March 1, 2022

What Runners Can Expect When They Start Triathlon

Here’s what you should consider if you’re a runner who wants to transition into triathlon training and racing.

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It’s been a long time since I transitioned from running to triathlon. I was ten at the time, so it’s been three decades since the switch. 

While that change in sport is long gone for me, I have guided and watched the transition of many Coached runners as they pursue their goals in triathlon.

While some transition smoothly, others struggle for a variety of reasons. Here’s what you can expect if you plan to transition from running to triathlon.

You’ll Need To Invest More Time And Money

This first point may sound obvious, but many runners underestimate the investment that comes with participating in triathlon – not just in financial terms but in terms of time.

There are three disciplines in triathlon, and each requires training time and unique equipment.

If you don’t budget appropriately in either area, you’ll likely struggle to achieve your goals in the sport. 

Now I’m not advocating that you head out and buy all the latest and greatest equipment from the start or that you should quit your job, kick the kids out, and move to Thanypura to train full time, but you will need to budget your time and money carefully. 

The gear you need to get started are the basics; tinted goggles, tri pants, cycle top, bike, aero bars, helmet, and running shoes with elastic laces. That will see you through your training and first race. A device to monitor your heart rate and pace is also helpful for improving the quality of your training and your race execution.

Once you’ve been training consistently, completed a couple of races, and know you love the sport, you can invest more money for more equipment or upgrade the gear you have.

When it comes to allocating time, you need to be realistic in your expectation when starting. The longer your race is or the more ambitious your performance goals are, the greater the time you’ll need to allocate each week to prepare. 

It’s usually best to be conservative, starting with a Sprint or Olympic distance events that require less conditioning and time. Prove to yourself that you can train consistently for a few months before committing to longer events or more ambitious goals.

A good frequency is two swims, two rides, and two runs with a day off to recover each week. You can scale the duration of each session or increase the frequency with time.

Fuelling Plays A Bigger Role In Training And Racing

Fueling before, during, and after training and racing plays a role in running, but it’s small relative to triathlon. 

Triathlon requires a lot of time and energy, so you need to eat appropriately around your training to recover effectively. You also need to fuel your training and racing well to maximise performance and recovery each time.

Nutrition is often referred to as the fourth triathlon discipline because it plays a significant role in performance, particularly in long course triathlon racing.

Know that you’ll need to learn about nutrition and how to fuel correctly.

Being A Fast Runner Does Not Guarantee You’ll Be A Fast Triathlete

Many good runners come into triathlon expecting to be a good triathletes. While this sometimes happens quickly, it often takes a long time to achieve comparative performance and results in a new sport. 

If you come into triathlon focused on results, it can be incredibly frustrating when progress is slow, and you struggle to learn the technical requirements of swimming and cycling. You may also run poorly off the bike because you’re weak on the bike.

I encourage you to come into the sport with a long term view and a willingness to do the work. When mastery becomes your motivation, you’ll enjoy the journey, and results will take care of themselves. Be kind to yourself.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

You May Need Technical Help For Swimming

While there is an obvious technical component to running efficiently, the technical requirement in swimming is more significant – hydrodynamics play an essential role in fast swimming.

If you‘ve never swum before, it is usually wise to invest in some form of technical swim training. 

Learn to feel comfortable in the water and the basics of how to float and breath, and you’ll be in a better place to layer fitness on this foundation that will develop your catch and allow you to generate propulsion.

Transition Runs Help When You’re Starting

When you’re new to running after a bike ride, your legs will often feel like jelly. A quick way to train this is to incorporate transition runs after your long and speed rides.

Transition runs are short runs, five to ten minutes, run straight after your ride to help familiarise your body with what it feels like to run after you have been cycling. Do these at zone two effort, and before long, you’ll run faster off the bike

You Need A Plan

Training for a triathlon is far more complex than training for a running race. Many variables need to be balanced to avoid over or undertraining. 

Having access to an experienced coach and a community of peers who have done it all before will save you a lot of time and money as you start your journey.

I am biased, of course, but I believe our online triathlon coaching is the best value triathlon coaching on the internet. Try it free for 14-days and see for yourself.

Be Patient And Enjoy The Process

I hinted at this earlier, but you need to come into triathlon with a long term view. It’s hard enough to master one sport, let alone three that must harmoniously follow each other. 

Be patient, put in the work, and enjoy the process. The results will follow.

Pic: Run 4 FFWPU

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.