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How to Transition From Running to Triathlon

This weekend sees both the London Triathlon and the conclusion of one of the most exciting Tours de France in ages. It got us thinking about the benefits of cross-training, and triathlon in particular.

If you’re exclusively a runner it can be all too easy to follow a pretty narrow fitness regime. Triathlon requires a much broader approach, helping keep training fresh and reducing your chances of injury.

So here are our top ten tips for your first triathlon.

Start with the sprint distance

1) We recommend trying a sprint distance event first. This comprises a 750m swim, 20k cycle and 5k run. The Blenheim Triathlon has a fantastic atmosphere and many people choose this for their first event because it’s on closed roads. However if you are a nervous swimmer you may prefer a pool rather than lake based swim.

Gear

2) If you get the triathlon bug there’s no end of gear to splash out on – we hope you’ve got an understanding bank manager! But for your first event needn’t break the bank. Use whatever bike you’ve got or borrow one from a mate, and get it serviced before the day. Chrissie Wellington won her first Kona Ironman on a borrowed bike! Helmets are compulsory at all events. Consider hiring a wetsuit if your event has an open water swim. Before putting on your wetsuit don’t forget to apply loads of Johnson’s baby oil or Bodyglide to stop chafing. 

Swimming

Weaker swimmers

The good news is that the swim is by far the shortest part of any event, both in terms of distance and time. Because all triathlons go swim-bike-run you’ll also have your strongest event to look forward to!

3) Because technique is so important in swimming you might consider getting lessons. Breaststroke will be fine for your first tri – crawl can always come later if you stick with triathlon.

Decent swimmers

4) Your priority should be to practise open water swimming in a wetsuit. More and more lakes and water sports centres offer this, so simply search for somewhere local with hours that work for you. Key skills to work on are sighting (glancing up occasionally at a turn buoy or appropriate landmark on the horizon), drafting and simply getting used to swimming in a pack. 

Your priority should be to practise open water swimming in a wetsuit

Cycling

Weaker cyclists

5) You’ll need to both build bike fitness and develop your bike handling skills. The only way is to put in the miles, preferably with friends or a club. As with running you should aim to go over distance in training, so for a sprint triathlon work you way up to rides of 25-30k.

6) Don’t let a puncture ruin your first ever tri, so practise changing an inner tube before the big day. Alternatively invest in mini foam canisters that squirt directly into the punctured tyre, but again practice this at least once beforehand.

Decent cyclists

7) The good news is that the cycle is the longest event, both in terms of distance and time. Simply stick to your existing training regime and concentrate on swimming, running and practising your transition. 

You’ll need to both build bike fitness and develop your bike handling skills

Transition and Run

Often referred to as the fourth discipline of triathlon, you should definitely devote some time this. It’s the easiest way to gain time.

8) In your first triathlon it’s really easy to lose a lot of time faffing about between disciplines. Practise putting on your running kit straight after a swim. Decide in advance whether you’ll use proper cycling shoes or keep your trainers on for the bike ride. For your first sprint event the difference will be pretty marginal.

9) The triathlon run can be a humbling experience for those of us with a running background as your legs often turn to jelly! Minimise this unpleasantness by integrating “bricks” of repeated cycle/runs into your training. These involve reps of cycle/run without rest. A good brick set for a sprint distance event is 3 reps of 5 mile cycle followed by a mile run. It really helps to spin in a low gear for a few hundred metres at the end of each cycle rep. It’s also a good idea to go for a 5 minute jog immediately after all your training rides.

And finally

10) Get plenty of advice and encouragement. “220” is our favourite tri mag and there are plenty of excellent websites. Better still, why not rope in some of your running buddies. You could even book on a triathlon training camp - Olympic triathlon coach and former Iffley Road ambassador James Beckinsale offers excellent camps at his base in Spain. His company, 360 Training Camps, welcomes beginners and experienced triathletes alike. 

So enjoy your new training regime, and best wishes for your first triathlon. We hope you catch the triathlon bug.