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So You Want to Do a Triathlon?

Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images

Thinking about giving triathlon a shot? You’re not alone. The sport has boomed in recent years. USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing organization, reached 100,000 members for the first time in 2007. More than 250,000 athletes compete each year in North America alone.

The increase in shorter, entry-level “sprint” distance triathlon—consisting of as little as a quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike, and 5K (3.1 mile) run—has made the sport more accessible for time-pressed professionals, especially those of us who come to the sport petrified of open-water swimming.

John Mora, author of the book Triathlon 101: Essentials for Multisport Success, offers a few tips for newcomers.

1. Don't forget the bike.

Many newcomers to triathlon have a running background and little experience swimming. So what do they do? They spend most of their time on their weakness (swimming) and their strength (running). This is a mistake, Mora says, since the largest portion of a triathlon is spent on the bike. Thus, there’s the most room to save time.

When Mora entered the sport, one of his friends routinely beat him by large margins because of a huge advantage in the run. Mora learned to cycle more efficiently, which not only shaved minutes off his time but left him with more energy for the run. His friend, meanwhile, grew so fatigued on the bike that his running suffered. Soon Mora was finishing first.

2. Swim in open waters.

Pool swimming is necessary for training, working on drills, and perfecting a repeatable stroke. But it’s no substitute for practicing in the type of open water you’ll face in an actual triathlon.

Once you can swim in a pool, try a training swim in open water, staying close to shore and swimming parallel to the beach. For safety’s sake, Mora suggests swimming with an experienced partner or a group, or with a canoe or kayak escort, or in water you know very well.

You’ll miss the lane dividers and black lines initially. But soon you’ll enjoy not having the pool walls to disrupt your rhythm. Open water swimming isn’t nearly as monotonous as the pool.

3. Don't sacrifice family or career.

Many newbies to the sport enter with the goal of doing an Ironman within a couple of years. There’s nothing wrong with such an ambitious goal. But recognize that such goals take huge time commitments, more than most working professionals and parents can dedicate.

Some who reach the Ironman goal check it off their bucket list and move on to something else. Others recognize that triathlon can be a lifetime sport, especially if they stick mostly with the sprint and Olympic/international distances.

Once a base level of swimming ability is established, a commitment of 10 or even fewer hours a week is all it takes for an “age-grouper” to stay reasonably competitive in the sport.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Triathlon, Outdoor Recreation, Cycling, Running, Swimming