Plenty of athletes train to run a marathon and even run them regularly, too. But there are very few people who have the courage to take part in a triathlon. After all, it’s not just running – a triathlon involves swimming and cycling as well. Anyone wanting to try a triathlon will usually wonder how best to train for it. In this blog post, pjuractive takes a closer look at the training for a triathlon.
Triathlon – The different distances
Before training for a triathlon, it is important to decide on a particular distance first, because not all triathlons are the same. There are four distances to choose from:
- Sprint triathlon: This distance is commonly known as a triathlon for beginners. There is actually no fixed distance here as these triathlons can vary. A sprint triathlon is usually half the distance of an Olympic triathlon. In a conventional sprint triathlon, athletes must swim 500 m, cycle 20 km, and run 5 km.
- Olympic distance: This distance is also known as standard distance and was given the title of Olympic distance in 2000 as this was the year that the triathlon became an Olympic discipline. Athletes taking part in an Olympic distance triathlon must swim 1.5 km, cycle 40 km, and run 10 km.
- Middle-distance: The so-called middle-distance triathlon is half the length of the traditional full triathlon. Athletes competing in these triathlons must swim 2 km, cycle 90 km, and run 21.1 km.
- Full triathlon: When people talk about a full triathlon, this is where athletes swim 3.8 km, cycle 180 km, and run 42.195 km.
The longer the distances for each of the disciplines of swimming, cycling, and running, the more preparation and training time you will need to be able to train for the triathlon and then actually complete it. Athletes training for a full triathlon should allow at least 15 hours of training each week. Many athletes taking part in these competitions sometimes do even more.
Training for triathlon – Swimming
Swimming is the area in which athletes who like to run have least experience. Many runners also cycle regularly and are used to it. Swimming, on the other hand, is new to most people. When it comes to swim training, it is important that you don’t just start swimming. Many people train by swimming lengths, but it is important to work on your swimming technique before you try swimming long distances.
Swim a length with a good technique and then take as long a break as you need. Then swim the next length, and so on. Once your technique improves, you can shorten the breaks between lengths and eventually leave them out entirely, swimming one length after another.
Only once you reach a certain swimming speed you can achieve your optimum position in the water. Otherwise, your legs will sink, making it difficult for you to move your arms correctly. You can use a so-called pull buoy to help you train for the swimming stage of your triathlon, even if it is a slow swimming stage. A pull buoy is a foam swimming aid which is clamped between the thighs so that your legs automatically swim high in the water, allowing you to focus on your arms.
It can be worthwhile seeking the advice of a swimming coach, especially if you are swimming in a competition for the first time. A coach will be able to see more easily whether you already have a good technique or whether you still need to work on it.
Once you have honed your swimming technique and feel confident of it, you should definitely practice changing speed. In a triathlon, you are not swimming on your own and you will have to battle for position. If you want to be able to pick up speed, you will need to have trained to do this beforehand.
Training for triathlon – Cycling
Before you can start cycle training for a triathlon, you will need to get yourself a suitable racing bike. If you are a triathlon beginner, a normal racing bike will be absolutely fine. You should seek advice on this from a specialist store. When it comes to the handlebar position, make sure it is no lower than the saddle – at least if you are a beginner cyclist. You should pay particular attention to the position of your upper body. It should be more compact in triathlon beginners than in those who already have a lot of cycling experience. Ideally, there should be a 90° angle between your upper arm and your upper body. A specialist can also help you to find the optimum sitting position.
When you ride your new racing bike for the first time, you should take tools with you to allow you to readjust the saddle, and if necessary the handlebars as well. Sometimes you just need to make a few adjustments and do a few training sessions before you find the perfect position.
Before you cover any long distances, it is important to work on your cycling technique, too. A circular pedaling action is important for professionals. This means not just exerting force on the pedals as you push them down but also when you bring them back up again. You should also maintain a high cadence. Many triathlon beginners pedal at a slower rate, applying a great deal of force in the process, but this will usually result in you losing power over the course of the cycling stage. You are therefore better off shifting down a gear or two and pedaling faster. As a guide, you should aim for 120 revolutions per minute. If you can manage that easily, then you will be well prepared for your triathlon.
If your bike has clipless pedals, you should practice clipping in and out to avoid wasting time unnecessarily during the triathlon.
Training for triathlon – Running
Many athletes probably have the least amount of respect for running, because if you have decided to compete in a triathlon then you will no doubt have taken part in a run at some point. Even so, running in a triathlon is different. After all, you’ve already completed a section on a bike and in the water, but now you also have to cover the final stretch on foot – even though your legs usually feel like lead for the first few steps. This is because running is the only discipline in triathlon where your legs must carry your entire body weight – because you barely notice your own body weight when you are swimming, and when you are cycling you’re sitting on a bike. Switching from cycling to running is a huge feat – both for your breathing and your circulatory system, as well as for your muscles – and is an enormous adjustment for your body to make.
Your running speed immediately after switching from cycling to running therefore determines how the rest of the triathlon will go. Your initial running pace should not be too fast, since this can result in cramp, stitch, or acidosis in your muscles. Instead, run the first kilometer or two at a slower pace to ensure you are able to complete the full distance without any problems.
You can train in advance to practice the switch from cycling to running. Simply combine a cycling training session with a running training session. This will enable your body to get used to this changeover before the event. Your training can also cover putting on your running gear.
Triathlon training is very time-consuming. It can be a good idea to draw up a triathlon training plan over several weeks, recording exactly when you plan to tackle which discipline and what specific training you will do.
Good luck with your first triathlon!