With only a few weeks left before Ironman Texas, I decided to give a breakdown of the three disciplines (swim, bike, and run) and what I have learned about each of them. I am in no way an expert but I like to think that I have probably experienced enough in training for Texas and the other races before, and also listened to friends’ experiences with the sport to be able to put down on “paper” what about each leg is easy and difficult.
Probably the easiest of the three legs of the race to pick up, given the fact that a majority of kids are taken to swim classes. But even better: it is also the cheapest of the three sports since all you need are swim trunks & goggles = you’re good to go! And freestyle, the easiest of the swim strokes, is also the most recommended in triathlon. And what beginners should know is that swim portion is also the shortest compared to the bike and run legs. But the best part: it is water! There is the resistance of the water itself, but that is it (unless you wear paddles) so there is a less chance of developing joint pain, broken leg, shin splints, brain injury, etc.
What makes it difficult: I am used to breathing on the bike and run, but breathing in a pool/lake/ocean is a different ballpark. I can go for long hours on the bike or on my feet without any breathing issues (note: except running in high humidity), but I am still trying to figure out how much/little air to take in for long swims. So let’s say that you mastered that. With regards to training locations, you are limited to the ocean (dependent on weather, jelly fish, algae, etc, if you even live near one) and/or pools (probably this). Depending on your area, some indoor pools are not long and usually require a membership (gym) and outdoor pools can get crowded (not good for lotta-lap-workouts). If you have a rainy season (like South Florida), lightning can play havoc on schedules.
BEGINNER’S TIP: With sprint triathlons, the swim is not long (around 400meters) so not much training is required to make in through the distance. Simply go to your local pool to get some laps in to build distance, with a couple hard/fast laps to help out. At the race, be sure you start in the back of wave or veer to the sides, as the center can be, well, let’s say, rough for those not used to tri swims.
The one part of the triathlon that you can sort of take brief physical breaks and still be moving forward. Yes, you can sort of glide through the water, but only for a second or two; and forget about running (feet don’t move, you don’t move). If it any time during a ride, forward momentum will carry you along for some time; if you are lucky and get a downhill timed right, you might not have to peddle for a good while. Of course, a nice downhill meant that you probably had to get up it. But with the multitude of bicycling training videos and group rides being held, it is possible to develop into a quality cyclist within a few short months.
Of the three disciplines, this can get to be the most expensive. It is recommended that when you are first entering the sport to go “affordable” for your first bike: WalMart, Craigslist, garage sale, or even someone within the sport that has one lying around or wants to sell. Then, when you realize how much fun the sport is and that competitive juice starts building up, you will want to upgrade to a more speedier bike. And once that starts: lighter wheels, better gears, clip pedals, bike/triathlon shoes, bottle cages, bike sensors, aero helmet, bike clothes, bike trainer (don’t skimp on this), and probably more stuff that I can’t remember.
BEGINNER’S TIP: Go affordable, but if you come across a deal, jump on it. I got my road bike on consignment at a local bike shop. Still have it, too. Unless you truly care about time, fancy helmets and aerodynamic products will only shave minutes off of Ironman-distance events, not sprints.
The one discipline that can be trained for almost anywhere, at any time, in any weather (less lightning). You also do not need any special equipment, which is good for beginners. Basically any type of athletic shoes are okay, but, of course, running shoes are preferred, and better for you in the long run. And if you have the right running shoes and you train with the correct form, you can get places. One can wake up in the morning, go out for a jog (through in some intervals), take a shower and pick up some coffee on the way to work. When I started running, it was the end of summer, beginning of fall, so I did not have to deal with extreme heat/humidity. This lead to me being able to build up my distance fairly quick: from not being able to finish two miles in Sept 09 to a 2:15 half marathon Nov 09. The other benefit of the run leg over the other two legs: you can run with the other participants. Drafting in cycling not legal (note: there are draft legal races, but not many) and while it is legal to draft in swimming, it is difficult to talk and swim at the same time. And since wearing headphones/mp3 players in triathlon is illegal, running with someone can help.
That being said, running is also the most impactful on the body, from the feet (duh) all of the way up the legs, hips, and even back (unless you don’t have a spine, then what are you doing on this planet?). Even getting the best quality shoes can’t prevent feet pains, especially after lonnng runs. Unless running is all that you train, your feet might hate you. There are several running forms (chi, posed) and ways to prevent injury, but: everybody is different, every body is different.
BEGINNER’S NOTE: Go to a runner’s store and spend some time there. You will want to have a comfortable pair of shoes. Start out by just seeing how far you can go, even if you have to break it into walk/run. And that is perfectly fine in any race!