Preparing for Your First Triathlon?

Keep it simple to keep it fun!

You’ve been hearing about this sport for a while and this is the year that you are going to do it – become a triathlete! Maybe you are wanting to get fit, rise to a challenge or share an experience with friends and family. This is an awesome goal whatever the reason; you should applaud yourself for taking this on.

Once you’ve decided that this is something that you want to do, what next? There are tons of articles on the internet, YouTube videos and even an abundance of library books out there to provide you a near limitless amount of information about triathlon training.

These resources, though well-intentioned and often containing useful information, can be overwhelming. Should you do 80/20 polarized training? Should you do linear periodization? By what percentage should you increase your run mileage each week?  How important is your TSS?  What percentage of your FTP should you train at in order to maximize wattage gains? Why didn’t anyone tell you that training for a triathlon was like learning a foreign language while trying to do physics equations and exercise, all at the same time?

Don’t despair, triathlon doesn’t have to be this complicated.  If you strip away all the jargon and technical details, this sport is just about moving forward in a straight line. Yes, you have to do it by swimming, biking and running, but you’re not launching a space ship, you’re just trying to get from point A to point B.

To keep from being overloaded, focus on a simple goal for your first race day.  Finishing the race in a reasonable state of comfort, while feeling that you were able to give it a good effort is a great goal to start with.  Accepting this as your goal can be very liberating. Instead of focussing on trying to do everything perfectly to avoid making any mistakes, you can instead focus on getting a few main things right.

If you’ve signed up for a sprint-distance or try-a-tri distance race, both distances that I think are ideal for a new triathlete, these few things can be as simple as swimming, biking and running 1-2 times per week for at least 8-12 weeks in the lead up to the race.  Start at whatever you are able to do the first day and try to slowly build up the distance bit by bit each week.  For races of this distance, build up until you can do about 30-45min of each activity during a training session. When the big day comes, you should have all the fitness you need. If you’re worried about the open water swimming, I’d also encourage you to find a group to practice that activity with at least a few times before your race.  You don’t need to be an expert swimmer to complete a triathlon, but you do want to be comfortable and as stress-free as possible in the open water on race day.

Would doing something else help you perform better on race day?  Yes, but do you need to do it all for your first race? No. Keep your goals simple and your training approach just as simple for the first race and enjoy what that brings.  There will be plenty more races to for which you can focus on optimizing every last detail and if we keep our goals in check, each one of them can be as fun as the first.


Darian Silk is a triathlon coach and Clinical Exercise Physiologist based in Toronto.  Read more about Darian here or email him at [email protected].  You can also check out his TrainingPeaks profile here.