How to Survive Your First Tri...Q&A with Pro Kyra Wiens
I just signed up for my first triathlon, HELP!!
Congratulations!! Taking on a new challenge takes a lot of courage. I love coaching first-time triathletes because their motivations for entering the sport are so varied and inspiring in how personal they are to each athlete.
I want to talk about the questions I often get…but my first question to YOU is why this race, why now? What I look for is a synergy between:
• Race distance
• Goal (or desired outcome) for the race
• Realistic training availability per week
In my experience, athletes who have a disconnect between any of these two things don’t have a very fun race. For example, an athlete who has limited time to train may want to choose a shorter race and/or carefully consider if their goal for the race (a target run split, for example) can be supported by the training load.
Ok, onto a few questions you might have if 2018 is your year to finish your first triathlon!
Q: My biggest fear is the swim. How can I get ready?
A: Being afraid of the water is normal and you’re not alone! Spend a few months lap-swimming before you start to layer on open-water technique. The more solid a foundation you build in the pool, the easier it will be to layer on things like alternate breathing, sighting, turn-buoys, etc. You can read my post about pool training here.
If you can’t train with a Masters team, see if you can do a couple swim clinics or private lessons with a coach. Getting some specific instruction and drills will help you be more efficient and prepare for longer sets.
A few weeks or a month before your race, practice sighting technique in the pool. Then look for a place where you can do some open-water training always with a buddy, never by yourself. Acquaint yourself with waves and current, being in a wetsuit, sighting with a buoy or landmark to swim a straight line, and getting around turn-buoys.
Q: The equipment with triathlon is so expensive! What gear do I really need?
A: Borrow borrow borrow! Between my mom, my husband, and me, we could probably outfit a small team of athletes with equipment that’s just collecting dust right now. So ask around! Triathlon is the most community-oriented and friendly sport I know and most people will love to see their old equipment finding new life.
Example of how to set up your gear for transition!
Here’s a checklist of equipment I use on race day:
- Flat kit (tube, tire iron, air chuck, air cartridge)
- Bike shoes
- F2C Glyco-Durance (or other bike nutrition) and water
- Bike computer and heart rate monitor
- Running shoes with speed laces
- Socks (optional, but I get blisters without)
- Run nutrition
- Pace watch and heart rate monitor
The Tri Sirena kits are great because you can also swim in them. The difference between a tri kit and cycling shorts is that the former has a thinner shammy; enough padding for comfort on the bike, but thin enough it won’t drag you down in the swim or make you feel like you’re wearing a soggy diaper on the run. Know that, except for full-distance Ironman events, you will not be able to change in transition so plan to swim, bike, and run in the same clothes!
If you borrow a bike, do take it to a mechanic for a safety check and also at least a basic fit adjustment. If your seat is too low or too high, you may quickly have knee pain. If you can adjust the seat forward and back, look for a place where you feel some balance across quads, hamstrings, and glutes; this will help you on the run. Depending on the bike, you also may be able to easily adjust the height of the handlebars and their “reach” (forward and back). Of course, a triathlon bike (or “time trial” bike) will be the most aerodynamic and give you a geometry more favorable for running off the bike—but a road bike is perfectly fine too!
Q: How should I structure my training?
A: First, be realistic about how many hours you have to train each week and at what times. I often see athletes feel pressured to make a huge jump in training volume when they start triathlon, which can be stressful and lead to total burnout after they get through their first race. Remember, triathlon training also impacts your family and your work, so moderate changes over time may be easier on everyone.
If you’re still feeling pressured to train more (or buy more stuff)…take a social media break!! And really come back to your goal and your purpose for being in the sport.
You’ll want to find a structure for each week that helps you stay consistent and also emphasizes the purpose behind each workout. In general, it makes sense to train where you’re weakest: if you’re afraid of the swim, do more swimming. If you’re confident across all three disciplines, biking generally gives you the most bang for the buck: it’s the longest and a stronger bike sets up the run.
Hiring a coach can help you fit the pieces together. There are also lots of books and online resources. And local triathlon clubs or running and biking stores may offer weekly group training—also a great way to meet friends!
Below is an example of how to start thinking about creating a structure for yourself. Training stimulus is just training stimulus. Of course, there are ways to optimize but come back to your desired outcome for the race. Maybe spin classes are what makes you happy—so keep going to spin class! The more you enjoy the training, the more likely you are to be able to sustain your new sport into the next year.
Training availability: 4-6 hours/week
Race: Sprint Tri
Goal: Finish and have fun!
What else? Any questions you’d like to pose in the comments below, I’ll be sure to answer!
Written by Kyra Wiens, Tri Sirena Pro
Follow Kyra on Instagram! @kyrawiens