This post overviews my entire triathlon training experience. Please note that I am NOT an elite, and am still very much in my early stages of triathlons. But I know what has worked for me thus far. This was written from my experience, but progress is always very individual. Please see a medical professional before starting any workout program.
Last September, a few friends came to visit me for Vail Oktoberfest, and they inspired me to do the complete opposite of drink beer… they inspired me to try out a triathlon.
I was just in the beginning stages of my Couch to 5k program (you can see more about that program and what got be started here), and my friends suggested that maybe I could extend it a bit.
After my two 5ks that I completed, I didn’t have any other races on the calendar, so I took their advice and started looking into triathlons.
Triathlons: A Beginner’s Guide
How I Gathered Information
In Denver, there are two organizations that gave me all the help I needed to get started:
Tribella Women’s Multisport gave me much of the information I needed in terms of training locally and which races to sign up for throughout the year. They guided me towards my Super Sprint race and Sprint race, both of which I competed in, as well as being the place where I purchased my early gear – a swim suit, swim cap, and they suggested which goggles to purchase for my specific purposes (outdoor swimming.)
Colorado Multisport was also hugely helpful for me. Located up in Boulder, this is where I purchased my tri kit (highlighted below) and rented my wet suit.
The women of Coeur Sports were also incredible. They hosted a clinic to guide me through race day, as well as actually helping me out A TON on race day itself. If you’re a woman even considering triathlons, I highly recommend checking out their resources.
If you’re not local to the Denver or Boulder area, then I highly suggest looking up stores or resources local to your area, as well. Most of the spaces that I’ve found tend to have “multisport” in the name, which is helpful when your google-ing for information. As an FYI, larger stores and chains, such as REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods were terrible resources and actually gave me very incorrect information, so I don’t recommend heading their way for assistance.
In general everyone was there to help out. They were excited when they found out I was interested in trying out triathlons, suggested many resources that were helpful for more information, and were kind and patient with all of my questions. Never be scared to ask for more information – I promise you that most of the folks in this industry are a wealth of very, very helpful information.
Super Sprint Race
When I decided to get on the phone and call Tribella, they, very wisely, suggested trying out a Super Sprint first before diving into the wild world of triathlons.
A Super Sprint Triathlon is a very short triathlon so that you can try swimming, biking, and running all in a row and you can get a good feel for the vibe of race day. My race was a very achievable 150 yard swim in a pool, 6.2 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run.
I did find that Super Sprints tended to be a little bit more difficult to find on triathlon calendars, but I found mine on the nationwide resource Tri Find. (The one that I specifically competed in was the TRYathlon at Goodson Recreation Center.)
For me, this was the perfect way to start out, as the community was supportive, it was a great way to set and understand my personal pace, and I met some other folks that were much more experienced in triathlons that could give me a few tips and suggestions. I LOVED my experience, overall.
Super Sprint Triathlon Gear
Since my Super Sprint triathlon was in a pool, my gear was pretty simple.
For my swim, I wore a traditional, one-piece racing swim suit. I also wore a swim cap, and the goggles that I typically wear for my outdoor swims worked out perfectly. I also did wear a sports bra underneath my bathing suit, knowing that I’d be moving directly into the bike and run portion.
For the bike portion, I wore my simple running shorts, tank top, and gym shoes. I tossed on everything over my swim suit after I hopped out of the water (after drying off my feet with a towel), put on my bike helmet, and rolled away. For longer races, I did wear a tri kit (seen below), which has a bit of padding, but I didn’t feel that was necessary due to this being a fairly short ride. My bike was also my daily, 3-speed, hybrid cruiser that I bought off a friend. Everyone’s bikes were all over the place in terms of quality and type, but I didn’t feel out-of-the-ordinary having my usual bike as my equipment.
For the run, I pretty much hopped off my bike and was ready to go. Luckily, the Super Sprint was completely off-road on sidewalks and paths, which meant that I could toss in my headphones and listen to music, but know that that’s not usually the case for triathlons.
Super Sprint Training Schedule
Knowing the distances, I didn’t do a whole lot of training for the Super Sprint. Essentially, I made sure that I could continue to run by running a 5k at least once a week. And for biking, I made sure that I could bike at least 8-10 miles straight without an issue.
Swimming was where I knew that I needed the most help. I got a membership at all of our outdoor Denver Rec Center pools and became an established attendee during lap swim times. (If you’re a local, the outdoor pools and pool times can be found here and the membership was, when I paid, $50 for the full season.)
While my distances varied a bit by the week, my short training schedule (around 3 weeks) looked like this:
Mon – Swim laps
Tue – Bike
Wed – Swim laps
Thr – Run
Fri – Bike
Sat – HIIT train or weight lift
Sun – Rest
Once I completed the Super Sprint and knew that I was in love, the next step that Tribella suggested (which was right on), was completing in a Sprint Triathlon.
There are several differences between a Super Sprint and a Sprint Tri. Most notably:
- While distances for both races can vary by location and race, what I’ve typically found is that a Sprint is half the distance of an Olympic Triathlon. (You can see the various triathlon distances here.) This means that the distances are around double the distance of the Super Sprint I completed, except for the run.
- The swim portion is an outdoor swim. This means that you are swimming in some form of open body of water, which brings it’s own unique set of challenges. For example, in Union Reservoir, where I swam for my Sprint, the water is super muddy to the point that you can’t fully see in front of you.
- Most Sprints are a lot more official than Super Sprints, in that there are various categories, official times set, and (perhaps most notably), mass starts. This means that there are several individuals all starting the race at one time, which means that you likely will be kicked at some point during the swim. (Don’t take it personally.)
About two months prior to race day, I signed up for the Outdoor Divas Sprint Triathlon. This triathlon, located near Boulder, CO, is an all-female race that was a 1/2 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run.
To put in lightly, I am now OBSESSED with triathlons.
Thankfully, not only was this all-female tri filled with an amazing community of like-minded women, but the race was also designed to help you succeed. As an example, they offered a smaller “First Timers” group, which was filled with women trying out their very first tri. This smaller group allowed for less of a mass start feel and made me comfortable so that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t the “only one” that had no idea what I was doing.
I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend checking out a Without Limits-hosted event if you’re anywhere in Colorado. The event went off without a hitch and I felt supported and fully informed the whole way.
Sprint Triathlon Gear
This was where the big difference between races came in, especially due to the distances and the fact that the swim was in open water.
For the full event, I wore a Tri Kit (sports bra underneath), and I rented a wet suit for the swim portion of the event.
To start off with, there are two type of tri kits (or “tri suits”), one piece and two piece.
Two piece tri kits are a Tri Jersey/workout top (similar to what you might wear for a normal workout), and Tri Shorts that are similar to bike shorts. However, the primary difference between tri shorts and bike shorts is that there is A LOT less padding in tri shorts. Not only are you typically going shorter distances on the bike when training or completing a tri (compared to a bike race), but you also won’t want a large amount of padding to soak up water from the swim just prior to your bike.
One Piece Tri Suits are essentially body suits with the shorts and top combined. Whether you wear a two or a one piece is really just a matter of preference, except that I would highly suggest wearing a one piece if you are not planning to wear a wet suit.
Similar to choosing your kit, whether you do or do not decide to wear a wet suit is very much a matter of preference, as well. There are several different types of wet suits, but in my experience, most of the ones that you can rent are typically full body (i.e. long pants and sleeves.) Just be ready for that if the water where you’re going to be swimming is going to be warm. But to me, the best part of wearing a wet suit is the buoyancy factor, in that they help you to “float” a little bit more than you might otherwise.
Now that we’ve broken that down a bit, here’s what I ended up wearing for my Sprint Tri:
For the swim, I wore my tri kit over my sports bra, then my wet suit over it all. I wore a swim cap (given to me by the race committee to signify my grouping), and my outdoor goggles.
Jumping out of the swim portion, I tore off my wet suit and wore my tri kit for the bike portion. I decided to continue to maintain using my hybrid bike. For sprints, it’s fairly consistent that you’ll see all sorts of bikes being used for the event, so don’t feel awkward using whatever you own. I also don’t clip-in on my hybrid, so I just wore gym shoes as usual. It made it fairly easy to just put on my helmet, hop on the bike, and go.
For the run, I wore the same thing as the bike portion, but also clipped on my Tri Number Belt, which helped a lot in speeding up the transition.
Sprint Training Schedule
My main goal for this portion of the training was to increase my distances, with a drive to be able to easily finish a 2000 yard swim, 16 mile bike, and a 5k. And, staying consistent, the swim portion was definitely where I focused my attention. The exact plan I followed is below:
For strength, I decided to spend most of my time on arm strength to assist with my swims, and it paid off! Definitely worth a bit of focus if you’re new to swimming like I was at the beginning.
My Triathlon Experience
Overall, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about my triathlon experiences. I was logical in the decisions I was making, taking one bite at a time in terms of what I wanted to achieve, but still pushing myself to learn and grow.
I also beat my expected time, which, to me, was a HUGE accomplishment. Adrenaline pumping, I am excited to see that my swim was MUCH faster than expected, my bike a little bit slower, and my run was almost exactly the pace I expected. This has shown me where I need to put in some work, as well as giving me proof that where you put your attention really does improve.
These tri experiences were so much fun that I know this is not the end of my triathlon-ing. I will definitely be back and I look forward to continually challenging myself to improve and push my limits.
There are several other resources that I utilized in prepping for this triathlon. And I am definitely not the utmost expert in the field either.
A few other resources that I used were:
- Strava – To track my progress and pace. (I used and currently use the free version.)
- Several Blogs – Including Meredith Atwood, Active.com, CompleteTri.com, and Triathlon Hacks. (All are linked to the exact posts I referenced most frequently.)
- Swimming Workout – While I didn’t have the opportunity to train in open water (I wish I did!), I did use this swimming workout to make sure that I’d have appropriate endurance.
- Setting Up Your Transition Area – How you set up your space in the transition area comes down to personal preference, but there are definitely some tips and tricks that will get you speeding out of the transition area at a faster rate.
What’s next for me?
While I’m keeping up portions of my training, with a goal to finish an Olympic Tri next year, I just began a 10-week half marathon training schedule that I’m committed to right now. Running 5 days a week, stretching to prevent injury (especially on active recovery days!), and cross training to gain muscle strength and endurance are my priorities at this point… wish me luck!