Triathlon Training For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Starting Your Triathlon Training

Part II: Taking It One Sport at a Time: Swim, Bike, Run

Part III: Training for Your Triathlon

Part IV: Planning for Race Day

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Starting Your Triathlon Training

Chapter 1: Training for a Multi-Sport Event

Defining Your Triathlon

Choosing a distance and event

Setting your triathlon goal

Evaluating Your Equipment Needs

Taking to Your Sport

Finding your form

Making time for transitions

Training on a Schedule

Fueling your body and mind

Strengthening and stretching your limits

Looking Forward to This Race, and the Next One, and the Next One . . .

Knowing what to expect during your first race

Thinking about what you’ll do next

Chapter 2: Choosing Your Event

Going the Distance: Knowing Your Race Options

Super Sprint





Checking Your Calendar

Considering the Course

Going with the flow in a lake, ocean, or river

Striving for peak performance

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Traveling to Your Event

Getting yourself there

Getting your gear there

Eating and sleeping away from home

Weathering the heat or cold

Registering for Your Event

Chapter 3: Gearing Up with the Right Equipment

Selecting Comfort First

Suiting Up: Knowing What Equipment You Need for Swimming

Selecting a suit

The eyes have it: Finding the best goggles

A no-hair day: Selecting a swim cap

Ride On: Choosing a Bike and Bike Gear

Looking at your bike options

Getting fit first: Why the proper bike fit is important

Picking pedals and shoes

What to wear: Clothing and accessories

Pounding the Pavement: Getting What You Need for the Run

Choosing a good running shoe

Dressing for the occasion: Clothing and accessories

Chapter 4: Getting Ready: Body and Mind

Let’s Get Physical: Checking In with Your Doctor before You Begin

Knowing whether you need a physical

Knowing what to expect if you get a physical

Evaluating Your Fitness


Body composition

Muscular strength and endurance


Building Your Support Network

Developing your own cheering section

Training with other triathletes

Part II: Taking It One Sport at a Time: Swim, Bike, Run

Chapter 5: Swim: Taking the Plunge

Looking At the Benefits of Swim Training

Mastering the Strokes

First things first: Relaxing in the water

Chalking it up to chin position

Stroke . . . stroke . . . stroke: Getting down the fundamentals

Kicking it up a notch: The flutter kick

(Not) waiting to exhale: Breathing

I spy: Sighting your way in the water

Finding Water to Train In

Training for the Swim

Drill 1: Front float

Drill 2: Streamlined front glide

Drill 3: Streamlined front glide and kick

Drill 4: Body position

Drill 5: Body balance

Drill 6: Statue of Liberty

Drill 7: Ten snap ten

Drill 8: Ten-three-ten

Drill 9: Front kicking with a board on an interval

Drill 10: Proper push-off

Drill 11: Fingertip drag

Chapter 6: Bike: Cycling Strong

Identifying the Benefits of Cycling

Mastering the Spin

Finding your cadence

Circling the issues

Technique and form


Performing Basic Repairs and Maintenance

Checking your bike before you ride

Fixing flats on the fly

Handling repairs on the road

Staying Safe

Training for the Bike

Spinning inside

Giving drills a try

Chapter 7: Run: Finding Your Stride

Catching Up with the Benefits of Running

Mastering the Mechanics

Foot strike



Breathing and pacing

Where to Run






Staying Safe

Training for the Run

Starting with a run/walk

Going on short runs

Going the distance: Long runs

Biking then running: Bricks

Drills to try when you’re not running

Chapter 8: Putting It All Together

Knowing Where to Focus Your Training

Adding Dual Workouts: Why You Need to Combine Two Sports in Training

Becoming a Quick-Change Artist: Planning Your Transitions

Transition 1: Swim to bike

Transition 2: Bike to run

Saving Time: Making Your Transitions Smoother

Part III: Training for Your Triathlon

Chapter 9: Living like an Athlete

Eating for Energy Every Day







Sussing Out Supplements



Protein powder

Fueling Your Workouts and Your Race

Eating with training in mind

Hydrating for peak performance

Planning your race day meals

Maintaining Your Energy

Staying hydrated: Energy drinks and water

Snacking on the go: Bars, gels, and natural foods

Recovering Quickly

Chapter 10: Training Schedules: From Super Sprint to Ironman

Finding the Time to Train

Training for Your Event

Training for a Sprint or Super Sprint in 12 weeks

Training for an Olympic in 20 weeks

Training for a Half-Iron in 24 weeks

Training for an Ironman in 30 weeks

Chapter 11: Strength Training and Stretching

Adding Weights to Your Workout

Identifying the benefits of strength training

Fitting in your workouts with weights

Learning the ropes

Keeping it in balance

Choosing the right equipment

Strength training 101: Exercises to try

Stretching Your Limits

Recognizing the benefits of stretching

Stretching 101: Stretches to try

Chapter 12: Coping with Injuries

Preventing Pain and Injury

Preventing injuries

Identifying the signs of overtraining

Preventing overtraining

Treating Common Swim Injuries

Swimmer’s ear

Swimmer’s shoulder

Avoiding Common Cycling Injuries

Knee pain

Neck and shoulder pain


Saddle sores

Running Injury Free

Iliotibial band syndrome

Pulled hamstring

Runner’s knee

Shin splints

Achilles tendonitis

Plantar fasciitis

Training in Extreme Heat or Cold

Heading into the heat

Catching some cold

Knowing when to go back inside

Part IV: Planning for Race Day

Chapter 13: Counting Down to Race Day

Tapering Your Training: Slowing Down as Your Event Approaches

Maintaining your nutrition

Getting into Your Head: Staying Positive and Focused

Overcoming common fears

Practicing pumping yourself up

Packing for Race Day

Checking your gear for wear

Knowing what to pack

One Sheep, Two Sheep: Logging Enough Shut-Eye

Chapter 14: Race Day: Ready, Set, Go!

Picking Up Your Packet

What’s in your race packet and why you need it

Steps to a stress-free packet pickup

Arriving on Race Day

Preparing for Your Start Time

Having your bike checked and approved

Staging your transition stall

Stretching and focusing

Getting ready to start

Taking You through the Tri

At the start

At the first transition

On the bike

At the second transition

On the run

Minding Your Manners: Race Etiquette

Chapter 15: After You Finish Your Triathlon

Crossing the Finish Line

Making the Most of the First Hour after Your Finish

Hydrate and eat


Collect your gear

Know where you placed

Evaluating Your Performance

Planning for Your Next Event

What to consider before you register again

Overcoming burnout

Adjusting your diet

Finding other ways to stay involved

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 16: Ten Reasons You Should Do a Triathlon

Bragging Rights: Having the Chance to Be a Finisher

Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone

Finding Focus and Relieving Stress

Improving Your Health and Well-Being while Having Fun

Achieving Total-Body Fitness

Reducing Exercise Burnout

Reducing Risk of Injuries by Cross-Training

Enjoying the Camaraderie of the Triathlon Club

Motivating and Inspiring Others

Changing Your View of Yourself and the World

Chapter 17: Ten Triathlon Myths Debunked

Triathlons Only Take Place in Hawaii

Triathlons Take All Day to Complete

Triathlons Are for Elite Athletes Only

All Triathletes Look Fit and Thin

Triathletes Spend All Their Free Time Training

I’ll Panic in the Water

Triathletes Have to Swim Long Distances without Stopping

I Don’t Need to Practice Transitions

Triathletes Need Expensive Bikes

I’ll Be the Oldest, the Slowest, or the Last to Finish

Chapter 18: Ten (Or So) Items to Bring on Race Day

Your Cheering Section

A Race Belt

A Tub and Towel for Transitions

A Way to Identify Your Bike in the Crowd

A Road ID Bracelet

A Waterproof Sport Wristwatch

Sun Stuff: Sunscreen, Sunglasses, and a Hat

Body Glide

Your Favorite Fuel

Lucky Charms

Shoes and Clothing for after the Event

Chapter 19: Ten (Or So) Resources for Finding Triathlons

The American Triathlon Calendar

USA Triathlon Calendar

Inside Triathlon



Team In Training



Women-Only Events

Regional Events

Triathlon Training For Dummies


About the Authors

Deirdre Pitney is a cyclist, a runner, and a writer specializing in fitness and wellness. After completing a 220-mile fundraising bike ride, Deirdre added a third sport, swimming, to her workouts and took on training for her first triathlon.

Donna Dourney is a wellness director, personal trainer, fitness instructor, coach, and accomplished triathlete who has competed for more than 25 years in marathons, duathlons, and triathlons, including a Half-Iron and a full Ironman. She runs a triathlon club for people who want to complete their first triathlons or improve their times and training for their next events. Her experience and knowledge has guided more than 150 nervous beginners from their first training days to the finish line. Donna earned a degree in health and physical education from Seton Hall University. She has held certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, and National YMCA Strength and Conditioning.


Deirdre Pitney: To Cullen and Margot

Donna Dourney: To my husband, Kenneth York

Authors’ Acknowledgments

We would like to thank our agent, Jessica Faust of Bookends, Inc., for her guidance. At Wiley, we’d like to thank Tracey Boggier, acquisitions editor, for her vision and belief in this project. Thank you to our project editor, Elizabeth Kuball, for her much dreaded but greatly appreciated submission schedules and for her professionalism, perspective, and exceptional editing and organizational skills. Thank you also to Graeme Henderson, our technical editor, for his enthusiasm, energy and experience, and to Kathryn Born, our illustrator, for her patience and attention to detail.

Thank you to our models, Sue Diebold, Susan Hoeltve-Ward, Philip Klaas, Daniel Mallery, Linda Oh, and Miguel Rustrian, and to the people at High Gear Cyclery, Trek Bicycle Corporation, Giant Bicycle, and De Soto Triathlon Company, for their support. And a special thank-you to Stacey Smith for her sharing her photographs.

And we’d each like to extend our thanks to each other’s family and support networks. Our combined contacts and friendships have made this book possible.

Deirdre Pitney: Thank you to Paul Cullen — his name is now in a book, as he always knew it would be — for telling my favorite cycling story.

An enormous thank-you to the two most fun, insightful, and inspiring people I know — Cullen and Margot. I’d need book after book after book to express all the joy and love you’ve brought to my life. I am more proud to be your mom than I am of anything else I have ever done or could ever do.

To my friends with whom I’ve spent many miles on the roads and trails — thank you for always being up for a new challenge and for sharing your passions , knowledge, and experience with me.

Thank you to Kathy Johnson Brown and Ed Pagliarini, wonderful photographers and even better friends.

Thank you to my coauthor, Donna, for bringing to this book and to my life more than she knows and probably would be willing to admit. Her straightforward belief in the people she trains and their ability to reach their goals has guided many beginning athletes, including my daughter, successfully across countless finish lines, whether in 5Ks or triathlons.

Donna Dourney: A heartfelt thank you to the four people who continue to inspire me and bring joy to my life every day, my children, Tommy, Danny, Heather, and Shane. You are the light of my life.

Thanks to my family — my sisters and brothers, who are my best friends and who, even though they sometimes think I’m crazy, always have supported and encouraged me in my endeavors. My dad who has always been there for me and my mom who continues to watch over me.

Thank you to my coauthor, Deirdre Pitney, for giving me this opportunity, for putting my random thoughts in order, for being so wonderful to write with, and for touching my life.

I’d also like to thank Rone Lewis and his staff at High Gear Cyclery (Stirling, New Jersey) for sharing their time and expertise and for the use of his cycle shop. Thanks to my friends and colleagues at the Somerset Hills YMCA for their input and support, as well as the use of the facility for our photo shoots.

Finally, a very special thank-you to my husband, Kenneth York, whose endless love, support, and encouragement have gotten me through many challenges in my life. He believes in me more than I believe in myself and is always there for me at the finish line, regardless of the race.>

Thanks also to all archaeologists and other scientists whose work I’ve described here; I apologize for not being able to cite you by name. I realize I’ve taken on a huge responsibility in representing the entirety of the archaeological profession and the specific work of thousands of colleagues around the world in a single (and, I’m hoping, user-friendly) volume. Perhaps readers will let me know about any errors. After all, archaeology is a continual process of finding out new information about old things!

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

Copy Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Assistant Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney

Technical Editor: Graeme S. Henderson

Senior Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich

Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistants: Joe Niesen, Jennette ElNaggar, David Lutton

Cover Photos: David Madison

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Katie Key

Layout and Graphics: Melissa K. Jester, Sarah E. Philippart,Christine Williams

Special Art: Kathryn Born

Proofreaders: John Greenough, Penny Stuart

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Special Help Alicia South

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Triathlons are the new black. They’re fitness fashion, and they look good on everyone.

Triathlon events are becoming as popular as the weekend 5K road race. But now, instead of closing off a neighborhood loop, race directors are setting up orange cones, yellow tape, barricades, and bike racks throughout cities and entire towns for these multi-sport events that cover anywhere from 8 miles to an awe-inspiring 140 miles.

Still, as much as we’re hearing and reading about triathlons and who’s training for them, the number of people crossing the finish lines of these events makes anyone who considers participating in the three-sport showdown one of the select few.

Complete a triathlon of any distance, and you qualify as an athlete of exceptional endurance and dedication. If you’re considering participating in a triathlon, or you’ve already started training for one, this book is for you.

About This Book

You can do a triathlon — and Triathlon Training For Dummies will add to your confidence and help you improve your performance, comfort, and fun when you do. This book best answers the questions of triathletes who are new to the sport because it was written from that same perspective, focusing on simplifying the complex equipment needs of triathletes and creating training programs you can understand and follow without a calculator, heart monitor, or PhD.

This book is a collaboration of many experienced triathletes who shared their training tips and event expertise. It’s the triathlon-training book for real people (because not everyone is an Ironman or wants to be), taking you from novice to knowledgeable.

Depending on the length of the triathlon you choose, you’ll find that what motivates most triathletes has nothing to do with beating you. What you’re more likely to find is team spirit: We’re in this together — let’s get it done and see how far we can push ourselves.

That’s an energy that’s infectious. And the discipline, self-confidence, and fitness that come from triathlon training will enhance other areas of your life. So, don’t be surprised if you start a mini triathlon trend in your own circle. People will recognize the positive effects that your training has on you. And they’ll want some of that for themselves.

Share your gear. Share your knowledge. The book? Sure, you can share that, too — but we’re hoping you’ll find the information in these pages so helpful to your daily training that you’ll tell your friends to buy their own copies.

In this book, we give you answers to the many questions you’re thinking right now: What equipment do I need? How do I find time for training? What do I need to know about transitions? Will I make it to the finish? (Trust us, you will.)

Conventions Used in This Book

We’ve designed this book in a way that makes it easy to read and understand:

When we refer to distances, we use meters or miles for the swim; meters are abbreviated with a lowercase m (so 500m is 500 meters) and the word mile is spelled out (as in 1 mile). We use kilometers for the bike and run; kilometers are abbreviated with a capital K (so 10K is 10 kilometers).

Whenever we use a new term, we put it in italics and define it shortly thereafter (often in parentheses).

When we give you a list of steps to follow, we put the action part of the step in bold, so it’s easy to find.

We put all Web addresses and e-mail addresses in monofont, so that they stand out from the surrounding text. Note: When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that we haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.

One last point: Because we’re writing this book as a team, when we want to refer to one of our experiences, we use the person’s first name (either Deirdre or Donna), so that you know which of us is behind that anecdote.

What You’re Not to Read

You have a lot of training ahead of you. We don’t want this book to be an excuse for “not having the time to train.” So, we’ve written it so that you can safely skip some pieces, and still have everything you need to know.

Feel free to pass by anything in a gray box — the text in gray boxes are sidebars. You can always come back to sidebars later, when you’ve digested everything else in the chapter and want to expand your knowledge, along with your fitness. Same goes for anything marked with a Technical Stuff icon — these are details you won’t need to know to participate in your triathlon. Of course, if you’re the type who likes to know every last shred of information, have at it — you can impress all your training buddies with your know-how.

Foolish Assumptions

We assume that you know how to swim and you know how to ride a bike — but that’s as far as we go. Beyond your basic ability to stay afloat and stay upright, we’re prepared for anything.

If you’re just getting off the couch, you’ll find a training schedule with some tips for you. If you’ve already tried a triathlon or two and you want to find out how to do them better, faster, or farther, you’ll find all you need to do that, too.

How This Book Is Organized

Triathlon Training For Dummies is divided into five parts, each with chapters covering the details of that topic. You can read just one part depending on where you are in your triathlon training or specific chapters within the parts. The organization of this book makes it easy to find what you need. Here’s an overview.

Part I: Starting Your Triathlon Training

In this part, you find tools you can use to select the event that’s right for you and your schedule. First, we fill you in on the five triathlon distances and how far you’ll swim, bike, or run in each one. We offer tips on selecting a triathlon that’s right for you. From there, we take a look at the equipment you need to train for, and participate in, a triathlon, and we offer suggestions on picking gear that fits your goals and your budget. We also give you guidelines for evaluating your fitness level and tell you what to expect if you feel you need to get a doctor’s approval before beginning your training.

Part II: Taking It One Sport at a Time: Swim, Bike, Run

This part covers the basics of each of the three sports. In your triathlon, you’ll start with swimming, then get on your bike, and then head off on foot for your run — we cover the three sports in that same order in this book. From there, we tell you how to put them all together and transition smoothly from one sport to the next. In each chapter, we give you a list of the benefits you’ll reap from training in each of the three sports. We provide details on mastering the correct stroke, spin, or form to conserve energy and prevent injury. In this part, we also tell you the benefits of building a support network and training with other triathletes.

Part III: Training for Your Triathlon

In this part, you find out what it takes to live like a triathlete. First, we discuss how what you eat affects how you train. We offer tips on keeping your energy up for training by fueling with the best foods. Here, you also find easy-to-follow training schedules for each event distance, broken out by week, sport, and day. We leave out the jargon and confusing distances and keep it simple, so that you can focus on training and not doing math. After nutrition and training schedules, we present a detailed guide to making your muscles stronger and more flexible to improve your triathlon performance and reduce your chances of being sidelined due to injury. If you do find yourself nursing sore muscles or aching joints, this part is where you can find out what’s ailing you, why, and how to make it better.

Part IV: Planning for Race Day

This part is there for you as your event approaches. First, we talk about tapering (cutting back on training in the weeks before your event). We tell you why tapering is important and how it can impact your performance. In this part, we also give you a checklist of items to pack for your event and tell you how to catch some shuteye in the nervous nights before your race. This part is where you find details on what to expect when you arrive at your event location and what to do, step by step and minute by minute, as you prepare for your event to start. If you’re feeling nervous or doubtful, check this part for tips on staying positive and relaxed. And, after your event, this part is there with tools to help you decide what to do next.

Part V: The Part of Tens

In this part, we give you ten reasons you should do a triathlon — refer to this list anytime you need a little motivation. We also debunk ten common triathlon myths that may be causing you some worry. We give you a great insider’s list of ten items that will make you look and feel like an experienced triathlete, even at your first event. And we offer ten Web sites to help you find triathlons based on event distance, time frame, or location.

Icons Used in This Book

We’ve designed this book so that you can focus your attention on becoming a triathlete, not a research assistant. So, we use icons to identify certain information that you’ll find especially useful or important. Here are the icons in this book, along with the kinds of information they signal:

Tip.eps When you see the Tip icon, you’ll find information that will save you time or make you a more efficient triathlete.

Remember.epsThis book is a reference, which means you don’t have to commit it to memory — you won’t be quizzed on it. But occasionally, we tell you something that’s so important you’ll want to remember it. When we do, we use this icon.

mythbuster.eps People seem to have lots of misconceptions about triathlons. Some of these myths can scare potential triathletes away from the sport; others can just add to their nervousness as they approach the event. The information next to the MythBuster icon sets the record straight.

anecdote.eps When we have a story to tell about our own experiences competing in or training for triathlons, we mark it with this icon.

TechnicalStuff.eps You can get through a triathlon without knowing a lot of technical stuff. We’ve labeled it with this icon, so you can skip it if you’re not itching to know details that won’t get you to the finish line faster. Information marked with the Technical Stuff icon offers numbers, formulas, or behind-the-scenes details on gear.

Warning(bomb).eps Fortunately, you won’t find many Warning icons in this book. When we provide information regarding your safety or health that we don’t want you to miss, we identify it with the Warning icon.

Where to Go from Here

You don’t have to start with Chapter 1 and read every page of this book in order before you start training. If you’ve already committed to training and selected an event, turn to Chapter 10 to get a feel for where you are in your training and where you’ll need to be — the training schedules in that chapter break down each distance into manageable bits that will get you motivated. As you begin training, be sure to check out Chapter 3 to find out what equipment you need and what you don’t. Then be sure to read through the chapters on each sport — Chapter 5 for swimming, Chapter 6 for cycling, and Chapter 7 for running — for an overview of the most efficient form and technique. And don’t forget transitions: You have to get from one sport to the next — start practicing now with the tips in Chapter 8. If you’re just in the thinking-about-it phase — and, hey, that’s where everyone starts! — head to Chapter 16 for the friendly nudge you need to get started.

Wherever you start, with the tools in this book, there’s one place you’ll finish: arms held high, crossing that finish line, able to officially call yourself a triathlete. We’re behind you every step of the way!

Part I

Starting Your Triathlon Training


In this part . . .

We fill you in on the first steps to take now that you’ve decided to train for a triathlon. In these chapters, you discover how to choose a triathlon event and what to consider if your event is far from home. You’re training for three sports — swimming, biking, and running — and you need equipment; Chapter 3 is where you find an overview of everything you need (and don’t need) to train for and participate in a triathlon.

In Chapter 4, we give you a list of questions to ask yourself before you start to train. We let you know what to expect at a physical with a doctor and what you could gain from an evaluation with a fitness professional.

You also find out how to enlist the support of family and friends to cheer you on and keep you focused. The triathlon is an athletic event that challenges your personal limits and brings surprising social perks. In this part, you see how training with other triathletes can keep you challenged and motivated.

Chapter 1

Training for a Multi-Sport Event

In This Chapter

Getting ready to get moving

Defining what tri means for you

Knowing what to expect on race day

Welcome to the sport of triathlon — a race that combines swimming, cycling, and running in one event. Although the growth of the sport may make it seem as if everyone around you is training for a triathlon, you’re actually joining a small minority — a group that the rest of the population might call either remarkably fit and dedicated, or just a little bit nuts. The degree of nuttiness they may attribute to you will be in direct correlation to the distance of your event — the longer the event, the crazier they may think you are.

But while others are scratching their heads, you’ll be on your way to complete fitness — improved cardiovascular health and aerobic endurance, as well as powerful, toned muscles. But that’s not all. Training for a triathlon is a social event, too — triathlon training clubs are popular with experienced athletes as well as new ones.

So what are you waiting for? This chapter launches you into life as a triathlete.

Defining Your Triathlon

You’ve decided to do a triathlon. But what exactly does that mean? Going from one sport to the next, and the next again, challenges all your muscle groups — and your mind. The distance of your event will determine just how great this challenge will be. And the goals you set for yourself will determine what you take away from the experience.

A brief history of triathlons

Triathlon is a relatively new sport — the first one took place in San Diego, California, in 1974. Four years later, the first Ironman triathletes crossed the finish line in Hawaii with a time of 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 58 seconds. Since then, triathletes have cut that time to the 1996 record-setting 8 hours, 4 minutes, and 8 seconds.

Triathlon became an Olympic event in 2000, at the standard Olympic race distance of a 1500m swim, 40K bike ride, and 10K run. Once reserved for elite athletes, the growth and popularity of the three-sport event has made it accessible and as easy to find as local road-running races.

Choosing a distance and event

For most first-timers a triathlon is a Sprint-distance event — an 804.7m (0.5-mile) swim, a 19.3K to 25.8K (12- to 16-mile) bike ride, and a 5K (3.1-mile) run. A Super Sprint is slightly shorter than a Sprint, but it’s a less common event distance. After you have a triathlon under your belt, you may decide to take on a longer event — such as an Olympic, a Half-Iron, or the extremely challenging Ironman.

Unless you’ve been drawn to do a triathlon by a specific fundraising race in your area, your first step will be to select an event in a location that’s accessible to you and in a time frame that gives you enough time to train. In Chapter 2, we offer tips on how to pick your first race. In Chapter 19, we offer a list of resources for finding local, national, and international races.

Tip.epsChoose a race that’s first-timer friendly, close to home, and easy to get to.

Setting your triathlon goal

The reasons for participating in a triathlon are as varied as the athletes you’ll see at the starting line — people of all sizes, shapes, and abilities. They’re all there to test their endurance and meet their personal fitness or life goals.

Depending on your fitness level, your goal may be to finish your event in a certain time — or simply to finish. And for your first triathlon, that’s the best place to start. If you’re determined to be a little more specific about how and when, remember these goal-setting tips:

Stay positive. “I will finish” will keep you far more motivated than “I won’t finish last.” Focus on what you want to do — finish happy and strong.

Stay personal. If you want to focus on where you’ll place, make this goal about you, not the other triathletes. Set your goal about your own personal finish time or how you’ll feel when you finish, not about where you’ll finish in relation to everyone else. Your triathlon is about you.

Warning(bomb).eps If you’ve entered road races, swims, or cycling events in the past, you may be tempted to set a goal time for your event. If you want to set specific time-related goals, set these for your training sessions, not for your first event. So many factors can influence your race time — water currents, wind, course elevations, even the number of other triathletes competing in your event. You don’t want to be disappointed that you didn’t meet an arbitrary collection of hours, minutes, and seconds for an event you finished successfully in every other way.

Evaluating Your Equipment Needs

You have ambition. You have some degree of fitness. And you have enthusiasm. Still, you may be lacking a few essentials — wheels, clothing, or shoes.

Following is a list of the basic equipment you need to complete a triathlon. Buy them now and start using them in your training. You’ll want to use for your event the same clothing and equipment you train in.

Tri suit: Available in one or two pieces, tri suits fit snugly and feature quick-drying fabrics and padded shorts for the ride — you don’t want to have to change any clothing during your event. Tri suits look serious. Even the idea of wearing one can be intimidating. You may think that only the experienced or elite triathletes will be in tri suits, but the tri suit is a great choice, especially for beginners, because it simplifies your event and your transitions.

An optional piece of equipment is a wetsuit. A wetsuit gives you warmth and buoyancy and helps you glide through the water. Water temperature and race rules will dictate whether you can wear a wetsuit.

Goggles: Goggles protect your eyes from the chlorine or saltwater to help you see where you’re going during your swim. Find a pair that fits your face and doesn’t leak or fog. Buy a few pairs and pack them in your race bag — you won’t want to swim without these.

Bike: The bike is the most expensive and most complicated piece of equipment you need. If you’re in the market for a new bike, visit your local bike shop and share your goals with a salesperson. If you have a bike in your garage or can borrow one from a friend, bring that to a bike shop to have it tuned and to be sure it fits you correctly.

Helmet: A helmet is an absolute must-have. Don’t ride without one — ever.

Other bike accessories: Consider cycling gloves, cycling shoes, clipless pedals, and sunglasses — for comfort and efficiency, and to increase your safety.

Running shoes: Just as you have shoes for work and shoes for play, maybe shoes for one outfit and one outfit only, you need shoes just for running. Invest in a good pair of shoes designed just for running, not cross-training or tennis or basketball. You’ll appreciate the cushioning on your joints and reduce your risk of injuries.

In Chapter 3, we provide a comprehensive list of all your equipment needs — including what to look for when you’re shopping and how much you can expect to spend.

Remember.eps With all the equipment options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think you need the newest, shiniest, and most aerodynamic equipment you can find and afford. Not so. The most important factor in finding equipment is fit. You can spend a bundle on a high-end triathlon bike, but if it doesn’t fit your body, you may as well grab yourself a tricycle.

Taking to Your Sport

Whether you’re experienced in one or more of the sports or you’re a long-time athlete who’s practiced all three of them, putting them together requires practice and attention to form.

Finding your form

Even if you already enjoy each of the sports and are comfortable racing or training for a single-sport endurance event, when you train for a triathlon, you’ll save energy and improve performance by focusing on the fine points of efficient strokes, spins, and steps:

Swimming: There are five basic steps to an efficient and powerful swim stroke: hand entry, catch, pull, push, and recovery. In Chapter 5, we provide details on proper form and body position in the water (complete with illustrations).

Cycling: If you remember riding around your neighborhood as a child, you may be surprised to know that there’s a technical aspect to riding that can make your journey around the block easier and more fun. For more on cycling mechanics and form, turn to Chapter 6.

Running: Most first-time triathletes are anxious about at least one of the sports. If swimming isn’t your fear, odds are, it’s running. For tips on staying on pace with your running, check out Chapter 7.

Making time for transitions

The links between the three sports in a triathlon are called transitions, and in a triathlon there are two — one from the swim to the bike (called T1) and another from the ride to the run (called T2). Transitions take place in a designated area where you’ll rack your bike and lay out everything you need for your event.

Getting from your swim onto your bike can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20, depending on how well prepared you are before your event and how much you practice going from one sport to the next.

If you follow the training schedules in Chapter 10, you’ll put two sports together before your event, either going from a swim to a bike ride or a ride to a run. You don’t have to train in all three sports in one day, but you’ll definitely want to get your muscles used to going from one sport to the next in dual-sport workouts.

On your two-sport training days, you can set up a transition area to practice placing your gear and getting it on and off quickly and easily. For transition tips, turn to Chapter 8.

Training on a Schedule

You can train for a triathlon and have a life. Training for any distance event is a commitment. We can’t promise it won’t consume your mind, but we can offer training guidelines so that your time in the water or on the road doesn’t chew up every available minute of your day.

In Chapter 10, we offer detailed week-by-week training schedules for each of the event distances. But before you start following the schedules, be sure you can comfortably do the first week’s training for each sport. If not, spend some time building your endurance in the sport(s) in which you’re weakest.

When you have a solid fitness base, you can train for a Sprint triathlon in as little as four hours a week over a 12-week period. That’s doable.

As you increase your event distance, plan to increase the time you spend training — in some cases, double that time. For example, to prepare for an Olympic distance, you’ll want to allow for eight hours a week for 20 weeks. A Half-Iron will demand at least ten hours a week for 24 weeks.

An Ironman — well, forget what we said about not consuming your life. You will eat, sleep, and breathe triathlon training for the better part of a year, or at least 30 weeks. Everything you do, you’ll think first, “How will this affect my training?” But by the time you get to the point where you’re ready to compete in an Ironman, you’ll be so hooked on triathlons that this will actually sound good to you!

Fueling your body and mind

We believe you can fit triathlon training into any lifestyle, but you do need to be prepared for it to take hold in areas you didn’t expect. To maintain your energy and your motivation, you’ll be making changes to your diet, your sleep habits, and your way of thinking — and if you’re following a plan and staying focused, these changes will all be overwhelmingly positive.

After you begin training, you’ll find it easy to identify those days when you didn’t get enough sleep or eat a nutrition-packed meal. Even what you’re thinking can affect your workout that day.

As you train, you’ll begin to focus on how your body works, not so much on how it looks. Eat a bagel and drink a cup of coffee for breakfast and then try to get through a tough swim or an 80-minute bike ride. You’ll notice how it affects your performance — and you’ll grab that protein- and carb-rich breakfast and an extra glass of water the next morning. (For specifics on how to fuel your body with good nutrition and hydration, check out Chapter 9.)

Tip.eps Try this exercise some day while you’re training: Tell yourself you’re tired, you can’t do this, you’ll never make it to the next telephone pole . . . and you won’t. If you focus on bad thoughts, stress, or anger, you’ll feel your form fail and your speed slow. Go out and keep your thoughts on your power, your strength, how good it feels to be moving, and you’ll keep moving. Yep, your mind is that good.

Strengthening and stretching your limits

Training with weights can help you to build stronger muscles, and the power from your pumped muscles can improve your overall triathlon performance and reduce your risk of injury. Don’t worry — you don’t need to spend hours in a gym. Performing two exercises, twice a week, for each of your major muscle groups — chest, back, biceps, triceps, core, hamstrings, and quadriceps — can yield dividends.

Treat your working muscles right with some gentle stretches, too. Improving your flexibility will ease sore muscles, especially in your neck, back, and shoulders after a long bike ride.

In Chapter 11, we give you a quick and easy strength-training and stretching program to enhance your triathlon training.

Looking Forward to This Race, and the Next One, and the Next One . . .

Thinking about how you’ll complete your triathlon right now, as you’re reading Chapter 1 of Triathlon Training For Dummies, may feel like you’re getting ahead of yourself. But visualizing how you’ll perform in your event will have two benefits:

It will keep you motivated to get there.

It will help you plan well for your event day.

Beyond sticking to your training schedule and making sure your gear fits and functions properly, preparing for race day by packing well and arriving early can make a big difference in how smoothly your event goes.

Knowing what to expect during your first race

To prepare for your triathlon, be sure to review all the information available on your event’s Web site and read Chapter 14 of this book, where you discover what you need to do when you arrive at your event.

Tip.epsMost important of all: Arrive early. Give yourself at least two hours before your event starts to:

Park your car.

Unload your equipment.

Stage your transition area.

Find out how to get to the water and back to the transition area, how to get in and out of the transition area, and in what direction you need to go when you’re on your bike and starting your run.

Get your wetsuit on, if you’re wearing one.

Stretch and focus.

Thinking about what you’ll do next

Yes, we really said it: What’s next? If you’ve accepted the triathlon challenge, be prepared for the possibility that you’ll be hooked. And if you are, it’s easy to think bigger, better, faster.

Tip.eps Slow down. Remember to give yourself time to enjoy your accomplishment and accurately assess your performance. Chapter 15 is filled with great blah-busters to help you overcome any post-race burnout and helpful tips to get you headed in the right direction for your next event.