Give the Sport a Tri

Give the Sport a TriTips for training and finishing your first triathlonBy Lilly RockwellTriathlon bikingTriathlon runningThe Sandestin Triathlon challenges athletes with a half-mile swim in the Gulf, a 20-mile bike ride and a four-mile run. Photos by Allison Yii (Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort)

Many people hear the word triathlon and think of ripped Ironman athletes, crossing the finish line after 10 straight hours of exercise, exhausted, red-faced and dripping in sweat.

Good news. The Ironman is the most grueling of all triathlons, an event so intensive and time-consuming that most triathletes never do it. Just like running races, there are much smaller triathlons that just about anyone — yes, even you — can participate in.  The shortest triathlon is called a “sprint” distance, which is a 750-meter swim (less than half a mile), a 20K bike ride (12.4 miles) and a 5K run (3.1 miles).

Fitness experts say it’s entirely possible to go from couch potato to triathlete in less than six weeks. Here are some tips for training for a first triathlon:

■ Don’t buy a $2,000 bike. There is no need to buy a fancy bike or special outfit for your very first triathlon. “I’ve seen people do the whole race in a pair of cargo shorts,” explained Andrew Rothfeder, a seasoned Pensacola Beach triathlete, who placed first in the 2010 Sandestin Triathlon for men ages 40-44. “The culture is very open and accepting and it is the kind of thing where everyone is supportive of everybody else.” The only essentials are a good pair of running shoes and swimming goggles, Rothfeder said. 

■ Find a training plan. Whether it’s online or through a group or coach, find a training plan that suits your goals and stick with it. “If you Googled triathlon coaching you will find 100 different sites of coaches that do online training,” Rothfeder said. “But don’t do it by yourself. Get at least one person to go on this journey together.” Some training plans are free while others cost money but usually come with personalized coach and other extras.

■ Start slowly. “In the beginning, for the first three months, I would focus on general activity,” said Mark Sortino, the co-owner of Pensacola-based Multisport Performance Institute. “The key is to keep the frequency and consistency and not get overwhelmed.” If the goal is to run 10 miles a week, break it up into smaller, manageable chunks of only two miles at a time for five days a week.

■ Strength train to avoid injury. Sometimes triathletes are so focused on getting in their swims, runs and bike rides that they neglect any strength training which can lead to injury. “The most important thing for any athlete is achieving balance,” said Brett Bartholomew with the Andrews Institute. He explained that triathletes tend to have strong quadriceps but weak glutes, hamstrings and low backs. By incorporating a strength-training routine at your home or gym two days a week you can prevent injury.

■ Practice biking and running together. It takes several weeks for your legs to get used to following up a bike ride with a run, Sortino explained. Even if it is a short run, train your body to what that feels like, so on race day your legs won’t feel as if they are made of lead. These back-to-back training sessions are called “bricks” and are typically done on a weekend. Experts say they are mandatory for a good race day performance.

■ And practice transitions. That means how long it takes you to transition from swimming to biking and from biking to running. Practice changing out of your swim clothes to biking clothes and check out the transition area for the race ahead of time.  ec


Tri For Yourself

June 18
My First Tri
Eglin Air Force Base

August 20
25th Annual Sandestin Triathlon
Miramar Beach

October 1
16th Annual Santa Rosa Island Triathlon
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October 9
The Destin Triathlon
Seascape Resort