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Training Plan: Your First Triathlon!

Photo by Erik Isakson

Rule #1: Don’t Swim Like a Runner

The key to becoming a faster on the roads is improving your fitness. However, when it comes to the water, technique trumps fitness every time.

Many runners preparing for their first triathlon make the mistake of swimming like runners—trying to build fitness when they should be focusing on form. To get started in the right direction, find a qualified swim coach and invest in a handful of one-on-one lessons. Use the U.S. Masters Swimming website ( to aid your search. Five hours under the watchful eye of a good coach will yield more improvement than five months of grinding out laps solo.

When you do swim on your own, devote a chunk of each workout to technique-development drills. For example, swim one lap with closed fists—this will teach you how to power through the water with your forearms. Next, swim a few laps, trying to reduce the number of strokes you take from wall to wall. Distance per stroke is an important indicator of skilled swimming.


Rule #2: Become One With Your Bike.

Runners often consider the bike a piece of equipment. Instead, think of it as an extension of your body. To ride comfortably, efficiently and with minimal risk of low-back pain, you need to ride a bike that fits you like a glove.

You don’t need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a brand new set of wheels. For around $250, a professional fitting session from a certified bike-fitting specialist will adjust the position of the handlebar, seat and pedals to make your bike the perfect match for you. Be sure to choose a fitter certified by Specialized, F.I.S.T, Serotta or Retül.

Rule #3: Don’t Take Your Running for Granted

Every triathlete has strengths and weaknesses. As a runner, you might think that you should concentrate on your weaknesses—swimming and cycling—in your training while coasting on your running strength. That would be a mistake. Strengths have a way of becoming weaknesses when neglected. In other words, your training should be balanced.

Also, be aware that running on tired legs after riding a bike is very different from running on fresh legs. To run well off the bike you need to practice this frequently in training.

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