The Simplest-Ever Guide to Your First Triathlon

bicycle waiting at triathlon

It’s hard enough to master one sport. But three? No way.

Making the leap from running to triathlon, which consists of a swim, bike, and run, sounds complicated. More often than not, the complexities of multisport hold people back:

“I don’t have enough time to train for three sports!”

“Don’t you need a lot of gear for triathlon?”

“All I have is a crappy commuter bike.”

“No way could I learn to swim.”

Complicated, right? Except it’s really not.

If you can do a 5K, you can do a triathlon.

The sprint triathlon, which consists of a 750-meter swim, 12.4-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run, is well within reach for most people, especially those who are already reasonably fit.

Of course, you should ease into this type of training — just like any other athletic endeavor. If there are health issues, talk with your doctor before embarking on any sort of fitness journey. But if you’re well, your basic fitness most likely allows you to ride a bike for 30 minutes and run/walk for 30 minutes. If you can swim, you can probably make it from one end of the pool to the other.

That’s where you start … taking small steps to gradually work your way up.

If you’re already running on a regular basis, it’s easy to adjust your training to incorporate time swimming and cycling.

Important Note: I said “incorporate,” not “add.” Most people can prepare for a triathlon with the same amount of training hours as they would a 5K, believe it or not.

How to Adjust Your Training for Triathlon

Ready to get started? Here’s your five-point checklist to becoming a triathlete:

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How to Balance Family and Training (and Guarantee Their Support)

Couple marathon running for exercise and fitness training

This post is written by Susan Lacke.

“Hey, honey. I’m going to disappear for about 15 hours each week to exercise. When I come back, I’m going to be really tired, so I’ll nap for at least a few hours.

“I’ll be hungry a lot, and you know when I’m hungry, I’m not very pleasant to be around. Basically, what I’m telling you is that you’re on your own for the next six months. But I’ll have a medal to show for it!”

Can you imagine uttering those words to your spouse?

Probably not. But when you sign up for a long race, that’s exactly what you’re saying.

Training for any event takes a lot of time, dedication and energy.

But training for a long race, like a marathon, ultramarathon, or Ironman triathlon, takes even more. It’s an incredibly selfish endeavor — you disappear for hours to train while your spouse takes care of the kids, and for what? A medal with your name engraved on it.

Where’s the trophy for the family?

It might seem like you’ll be the one doing all the heavy lifting when training for a race, but the ones you love will carry a burden, too.

I’ve experienced this firsthand: my husband has poked me awake during more than one date night at the movies, my brother has asked if I really need to disappear for a run during our family vacations, and I’ve missed several gatherings with friends in order to get my scheduled training in.

At first, when they sighed and said it was “no big deal,” I took that at face value.

Eventually, I learned it was a big freakin’ deal. My friends and family wanted to support me, but I wasn’t giving them anything in return.

There’s a line between “support” and “resentment,” and the side your loved ones fall on will depend largely on the choices you make.

So how do you guarantee those choices are good ones? Here are 8 steps to point you in the right direction …

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Announcing the No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap

It was a curse word and a triathlon that brought me to No Meat Athlete.

As a new vegetarian, and even newer triathlete, I was a bit lost. Whenever I’d Google “vegetarian triathlete,” the results were sparse and not at all helpful. I only knew one plant-based person — who chastised me for being “only” a vegetarian — and one triathlete, an omnivore who chastised me for thinking I could do a triathlon on a diet that was, as he said, “completely stupid.”

Though on opposite ends of the spectrum — one vegan, one omnivore — their bottom line was the same:

I was doing everything wrong.

At first I’d shrink away, full of self-doubt. Sometimes, I’d even shelve my triathlon ambitions altogether. But one day I decided that I didn’t need anyone else’s answers; I only needed to find my own.

I was going to be a triathlete, I was going to do it as a vegetarian, and anyone who told me I couldn’t could just go eff themselves.

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22 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Your First Triathlon

[triathlon start image]

It’s triathlon season! Shout it with me, people: IT’S TRIATHLON SEASON!

I haven’t always been such an overeager pain in the ass about this sport. I used to be scared — really scared — before triathlon races. I knew what I was doing as a runner, but triathlon was just so … complicated.

With running races, it’s simple: get a bite to eat and hit the porta-pot ahead of time, and beyond the actual running, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong. But triathlons are a different beast, with not just three sports to worry about, but also the transitions and plenty of logistical opportunities for bigtime screw-ups that bodies of water and racks of bikes add to the mix.

Before my first few triathlon races, my hands would shake as I quietly set up my bike in transition area, and instead of confidently rehearsing what I needed to execute during the race, I’d focus on everything that could go wrong:

  • What if I have a panic attack during the swim and hyperventilate?
  • What if I forget where I put my bike and wander around transition like an idiot?
  • What if I drop a water bottle and get dehydrated?
  • What if I make a total ass of myself?

Sound like you?

Fears like these prevent a lot of runners from ever jumping into the triathlon game, and it’s a shame. In addition to providing runners with more strength than ever before (cycling is an excellent cross-training activity), accomplishing the mental challenge of triathlon gives an athlete more tricks in their wheelhouse for breaking through “the wall” of their next road race. On a personal note, triathlon has given me confidence I didn’t have before, introduced me to friends around the world, and led me to a new career with No Meat Athlete and print magazines Competitor and Triathlete. Triathlon has changed my life – literally. All because I took a chance on a new sport.

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12 Guidelines for Fueling Your Triathlon

Post written by Susan Lacke.

Like most new triathletes — especially those who started out as runners — I had a lot of really strange questions when I first decided to take on a triathlon.

Though I was comfortable as a runner, learning how to add a swim and bike turned me into an inquisitive pain in the ass around my triathlete friends:

“Why do you wear those pointy helmets? Can I wear arm floaties on the swim? Where did all the men’s body hair go?”

One of the questions I had was particularly puzzling:

How the heck does anyone eat at these things?

I know I’m not alone in that bewilderment. As I’ve worked on the upcoming No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap, I’ve encountered a lot of people who once felt the same way. For many runners-turned-triathletes, their fueling routine for running was nailed down, but triathlon was weird.

In a marathon, I knew to fuel early and often, taking in carbohydrates nearly from the start of the race. So in a triathlon, did that mean I was supposed to start eating during the swim?

What? How? Didn’t Grandma say something about waiting an hour?

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The 8 Biggest Triathlon Myths … Busted!

Post written by Susan Lacke.

As a triathlete, I’m always interested to hear how others perceive the sport. Judging by the reactions of most people, there are more reasons not to do triathlon than there are compelling arguments to give the sport the old college try.

The “facts” I’ve heard about triathlons, however, are mostly untrue. From simple misunderstandings about the distances involved to exaggerated claims about the safety of the swim, there are a lot of triathlon myths out there. Here are the eight most common misconceptions about the sport I’ve heard, along with why you shouldn’t let such pish-posh stop you from becoming a triathlete.

Myth #1: Triathlons are longer than marathons.

 “I heard about those triathlons … they start really early in the morning and are still running at midnight!”

When people think “triathlon,” they sometimes think “Ironman,” a long-course triathlon that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. Though Ironman is one kind of triathlon, it’s not the only triathlon.

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Everyone Welcome (Even “Hipster Vegetarians”)

Leslie, Cathy and Jon at the No Meat Athlete tent after Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona

“So … are you guys, like, real vegetarians? Or just the hipster kind?”

It was 5 AM on a Sunday morning and I hadn’t found a cup of coffee yet. It was far too early for this shit. I looked the stocky dude at the next-door tent up and down.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Well, you know how vegetarians are. You guys probably say you don’t eat meat, and then you go home and eat a whole steak but don’t tell anyone.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but …”

“Yeah, you just can’t resist bacon, right?” he interrupted.

I smiled politely and walked away in search of coffee.

I shared this story several times on Sunday, January 20, as I congregated with No Meat Athletes at our VIP tent at Rock & Roll Arizona. The response was always the same: an eye-roll and a chuckle of “oh, yeah, I’ve heard that before!”

To outside observers, our tent may have looked like any other team tent. There was a cooler full of water and juice, fruits and breakfast burritos on the table, and a lot of happy people in matching shirts. But for the 47 marathoners, half-marathoners, and mini-marathon finishers in No Meat Athlete shirts, it was something much more.

It was a community.

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The Paleo Diet for Vegetarians: Your Questions Answered

Post written by Susan Lacke.

Almost immediately after I published my last post, How I Survived for 8 Weeks as a Paleo Vegetarian, my e-mail inbox was flooded with questions.

Though I knew paleo-vegetarianism was topic with few resources, I had no idea of the vast gap between supply and demand! There’s a lot of thirst for knowledge on this very topic of hybridizing the Paleo and vegetarian lifestyles — a thirst I feel slightly inadequate to quench. I’m not an expert on a Paleo diet, by any means, and I’m certainly not the be-all, end-all when it comes to adapting the diet to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

However, a dearth of information sometimes means an overgrowth of misinformation. It seems that many people believe that it’s impossible to combine the Paleo and plant-based lifestyle, solely because there isn’t any information out there on it.

To those naysayers: It’s possible. Here are the answers to some of your questions about my 8-week experiment as a Paleo Vegetarian.

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