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Training for a first triathlon

graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
edited September 2007 in Training, fitness and health
I've decided to do a Triathlon on September 9th. It's a sprint triathlon: swim 400m (in lanes, in a heated indoor pool), cycle 20km, run 5km.

I'm a reasonable swimmer, although I haven't swum in over a year. I went for the first time on Thursday at lunch time and did 800m, the first 400 in about 8 minutes and felt I could comfortably have ridden 20km afterwards. I'm planning to keep swimming 800m twice a week between now and the start of September. I cycle about 60 miles a week commuting, and most weeks get in another one or two 30 or 40 mile rides. I'm going to see if I can get along to my local cycling club and do a 10 mile tt sometime in August to give me an idea of what that feels like.

The running is another matter. I have never been much of a runner and basically don't run. I bought some running shoes on Saturday from a specialist running shop, who took my flat feet into account, and started this running programme: ... a/10wk.htm

I've so far done the first two runs on Saturday and then Sunday, skipping the rest day to get me on track with the programme. I'm a bit concerned about over training. I ache all over from the running, and today is a 'rest day' for my running programme, but I'm planning to swim 800 metres at lunch time and I'll cycle 12 miles to work and back.

Any thoughts or suggestions on how I go about getting myself fit in all 3 disciplines between now and 9th September without crippling myself?

Also any tips or suggestions for tackling the event itself?


  • chrisw12chrisw12 Posts: 1,246
    Wow, there must be a million questions in there and although I'm now a cyclist, I used to be a swimmer so I couldn't get passed the 'swim 800m twice a week'. Why? The event is only 400m long, so why do swims which are further if your on restricted time.

    For example I'd start with 2x(4x100) or 10x50 with say 15 secs rest and at 400m pace(or slightly quicker). Next time you go for a swim do a 400m time trial, get your time then divide it by 4. Next time you go swimming aim to do 100s on this time for example.
  • andypandyp Posts: 8,843

    I tend to do some running in the winter to a) keep fit and b) keep me mentally fresh. I'd wholeheartedly advocate the type of program you're doing as I find running is physically much tougher on the body than cycling. You do tend to ache for the first few weeks regardless of what you do but I have found that stretching after running really does help ease the pain a bit.

    Also, be very careful of over doing it too soon - I ran a 6km race via a work challenge recently and did it on no running training (had a Gran Fondo in Italy ten days before then a week's holiday) so whilst I knew I'd have the aerobic fitness to do it, I knew I'd suffer physically. And boy did I! I couldn't walk downstairs for 3 days but found that getting out on the bike helped immensely in easing the soreness.

    One other thing to note - going from cycling straight to running, i.e. as in a triathlon, is known to be odd so it's definitely worth incorporating a few sessions where you cycle then run before the event itself.
  • hammeritehammerite Posts: 3,408
    Well done on entering the tri. I did my first 3 weeks ago and loved it.

    I'm actually a runner who rides a bit (but starting to get more into the riding and moving away from the running!). I'm definitely no swimmer!!

    First of all, don't panic about the run. 5k is only 3.1 miles so it's not a massive distance. But it is the discipline that if you are competent at you can make the most time up. Running always feels difficult when you start off, but you can improve immensely over a relatively short period. You have 6 weeks to build up to being able to run the 5k. Take it easy to start off with, don't try to run flat out in training, get yourself comfortable with running before trying to add any speed.

    I would also recommend running off road, whether round a local park or across some fields. You won't be used to the repetitive pounding, so a soft surface will help reduce this impact. It's also more tiring to run off road so it can make you stronger. Running on road during the tri will feel easier.

    As Andy mentioned going from the bike to running can feel very strange. In a few weeks time when you are more comfortable with the running try what is known as a "brick session", go for a ride close to race distance then try going straight into a run so you can get used to it.

    You may also need to think about kit, lock laces are good for bike shoes and running, help you get in and out of your shoes quickly. A tri suit may be useful, I didn't use one but did wear tri shorts for all 3 disciplines and just put a running vest on for the cycle/run, but if it's cold a cycling top may be a bit better.
  • AndyGatesAndyGates Posts: 8,467
    Easiest programme for first tri:

    swim day
    bike day
    run day
    rest day


    A little nearer the race you'll want to do some "bricks" - combination sessions where you do swim and bike, or bike and run, together. Simply riding to the pool, then riding back the long way hard, is the easiest swim/bike brick. About a 10k / 2k bike/run brick at fast pace is good too - lay out your run gear at home for when you get in (vary the distances to taste, or even repeat them).

    Meanwhile just build up your run distance. You can do the others, so the run should be priority.
    Wanted: Penny farthing. Please PM me!
    Advice for kilted riders: top-tubes are cold.
  • hammeritehammerite Posts: 3,408
    Agree with Andy, you will get some strange looks though leaving the pool (probably during a family session with it being summer holidays) and going straight out to your bike still soaking wet!
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    Thanks for all the tips and encouragement everyone.

    Just been for a swim at lunch time and found that all the horrible stiffness I've got from running the last two days has pretty much vanished, which is nice.

    The pool I'm using is at work (on a university campus), so I suppose I could maybe go for a swim after work one day and then ride home straight afterwards to do my swim/bike combo. It's pretty quiet at the moment with the students all being off for the summer.

    Any idea where I can see results from sprint triathlons? I know it's going to vary depending on the courses used for the running and cycling, but I'd like to have a rough idea at times. My main aims are to finish, and not be dead last, but I'd be interested to see how far off the pace I am.
  • steverilesteverile Posts: 514
    Your 400 swim time already sounds pretty good and certainly well up on the other 'having a go' entrants. I'd put that into maintenance - I doubt you'll improve *that* much without improving your technique. I'd definitely try the ride-run combo - that's the one you'll be most tired on and you already know the run is you're weakest event. You need to find out what it's like running with someone else's legs :)

    Don't get injured!
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    steverile wrote:
    Your 400 swim time already sounds pretty good and certainly well up on the other 'having a go' entrants. I'd put that into maintenance - I doubt you'll improve *that* much without improving your technique. I'd definitely try the ride-run combo - that's the one you'll be most tired on and you already know the run is you're weakest event. You need to find out what it's like running with someone else's legs :)

    Don't get injured!
    I've always been a good swimmer (in that I've always had decent technique), but Thursday was the first time I've been swimming since last April (when I took up cycling). I found after two lengths my arms were dead, so after the 400 metres I wasn't out of breath and my heart rate was still relatively low, but my arms and upper body felt like they were ready to drop off.

    I'm hoping that by just getting some time in the pool in I can build up my upper body strength again and knock a bit of time off my swim, or at least make sure that I don't have that dead arm feeling after two lengths come the day.
  • steverilesteverile Posts: 514
    ...and of course you can afford to trash your arms. You'll only need them for 400m, they'll just be in the way after that :)
  • hammeritehammerite Posts: 3,408
    I'd agree with Steve, you can swim at a decent pace, so probably just worth swimming a couple of times a week to just to get used to it again.

    The sprint tri I did was aimed at beginners, so there were no top end times. To give you an idea though my swim and T1 time was 13m 50 (I'm a really poor swimmer!), and I was 123rd in the swim (out of 170 people). The bike was 10 miles which I did in 31m 36 including T2, 42nd overall, and the 5k run I did in 23m 34 (37th overall). I finished in 56th place for the whole race.

    Like you I just aimed to get round, but I identified loads of areas I could've been quicker, like being better at swimming!, making sure my speedo doesn't fall off when I'm riding (I'd checked everything else on my bike apart from speedo bracket!), and working harder on the run. Most of all I really enjoyed it so will be planning on doing a couple more before the summer is over.

    You can look at some results on this site as a comparison, but as you know no two races are run in identical conditions or the same distances
  • trimonkeytrimonkey Posts: 2

    You should be able to complete a sprint tri without too much run training - I did my first last year and only started run training in the final 6 weeks or so, because I didnt want to stress my knees before I'd shifted some weight! So I concentrated on bike fitness as my main training. I agree with some of the other posts that Brick sessions are worthwhile, more so the bike to run, this gets you used to running with jelly legs after the bike - dont worry your legs will come back to normal after around 5 minutes running.

    I've now completed a few tri's and you'll find that you'll be looking at your split times after the first one and thinking 'if i could just.......i'll save.....seconds'. Be warned - they are addictive!

    You'll get more specific help on the Tri websites and forums. I've found to have one of the best forums around

    Above all, just enjoy what you do and good luck
  • mh130mh130 Posts: 19

    I did my first sprint Tri in June and immediately signed up for a couple more later this summer. I just made sure that I did at least one swim, bike and run session each week, plus one or two extra sessions if I had the time.

    Definitely fit in some bike / run brick sessions. firstly to get used to the mechanics of getting off the bike and into runnning shoes as quickly as possible. Second, to get your legs used to what is a fairly unpleasant feeling for the first few hundred metres. To try to double up as a speed session I would do a fast 5km on the bike, followed by 1k run. Give myself a 5minute rest and then repeat once or twice more depending on how good / bad I felt.

    Enjoy the training and race day and good luck!

  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    Thanks Matt and TriMonkey. I already have one eye on my next Tri (about 3 weeks after the first), but I'll give it a few weeks and see how my training goes for now.

    I'm still finding the running incredibly hard and I ache like anything afterwards, but I'm sure that will go after the first couple of weeks. I'm finding my cycling is improving, which is weird, as I'm not making a conscious effort to improve that at the moment. I got a personal best on the way home from work yesterday, then went out and did my run, then had some tea, and went out and did a nice 25 mile loop with a mate. The later ride felt fairly effortless even after my sprint home and running.
  • AndyGatesAndyGates Posts: 8,467
    Best bet for results is to look at the same race, last year. They vary so much.
    Wanted: Penny farthing. Please PM me!
    Advice for kilted riders: top-tubes are cold.
  • Graeme, what no-one has mentioned yet is the 4th element of triathlon - the transitions.

    Do practice a couple of times, perhaps as part of your brick session. Get all your kit together, lean your bike against a chair and pretend you have just emerged dripping from the pool. What do you do? You need to end up wearing a helmet, bike shoes and a race number. You MUST be wearing the helmet, correctly fastened, BEFORE you touch the bike, or the marshals could give you a time penalty. It is easy to forget, so practice a few times.

    I practiced in the garden by pouring a bucket of water over my legs, running to the bike, then trying to get my bike shoes on. I am glad I discovered in practice that my shoes won't go on if my feet are wet, so I learned to pull on socks first. Most people don't do the sock thing, but until I buy special triathlon shoes, I am stuck with them.

    The second transition is easier. You just have to change shoes and remove the helmet.
    Although some people are seen running round the circuit wearing bike helmets, because it is their first event and they have freaked out and forgotten to remove it.

    Is it the Rugby Tri that you are doing?
  • hammeritehammerite Posts: 3,408
    Some things to help with transitions like TH mentioned.

    Put a load of talc in your socks, makes them a lot easier to slip on. Although I did dry my feet off a little before putting them on too.

    Elasticated lock laces on both pairs of shoes would be very useful. That way you can just slip them on without having to tie any laces. You may also want to consider riding in your running shoes, I didn't in my tri, but you may find you ride just as well.

    I've just entered my second and third sprint tri attempts, Roade Sprint (northamptonshire) and Bedford Autumn tri.
  • Hi Graeme.

    Ok here's my back-to-basics triathlon training plan:

    - 2 workouts in each discipline per week, and one day of complete rest.
    - One run and one bike session should be a longer one, done at around, or just above the pace whereby you could hold a conversation.
    - The other run and bike sessions should be an intervals: six times 3 minutes, two times 20 minutes, or whatever you think will benefit you most (i.e. train your weaknesses).
    - Both your swim sessions should be technique based (drills, drills, drills).

    Joining your local club will help immensely (if you're a club kinda person). Especially if they've got a good swim coach. My swimming has gone from your level to 5mins per 400m just by improving my technique.

    Cheers, Andy

    ps My current _key_ workout which is ideal for sprint tri is the following:

    Warm up thoroughly, then do 4 repeats of the following: (takes about an hour)

    - One 8 minute loop on the bike (8/10 perceived exertion)
    - Transition 2 drill (bike shoes off on bike , cx style running dismount, elastic laces in running shoes)
    - One 5 minute loop running (8/10 perceived exertion)
    - Transition 1 drill (running mount, shoes already clipped in)
    - 3 minutes recovery spin on bike

    I try to negative split this, so that by the 4th rep the 8 minute loop is more like 7:30, and the 5 minute run is down near 4:45. The perceived exertion does kinda creep up towards 9 and onward though...
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    Thanks again for all the advice. I'm kind of picking and choosing the bits I'm following at the moment going on what I think is relevant to me. Admittedly come the event I'll probably realise I ignored all the bits I should have listened to and listened to all the bits I should have ignored :lol:

    Turbo Hamster: it's the Warwick Triathlon I'm doing on 9 September. I'm considering registering for the Warwickshire Triathlon (in Stratford) on 30 September as well. I figure if I've trained for the one on the 9th I might as well keep going and do the one on the 30th as well!
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    Thanks for everyone's help. I did the triathlon yesterday, and managed to finish it! Not only that, but I managed a time of 1.11:24, which I was pretty pleased with (I'd set a target of going under 1.20, so I wasn't being too optimistic in advance).

    The swim was ok, I got stuck behind two slower people in my lane, which was very frustrating, but once I passed them I could go at my own pace, I came out of the pool 2nd in my wave.

    I had no major problems in transition, and set off on my bike, immediately noticing that my cadence sensor wasn't working (later discovered that the magnet had slipped on the crank so wasn't passing the sensor anymore). I think I ended up grinding away on the whole ride, and didn't spin enough, or spend enough time down on my tri-bars, which looking back is quite annoying. I got cramp in my left calf (not a problem I've had before), so badly that at one point I had to actually stop and stretch it out. I passed about 6 or 7 people on the ride, and was passed by a guy from my wave. I then passed him later on, then he passed me, and shortly before the end I passed him again and stayed away this time.

    No major problems during transition, although the guy I'd had the battle with on the bike must have been slightly quicker as we started the run together. The run was two laps of a school field, with a bit of tarmac near the end of each lap. I kept with this guy for the first lap, but part way through the second lap he started to pull away from me and I just couldn't keep up. For the whole first lap and most of the second I kept thinking I was just going to jack it in and walk back as it just seemed so hard! I was pretty pleased with myself that I managed to keep running though.

    As I came onto the finish straight I cut across the front of a guy who was coming up to pass me, I hadn't realised he was there, and he had to dodge round the other side of a pillar to avoid hitting me or it. We ran shoulder to shoulder and then he started to pick the pace up a bit. I matched his pace and then pushed it a bit harder, and at this point he turned to me, screamed "come on then!" and put the hammer down. I matched him for the first couple of strides and then everything seemed to go backwards and he just ran away from me. I shook his hand afterwards, but was kind of gutted that he'd beaten me. I met up with the guy who I'd had the race with during the cycle, a guy called Matt who was also a first timer, we had a bit of a chat and laughed about our ride. His overall finish time was 20 seconds faster than mine.

    Last night I had a look at the official pictures (picture of every competitor on the bike, and of every competitor running across the line), and discovered that the guy I'd had the sprint finish in the run had actually been in the swimming wave before me, so although he beat me to the line, I must actually have beaten him by a couple of minutes!
  • Nice one Graeme!

    Now you're hooked have you filled in your next entry form?

    Cheers, Andy
  • graeme_s-2graeme_s-2 Posts: 3,382
    Thanks Andy. I signed up for the Warwickshire Triathlon in Stratford on Sunday evening. It's on September 30th. Got the official results today with my splits and finishing position.

    I finished 36th in my category (Male Senior) and 52nd over all, out of 172 competitors. I'm pretty happy with that.

    My splits were:

    Swim + T1 00:09:28
    Cycle + T2 00:38:50
    Run 00:23:05

    Especially pleased with my run time, as I only started running a couple of months ago, and my PB in training was about 24:40.
  • hammeritehammerite Posts: 3,408
    well done graeme, good performance. Hope you enjoy Stratford

    I entered my second and third tris at the end of this month, but have had to pull out of both due to injury (I'm never playing football ever again!).
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