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Training For a Triathlon Race on Short Notice – Part 1

Almost exactly three weeks ago, Jess called out to me from across the living room and said, “Hey, do you want to do a triathlon on our anniversary!?” My initial reaction was, “Well, I haven’t been training.” Jess: “It’s a sprint triathlon with a 750 meter swim and an 18-mile bike.” Me: “I suppose I could handle that.”

For going from couch to sprint triathlon in just three weeks wasn’t easy, but I picked up some good reminders and lessons along the way. Here’s how I went about training for a triathlon on short notice and some of the things I learned.

Really, my strategy was quite simple and mimicked training for a longer race – It just all came about much shorter and faster due to time constraints.

With already short notice and being busy with work, I had to prioritize my training schedule with these two things in mind:

 – Build a (mini) base – work up to the distances required for each individual sport.
 – Build overall endurance – All three sports put together will take a couple hours or so of race effort.
 – Build confidence in my weaker areas – you guessed it, that’s the swim for me!

Build a Base

Build a triathlon training base

Uh…not that kind of base.

First I’ll have to be able to “comfortably” swim 750 meters (comfortably, for me meaning, without drowning first and foremost, and then being able to transition to my bike without being so dizzy I pass out), then get out of the water and ride my bike for 18 miles, get off my bike and run 5k. Yup, sounds like a triathlon.

Each of these sound reasonable standing alone, right? But remember, putting them all together will take around 2 hours or more of moderate effort. It is, after all, a race!

So I’m racing for two hours give or take a few minutes, so I need to make sure I can 1) handle each distance individually, and 2) be able to last long enough for all three put together into the entire event.

Essentially what I’m saying is a couple very basic, if not bonehead principles. Prepare enough so I don’t die after the swim, can ably handle a hilly bike course, and have enough left in the tank for a strong run and spectacular finish. I could be pushing it on that last one.


All this base building was obtained over the first week of my training with long/slow workouts building up to each distance. I was very focused on comfort and not doing too much to fast as to be too sore for my next workout. Sometimes I couple a couple “light” workouts in a day.

Reminder: Don’t over do it when just getting back into triathlon training. It’s my opinion that easier yet more frequent workouts are better than killing yourself and requiring a few days of recover if training on short notice.

Along with building up my base training and overall endurance, I used these first few days to…

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Build Confidence in Weak Areas – Focused Training

When we pulled up to the race start, I gazed out to the buoys and figured “oh, that must be for the olympic-distance race tomorrow.” They didn’t have an olympic! This made me glad that I worked hard on my swim and got some long-er-ish sessions in.biltmore lake triatlhon swim base building

Something that I have learned the hard way in the past is showing up trying to wing it on the swim. Some people can do that (green with envy), some can not…and definitely should not. Sure, I can cruise through the bike and run, but the swim…it’s like I’m swimming with anchors and need to find my groove again.

Think about it: If you are ill-prepared for the bike, you can literally coast into the dismount area. For the run, run slow and walk through the nutrition stations. With swimming, if I’m not ready for it, the local search and rescue team will be dredging the bottom of the lake with boats and divers for my lifeless body.

Not to scare you, just be diligent and do your due diligence…training.

Lesson learned: Build confidence in the area that could make you feel intimidated.

All you need to know when beginning your triathlon training whether it’s crunch time or not is: 1) Be able to nail each distance individually. 2) Then put it all together and be sure to have the endurance energy to race and feel strong for the length of the entire race.

After a base of training was built over about 7-10 days it was onto…

If I left you hanging, click here to read on for Part Two

Posted by Trainer +Davey Anderson 

About Author

Trainer DaveyTrainer Davey is an Orange County personal trainer at heart, but has since moved to Nashville and taken on the new challenge of triathlon training. Of course, he misses his home of Surf City...but Music City ain't so bad either!View all posts by Trainer Davey →