How to Train for a Triathlon

Tips for women from a top athlete

Training for a triathlon? Maybe you’re a nervous first-timer who has no idea where to start, or perhaps you’re a seasoned competitor who’s looking to improve your performance? Either way, if you want to get faster, stronger or fitter at this demanding multi-discipline sport, it’s always good to hear from a pro.

Natia van Heerden is a former gymnast with Springbok colours, who competed internationally from a young age. On retiring after her 11-year career, she immediately started completing sprint duathlons and triathlons. At the young age of 17 she did her first Ultra Triathlon and fell in love with the sport. We spoke to her to get some training tips.

fitness mag shop

What does a typical week’s training for a triathlon look like for you?

I do all three disciplines four times per week, and one brick session off the bike on the indoor-trainer (IDT), a run and another set on the IDT. A brick workout is when you stack two disciplines together during the same workout, one after the other, with very little rest or interruption between them. I do two sessions a day for five days a week and single sessions on the weekends. I have a full-time job as a chef, so planning ahead is crucial. The sets vary from short one-hour high-intensity track or hill climbs, to three to five-hour easy bike rides with a few intervals.

Carla Van Huyssteen XTERRA Buffelspoort photo credit Volume Photography

Carla Van Huyssteen XTERRA Buffelspoort photo credit Volume Photography

How long have you been preparing for the upcoming Xterra race series?

I focus on consistency throughout the year rather than training for 12 weeks prior to a race. I really believe that consistency is key. My training varies from long base miles in winter to shorter high-intensity workouts pre-season.

What are you strongest at and what part do you find the most challenging?

Running is definitely my strength. I have two weimaraner dogs and they get so excited when I take them out on a long run. This definitely makes the hours on the road more enjoyable!

The bike leg of an Xterra race is always challenging because of the mix of terrain. To race with the top girls you really need a lot of power in your legs and good bike-handling skills. At the moment I lack enough power, but we are working on it!

Are you following a specific diet?

No, I don’t believe in dieting, but I do believe in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. It’s so important to put into your body what will fuel you for your next set. I limit my sugar intake, but I don’t cut it out completely: I love homemade ice cream or a Lindt chocolate. Everything in moderation is what I believe in.


What top tips would you give women doing their first ever Xterra event this year?

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. I start hydrating (with Nuun Active) four days prior to the race, to make sure I have enough electrolytes in my body.

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.

The off-road Xterra triathlon series takes place in three locations across the country in January and February 2017 – find out more <www.stillwatersports.com>.

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.