Make Your First Triathlon a Sprint Triathlon

5 reasons to make your first triathlon a sprint triathlon

Some people want to jump right into training for a full-distance triathlon. That’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running! We strongly discourage first-time triathletes from starting with this type of distance. It’s always best to test out the waters first before taking on such a huge endeavor. See the reasons below for why you should make your first triathlon a sprint triathlon. When you’re done, register for Rookie Triathlon and let the training begin!

There are many reasons that a sprint triathlon is the perfect distance for your first triathlon

There are many reasons that a sprint triathlon is the perfect distance for your first triathlon

There’s less training

Triathlon training takes up a lot of time. With three different sports to prepare for, you could triple the amount of training needed. Starting with a shorter distance triathlon allows you to understand how much time is needed for each discipline. Going for something longer in the beginning and not realizing the time it takes, could set you up for disappointment and failure.

Your body’s response

If you’re interested in triathlon, chances are you have a swimming, cycling, or running background. That’s great, but you’re about to request a lot more from your body when you train for a triathlon. You don’t know how you’ll respond to the different elements of training. Making a sprint triathlon your first triathlon will allow you and your body to adjust to the rigors of triathlon training. Chances are higher that your body will respond positively to the increase in training.

Quicker results

Signing up for a sprint triathlon means you’ll have a shorter training runway, which can reduce burnout and get you closer to race day. For a first-time triathlete, the mental aspect of training is just as vital as the physical. From a training standpoint, you’re asking less of your body. From a mental standpoint, the shorter training timeline allows you to reach your goal of the finish line sooner!

Less chance for injury

The more you train, the more you run the risk of injury. Training for anything can lead to injury, especially if done incorrectly. But when you extend your training timeline, the chances for injury greatly increase, especially from overuse. Training for a sprint triathlon is perfect, especially if you’re body isn’t completely ready to handle the load of full-distance triathlon. The Rookie Triathlon is perfect for first-time triathletes. You train for a 300m swim, 11.2-mile bike ride, and 2-mile run.

See if you like it

Compare triathlon training to shopping for a car. You wouldn’t walk into a dealership and pay for a vehicle without taking it for a test drive and checking it out, would you? Same thing for triathlon. See if you like it first! Don’t jump into a full-distance triathlon as your first triathlon. You should understand the training and financial commitment to triathlon training before diving in. That’s why a sprint triathlon is the perfect distance for your first triathlon!

Swim Training: The Pull Buoy

Learn how you can use the pull buoy to become a better swimmer.

Image result for pull buoyWhat is a pull buoy

A pull buoy is a “figure 8” shaped piece of foam that is typically held between the upper thighs to float the hips and legs at the surface of the water. They are one size fits all but different brands may have slightly different designs, so do your research and find the one that works for you. It is called “pulling” when you swim with a buoy because all of your forward movement is from your arms.

Help with proper positioning

The pull buoy is positioned between the thighs causing the butt and legs to float to a more proper position. When your butt drops and your legs are further underwater you are creating more drag and less efficient swimming. The pull buoy helps show us what the proper body position should feel like so that we can work on transferring this to our regular swimming.

Focus on Technique

Swimming with the pull buoy also requires less effort so you are able to swim longer and increase your upper body fitness. Also with kicking your legs out of the mix, you can really focus on your arm form. Practice different drills, watch where your arm enters the water and the timing of how you rotate your body in response.

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Help with Breathing

Pull sets are a great time to work on breath control and breathing technique. Kick can cause elevated heart rates, leaving you feeling winded and without the energy to focus on when and how you are breathing. By lessening the effort you can set up a breath pattern and work on your breath timing with each stroke. Swimming with a pull buoy is also a good time to practice bilateral breathing, which can come in super handy during open water swims.

Important Notes

Don’t become addicted to your buoy and use it as a crutch. The ease of gliding through the water may leave your regular laps feeling less than ideal but remember that the buoy is a tool to help you and won’t be there on race day. The best way to do this is by having planned sets and only use the pull buoy during those designated times.

Don Nolting – My First Triathlon

Don Nolting, an Austin Triathlon Club Ambassador, recalls his first triathlon

The 2016 Rookie Triathlon (300m swim, 11.2-mile bike, 2-mile run), was my attempt to help a friend, and myself, lose weight. I was 41 and 255 pounds at 6’1.5”. He thought a sprint triathlon would be a fun way to do it since he liked to swim. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if, 1) we would have decided more than a month before the triathlon was to take place to sign up, 2) I hadn’t just undergone bilateral knee surgeries #4 and #5 six months prior, and 3) if I owned a bike.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

I was still rehabbing from knee surgery, and given the short time to train, I focused on swimming and riding. While all my doctors discourage running with my knee issues, swimming and biking are highly suggested. The biggest thing for me was to not over train the month before the tri and be so sore and fatigued that I wouldn’t be able to race.

Training

Since I knew how to swim, I focused on that. The good news: the swim distance was only 300 meters. I started in the pool and then made sure to swim in a few different open water spots around Austin. Barton Springs became my really cold friend. I was having trouble freestyle swimming, so I focused on the breaststroke and worked on perfecting my form while training.

The biking was a whole different beast. I didn’t own a bike when I signed up for the tri. So I took advantage of all of the spring bike sales in Austin. I chose a hybrid bike as a starter bike and got in plenty of rides during the month. I even rode the bike course a few times and struggled some.

Since I planned to speed-walk the run, I only worked on increasing my overall fitness for that. In the end, I was pretty happy with where I was feeling after the bike rides, but I wasn’t confident about my swimming.

Race day

Race day showed up really fast! From a tip I had read on lots of tri websites, I laid out my transition and equipment the night before. I was sure I had everything, but 5:00 a.m. comes early. I was nervous, but the pre-race stretches helped calm my nerves. Waiting in line to get into the water was where the nerves sprung up again. Many of the guys in my age group were nervously chatting about how they hadn’t practiced swimming in open water. 

I was towards the back of the line going into the water, and I observed people grabbing the lifeguard canoes and the buoys. (* this is legal by USAT rules as long as you do not use the kayak to make forward progress).  Practicing breaststroke proved to be beneficial. I don’t think I could have freestyled in that water. I felt good after my swim and was proud I had completed it without taking any breaks or needing any assistance. The path to transition was an uphill path, so I took my time so I didn’t injure my knees at all.

Transition went pretty smoothly and I felt good getting onto my bike. The first 1.5 miles went well. However, once I turned into the headwind, it was like I put a sail on my back. I felt like I was going head-first into a wall and barely moving. I was happy to get back to transition, but wasn’t looking forward to the “run.” My legs were gassed, and I hadn’t really practiced going from cycling to a run or walk. Big mistake!

That two miles seemed like 20. In addition, it had recently rained, so the course was muddy and changed to include some hills that were rough on my knees. I wasn’t taking any chances with my knees so soon after surgery, so I walked the hills, but (against my doctor’s orders and my better judgment) slow-jogged the flatter sections. Finally coming around the last bend helped me pick up the pace and finish strong.

The Finish & Beyond

My goal was to finish my first Rookie Tri in 90 minutes, and I missed it by only three minutes. I was tired and sore, but proud that I had finished.

Unfortunately, because of knee rehab, it took me about a year to feel right again in order to train for another race. I got back into riding my bike and started swimming again in late 2017. I joined the Austin Tri Club in the spring of 2018 and have really started to push myself and my training thanks to the group. They support and motivate me as I safely train for aquabike challenges (*Aquabike participates complete the swim & bike portion of the triathlon, with their official timing stopping after entering transition after the bike.) and I enjoy cheering on my club-mates as they compete too.

Bike Safety Check

Get in the habit of completing this bike safety check

Failure to safety-check or maintain your bike can lead to accidents. Easily avoid some of these pitfalls with a simple bike safety check. Here are some refreshers on what to check and how often you should check your bike to ensure it’s safe for the road. Implement these safety checks before your next Rookie Triathlon training ride.

Things to check before every ride

  1. Tire pressure and road debris – keep pressure right at or near 5 to 10 lbs. below the recommended pressure. This will help prevent flats and by default extend the lifetime of your rim. Check for small thorns, staples, cuts, bald spots, or other problems with the outside of the tire.
  2. Bolts on the bike – make sure that the bolts on the stem, saddle, and seat post are nice and snug. Some bolts have a recommended torque due to the differences in the strength of the materials being used. If so, make sure bolts are tightened correctly. Most, if not all, bike stores carry torque wrenches.
  3. Tighten skewers – make sure both the front and rear skewers of the wheel are properly tightened and facing in the proper direction “back or up.”

Things to check every month

  1. Crank bolts – make sure that each crank bolt is nice and snug. These may work themselves out over time. An impact to the side of the bike is a common culprit to a loose crank.
  2. Headset – make sure that the headset is snug. A loose headset will lead to speed wobbles or a squirrelly bike.
  3. Trueness of wheels – make sure that your wheels are passing evenly through your brake calipers and frame. An untrue wheel could lead to broken spokes or uneven wear on your tires. If your tire is no longer true, follow this advice to true your wheel at home.
  4. General shifting of the bike – make sure that your chain is not dumping to the inside or out on the front set of rings. Make sure the rear derailleur is moving smoothly across your cassette and not rubbing on your rear wheel or frame. If this is occurring chances are your rear derailleur hanger has been slightly bent.
  5. Pedals – make sure both pedals are nice and snug. Remember the left pedal is reverse threaded. Pro tip: read our blog for a deeper dive into removing or replacing pedals.

Things to check every 2 to 3 months

  1. Inspection for cracks – clean the frame off with a damp rag or wash your bike. Inspect the entire frame, fork, seat post, and wheels for cracks, delaminating, or loosening of welds. If you find that any of these areas have been compromised in any way, “Do Not Ride The Bike.” Take it to your LBS “local bike shop” for inspection or have James Balentine with City Limit Cycles come to you. One more ride is not worth serious injury.

Note: Riders that race bikes, travel with their bikes, or know that they are tough on their equipment should run through this checklist before every ride.