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How To Train for a Sprint Triathlon

By TJay Gerber, Impi Ambassador

So, you’ve decided you want to challenge yourself with a sprint triathlon. No matter your history as a biker, swimmer or runner, I highly encourage you to take on this new challenge full steam ahead! Challenge yourself by tying together three different activities that will push your muscles and mental fortitude to the brink of enlightenment. Ok, maybe that’s a bit much, but I promise you will feel accomplished! Below is a guide to help you set yourself up for success for your first sprint triathlon.

Partner up

Training is always easier with kindred spirits. Misery loves company, right? Find someone who wants to train with you and sign up for the triathlon with you. At times, you'll get each other out the door when one of you wants to skip a training day, and by the end of it, having an accountability buddy will ensure that both of you are in good shape when race day comes.

If you don’t have someone in your in-person community who is up for the challenge, then reach out to other friends via your social media networks. I’ve found a lot of success in finding like-minded individuals via Instagram and Facebook. Many running stores also host meetups where people meet and run every week. Breweries also have run clubs where you’ll be able to meet future training partners to help you achieve your goals (and usually enjoy a beer or two afterwards).

Aside from training for each individual portion of the race, you’ll also want to complete some training portions that combine a swimming + biking workout or a biking + running workout. You’ll be very surprised by how your legs feel going from one sport to another, and you’ll want to know what works well for you before race day.

Balega Sprint Triathlon

The gear you’ll need

If this is your first triathlon, I wouldn't recommend purchasing top of the line gear until you know this is something that you want to keep doing. Depending on what race you’re competing in, you might see individuals who have $3,000 bikes and fancy wetsuits. Don’t let that intimidate you. Triathlon gear and equipment can definitely get expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Instead, try looking for used bikes online if you don't already own a road bike. Some people I know train on their 'old' bike and then rent a nicer bike for race day. If you're on a tight budget there is absolutely no need to spend your savings on a shiny new bike that might shave a few minutes off your time.

One piece of invaluable gear is a wetsuit. I mentioned earlier that you don't need to spend a ton of money on one of these if this is your first race. However, I would highly recommend a wetsuit rather than a regular bathing suit. I’ve learned how truly amazing a wetsuit can be at helping you stay afloat which, in turn, helps you save energy for the rest of the race! For folks who are in cold weather areas (like me, in Colorado), a wetsuit is vital during the spring and fall triathlon seasons since the lake water is always extremely cold.

How To Train for a Sprint Triathlon

The transitions between disciplines

I didn't do much research prior to my first triathlon and learned quite a bit from my mistakes. This was especially noticeable when it came to the transitions from swim to bike and bike to run. I'm still learning what works best for me, but ultimately the goal is to be fast, efficient, and comfortable…which should really be the goal for the whole race!

Your first transition will be from swimming to biking. As soon as you get to your transition area, gobble up some Honey Stinger Energy Gels (or whatever your energy food of choice happens to be). Make sure you've also prefilled your water bottle with some water and electrolyte tablets (more carbs!). You'll be wet from head to toe and most likely have a mixture of mud, sand, and gravel all over your feet from the swim. My advice is to bring a small tub with clean water so that you can quickly wash off your feet before slipping on your Balega socks and cycling shoes. Of course, if you're wearing a wetsuit, you'll also (most likely) want to take that off so that you can just wear your spandex shorts and shirt for the bike portion. Don't forget to grab your sunglasses and extra energy gels and then...you're off to the second leg!

Since you trained so hard on your bike over the past few months, you’ll probably be passing dozens of bikers and thinking that next year you might as well enter the Tour de France. As you see the mileage signs continue to whizz by, you’ll eventually come across your last mile sign. When you see that, it’s time to rip open another energy gel so that you get an extra (literal) kick during your run. Once you're in the transition area, hop off your bike with your wobbly legs and park your bike in the designated area. This will be your fastest transition since you only need to change into your running shoes.

Transitioning from one leg of the triathlon to the next is invariably tough on your muscles, but it’s especially tough going from biking to running. Be sure to pay close attention to your first few steps off your bike to ensure you don't trip and fall.

people running a triathlon

A friendly reminder to fuel up!

Speaking of energy, you need to make sure you have enough before, during, and after the race.

Before the day of the race, make sure you've "practiced" your breakfast. If you usually eat oatmeal and a banana with peanut butter before your training workouts, do the same thing during race day. If you’ve completed any type of race before, you know the importance of not trying something new on race day. Long story short, you don't want to try out a new item from the delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel the morning of your race as it will most likely create stomach cramps that will send you running to the nearest bathroom.

During a sprint triathlon, I tend to only need an energy gel twice during a race. I'll take an energy gel during my transition from swimming to biking and then another gel when I'm about a mile from the transition area from the run to the bike portion. When you're training, feel free to play around with what works best for you.

You want to be able to function the rest of the day and week, right? Well then, don't immediately head to the beer tent after you cross the finish line. Yes, you deserve it! But perhaps your body will be craving some more complex carbs and hydration. Drink more water from your reusable water bottle and maybe drop in another hydration tablet so you get more electrolytes. Have a protein bar to start the recovery process for your tired muscles. Then, young Padawan, it is time to reward your hard work with a beer!

Ultimately, you want to train hard, plan your transitions, experiment with energy/food/electrolytes, and most of all, have fun! Preparation is half the battle, so as long as you’re prepared, you will have a great time!

Are you more of a bullet point kind of reader? Don’t worry, I’ve condensed my key takeaways about training for sprint triathlons below:

  • Don't skimp on your training and remember to have some training days where you actually do a biathlon (swim then bike or bike then run).
  • Experiment with your hydration and energy bars to know what works well for you before race day.
  • Practice a dry run of your transitions by trying to quickly take off your wetsuit with dirty feet and then going for a bike ride - does a few extra pieces of gravel or sand annoy you on your bike ride?
  • Know your gear and practice with it - don't break out the new wetsuit or shoes on race day.
  • Tell your family and friends where you may want them to give you a burst of energy. Are you a bad swimmer? Have them yell words of encouragement after your swim and during the transition to pump you up for the bike ride.
  • Have fun! Yeah, I know that’s what everyone tells you, but it’s true! Everyone around you will be on a post-finish race high, so join in on the festivities and be proud of yourself!