How to Do a Sprint Triathlon
A triathlon is a daunting event, but if you're a reasonably fit person you have what it takes to complete a sprint triathlon. Sprint triathlons include the same parts as longer triathlons, but over shorter distances – a half-mile swim, a 12-mile bike ride, and a 3-mile run. Experienced triathletes will go at full speed for each leg of the race, but if you're a beginner, focus on making clean transitions and achieving your personal best. To do a sprint triathlon, train effectively and break the event into separate parts so it isn't as intimidating.
Training for the Event
Give yourself three months.Assuming you are reasonably physically fit, you still need two or three months to train specifically for a triathlon. You don't necessarily need a triathlon coach, but you do need a specific workout plan.
- Check listings to find races taking place near you, and sign up for one that is at least two or three months away. That will give you time to train.
- For your first race, try to find one as close to you as possible. Traveling to another location for the race is an additional element that you don't want to worry about your first time out.
- Find a basic triathlon training guide and do the workouts yourself. When you're just starting, there's no need to invest in a trainer or coach.
Clean up your diet.Even if you already have a relatively healthy and well-balanced diet, eliminate all junk food and soda in the months before your sprint triathlon. The fuel you put into your body is just as important as any other part of your training regimen.
- Your meals should consist of lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as plentiful lean protein. Bananas have the starch you need as well as potassium, so they are good pre- or post-workout snacks.
- Eggs are a good source of protein, as are meats such as chicken and turkey.
- Keep in mind that you'll want to eat breakfast at least two hours before the race. Three or four scrambled or hard-boiled eggs and a banana will give your body the fuel it needs for the big day.
Focus on your transitions.Races can be won or lost in the transition zone. Planning a smooth and efficient transition and practicing transitions regularly before your event can make all the difference in where you place in the race.
- Set up a specific training area to work on your transitions, and time yourself. Get a copy of the triathlon rules so you can plan the most efficient transition methods that will avoid potentially costly penalties.
- Practice getting into your bike shoes and helmet, as well as dismounting your bike, removing your helmet, and switching into your running shoes.
- Use elastic laces rather than regular laces in your shoes so you can slip them on and off.
- The more you practice your transitions, the quicker and more efficiently you'll be able to do them. Don't add any new tricks come race day that you think might carve a second or two of your transition time – stick with what you've practice.
Spend more time on your weaker elements.Generally, you should try to swim once or twice a week, bike once or twice a week, and run at least five days a week. However, if you are a weaker swimmer or biker, you may want to add another session.
- Many beginning triathletes are most nervous about the swimming portion of the race. Fortunately, it is the first part and will go by quickly. You don't need to be a competition-level swimmer. However, you should be comfortable in the water.
- If you aren't a strong swimmer, you may want to swim three or four days a week instead of just one or two. Focus on spending time in the water and being comfortable there.
- The same goes for biking as swimming. If you aren't a particularly strong biker or don't have experience with racing, you might want to spend a little more time each week on your bike.
- The most important thing about each part of the event is not to be the most technically proficient, but to be comfortable and efficient at each skill.
Train in your race gear.Especially for your first few races, don't worry about spending a lot of money on fancy professional-quality race gear. Make sure you have a good pair of running shoes, but for everything else you typically can get away with equipment you already have.
- For example, for the swimming portion of the triathlon, many pros wear expensive wet suits. However, if you don't have a wet suit, don't feel as though you have to run out and buy one – a regular swimsuit will work just fine.
- You also don't need a fancy new bike. You can use any bike, and if you already own a bike you're comfortable riding, it's better to use that than to try to break in a new bike in a few short months.
- During your training, use the same gear you plan to use for the race. This means if you do plan on buying anything new, you should buy it before you start training. If you race with new or different gear than what you trained with, it can throw you off.
Do brick workouts.Brick workouts include two of the three disciplines in the triathlon, with the transition between the two in between. These workouts get you ready for race day by getting you used to doing one activity after another.
- Go the same distance as you would during the race. For example, if you're doing a brick with swimming and biking in preparation for a sprint triathlon, you would swim for a half-mile, transition to your bike just as you would in a race, and then bike for 12 miles.
- Brick workouts give you experience doing one discipline after another, so you know how your body feels and how you react. It also gives you an opportunity to practice the transition in simulated race conditions.
Pick up your registration packet the day before the race.Especially for your first race, take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the course and talk to the organizers. You'll have more time to do this the day before the race than you will if you wait until the morning of the race.
- The organizers will provide a basic run-through of the triathlon rules and give you a detailed explanation of the race. You also typically get the opportunity to walk through the course so you can plan your approach and transitions.
- For example, if you look at the swim-to-bike transition and the start of the biking portion of the triathlon, you'll be able to tell what gear your bike should be in when you start off.
- After you have a few triathlons under your belt, or if you're running on a course with which you're already familiar, you won't need this additional prep time.
Swimming with Confidence
Find a good position.If the swim portion of your triathlon is in a pool, your position will be more defined. However, in open water swims, your position can keep you out of the hectic chaos of the scrum of swimmers so you can keep a cooler head.
- Even if you're a strong swimmer, it's easy to panic in the rush of swimmers splashing around you – especially if you have limited experience swimming with dozens of others in open water.
- The difficulty of the swim is that it's difficult to practice with enough others that you can replicate the experience of a race. On race day, make sure you have enough room as you enter the water.
Remain calm.Focus on your stroke and your breathing rather than getting distracted by the other swimmers around you. Staying calm under pressure will help you succeed in the swim portion of your race and get your best possible time while still conserving energy for the next two legs of the race.
- Go at your own pace, and keep in mind that just because someone near you is splashing a lot or stroking more rapidly doesn't mean they're going faster than you.
- If you lose your cool, roll over onto your back and take a few deep breaths to calm yourself before you resume your stroke – remember, the swim only represents one-third of the entire race. Even if you finish the swim in first place, you still have biking and running to do.
- It can be tempting to start out the race and want to go as fast as you can – it is asprinttriathlon, after all. However, keep in mind that the biking and running legs of the race are longer than the swim, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to make up time.
Don't worry about technique.Your strokes should be clean and efficient, but you don't need the most technically proficient stroke, especially if your swim is in open water. Propel yourself forward with long, controlled strokes.
- Use your training time to improve the form of your stroke and improve your time. During the race itself, replicate your practice swims as much as possible.
- Swim on your side to elongate your body and get as much force and efficiency as possible out of your stroke.
- Safety often is more of an issue during the swim leg than the other two legs of the race. Swim in a way that you are comfortable.
Stay on course.As part of your training, you should learn how to look ahead and keep swimming straight. During the race, only look down or forward. Glancing to the side or looking at other swimmers can get you off track.
- Every few strokes, try to pick your head up so you can look ahead to make sure you're not moving off course. This is particularly important if you're swimming in open water, because you won't have the benefit of lane markers to help guide you as you would in a pool.
- Make sure your kick is strong even as you're looking ahead to keep going straight to your goal.
- Find the easiest line to each buoy and follow it. Looking up frequently allows you to adjust course if another swimmer gets in your way or disturbs your line.
Kick strong through the end.As you reach the end of the swim leg of the race, focus on swimming as long as you can if you're swimming in open water. Kick harder to propel yourself forward and make up as much time as possible going into the transition.
- Even if you can feel your belly brushing against the bottom, keep swimming until it's possible to stand up and run to the transition area. Standing too soon can take precious seconds to trudge through knee- or shin-deep water.
- When moving to the transition area, take short, controlled strides and keep your feet strong and secure. You may want to practice running on sand if the swimming leg of your triathlon will be in open water.
Biking to Victory
Leave your bike in the right gear.The morning of your race, check your bike's tire pressure and put it in the gear you'll need it to be in for the first part of the bike race. This will save you precious seconds during your transition.
- Your tire pressure should be somewhere between 80 and 120 psi. This will make your ride smoother as well as enabling your bike to go faster.
- You also want to keep a sports drink on your bike. While there may be aid stations giving out water during the bike leg, a sports drink will help replenish electrolytes and give you a more substantial energy boost.
Start loose.After the swim, your legs will be used to kicking. To start the bike leg of the triathlon out strong, give your legs time to loosen up and adjust to the different motion before you get into your pace.
- After the pause of the transition, it can be tempting to start out the bike leg going as fast as you can go. But it's better to save your energy so you can make a move later when you've mentally transitioned from swimming to biking and are well in control.
Pedal efficiently.Push downward and pull upward with each pedal rotation to get the most power out of your pedal stroke while biking. Make sure your seat is adjusted properly so that when the pedal is all the way down, your leg is between 80 and 90 percent extended.
- Keep your elbows bent and your arms loose. As you go over bumpy terrain, your arms will act as shock absorbers.
- Lean forward at about a 45-degree angle and keep your head up. Your eyes should be focused on the road ahead. Don't look over at spectators or at other riders.
Keep your bike in control.Don't get so hung up on the racing aspect that you forget the rules of the road. Riding a bike by yourself during training is significantly different than riding with a large group of competitors.
- Maintaining focus on the road in front of you is the best way to avoid a possible collision. Don't just look immediately in front of you, but also further afield so you can anticipate possible problems and adjust before things get too tight.
- Ride on the right-hand side of the road. If you need to pass a slower competitor, shout "on your left" to them before you pass.
- Keep in mind that all competitors are tired, nervous, and full of adrenaline from excitement over the race. The best way to avoid a collision is to maintain control at all times.
Running for the Finish
Set small goals.By the time you reach the running portion of the triathlon, you may be exhausted. Take smaller steps and focus on finishing one mile at a time and the last leg of the race will go by more quickly.
- Stretch yourself tall and look straight ahead, keeping your eyes on the prize.
- The last leg of the race is a good time to refuel, so accept water at every aid station. You also may want to bring sports gels or energy supplements with you (you can pack them on your bike or in a waterproof pouch in your suit) so you can power through your final run.
- You may have difficulty if you don't really enjoy running, but tell yourself that this is the final leg of the race and the finish line is just a sprint away.
Run with a mid-foot strike.If you hit the ground mid-foot, you can power through your run more efficiently and won't over-extend your legs. A broader stride may cause you to hit the ground with your heels, which will burn precious energy.
- Your arms should swing forward and back naturally. Avoid clenching your fists or swinging your arms side-to-side, which wastes energy.
- Keep your stride light. Use your momentum and force of motion to propel your body forward, rather than pounding the ground.
- Your shoulders should be back, your head straight. Look 20 to 30 feet in front of you so you can anticipate and adjust for other competitors in your way who might cause you to break your stride.
Race against yourself.Think of the triathlon as a race against your best time, rather than a race against your fellow competitors. All of you are competing for a personal best, not competing directly against each other.
- In all legs of the race, paying attention to other competitors can be distracting and cause you to lose focus. If you're not careful, this can result in accidents or collisions.
- Keep your eyes ahead, and only give other competitors as much attention as is necessary to adjust your course or pace to avoid running into them.
- Avoid looking at the race as a whole, or thinking ahead to other legs. Instead, focus on what you're doing and keep your attention on the next stroke, the next turn, the next step. Each of these little goals adds up to a finish that you can be proud of because you know you did your best.
Video: 1:05 Sprint Triathlon in 8hrs of Training per Week
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