New to triathlon? Choose pick a race, identify your mission and get organized!
As a first-time triathlete you ideally will choose a sprint-distance race in your hometown, or near to it, for your first race. This distance is a manageable starting point and gives a great introduction to the three-sport nature of triathlon and the feeling of racing through transitions for the first time. If you are new to open-water swimming and not comfortable there yet, there is an opportunity to choose a race with a pool swim. At your first race you will have a chance to meet others in the sport, get a good look at gear that is being used and possibly be able to ask questions from industry professionals who are set up at the race. Your first race goal should be simple: It is about participation and fun and getting to know how it works. As you get more experience in the sport, you can start setting performance goals, use triathlon as a destination sport (places you wanted to see, but didn’t have an excuse to get to yet), give yourself bigger challenges by racing longer over hillier course and do ocean swims.
Triathlon is a sport that loves organized people and it requires a detailed approach. From choosing a race and signing up, to planning training and getting equipment, developing those good habits that ensure success is crucial. You will generally have to register and sign up for you first triathlon well in advance of the day. Check with local triathlon shops, recreation centers and online with your regional triathlon organization for a schedule of race listings and choose a race that feels right for you. Keep it simple and stay close to home for your first one if you can. There might even be a beginner’s race or a beginner’s clinic offered locally, so do some asking around and look for something fun and that won’t be daunting. Some races fill up early, so plan ahead and be ready to sign up several months in advance of race day depending on your city. Finding a race about two to four months away will give you time to train properly and to gather the correct resources and equipment that you will need.
After registration, at some point, you will be given a packet that will include some, or all of: your race number, information about the race course, the race schedule, the transition zone layout, course rules and a swim cap. Keep all this stuff safe and read all information carefully. Rules are crucial to triathlon as they keep competitors safe. You can read about triathlon race rules online at your triathlon federation website (like Usatriathlon.org). Most importantly, take note of when you have to check your bike into the race site, if and when there is a mandatory bike mechanical check and pre-race meeting and whether there are age-group wave starts or one mass start in the swim.
Assessing your Life Schedule for Training
You have time to train; you just have to create it. Triathlon is a lifestyle sport. Almost all triathletes report that the quality of their life increases when they train for and compete in the sport. Triathlon will make you healthier and stronger both mentally and physically, and if you start to love the sport, as so many do, the training for it will become a part of your life, in varying degrees, for a long time. Making time for your health, for your fitness and your personal goals has to be something you want to do, you have to value what it brings to your life and you have to be committed to working on it almost every day.
At this point it is good to ask yourself a few questions:
- Can I train for about an hour a day?
- Where will I find that hour a day that I need? Is there flexibility in my life?
- Am I willing to give up some other non essential activities (TV, internet are the biggest time burners) to achieve my goals?
- Have I communicated with those people closest to me about my goals?
If you can find answers to these questions then you can start to come up with a schedule that fits your life and your other priorities, such as your small children, or your job. While you will need to train regularly, there is not one set schedule that can work for all people. There might be days, like the weekends, where you have more time to train, or days where you can squeeze in a workout before or after work. Perhaps you have a shower at work and can run at lunch a few times a week instead of walking to the local cafe. Sit down and look at your week and plan which hours will be your training time. Check local pool schedules you and make note of which pool times coincide with when you have found it possible to train.
If your intention is to become a triathlete then your mindset from the start should be one of new possibilities: how will I make this work?
As an athlete you will be tired sometimes. Training, by definition, is about stressing the body repeatedly to make it stronger and more efficient and strong. Add a partner, kids and a full-time job, and life seems pretty busy. If the attention to all these areas of your life is joyful and positive then you will likely feel energized by your path and by everything you do.
If however, you are doing the reverse—trying to fit your life into a training schedule—there is the possibility that you will feel obsessive and drained by your busy-ness and your personal sense of well being will suffer. Overtime, this physical and psychological overload leads to burn out and dissatisfaction with your life and sport.
Here then, are nine ways to stay energized in your life and sport.
- At the starts of the season write down your goals. Write down what you want to achieve, not what you think you should do. This is important to ponder. If your goals do not line up with what you really want, then you will be far less committed than if you embrace your true desire. If you sign up for a certain race because your buddies did, but you really want to test yourself over another course you won’t be as motivated.
- Once you have your goals written down (and you should write them down) then you need to look at your priorities in life and decide whether your goals match your priorities. If your priorities do not line up with your goals, then you will be frustrated and grumpy about training. It is ultimately more enjoyable to be fully emotionally present at your daughter’s Saturday afternoon soccer game than to be worried about the training miles that you aren’t getting in.
- Decide to be flexible and adopt an easy-going attitude about your sport. Plan for your goals to happen by setting short-term goals, a training schedule, or at least a weekly plan that includes time that you can train. At the same time, busy people with demanding jobs and especially parents with small children, need to be flexible with their lives. Being able to accept that your children are sick and need you or that you have to travel to a business meeting is an easier task if your priorities are clear and you know that over the long haul, you are being consistent with your training.
- Be consistent about sleep. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time on a regular basis will ensure you are as rested as you can be. Be aware of the things that will interfere with a good sleep too: alcohol, caffeine and chocolate in the evening, though they may be part of your daily treat schedule, can detract from a good rest.
- Understand your energy patterns and organize your day and train accordingly. Most of us have energy highs and lows in the day, parts of the day where we feel most alert and energized and those where we just want to take a nap. If you can, schedule your training around the times when you feel you are at your best, especially if you do only one workout a day.
- Go out and play. Participation in sport is playtime: adult fun in a life of responsibility, jobs, mortgages, and other such seriousness. Athletes who have tapped into their inner strength—competing with a sense of happiness and joy—are ones that consistently perform at their best.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. Learn as much as you can about good sports nutrition, including what to eat and when, and what proportion of your caloric intake should be protein, carbohydrates and fats. Without being obsessive with your diet, make choices that feed your body and your soul, providing you with adequate energy to support your active lifestyle. Instead of those empty calorie junk foods, replace lost calories with a high nutrition alternative.
- Take care of your toys! Be proactive about your equipment and be as organized as you can so that you are always ready to go. There is nothing more aggravating than finding a flat on your bike when you have an hour to ride. Stock up at the bike store with spare tubes and any equipment you may need and keep it on hand by your bike. Have a race equipment list and print it out.
- Stretch and strengthen and breathe! Take a Yoga class and reap the many benefits for athletes. Through yoga you can learn to tap into and increase your core strength, the strength that you need to initiate all other movement in a balanced and efficient way. You will stretch out tired muscles and strengthen and lengthen your back after all the pounding of running. Learning how to really breathe will help in your racing and in your busy life, and most athletes feel rejuvenated and enriched by the mind and body connections of yoga.And finally, be gentle with yourself. Look at your life and your sport as a work in progress. Each challenging opportunity opens the door for further growth. If your time and energy are limited, make every moment count. On a day that you are tired, give yourself credit for getting out there; savour the sunshine, the forest, the camaraderie of your peers instead of focussing on how slow you feel.
LifeSport coach Lucy Smith is the author of First Triathlon: Your Perfect Plan for Success and has helped and inspired hundreds of triathletes and runners through her coaching and motivational speaking. Lucy has been competing for over 25 years, is a 19-time Canadian Champion in running and multisport, a two-time silver medalist at World Duathlon Championships and recently was second at the 2013 Xterra Trail Running World Championships.