Fired up by a New Year fitness pledge, signing up to your first triathlon was the easy bit. But with training now ratcheted up, a winter’s nip still hanging in the air and race day like a mirage on the horizon, both the motivation and knees are starting to creak.
We’ve turned to TrainSharp’s head triathlon coach Phil Jarvis for some practical encouragement and some confidence-building sessions to navigate you through the final weeks before your first triathlon.
>>> Chrissie Wellington's six top tips for triathlon beginners
1. Keep fit and healthy
Injury is the dread of all endurance athletes and as our bodies adapt to working out, occasionally things tweak, pull or break. Muscles and joints are particularly susceptible if they’ve been seldom used in the past, the pounding a swimmer-turned-triathlete endures on the run probably the best example.
Training consistently, week in week out, and not ramping up the volume or intensity too much mitigates the risks, but listen to your body and get little niggles checked. As race day approaches, non-impact disciplines of swimming and biking are less risky than running, and don’t be shy of the cross-trainer to keep up your aerobic quota.
>>> Triathlon jargon buster for beginners
A healthy, balanced diet can bolster immune systems run down through training, but sometimes bugs even get the better of the best. It’s not a disaster if the lurgy strikes. Chrissie Wellington was forced to pull out of defending her Ironman world title in Hawaii in 2010, but came back stronger than ever the following year.
2. Manage your expectations
As race day nears and fitness improves, there’s a risk of ‘goal creep’. Where initially just completing 400m in the pool, staying upright on the bike, then not walking on the run might have been the target, with a couple of months of training (and fitness gains can be huge when starting out) there’s a danger of becoming over-ambitious for race day.
Instead, err on the side of caution. Triathlon has witnessed many ‘one-and-doners’ because they had a horrible first experience – particularly when that race was over a longer distance. You only get one debut, so enjoy this guaranteed personal best and consider booking in another race later in the summer so you build on the momentum and can aim to go faster.
3. Don't despair
Sometimes life just gets in the way, but if your motivation is waning, take stock and don’t despair. If you’re clinging grimly to a set plan and feeling fatigued, look back at your training log and take time to celebrate how far you’ve come.
Consider scheduling in some easier sessions, discuss your feelings with other triathletes and look for company on rides, runs or swims. On the flipside, if you’ve barely moved a muscle since signing up, remember the old mantra: ‘It’s never too late to start’.
Most races can still be completed – and even enjoyed – with a minimum amount of training. You might need to pause at the end of every length, resort to breaststroke, or opt for a run/walk strategy, but you’ll find race-day atmospheres are accommodating and non-judgemental. Stick with it.
4. Know when to taper
This is a tricky one to get right. If you have a coach or are following the plan provided in issue 308 (available here), you will have a good indication of when to ease back. The ideal taper is one that carries you to race day full of energy, but without having lost too much fitness from resting up.
Don’t worry if you feel sluggish. The temptation can be to keep going flat-out, but you need to trust that by stepping off the gas you’re doing the right thing. However, don’t stop completely; keep the frequency of sessions so the arms and legs tick over, but drop the duration and/or intensity.
Continue reading our guide to preparing for your first triathlon (2/2)