Although a strong single-sport background can give athletes an edge when getting into triathlon, it can also make for a difficult learning curve when attempting to master the two other sports. The unique physical attributes and mentalities of athletes who grew up swimming or cycling can sometimes be a detriment to running, but with the right focus on training and skills, you can offset these deficiencies and become a better overall triathlete.
Acclaimed running coach Bobby McGee, a member of USA Triathlon’s High Performance Team, points out that the first two sports of a triathlon actually have a lot in common: The muscle function required to swim and bike is concentric (shortening) versus eccentric (lengthening) in running. He calls the former two sports “supported activities” because there’s way less gravity to contend with, especially in the water and on the flats on the bike, whereas running requires maximum effort to fight gravity with every step. He also calls them “partial effort,” as the brain knows that you still have to either bike after the swim or run after the bike, so it’s holding back. These differences contribute to the difficulty of transitioning from one sport to three.