20 Jun 2017


As we’ve seen this season with attendance numbers, triathlon is becoming more and more popular around the world, which makes the choice of events better than ever – but that decision can be confusing if you’re new to the sport and are unsure where to start. With a few pointers, however, you’ll soon have a goal race pencilled in and be training smarter than ever before…

Training SMARTER is common parlance when planning your race and training schedule. That acronym breaks down as:

Specific – Make your goals as precise and detailed as possible.
Measurable – A method by which you can quantify your current position and determine the improvement required. This could be a fitness test, analysing split times, or simply weighing yourself.
Accepted – Your goals need to be shared and negotiated with others. You’re more likely to fail if your partner’s totally against your triathlon ambitions.
Realistic – While challenging, the goal must be realistic. You’re not going to win an Ironman event in your first race.
Time phased – The date is set for when the goal is to be achieved by, along with any other incremental dates for measuring.
Exciting – Your goal must motivate you to get out onto your Vision-equipped bike for long Sunday morning rides, along with the run and swim elements.
Recorded – Write the goal down, and any incremental milestones, and progress toward the main goal.

Race distance
That SMARTER framework acts as the foundation for reaching your targets, which starts with choosing your race distance. The growth in triathlon’s popularity has seen a number of new, and some unique, race distances appear on the calendar. However, the most common four are:
• Sprint distance – 750m swim/20km bike/5km run
• Olympic distance – 1.5km swim/40km bike/10km run
• Middle distance – 1.9km swim/90km bike/21.1km run
• Full distance – 3.8km swim/180km bike/42.2km run

Quite incredibly, an increasing number of people are making full distance their maiden event. In one way that’s to be admired but this ambitious approach must come with a warning – too much, too soon can lead to injury, demotivation and ultimately only a very fleeting love affair with triathlon. For starters, either sprint or Olympic distance are the recommended options.

Chlorine or wetsuit?
One of the great things about triathlon is the number of types of swims. You have sea swim, river swim, lake swim… basically, if there’s a clean body of water, triathletes will swim in it. However, unless you’re from a strong swimming background, it’s best to choose a triathlon that’s pool-based. Swimming in a pool will mean you can not only follow the black line but also avoid the melee of a mass start. A multitude of new skills will make your multisport debut a draining – albeit memorable – occasion, so save the extra challenge of open-water swimming for race two when you’re more experienced.

Training plan
Once you’ve chosen the race distance, and whether it’s an indoor or outdoor swim, you must pin down your specific race, affording yourself enough time to build fitness and technique. Eight to 12 weeks is generally a good range (depending on your base fitness level), being long enough to hone your talents but not so long that you lose motivation. Then it’s onto training.

The SMARTER framework, plus reading resources such as Joe Friel’s excellent books Triathlon Training Bible, will help you to delve into as much detail as you wish to plan your training sessions. On the flipside, digging too deep to begin with can become confusing – not to mention lead to overtraining. For your first sprint-distance race, most triathlon newcomers should comfortably achieve their goals on around 5 hours training each week. Broadly speaking, this could be broken down as five sessions with two focused on the longest discipline (bike), two on your weakest and one on your strongest.

Pop along as a spectator to a triathlon and you’ll see a whole range of bikes – tri/TT specialist bikes with deep rim wheels, tri-spoke or full discs and full aero-bars; /road bikes with clip-on bars; but also hybrids and even mountain bikes. Note that some shorter events – which are inviting and inclusionary by their nature – don’t allow specific TT bikes, so it’s worth checking those details before you sign up.

Just remember that understanding the principle of bike fit will help you get your best performance, and there are lots of opportunities to upgrade to improve your performance, times, comfort and enjoyment of triathlon. Then you just need appropriate clothing to cope with the swim, bike and run, as well as eating healthily and understanding the principles of fuelling and hydration and the best equipment, and you’re on your way to your first triathlon finish line.