I began training formally with a coach this year and I must say that I've really started seeing the benefits and the difference between casual/unstructured, semi-structured, and very structured training. I speak with a lot of beginner triathletes and I know that whether you are entering your first sprint distance race, or are trying to finish your first Ironman, knowing how effectively manage the demands of the sport with the rest of life's commitments is one of the most important factors to success.
I realize that many beginner triathletes testing the waters (no pun intended) of the sport may not want to go with a coach yet so I thought I'd post seven quick points on how to set yourself up for success and provide some sites you can visit to help plan your year.
1. DO set goals- List off the races that you want to complete this year and write them down on a piece of paper and in your calendar, or better yet, sign up and pay for those races right now. The nice thing about how the human mind works is that when we set a goal, we begin to work backwards and rationalize how we'll achieve it. Think about when JFK said we would reach the moon in 10 years, no one knew then how they would do it, but they did, because thats the way we meet challenges best.
2. DO your homework- There is soooo much literature out there on triathlon, both on the web and in bookstores. There are always going to be different takes on how to train and its up to you to figure out what works best but in order to do that you need to do a little reading first. If could only buy one book on triathlon I'd recommend The Triathlete's Training Bible by Joe Friel. Don't be intimidated by its size, its loaded with beginner friendly information and will help you learn the sport. As far as websites go, Beginner Triathlete, Trifuel, and the TrainingPeaks Blog are great resources.
3. DO become a part of the community- I'm talking about the online and real life community. If you haven't already, go to your local bike shop or local triathlon shop and introduce yourself. Ask if they have group rides, or hold spin classes, or have a tri club. Don't be afraid to ask questions, and try and build a relationship with them, you'll be glad you did. As for online, Trifuel and Beginner Triathlete have great online forums with lots of athletes of all different skill levels. Again, don't be afraid to ask questions, but before you do, try and use the search function to see if its been asked before. Slowtwitch also has some very active forums but its users can be a little intense for the average joe.
4. DO have a budget- Second to golf triathlon has to be the most expensive sport out there, but it doesn't have to be. If all you've got is a mountain bike and helmet in the garage, an old pair of runners, and a swimsuit, you can enter your frist triathlon. You won't win any races, but you have all you need. That being said, a road bike, a wetsuit, and a watch will make a world of difference. Figure out how much you have to spend for the season and include race entry fees. Then go to your local shop and work with them to figure out what you need, and be up front about how much coin you have to spend.
5. DO have a training plan that you can stick to- This goes back to the do your homework part. There are many schools of thought on how to train and for the beginner without a coach I like Joe Friel's approach in the Training Bible. And once again Trifuel and BT are great resources with some decent free plans for you. While they're fairly simple, they'll get the job done if you objective is just to finish the race. Its important to stick to your plan and a big part of that is involving the people who are important in your life, they can either train with you, or they can make sure you stick to the plan on those tough days when the stress of other parts of your life seems to add up.
6. DO be aware of your body- Its important to listen to your body, when you're training for a triathlon you need rest and you need fuel. This means getting a decent amount of sleep and eating sensibly. A good rule of thumb is to only increase your training volume by 10% a week. Any more than that and the stress you place on your body increases your likelihood of illness or injury. Rest days and active recovery weeks play an important role in training by allowing your body to adapt and recover from the intense physical demands of three sports. If you go out for a run and your legs aren't there, or get in the pool and your stroke is garbage, a good way to go about it is give yourself 10 more minutes and if things don't start to feel better, then its time for a day off.
7. REMEMBER that you are a triathlete- Whether you've been racing for 10 years, or are doing your first triathlon this season, if you're reading this, you are a triathlete. This is an incredible sport and whether you finish first or last in the race the mental fortitude and physical strength required to get across the line is something deserving of the utmost respect. You're a triathlete, so you better start thinking like one, this means rather than worrying about whether you can make it through the swim, you start thinking about which swim class fits your schedule, or rather than complaining about sore joints after the your runs, you think about whether yoga, or stretching, or better run form is the solution.
To be a successful athlete you have to be honest with yourself and truly know why you compete because thats the thought that is going to get you through the tough parts of training and racing. Recognize that gains aren't going to be made overnight but if you're committed and surround yourself with positive influence you'll find that there's no limit to how far or how fast you can go.