From Running to Triathlon: How to Make the Jump

I have always been strictly a running girl.  The sport of triathlon never really appealed to me, and once it did start appealing to me, I was too scared to suck at it.  My husband, who is training for his first Ironman and has competed in (and won) many, many sprint and Olympic length triathlons in the area, would compete and I would watch and we would all be happy.  After watching so many races and seeing so many people finish who were not exactly the most athletic-looking people, I decided to let go of my fear of “coming in last” and start training.

I really wasn’t sure where to even start in my training.  I followed a few steps and after a few weeks, my first triathlon was up. While it was INFINITELY more difficult than just a run for me, I did really well and placed first in my age group.  It seems as though I may have more of a knack for triathlon than I thought!

meldenhamspringstri

After accepting my 1st place AG award at my first triathlon

Interested in making the jump from runner to triathlete?  Here are the steps I took.

1.  Get a bike

I didn’t own a bike, so my first stop was at a local bike shop.  **If you’re in the Baton Rouge area, check out The Bike Crossing in Towne Center.  Those guys are the best!** I decided on a Giant road bike.  At $700ish, it’s an entry level bike, but I added aero bars and a bike computer to give me a better feeling on the bike.  If you’re reading to clip in, you’ll need to buy some shoes and some peddles as well.  At many sprint or shorter triathlons, you’ll see a wide range of bikes on the course.  From time trial bikes to road bikes to mountain bikes to cruisers, the course is filled with different levels of triathletes on different levels of bikes.  The message you can gain from that is that you just need to get your hands on a bike and compete on it.  If you love the sport, you can move up in the ranks.  It has been recommended to me to race a road bike for the first year or so, then if I’m loving it and wanting to be more competitive, to invest in a triathlon bike.

Not only do you need to get a bike, but you need to get comfortable on your bike.  Bike handling is so important and was one thing that I still struggle with.  My second race, I pretty much lost on bike speed alone.  My swim was fast, my run was super fast, but my bike was just crap.  I slow down so much on turns and I am generally uncomfortable on the bike.  Because I’m well aware of where my weaknesses lie, I know to work on my bike first and foremost.  For me, the trainer does nothing since it doesn’t help with my bike handling.  I have to be out on the road to reap the benefits of the training.  You’ll find me many afternoons taking a few laps around the neighborhood just to get the practice of handling my bike.

2.  Get into the pool ASAP

So many people look at triathletes and think “how hard can the swim really be?  I’ve been going to the pool since I was a kid.”  Newsflash: competitive swimming is nothing like splashing around in the neighborhood pool or taking a few leisurely laps.  It is DIFFICULT and requires a lot of practice.  I am a distance runner and my fitness level is high, but even a 400m swim leaves me exhausted.  I didn’t feel comfortable in the pool until I had completed at least 6 swim workouts.  My triceps would scream at me and my legs felt like mush for weeks.  There is also a very real fear of drowning for many new triathletes, especially in an open water swim.  The good thing is that the more you practice, the easier it gets.  The point is GET IN THE POOL!

3.  Complete some brick workouts

I’m a good runner and don’t really feel the need to stop because I’m “tired”.  The first time I attempted a brick workout, I threw up on my run about four houses down from my house.  Running straight off of the bike is SUPER difficult for new triathletes.  Your legs feel like jello.  You have no breath.  You have to run through it.  Your calves will cramp.  Get over it and run.  My mantra of “the faster I go, the faster I finish” really helped me through my races.

One of the biggest difficulties I had starting out is my run.  I thought at first that since I’m a good runner, I’d have no problem at all on the run.  Well, I’m a good runner when I’m just RUNNING.  When I have to swim and bike first, I’m not sure if my running background is really advantageous for me.  Then again, maybe it would be even harder if I wasn’t an experienced runner in the first place.

4.  Clean up your diet

Training is important, but your nutrition is even more important.  If you train like a beast, yet eat like crap, you will never get where you want to get in your sport.  The sport becomes EASIER when your diet is clean.  Cutting out processed foods, drinking lots of water, and for me, eating gluten-free and predominately paleo, has helped me swim, run, and bike at optimal levels.  My husband is completely NSNG (No Sugar No Grains) and has started winning triathlons since making the jump.  His training is exactly the same, but his diet has changed.  Ask @charlieravioli3 on twitter any specific questions- he is unreal!

You know the feeling you have when you eat too much (or just something terrible for you) and you feel terrible?  Now imagine swimming, cycling, and running with that feeling.  You’ll already feel bad enough exerting the energy needed to finish and finish strong- don’t cheat yourself by fueling your body with trash.

The same thing goes for race-day fuel.  Why are you pumping GU into your body?  You’re literally sucking down sugar.  There are so many better options.  Check out Energybits (use code GeauxTri for 30% off), Pocketfuel, Epic Bar, and Thunderbird Energetica.  All of these are products I turn to instead of sugary junk.   You’ll be so happy once you make the switch from junk to real food.  You’ll get good, clean energy in your body and perform the best you can.

5.  Get your gear

Running really doesn’t require much gear, yet for triathlons, you need to make sure you have everything in order.  Invest in some good googles and a swim cap.  Many races give you a colored swim cap for your age group, but some don’t.  I always keep one in my bag.  Also, you’ll need to pick up a tri kit to race in, a towel to lay down in transition, a race belt, water cages for your bike, etc.  Local shops can help you out, but I always recommend Trisports.com.  They have everything you’ll need at a great price.  Look into aerobars for your road bike or pedals and shoes.  You can even buy triathlon packages where they’ll send you everything you need!

6.  Stop fearing it

The most important decision you have to make is to compete in the first place.  If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to compete because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself and come in last.  At any given race, you will see people of such varied fitness levels and walks of life.  These people aren’t judging you.  They’re focusing on their race and their race alone.  Go ahead and sign up for it!  Challenge yourself!  Make some friends!  Don’t let the opportunity pass you up solely because you are scared of how you will perform.  You’ll probably surprise yourself and do much better than you thought you would.

Have any other questions?? Leave a comment and I’ll help you out!

swimbikerun

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