you request race day off!

Nothing is worse then forgetting to request off of work for your race only to check the new schedule and see that you’re assigned to work that day. Instead of frantically running around and asking all of your co-workers to swap shifts with you, request race day off well in advance. Also, try to not schedule yourself the day before your race either. That way, you can rest and enjoy the expo and take your time getting ready.

Triathlon Training Tips for Nurses |

10. Train with a fellow co-worker.

It can be lonely to train by yourself for your first triathlon. And since our schedules are usually different ever week, we can’t really commit to joining a triathlon club or doing a bike ride with a group on the weekends. So invite a co-worker to join you and train for a triathlon together! Everyone else at work will be really impressed.

Happy Nurses Week!

Are you a nurse? What triathlon training tips to you have?



  1. Amber

    Were was this post when I started doing triathlons?! I am also an ER nurse and I too had to try and muddle things out on my own. Thanks for this great post with some awesome tips. I can’t wait to get back to triathlons after I am done with this pregnancy (doc says no bike riding while preggers which I can say is fair enough given the number of auto vs bikes I see.)

    • Jess Anderson
      Jess Anderson09-15-2015

      Amber! Thanks so much for your comment! Glad you found this post helpful! I hope you have an awesome rest of your pregnancy and a fabulous season postpartum! I agree with your doc! We had TWO bike accidents come in the other night… yikes!

  2. Anna

    Hi Jess,
    Just came across this post in my research! I am a new nurse working 7p-7a in L&D and a fellow triathlete (or at least I love to do triathlons!!). I am wondering how I will find time to train while working nights, but this post makes me feel more confident. I’m planning to do my first 70.3 distance late this summer and I am wondering if you have a specific tip for when I should do workouts. I saw you suggest doing longer ones on my days off, but as for mini-workout, do you find it works better working out after your shift is done in the AM or after you sleep/before you go to work in the late afternoon? Thanks so much! Any advice is welcome!

    • Jess Anderson
      Jess Anderson03-05-2016

      Hey Anna! Welcome to the wonderful and crazy world of nursing! So glad you found this post helpful! Personally, I think doing a shorter workout after work is a great way to do a “brick” without doing an actual brick workout! Because your legs are tired from walking around all night, going to an early morning spin class, doing a short swim, or running 5k will help you get used to running on empty! Sleep is one of the best ways to recover, so hitting the hay after your workout will help you recover too! Ultimately, you can try both options and see which one works best for you. Sometimes, when I get off work, I am so exhausted that sleeping is more beneficial. You’re more prone to injuries when you’re tired, so just listen to your body and be ok with choosing sleep over a workout when you need it! And yes, I do my longer workouts on my days off… preferably when I have 2 days off in a row, so I have an extra day to rest and recover before going back to work. Hope this helps! I’m cheering you on for your 70.3!

      • Anna

        Thanks so much for the thoughtful response and words of wisdom!! I’m sure I’ll be visiting your site many times in the coming months! Good luck with the upcoming season!!!