Training for a multi-discipline sport such as triathlon requires hours and hours of dedicated training, no matter what distance you choose to competing in.
“The best advice I can give to someone starting out is to ensure they’re getting into the sport because they really want to. You need to enjoy being in the pool, on the bike and on the road, because if you don’t you will never have the drive to achieve your goals.” Claire Horner, top elite triathlete and a coach at My Training Day (mytrainingday.com).
Step 1: Invest in the best equipment you can afford. “Equipment, especially running shoes, can make or break a triathlete,” says Claire. “Don’t cut corners on the quality of your equipment. Rather buy the best you can afford. Bikes and cycling gear and accessories make up the largest cost component of the sport, and triathlon bikes and equipment are generally more expensive than standard cycling gear. However, if you can afford it, get a specialised triathlon bike. The aerodynamic design and equipment, such as deep-sectioned rims or disc wheels can make an enormous difference to your times.”
Step 2: Find a group of like-minded athletes to start training with. “Many coaches will say that because triathlons are an individual sport you should do most of your training on your own. However, I feel the support offered by training with a group really helps athletes with motivation and pulls them through the hard days, which can be plentiful in this sport,” adds Claire.
Step 3: Find a qualified coach who can assist with training, technique and equipment choices. “Periodised training is imperative in a sport with such high training loads,” continues Claire. She adds that ‘weekend warrior’ triathletes need a coach to ensure that the little time they have available for training during the week and on weekends is maximised.
Step 4: Improve your technique. According to Claire, technique is vital for competent swimming. “Swimming requires the greatest focus on technique and is normally the discipline that takes the longest time to improve.” She advises that beginners start with pool swims, and progress to open water swims as race day approaches.
In terms of running, a combination for running and walking in the conditioning phase of training is ideal. “Start with two minutes of running and a one-minute walk interval, then progressively increase the running component until you are comfortable,” suggests Claire. However, don’t just stick to road work. Claire advises that beginners eventually include track work, in addition to other forms of pacing and speed work, as well as endurance and strength training.
In terms of cycling, time in the saddle is key, especially for Ironman distances. “And don’t leave out the hill work,” she suggests. If you have a triathlon bike, train on it often to get accustomed to the aerodynamic riding position.
Step 5: Train hard, recover hard. “My athletes will never do a long run and a long ride on the same day, even those with a full-time job and limited training time. Recovery is very important so make sure you cycle your training days accordingly and ensure you do not overtrain,” says Claire.
Step 6: Don’t neglect transitions. “When competing in the shorter distances it’s important to get quick transitions down. Use training days to work on your various transitions on a regular basis,” advises Claire.
Xterra beginner tips
Natia van Heerden is a former springbok gymnast who switched to triathlon and promptly won the u/25 Xterra World Championship title in 2014. She is currently training towards qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
She advises that first-timers take it slow. “Don’t expect to perform on your first race. It usually gets extremely hot during an Xterra event. Make sure that you stay hydrated before and during the race.
Start at the back if you are nervous about the swim. Take it easy, keep your breathing steady and just enjoy the atmosphere! Get onto your mountain bike and ride as many trails as possible, and also try to get at least four sessions of running in per week. The run course is usually very hot, technical and often underestimated. It gets stressful out there on the bike. People are going to charge up to you from behind, calling out ‘track’ or ‘move’. Stay calm and let them know that you’ll move as soon as there’s a gap.”
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.