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How Do I Train For My First Triathlon?

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published May 8, 2013
  • Updated Mar 25, 2014 at 3:44 PM UTC
Photo: John Segesta


Matt Fitzgerald provides answers to some of the most commonly asked questions he receives from beginners. Looking to compete in a beginner-friendly triathlon? Our partner, the TriRock Triathlon series, offers eight races across the country featuring a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.

The sport of triathlon used to be considered a bizarre form of self-torture engaged in by endurance junkies who had gone over the bend. Today, triathlon is thoroughly mainstream. Each year, thousands of everyday men and women – and even boys and girls – participate in their first triathlon in search of fitness and a rewarding challenge.

Nevertheless, the sport remains rather intimidating for beginners. It is complex, and the learning curve is steep for first-timers. In this article, we hope to provide a boost along this curve for those of you who are considering a first triathlon by answering some of the questions that beginners most frequently ask.

How do I train?

In a typical triathlon, the average participant spends about a fifth of the total race duration swimming, half of the total race duration cycling, and about 30 percent of the total race duration running. Your training should approximately match these distributions. Each week, you should do roughly equal numbers of swim, bike and run workouts, but your bike workouts should be longer and your swims shorter. For example, if you work out six times, you will swim twice, bike twice, and run twice, but your longest bike ride might be one hour, whereas your swims last 30 minutes each and your runs, 40 minutes.

Begin with an amount of training that is appropriate to your present level of fitness and increase the workload incrementally throughout the time you have available before your race, always allowing yourself enough time for recovery. If you’re a typical out-of-shape adult who’s neither overweight, elderly, nor suffering from any debilitating medical conditions, you’ll need about 12 weeks to prepare for a sprint triathlon (approximately a 0.25-mile swim, 15-mile bike, 3-mile run).

You may have heard triathletes or other endurance athletes talk about “intensity” and various workout types that target different intensity levels. Forget about this for now. While training for your first triathlon, keep the intensity level between four and six on a scale of one to 10 for all workouts.

RELATED – Triathlete’s Beginner’s Guide: Becoming A Better Cyclist

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