How to train for your first triathlon

Whatever the distance, from super sprint to Ironman, making the decision to compete in your first triathlon can feel quite daunting. Tri coach and co-founder of Triathlon Coaching UK Matt Sanderson explains how to start, and plan, your training, whatever the level

How to train for your first triathlon

Planning to complete a challenge in a swim event, a bike event or a run event can seem pretty simple to some – but put all three disciplines together and training for a triathlon can be pretty daunting!


So, how do you split your training time if you are now focused on embarking on your first triathlon? Triathlon Coaching UK co-founder and coach, Matt Sanderson has some first timer tips.

I will always start off by looking at your lifestyle and time demands. If you are like many of our triathletes, you are most likely holding down a job with some degree of responsibility, managing stressful situations along the way and you don’t want your triathlon training to prevent you spending quality time with the family! Not easy to do, but with a plan in place you can make it work.

Time management is critical to the success of your triathlon plan. There are obvious things to manage such as “where and when do I swim, bike and run?” but there are also other important aspects such as nutrition, recovery and equipment to factor in. No matter how much swimming, biking and running you do, if you don’t recover effectively between sessions or apply appropriate attention to the quality of the nutrition you consume then your training could well be interrupted with poor health or injury in the near future.

Work on your weaknesses. One of the most common mistakes for both new and experienced triathletes is to work on the discipline you are strongest at. Our strengths are normally where we feel comfortable and the easy option is to focus on this rather than confronting our weaker disciplines. Many people don’t like working on their weaknesses, but once you commit to tackling your weaker discipline head on you will never look back!

The most common example we come across frequently is the weak swimmer. A triathlete new to swimming front crawl and gasping for breath after 50 metres (or less!). If this is you my advice is to begin an immediate search for a local adult swim group with a coach to help you through the basics. Don’t leave it until a few weeks before the event to start working on your technique. Swimming is quite technically demanding and you often have to take a step back and strip down the stroke before you can build it back up and progress.

Check out technique advice and training sessions in our swimming section

Consistency is key. When planning for your first triathlon don’t think you have to approach the swim, bike and run like you would if you were training towards a one discipline event. Training frequently is important but the sessions don’t have to be long. If you set yourself long outdoor bike sessions to do over the winter you might find your commitment to the cause is challenged when the rain and wind start to blow. While riding your bike is important to improve your bike handling skills you should look at alternatives (or have a back-up plan) such as using a turbo trainer, accessing a good gym bike or finding a local spinning class.

Don’t run too far! While some crazy people out there might make an Iron distance triathlon their first race most people will choose a sprint distance race to kick off their triathlon hobby. Sprint distance races generally finish with a 5km run so if a sprint triathlon is your first race don’t worry about running long in training. 3-6km runs will get you in good enough shape for your race. More importantly, try to run more frequently as your technique and run efficiency will improve with more frequent sessions.

Most importantly, remember that this is a hobby and hobbies should always be enjoyable! Stay realistic with the amount of training you can ‘fit in’ around your daily life and don’t be frightened to ask your new triathlon buddies for help and advice – they have all been through what you are about to.

You can also ask for advice from fellow triathletes on the 220 Triathlon Forum