A beginner’s guide to preparing for your first triathlon

By Nina Beltran

Maybe you’re an office worker who just sits in the office staring at a computer monitor all day or a corporate executive hoping to pursue other avenues outside your career. A lawyer who just wants to take on another challenge or a home body who lounges on the couch all day. You can transform yourself into someone who actually finishes a triathlon sprint race—750 meter swim, 20 kilometer bike, and five kilometer run—in just 12 weeks.

But you have to start now. I used to be a geeky, lanky, and non-athletic doctor two years ago, straight out of fellowship training. I was in awe and inspired by my triathlete friends. I got bitten by the triathlon bug and this is the lifestyle I have come to love. Still geeky and lanky but now strong and athletic.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Here are a few helpful tips I got from seasoned triathletes during my first race.

Map out Your Races

Setting a training schedule for your first triathlon will depend on your current level of fitness, aerobic capacity, and what your goals are. Triathlon is a different kind of beast and you can’t just do it on a whim. If not done right, you can hurt your body and injure yourself.

Triathletes usually have “A races.” The big one or main event. This is what we are training for and building up towards. But we also need to plot our “B races” or events that will prepare us for our A race. The longer races don’t mean they are better. Others strive to improve their performance based on their finish time. It really depends on your personal goal.

Getting a coach or joining a supervised triathlon program is probably the best advice I got to find structure and method to this triathlon training madness.

Focus on Your Weakness

One of the biggest training mistakes is to focus on what you are most comfortable with and avoid the discipline that needs work. Put more effort into the part where you struggle with the most.

Keep Nutrition Simple

Make sure you are well hydrated. Eat pre- and post-workout meals that are proportionate to training load. Pass up on processed foods and eat real food instead. Small lifestyle choices like choosing water over soda can make a difference. And don’t worry about carbs. Carb-loading is only encouraged for endurance athletes engaging in physical activity for more than four hours. Before key workouts and important races, eat something familiar and easy to digest.

Nothing New on Race Day

From clothes and shoes to food, never try anything new on race day. Stick to what you are used to in order to prevent unnecessary inconveniences that could hurt your performance such as an upset stomach or chafed skin.

Learn to Pace Yourself

During your first race, you’ll be drenched with an adrenaline rush but don’t let it veer you off your race plan and go too fast too soon. This happens especially in the swim leg, which could make or break the whole race. Just stay loose, avoid the washing machine effect where swimmers get kicked and pulled. Don’t go too hard. It is also common for newbies to freeze up and panic in the water. Stop, hold on to a buoy or boat for a while. Breathe and find your bearings then go at it again.