Hi, Hayley,

I'm thinking about doing my first triathlon next year, and have started swimming/spin classes once a week. I normally run a few times a week as well, and play squash, do yoga, and strength train. Any tips on how I should focus my time? I would say I think my weakest is the biking! I'm nervous about the transitions and just being able to work for that long!


This brings back memories of my first triathlon. I was 22 years old and had finally saved up enough money to buy myself a road bike but I was petrified of riding it outside. So, I trained for my race indoors, with my bike hooked up to the trainer. I remember when I finally had the courage to get out on my bike, I rode it around my parent’s cul de sac and yelled at my mom, “Do I look like a triathlete?” I think about 3 or 4 days before the race I actually managed to ride it on the road. 

Let’s fast forward to race day, where I had NO idea what I was doing. I remember feeling like my arms were going to fall off in the swim and then when I made it to my first transition, I couldn’t even change because my arms had stopped working. I think I actually managed to get stuck in my sports bra. I made it to my bike, where I stood for 10 minutes trying to fix my ponytail so my helmet would fit. My family was screaming at me “your hair looks fine!!” but I actually couldn’t get my pony out because I still didn’t have any feeling in my arms. I actually broke my helmet trying to force it on because I gave up on fixing my hair and ended up riding the bike course with a crooked helmet.

Flash forward another year and I was back at the same race. This time I decided to avoid the entire fiasco by not putting my hair up at all (I have long hair…and a lot of it). I saved time in transition for sure but had trouble seeing where I was going on the bike.

Why am I sharing this? Because your first triathlon is all about learning. And we learn by making mistakes. Have zero expectations going into this race except having fun and finishing. If you have to walk a bit on the run course, so what? You won’t be the only one. And if you take a bit too long in transition, it doesn’t matter. Even the pros try to transition faster each time. There is always room for improvement.

For your training, keep it simple. Get into the pool twice a week, do two spin classes a week and try for one outdoor ride each week. If the weather is nice enough to get outside more than once a week then take advantage of that. You should have one long ride, one interval ride and one short and fast ride.  Also, at least once, put your running shoes on after a ride or spin class and go for a 10 minute jog. This is to help you get used to the jello legs you are going to have as you transition from your bike to the run.  Good news is this feeling only last 10 or so minutes in your race, so that is all you really need to practice.

As for your runs, hit the track (or treadmill) one day a week and do some intervals. Play around with 400m, 800m and 1000m intervals at varying paces (the shorter the interval the faster you should run).  And then throw in one tempo run and a longer run. 

This works out to 8 workouts a week so you will have to double up twice a week and get two workouts in one day. I always like to combine a morning swim with an evening run. You may have to cut back a bit on the other fun activities you do, such as squash, but not completely. You can do one or two extra activities in a week, if you have the time and energy.   

If this seems like too much, then cut out one run and one bike, but make sure you cut out a different style of the workout each week. For example, one week cut out your interval run and tempo ride, and the next week cut out your interval ride and your tempo run. Make sense?

Be nervous, because nerves are good, but don’t doubt your ability to finish. Yes, it will be a long race, but you can do it. Be kind to yourself on the course and remember this is your race. When people pass you, don’t allow that to upset you, because all that matters is you cross the finish line. Do not go in with a time goal, but rather set intentions for yourself. This is something I always try and do. Tell yourself you are going to stay positive the entire race, or that you are going to pass two people on the bike or you are going to run the first 5 minutes of the run, no matter how your legs are feeling. Setting small and attainable goals will ensure that you feel successful at the end of your race.

As you do more races you are going to learn more about yourself and you can up the challenges and the pressure you put on yourself. But this race is your first one, and we don’t get to do too many things for the first time in our lives, so don’t ruin it by attempting to set your expectations high. Just go out and have an amazing race.