Swim, bike, run–how hard can it be? After completing sprint triathlons for nearly the past 10 years, I know it’s as hard as it sounds. If you are looking for advice on how to compete and even win a triathlon, you’ve come to the wrong place. I have just two goals when I sign up for a sprint triathlon. First, I want to finish. Second, I hope not to be dead last, heavy emphasis on the not being dead part.
Step 1: Choose an event and register.
Not all triathlons have to be a grueling Ironman competition. You don’t have to tell your admiring fans that you will be completing a much shorter distance (about ¼ the distance of an Ironman), but keep that in mind when you are choosing a race. According to Men’s Health, sprint triathlons usually consist of a half mile swim, a 12 – 14 mile bike ride, and a 5 kilometer run. Some sprint triathlons are even shorter. The Cicero Triathlon that I just finished has just a .2 mile swim and a 9.5 mile bike ride with the 5K run. Even though the distances are shorter, I still get to claim the title of triathlete. Youth triathlons offer even shorter distances, but they do have age requirements.
Step 2: Survive the swim.
The easiest place to train for the swim is at a local pool that has time for lap swimming. Swim a couple of times a week, but remember that swimming across open water is nothing like swimming laps in a pool. There is no side of the pool to rest on in the middle of a lake. The first year I swam across the lake, I panicked because I couldn’t see through the muddy water. Fortunately, you can use any and all strokes to get across the water–free style, back stroke, side crawl, breaststroke. I used them all to zig zag my way to the exit point. I have now learned to hope for cold weather leading up to the race. According to official USAT rules, If the water temperature is below 78 degrees, wetsuits are legal. Not only does a wetsuit keep you warm, but it is nearly impossible to sink while wearing one. My other best advice is to start at the back. That way you aren’t getting slapped or kicked by the more competitive swimmers as they stroke furiously across.
Step 3: Enjoy the bike ride.
The bike ride is the longest section of a triathlon, so you want to be comfortable. I’ve seen those sleek racing bikes whizz past, but I opt for comfort over speed. I chose a bike with fat tires and a spring suspension. The seat is actually wide enough to sit on and is cushioned. Since I’m at the back of the pack, I’ve had no worries about violating passing rules. If you do pass someone, you’ve got to be fast and get around the bike in under 15 seconds according to the USAT rules. You also have to wear your helmet at all times you are on your bike–even before and after the race.
Step 4: Complete the run.
Once you return your bike to the rack in the transition area, you are ready to tackle the last leg of the triathlon–running. I hope you have practiced transitioning from biking to running. If not, your legs will surprise you. They will keep trying to circle the bike pedal while you are pounding them on the pavement. Don’t worry. It only takes a few tenths of a mile before your legs remember how to run again. If you have the energy, you can blaze through the course at a sprint. Otherwise, join me for the slow and steady pace. Depending on which race you choose, you may have fans cheering you on throughout the run. In the Cicero Triathlon that I take part in, Santa Claus even makes a yearly appearance to cheer on runners. The best part, though, is the guy with the water hose who offers to spray runners as they run past. No matter your speed, just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you cross the finish line.
Step 5: Claim your bragging rights.
Now that you’ve crossed that finish line, you can claim the title of triathlete. Celebrate the fact that you’ve finished. Not many people can say the same. Then you can start training for next year.