Tri Training: A Beginner's Guide

Featured Article, Fitness, News and Advice
on May 4, 2011

So you’ve caught the triathlon bug? Good for you! While you know you need to swim, bike and run, preparing for your race can be tricky if you’re not sure where to start. And with all of the information out there on the best gear, training plans, and nutrition facts, it can be hard to figure out what is best for you. Not to worry—Spry’s got you covered. We’ve tapped into top tri coaches and athletes for these insider tips to get you to the finish line.

Don’t think you have to have the “right” gear. A mountain bike is fine for a short race, and many local bike shops and clubs will rent you a road bike—that’s tons cheaper than buying one yourself. “Seriously, gear doesn’t make the athlete. Don’t get intimidated and think someone must be fast because they have a hot bike, compression socks and a couple of muscles,” says USAT Level I Triathlon coach and founder of TriEverything (, Marty Munson.

Follow a training plan. The key to a great first tri is having just the right amount of training. Too much training can leave you exhausted and even injured on race day; too little training can make reaching the finish line a struggle. A training plan, like this 11-week sprint triathlon program created by USAT coach Patrick Merle and triathlete Lauren Fossum, will help you peak at the right time. This plan is great if you are moderately active and know how to swim, bike and run.

Tri a relay. Want to do a multi-sport event but aren’t sure you’re ready? Whether you don’t know how to swim or you just want to get friends or a loved one involved, try competing on a relay team. Most triathlons offer relay divisions that compete on the same course as the regular triathlon. You can enter in two- or three-person teams, and you can divide up the swim, bike and run however you like!

Think of food as fuel. Training requires adequate fuel to keep you swimming, biking and running regularly. “Sometimes triathletes try to get as thin as they can and can’t train as hard as they’d like to because they’re under fueled,” explains sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of the Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. You want to get plenty of complex carbohydrates for long-lasting energy and protein to build and help repair your hard-working muscles. If you’re trying to lose weight, Clark recommends eating larger meals at breakfast and lunch, and lighter meals at dinner. Try some recipes from Clark’s app, Nancy Clark’s Recipes for Athletes, available on iTunes.

Sandwich your workout—literally! Clark suggests splitting meals into pre- and post-workout snacks. “Have part of breakfast before a workout, such as a banana, and then come back after and have cereal and milk,” she suggests. This strategy works for lunch and dinner as well, as long as you keep up the carb-protein combination. A good lunch option: Have half a sandwich before a workout, and have the other half with yogurt and some trail mix afterward.

Find some inspiration. Training almost every day can be a real challenge, and there might be some days when you’re ready to throw in the towel. You might get busy and miss a workout, or you could have a bike ride that seems impossible. Get inspired by reading what motivated Spry readers like you to complete their first triathlon here.

Don’t try anything new on race day. Nothing. Not even new socks or different coffee, says tri coach Marty Munson. Do what you’ve practiced and you’ll be perfectly poised for a great race. Get more race day tips from Munson here.