Is a Triathlon on Your Bucket List?

Triathletes are ordinary people like you and me. Yes there are elitists who will cross the finish line before you make the half-way point, but most of your competition is just thanking God they are still alive after the swim.

Read on if completing a triathlon is an unchecked item on your bucket list. With a little more training and a few tips, you may be able to complete one in the summer of 2015.

First, ask yourself these three questions:

1.   Can you run?                 2.   Can you bike?                   3.   Can your swim?

If you answered yes to all three questions, you can become a triathlete. If you answered yes to the first two, you should consider a duathlon.

Second, how are your organizational skills?

You’ll need to be organized because you will have to fit double workouts into your days.

Depending upon how serious you are, you should work up to running, biking, and swimming two to five times per week for each. You will have a strong category and a weak category, everyone does. But training and stamina will get you through any leg of any duathlon or triathlon.

Thirdly, you have to be honest with yourself.

Ask yourself again. Can you swim?

My hubby says he can, but he really can’t. He makes a great duathlete, but all the insurance in the world isn’t going to make me coax him into the triathlon world. Even the buoyancy of a wet suit won’t help. And he looks ridiculous in water wings.

Unless you were on a high school or college swim team, you will probably feel the scariest part of a triathlon is the first leg—the swim. It’s crowded in the water. How crowded? (Have you ever witnessed carp spawning season?) Pretty crowded.

Plus the fact that they have to count you when you go into the water and count you when you come out can be a little unnerving. (Why would they be one short? If I’m drowning, can’t they see me drowning?)

If you do not heed any of Athletchic’s tips, at least heed this: If you are not a good swimmer or if you are prone to having panic attacks, enter a duathlon or find a few friends and enter the triathlon as a team. The swim is serious business.

Finally, enter and begin training.

Want to give it a try? This is the perfect time of year to start adding miles to your run or ride, and get into the water. Once you’ve taken that big step of signing up, you’re half way there. Now it is all about the training. Google triathlon training and pick a beginner training schedule. There are hundreds. Here are a few with free training plans:

When I trained for triathlons, I developed my own schedule based on how I felt. I started training more than six months before the event, but only because there were no sprint distances at that time. (Now, you can find a local sprint triathlon anywhere across the country. Google for a US triathlon race calendar.) I worked up to swimming a mile twice a week, biking about 60 miles three times a week (this was always my weakest leg) and running six days a week for a total of 45 miles.

To learn more about triathlons and training check out a few that I like: (This one even has product reviews.) (This has suggested routes by zip code.) (This has more training tips than you will ever need!)

Follow the tips on line and pay attention to your body. Don’t overdo it. The last thing you need is to get hurt after all your training. Follow a beginner’s training schedule as best you can, and make sure you run a little after every bike ride. (This is one of the best training tips I received. It helps on race day.)

For some extra tips on how to get through the big day, read below. Then buckle down and start your training plan! You can do it!

Triathlon Tips for First Timers:

  1. If you can’t swim, stay out of the water. This is worth repeating. Stick to the Duathlon. 
  2. Get to the start early. You’ll need to pick out a good spot for your bike, preferably toward the end of a bike rack. You’ll also need room to lay out your gear beside your bike before everyone gets there. This is your transition area. Come late and you’ll be scrambling for room on the rack, let alone ground space.
  3. Count the bike racks. Once you are in the middle of the race, everything will look different. Don’t let this surprise you. Get your bearings beforehand. There will be a central transition point. Go to that point, face the bikes and determine if your bike is on the left or right. Then count the bike racks back to your bike. Remember that number.
  4. Never follow a man. The first leg of my first triathlon was an out and back .6 mile swim in Lake Erie. When I made the turn to come back, the sun was in my eyes. I couldn’t see the boats, the break walls or even the shore. I followed two guys who seemed to have a good pace. We swam a half mile out of our way. When I got out of the water, my husband hollered, “Did you swim to the wrong break wall?” “Yes,” I laughed—really I was just glad to be alive. “I was following these two guys.” A woman in the crowd yelled, “Don’t you know you should never follow a man?” Point taken.
  5. Never enter a brand new triathlon. Refer to number four above. (That was a new triathlon. They had one boat in the water for 200 swimmers. They were lucky no one drowned.)
  6. Always immerse yourself in the water before the start of the swim. Wearing a wet suit is a good idea because not only does it keep you buoyant, it keeps the water trapped between your body and the suit warm. But make no mistake. If the water is cold, diving in is going to take your breath away. Get your entire body into the water—even your head—a few minutes before the start. They will count everyone as you enter the water, so there is enough time before the race or in between heats.
  7. Never wear a bib style wet suit. My friend, Mary Ann Frick, rented her husband, Mike, a wet suit the night before he was to swim on a triathlon team with my husband. Mike was a first-timer. The wet suit had a scooping bib neckline rather than coming up tight around his neck. Every time he took a stroke, his wet suit filled up with water. Mike is a great swimmer, but even he almost drowned.
  8. Always look toward the tree line, water tower or something high in the distance during the swim. This is the single best advice I can give for the swim. From shore, you can see the boats and buoys easily. When you are in the water, you can barely see a few feet in front of you. Pick a spot high in the air that you can swim toward. I cut a minute off my swim time by lining up the turn-around buoy with a dip in a distant tree line and swimming toward it. I couldn’t see that turn-around buoy once I was in the water, but I could see that dip in the trees.
  9. Take your head out of the water and look up every few strokes. Refer to number four, again. (I didn’t do this.)
  10. Never mark your transition space with a balloon. Take a bright bandana and tie it on your bike rack beside your bike. In the midst of the race, you’ll be lost in a sea of bikes. Count the racks and look for that bright bandana. It is the lighthouse to your transition area. Don’t use a balloon. They break. Trust me.
  11. Always bring a pan of water to step into. This will remove the sand and pebbles from your feet. (Elite triathletes won’t do this. They run barefooted to the starting line and step into shoes attached to bikes. Don’t try this.)
  12. Always slow down when the big sign says slow down. Let’s rephrase this one. “The acute curve ahead will throw your expensive bike into a twisted mess.” You’ll also see “slow down” on the road toward the end of the bike course. Trying to make up time then is tempting but dangerous. The last half mile is dappled with people and bikes.
  13. Always remember to take your helmet off before you start the run. I learned this from my friend, Robin. This can be very embarrassing.
  14. Run that first mile. Your legs are going to feel terrible when you first start running, but after a mile they will be back to normal.
  15. Smile when you cross the finish line. Congratulations, you are superwoman!


Cyndie Zahner is a free lance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @tweetyz or on Instagram as athletchicz.

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