10 Weeks to Your First Sprint Tri
You've signed up for a race — now it's time to get down to business. Laura Cozik, a triathlon coach and the founder of the all-woman Team Lipstick in New York City, makes it simple with this beginner-friendly plan, which gets you in shape to complete a sprint tri (typically a 750-meter [half-mile] swim, a 20-kilometer [12.4-mile] bike ride, and a 5K [3.1-mile] run). Her program includes five days a week of training; use your two days off to do a low-intensity activity like stretching or to just take a break.
Before beginning this plan, you should be able to swim at least 200 yards without stopping; you'll gradually build your endurance with a series of intervals (repeats of 100 yards or more) that will help you complete a strong half-mile swim. You can do at least some of the biking workouts with a group cycling class or on an indoor bike. Long outdoor workouts may include a "brick," or bike-run, to help your legs make the transition to the run phase of the race (they'll probably feel heavy for at least the first few minutes). Most important is to have fun. "Even on your hardest training days, you should never be completely out of breath or unable to keep up the pace," Cozik says. "It's not about shocking your body, just giving it a gentle push."
Mastering the Transition and Gear You Need
It's home base for your race, the spot where you'll stash your gear and switch activities. "You don't need to bring everything in your closet; simplify as much as possible," tri coach Alison Kreideweis says. Here's how to organize your stuff at the start.
1. K-Swiss Blade-light Run II shoes ($95, kswiss.com)
2. FuelBelt Super-Stretch Race waist pack ($20, fuelbelt.com)
3. Brooks visor ($18, brooksrunning.com)
4. Shimano SH-WT60 triathlon shoe ($250, bike.shimano.com for info)
5. Pearl Izumi socks ($12, pearlizumi.com)
6. Oakley Radarlock Edge sunglasses ($220, oakley.com)
7. Giant Orion helmet ($55, giant-bicycles.com for info)
Anatomy of a Wet Suit
Everything you need to know about looking like a human seal.
Why wear it?
A wet suit not only keeps you from shivering (it's ideal if the water temp falls below 75), but it can also make your swim feel easier. "Wet suits are designed to keep you more buoyant and streamlined, so you move faster," Cozik explains.
Full or sleeveless?
A full-sleeve model will generally keep you warmer and make you even more hydrodynamic. Sleeveless versions are better for hotter temperatures.
What should it feel like?
Wet suits are typically formfitting, but don't get one so tight that you feel as if it's choking you. Some specialty shops will let you try before you buy.
How do I get out of it?
The suit can require some dexterity to put on, but it's even trickier to take off, especially when you're in a hurry to hop on your bike. "As soon as you get out of the water, tug on the zipper and pull your arms out," Cozik advises. "That way you're halfway out before you reach transition." Tug on the lower half when you get to your bike and slip off each leg, turning the suit inside out. Hint: Put a little lubricant like Bodyglide on your ankles and wrists to speed your exit.
What's the cost?
A basic wet suit runs $150 to $500, depending on the size, style, and design.
Surviving the Swim
Most of us feel comfortable riding a bike or heading out for a run. But swimming in open water can make even pool regulars panic. That goes double if the course is crowded, the water is cold, or the waves are choppy. Swim easily with these confidence-building tips.
Do at least two open-water practice swims.
For many first-timers, the idea of getting into a body of water that doesn't have a lane line to follow and a wall to rest at can be intimidating. But practicing can help. "The first time is scary, but the second, a lot less so," Cozik says. If possible, try to get into water that's similar to what you'll be racing in, whether it's a lake or the ocean. "Even if just the color or the taste of the water is familiar, it can help on race day," she adds. This is also a good time to try out your wet suit if you'll be wearing one. And always swim with a partner so you'll feel a little safer.
Stay to one side.
When it's your turn to hit the water in the race (which is typically in a wave-type format, where several swimmers go at once), avoid the crowd by moving toward the side that's farthest from the buoys. "Try not to get caught in the middle of the crowd, where the water can get very choppy," Cozik says.
Do whatever stroke you need to.
Freestyle is the most popular because it's generally the most efficient, but if you start to get nervous, do the breaststroke for a bit or float on your back, then return to freestyle.
Wear-test your outfit.
A good rule of thumb: Try nothing new on race day. Whether you're swimming in a tri suit, a sports bra and shorts, or a bathing suit, make sure you get in the water in your outfit at least once before the race, even if it's just to do a few laps in the pool. "My first race I wore a sports bra that ballooned with water, making it very uncomfortable to swim, and then it totally chafed me afterward," Kreideweis recalls. If you're large chested, try wearing two tops for extra support.
Remember you've got safety nets.
If you feel overwhelmed or can't catch your breath while in the water, swim over to one of the many volunteers who are likely to be stationed along the course in boats. "Most races won't penalize you if you stop, so take a few moments to calm down," Kreideweis says. When you start again, distract yourself from negative thoughts by counting your strokes from buoy to buoy, singing a song in your head, or picturing yourself crossing the finish line.
Smart Nutrition Rules
Rule: Drink up.
"Fluids are your first priority," notes Marni Sumbal, RD, a triathlete coach and sports dietitian in Jacksonville, Florida. Aim for five to six ounces every 15 minutes; stick with water on your shorter training days (one hour or less) and sports drinks with carbs and electrolytes on longer and more intense ones. The easiest place to sip is on your bike, so equip it with a water bottle cage before you start pedaling, for both training and race day.
Rule 2: Practice.
"Most people can digest anything when they go slowly; it's when you ramp up intensity that you run into tummy trouble," Sumbal says. Sample various sports drinks or effervescent electrolyte tablets during your training to make sure they agree with you when you race. "You'll be pushing a little harder than normal, and this extra nutrition will help your body handle that added stress," Sumbal explains. Look for a drink that contains about 30 to 60 grams of carbs in about 20 to 28 ounces of fluid.
Rule 3: Fuel up for the start.
About two to three hours before the race, eat a 200- to 300-calorie breakfast of mostly carbs and a little protein, such as toast with peanut butter; oatmeal, nuts, and fruit; or a hard-boiled egg, yogurt, and an orange. "That should be enough to keep you going for the next few hours," Sumbal says.
Rule 4: Don't overdo it.
You'll probably burn 600 to 700 calories in a sprint race, but you can't replace everything you're burning. Shoot for 120 to 200 calories an hour, which you can get from a sports drink. For longer train?ing sessions or races, you may need to take along sports gels for a boost.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2013.