Throughout the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, we’ve seen the world’s best swimmers, cyclists, and runners compete to see who is fastest. On August 18 and 20, the best male and female Olympic-distance triathletes in the world will race for gold.
It’s hard not feel inspired by the Olympic action, and so perhaps you’re contemplating or have even just signed up for your first triathlon.
So now what?
Triathlon as a sport is enjoying a moment, says Dan Arnett, a professional coach who has competed in world championship races and Ironman triathlons — the ones that include a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and then a marathon to top things off. Participation rates have skyrocketed in recent years, sitting at near-record levels today. It’s a great sport for people who enjoy a variety of physical activities and don’t want to spend all their workout time doing the same thing.
Business Insider spoke with Arnett to see how he’d recommend beginners give the sport a try.
Find a race
Start with a sprint distance, Arnett says. Triathlons come in varied distances, ranging from the very short to the ultralength races like the Ironman. A sprint is great for starters, since “that very first competition should be about you finishing,” says Arnett.
A sprint tri consists of a 750 meter swim, a 20 kilometer bike ride, and a 5 kilometer run — within reach for anyone in reasonable shape, with a bit of training. Arnett says to give yourself at least eight weeks, though the more time you have, the better.
Pick a training plan — and stick to it
To guide that training, “you do not need a coach,” says this professional coach whose job is getting paid to coach triathletes. “What you need is a plan.” And there are plenty of free plans online that will tell you everything you need to know, he says.
You can find free online plans at sites like BeginnerTriathlete, and there’s some free software on sites like TrainingPeaks as well. Schedule workouts in your calendar as if they were meetings you can’t skip — otherwise it’s too easy to let that time slip by.
By saying there’s no need for beginners to get a coach, Arnett isn’t trying to put himself out of business. But as he explains it, the average person shouldn’t do their first race shooting to end up on the winner’s podium. All you need is a training schedule to get your body safely prepared for the competition. Investing a ton of money in an expensive coach is overkill before you even know that you like the sport.
Get the essential equipment, and skip the rest
The same philosophy applies to equipment, says Arnett. Triathlons tend to draw wealthy participants, with a median income of $126,000. Looking around some races can make you feel like you need a bike that costs thousands of dollars. “It can look like the GDP of a small country in transition,” when people are pulling off wetsuits and getting ready to jump on a bike, he says.
But Arnett says he did his first few races on an old mountain bike, and if you’ve got an old road bike lying around, you’re more than good to go. Just make sure it’s safely tuned up.
You’ll need goggles and a swim cap. Arnett also says the one thing he does recommend investing in is a pair of good running shoes. It’s easy to hurt yourself if you don’t have the right fit, so get to a running store to be fitted if you bought your kicks because they looked cool.
Take care of yourself
Luckily, injury rates aren’t particularly high for triathletes, provided they don’t push themselves too hard at the start. Since the nature of training requires you to spend time strengthening different parts of your body, overuse injuries are far less common than they are for single-discipline athletes. Still, don’t forget to let your body rest.
Join a local club, if you can. The camaraderie can help you push through a workout, but you can also benefit from the wisdom of the group and ask the questions about anything, ranging from swimming techniques to bike repair to whether people sit down to change into running shoes after getting off the bike.
Beyond that, enjoy yourself. Train with friends or do the occasional run with your partner, even if they aren’t participating.
And “enjoy the hell out of your first season,” says Arnett.
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