Posted January 10, 2013 by Gareth Evans in Cycling

From couch potato to triathlete: A beginner’s guide to training for your first triathlon

A beginner’s guide to training for your first triathlon
A beginner’s guide to training for your first triathlon

Training for your first triathlon can be one of the most daunting, as well as the most exhilarating experiences that you will ever have. It’s not for the faint hearted and there is certainly no easy road to success. Fear not, however, because here at Strensa we are committed to helping you take that first step on the road to your own personal transformation from couch potato to triathlete.

Find the why

When it comes to preparing for your first triathlon, there is nothing more important than the why. As we said, be under no illusions that completing a triathlon will be easy. In order to get through the dark times, therefore, the foundation of your motivation needs to be solid. It’s important to work out your why.

Whether you want to lose weight, set yourself a meaningful challenge, have a goal at the end of a rehab programme or raise money for charity, the why needs to be sharply focused and imprinted in your psyche. If it’s not, then all the good intentions in the world will not help you through the dark times.

Find the why and you unlock an extra layer of energy and endurance that you may previously have been unaware that you possess. It will serve to help drag you over the obstacles that lay ahead when you need it most.

Start slow

Once you have made the decision to do a triathlon and have found a strong enough why, one of the most oft cited factors for quitting your training is being too enthusiastic. Having a great reason to take on a triathlon and subsequently signing up provides athletes with an adrenaline high like no other. You want to get out there and start pounding the road, climbing those hills on your bike and swimming countless lengths in the pool. We can’t, however, emphasise one thing enough…

Be realistic and start slow.

If you haven’t exercised in a while, don’t go out and try and run/cycle 5 miles or swim half a mile. It is without doubt the worst thing you can do. Your muscles and joints will not be conditioned for such strenuous activity. Completing these distances without a strong muscular and aerobic endurance base is counterintuitive. Not only will you wake up sore, the pain will de-motivate you like you wouldn’t believe.

Instead, start with an endurance-based weights regime (ideally three times per week) and some gentle 20-30 minute run/walks a couple of times per week. Build your endurance base slowly and incrementally before you take on too much. The period of time this will take will vary depending on your current ability and could take anywhere between 2 to 3 months. Be patient, the rewards will be worth waiting for and will provide you with a solid base from which to springboard into the second phase of your training.

Prioritise your training

It may sound obvious, but once you have started, don’t stop. Make training a priority, schedule it like you would an important meeting or social event, and don’t, under any circumstances, miss it. Life has a way of creating unforeseen problems and challenges, and you should expect these, but ensuring that you don’t miss your scheduled training sessions will limit the impact of the odd curve ball that is thrown your way.

Tiredness is not an excuse for not training. Once you get a couple of weeks into your new exercise regime, your body may begin to tell you it has had enough and you should stop. This is where you need to clutch onto your why with both hands and not let go. Once you push past this difficult phase, and your conditioning improves, you will begin to look forward to training. It’s a process which takes around 30 days. Once you get past this milestone, things get a lot easier.

Incremental training

As much as we have emphasised the importance of starting slow and being realistic, you must also train incrementally. Not only is this important in terms of increasing your body’s capacity to deal with physical exertion, it is also an important psychological training tool. Taking little steps forward in your training will keep you motivated.

These increments should be around the 10% mark for all activities. If you are running for 20 minutes three times per week in week one, week two should consist of three 22 minute runs, for example. In terms of your endurance based weights regime, a good rule of thumb is that each week you should be adding one extra rep to each set of weights you complete or increasing the weight; either way, there should always be some sort of increase.

Making the leap to triathlete

Once your 2-3 months of core endurance training are out of the way, things get a little more serious. In order to train for a triathlon, you should be looking at a training regime which sees you training around 5-6 times per week, alternating between the three disciplines, while continuing with your endurance based weights regime should you have the time, ideally for a further 2 to 3 months.

For more specific training programme advice, we at Strensa would recommend Joe Friel’s bestselling book Your First Triathlon: Race ready in 5 hours a week as a great start point. There is a wealth of information contained in the book and it’s geared towards the beginner.

If you have any specific questions, however, regarding getting ready to sign up for your first triathlon, want to share some of your own training tips and motivational techniques, or just want to tell us what you’re up to, then we would love to hear from you.

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans
A former professional rugby player in his youth, Gareth is now a bit of an all-round amateur when it comes to sport. He continues to play rugby for his local club, has studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Argentina, played Basketball in Peru, trekked in the Andes and the Himalayas, is a reluctant adventure racer, and is now studying KFM (Keysi Fighting Method). He has a passion for a whole host of sports, as well as travel, but feels truly at home on the rugby pitch or in the mountains.