Start Training for your First Triathlon
Updated: Aug 11, 2020
Now is a great time to think about training for the 2021 London Triathlon or another UK Triathlon.
The 2020 London Triathlon was supposed to have taken place over the weekend, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic the organisers sensibly decided to postpone the event until 2021. Obviously, this will be a disappointment for many athletes who had planned on competing, but here at Ultra Sports we always like to look for a silver lining.
We’d like to use this moment to inspire you to consider training for the 2021 London Triathlon or one of the other many triathlons around the UK. Why not give it a Tri? (Sorry, we couldn’t resist).
Triathlon basics (not actually that basic)
Generally, the three legs of a triathlon happen in the order of swimming, biking, then running. This makes sense for safety reasons, because swimming is the riskiest of the three sports, so it’s best done when the athlete has the most energy. Then comes cycling, which has slightly less risk than swimming, but a bit more than running. Although running is the least risky, triathletes can be exhausted by this stage, so it’s definitely not without risk.
The exact distances might vary slightly for each triathlon you sign up for, based on who is officiating the event and which of the types they fit into. The four most common types of triathlons are: Sprint, Olympic, Half or Full (these latter two are sometimes referred to as ‘Ironman’ when they’re staged by that particular brand). Regardless of the type of triathlon, the ratio of distances between each of the three sports tends to fit a similar formula. Well, mostly, there are some exceptions.
In all types, the distance of the cycle leg is usually four times longer than the run, but the swimming distance varies, and this is where it gets a bit complicated. With Sprint and Olympic types of triathlon, the swim is two thirds shorter than the run (twenty-six times shorter than the cycle), whereas with the half and full (Ironman) triathlon, the swim is ten times shorter than the run (forty-six times shorter than the cycle). But the Ironman triathlons are much tougher because of the longer distances overall.
The London Triathlon does things slightly differently. They offer half and full Sprint triathlons and Olympic triathlons, and you can compete in these as an individual or as a relay team. They don’t offer the Ironman style, which is probably a good thing if you’re attempting this for the first time. The exact distances and prices for the 2020 event (which we presume will be similar for 2021) can be found here.
If all that distance ratio information seems confusing, you can simply consider the total race duration roughly broken up into 20% swimming, 50% cycling and 30% running.
This is an important thing to bear in mind when planning your training schedule. You’ll need to adjust the levels and intensity of your training for each of the three sports to be able to manage the distances required for each one.
Plan your triathlon training
You might already be a keen cyclist, but not so hot on the running or swimming department. Maybe you were born a water baby but have never been on a bike. You’ll need to tailor your training programme to meet your specific strengths and weaknesses. It’s always a good idea to start out slow and cautious to avoid injury. We’ll be looking at some of the most common injuries that triathletes face in a future post in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that.
One approach you could take is to divide your training days equally between swimming, cycling and running, but don’t forget you’ll need to adjust the time you spend on each sport to match the triathlon percentage ratio of 20/50/30. Initially, you might want to just train three days per week and increase to six days as your training progresses. A great way to assess your strengths and weaknesses and set your desired goals is to start your first workout week with a 20-minute swim, a 50-minute cycle and a 30-minute run, with rest days between each. You’ll need to keep track of your distances and calculate their percentage of your totals at the end of each workout. There are many devices and apps to help you do this.
But of course, these durations also need to translate into the same percentage rate for your distances. If you’re a stronger runner than you are a swimmer, you might measure your total durations after your first week and find that their percentages are more like 10/50/40, even though the time you spent on your workouts was 20/50/30. Your main aim is to gradually increase your distances whilst keeping that same percentage ratio between swimming, cycling and running, across your durations too.
Obviously not everyone has the time or inclination to work out six days a week, in which case you could structure your training into swimming on certain days and then combine your cycling and running on other days. Eventually, as your training progresses, you’ll be cycling for long distances over 1-2 hours, so you might want to set aside weekends or whichever days you have more time in your schedule for this. It’s also worth noting that due to social distancing guidelines, you will most likely need to book a timed slot at a swimming facility. This may be a major deciding factor in how you structure your training schedule.
Don’t forget to include recovery days and remember to warm up before every workout as well as stretch and cool down properly afterwards. It’s also a good idea to structure one week each month with a less intense workout plan. This will allow your body to rebuild and get stronger in the long run. It may seem counterintuitive, but your body actually gets stronger when you’re resting, not when you’re working out.
Ultimately though, particularly if you are pressed for time, it’s better to focus on shorter workouts and do them more often. If you do intense workouts less frequently, you're not going to build up the fitness levels that you'll need for a triathlon.
Train with friends
Whether you’re planning on competing as an individual or as a relay team, training buddies can help maintain motivation and encourage each other to push that little bit harder. If none of your friends are interested, you could always join a group. If you can’t find a specific triathlon group near you, try searching for specific groups that cover each individual sport.
You might feel the need to find a running group but be happy to cycle or swim on your own. Decide what will work best for you and where you might be able to improve your weaknesses. Joining a masters swimming club with a dedicated coach is something we highly recommend if swimming is your weaker sport. It can be difficult to improve your swimming technique without professional guidance. Joining a sports group is a great way to make new friends and ensure that the triathlon training experience is an enjoyable one.
Whatever level of triathlon you’re hoping to compete in, we can tailor a strength and conditioning programme to suit your needs through one of our Biokinetic packages.
Why not call us today on 0203 893 5100 or book your initial assessment session online.