IS THERE ANY better ego-booster than getting to say you’re a triathlete? Although the first triathlon only happened back in 1974, the race has quickly become one of the definitive benchmarks of overall fitness, endurance, and athleticism.
More intense than completing a marathon or biking a century, nothing says “I am fit” in quite the same way. And the sport is only gaining in popularity. In the past five years, the number of triathlons has more than doubled to nearly 2,000 events around the globe. There are a remarkable 2 million competitors taking part in races each year. In other words, if you’ve ever dreamed of crossing that triathlon finish line—even if it’s not in first place—there’s no better time to take your mark.
You don’t need to be in perfect shape to take on a triathlon, says Libby Burrell, director of sports development for the International Triathlon Union. “You just need a clean bill of health.” If you’re not a natural runner, biker, or swimmer, spend some time brushing up on your skills. Then, when you feel ready to start an overall training program, Burrell suggests looking for a local race that’s at least eight weeks away. Make sure the training program you create includes a good mix of endurance, strength, and speed work—but don’t go crazy and try to do too much too soon. “It should fit in with your work and family life, and still allow sufficient recovery time between workouts,” she says.
When it comes to training for a triathlon, nobody knows more than Chris McCormack, the 2010 Ironman champ and author of the book I’m Here to Win. We asked “Macca,” as he’s known, to guide you through your first race:
500 meters to 2.4 miles
How often you should train
One to two times a week to maintain your current fitness level; 2–5 times a week for improvement
– Transitioning from training in a pool to swimming in open water
– Swimming in a crowd
– Paddling against a current or waves
– Swimming one continuous distance, instead of laps across a pool
“Find a good position on the starting line. If you’re a strong swimmer, migrate toward the front; weaker swimmers toward the rear. Expect to be hit and climbed over during the swim. It’s a normal part of the race. Make sure you also take your time putting on your wetsuit correctly. Pull the excess rubber up to loosen the material around your shoulders. This gives you a much bigger range of motion so you don’t blow your shoulders.”
12 to 112 miles
How often you should train
Once a week to maintain your current fitness level; 2–3 times a week for improvement
– Cycling after swimming
– Learning to mount and dismount at high speeds
– Carrying the bike in and out of transition zones
“Make sure you know the exact location of your bike and how to get to it after the swim. Putting a towel or a balloon up next to it will make it more visible and can save you a bunch of time. Also, make sure you have your bike in an easy gear for when you mount it after the swim. All your blood is in your arms so you’ll feel strong, but you need to remember you don’t have the same sort of power in your legs after the swim—at least not initially. Finally, always ride one gear easier than you feel is possible in the earlier stages of the bike. It’ll help you to maintain your energy level. Build intensity as the ride progresses.”