Triathlete Basic Info

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3 days till the AbitaMan race!! I am looking forward to the race, but not expecting to post a very good time as I have had a bout with back pain followed by a cold that would not leave me alone.

Ten universal tips from triathletes

Triathlon is an exciting sport catching the attention of every level of athlete.

The sport of triathlon — swimming, cycling and running — offers common distances such as sprint racing (450-yard swim, 11-mile and a 3.1-mile run), Olympic distance events (0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike and a 6.2-mile run) and Ironman distance events (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run.)

Along with varying distances, participants have many options for triathlon participation. For example, there are special races for kids, the over-50 crowd and women-only events. Athletes can participate as an individual or as a member of a three-person team.

Whether or not you are intrigued by the sport, here are 10 valuable lessons that can transfer from triathlon to any sport.

1. Set a goal

A goal event, whether it is a sanctioned race or a self-designed outing with your buddies, gives you a good reason to get into shape or to maintain good fitness. Goal events provide purpose for training, a motivating reason not to miss a workout.

How far out should you set a goal? The answer to that question depends on your current fitness and your ability to complete the goal event. Some goals are appropriately set a short six weeks away, while other goals may be a year, or more, away.

The further into the future your goal is, the more you need sub-goals or small markers of successful achievement along the way.

2. Periodize your training

There is good news and bad news about your body. First the good news: What seems difficult today — like a six-mile run — will seem easy after the appropriate amount of training. The good news is your body adapts to training stress.

The bad news is your body adapts to training stress. If you are looking to take your fitness to new levels, change is necessary. Training variables to change include overall training volume, workout intensity, individual workout session duration and the frequency of training sessions.

By carefully planning changes that stress your body, new levels of fitness can be achieved.

3. Rest

Carefully planned training stress cannot be converted to new levels of fitness without rest. You need to plan rest days and rest weeks. Too many athletes get trapped in the “ever increasing volume by 10 percent” syndrome and drive themselves into injury. Plan days of rest where physical “training” is reduced or totally eliminated.

The rest category includes adequate sleep. Good athletes know that cheating on sleep night after night is inviting fatigue, illness and injury risk.

In addition to rest days, you need rest weeks. Vary the training load so that volume and intensity is decreased every three to four weeks. Rest is what allows your body to rebuild and become stronger, more fit, following stress.

4. Health first, performance second

Triathletes know that optimal performance cannot be achieved with an ill or injured body. In addition to exercise, good health is achieved — earned — by eating nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry, low-fat dairy products and whole grains.

An athletic body requires the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), antioxidants and phytochemicals found in minimally processed foods.

What are minimally processed foods? Eating an apple picked off of the tree in your back yard is an example of a food requiring no processing. Other foods are highly processed. Generally, if a food is packaged in bag or box, along with a long list of ingredients on the label, it is highly processed.

5. Mix it up

Triathletes are masters of cross-training. Swimming is a great cardiovascular sport and it is good for upper-body strength. Its non-weight-bearing nature allows knee and hip joints to have a break from pounding, while keeping both aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) fitness at high levels.

Cycling works powerful lower-body muscles. It can be done alone or in a group. It is easy to vary cycling intensity from a joy ride to a very aggressive group ride in the hills or in a blasting headwind.

Running puts the majority of workload stress on slightly different leg muscles than cycling. Cycling and running is an excellent combination to work legs. Running requires the least amount of special equipment and preparation: Lace your shoes and you’re out the door. Running is a weight-bearing activity, good for keeping bones strong and healthy.

Look for ways to mix your training to work your entire body.

6. Get strong

Even though triathlon is an endurance sport, triathletes pump iron. Strength training can help prevent injury, improve the ability to climb hills and improve the ability to generate more power, given a single level of exertion.

A nice side benefit is strength training paints wonderful muscle definition to give you an athletic look.

7. Monitor workout intensity

There are several methods to monitor exercise intensity, sometimes called exertion or effort. One of the oldest methods is the Borg Scale using “Rating of Perceived Exertion” or RPE: How do you feel? Is the pace easy, moderate hard or “my legs are about to burst into flames” difficult?

The second oldest method of monitoring intensity is pace. Pace is easy to monitor in the pool and running on the track. Only in the past year has monitoring pace while running off of the track become possible. Now there are systems that give you current pace, like a speedometer on a car, while running on the open road.

Pace or speed on the bicycle has been available technology for quite some time; however going 20 miles per hour with a tailwind or while coasting downhill requires very different energy output than keeping the same speed while pedaling up a slight hill.

A more accurate measure of cycling effort is a power meter that measures the power the rider exerts to pedal the bike.

Although power is becoming a more popular tool, the most widely used training tool to monitor intensity on the bike, as well as for most aerobic exercise, is a heart rate monitor. Heart rate can give us some indication of how the body is responding to exercise stress.

Often, triathletes use a combination of these tools to monitor intensity. At minimum, use an RPE scale to monitor your workout.

8. Change intensity; get a range of gears

The most common error I see in recreational athletes is use of a single speed, all the time. This single speed tends to be medium, not too fast and not too slow. The constant use of medium speed brings mediocre performance and can lead to injuries.

One of the most popular methods of varying intensity is interval training. This is where speed, workout length and rest interval time is varied to bring a desired training effect.

In addition to the training effect, learning to change gears makes training more fun.

9. Once achieved, maintenance is easy

Athletes who have worked for months to achieve a certain level of fitness have found fitness is easier to maintain than it is to achieve. In other words, a given level of fitness can be maintained with less training volume than it took to achieve that level of fitness.

If an unintentional event forces you to take time off, know that fitness comes back quickly for those who have been training consistently.

10. Technique, technique, technique

Triathletes are constantly working on proper technique or form. Good form reduces the likelihood of injury and improves economy. Economy is the oxygen cost at any given level of exercise effort.

If you can reduce the energy needed for a given level of effort, this translates to faster speed, given that level of effort. It doesn’t matter what sport is your preference; spend time working on proper form at least once per week and preferably every workout.

Whether or not you decide that training for a triathlon is in your future, utilizing some of the training principles used by triathletes can improve your fitness. Perhaps you want to go longer, faster or simply improve your health or appearance.

In any case, set a new goal and take your fitness to a new level.

Copyright 2003, Gale Bernhardt

Gale Bernhardt has been selected as the 2004 Olympic Coach for USA Triathlon’s men’s and women’s teams traveling to Athens, Greece. Her new book “Triathlon Training Basics” will be available in April. Many of Gale’s training plans are available online at