How to Tackle a Triathlon by your Strengths and Weaknesses

Triathlons – pretty extreme right? You could never do that right? No not really it’s actually a really doable goal even if the swim scares you and you’re not that much of a runner. Will you win maybe but also probably not. If it’s something that’s even a little bit on your “maybe I want to try that” radar then you should and you can! Usually people are held back by the idea of the swim but that doesn’t have sink you ha ha ha! Most people come to triathlons from running but that’s not always the case. We’ll look at what to do if each of the three sports is your strength or weakness and how to maximize your training in each case and my experience with that. I’m just going to go ahead and link you now to my post about running and triathlon terms because well I’m using a lot of them today, sorry.

Running

Strength: If running is your strength congratulations you’re in the same boat as almost every other triathlete out there. You probably already have all of the competitive spirit that you need to stick with a plan. Those leg muscles and overall conditioning is going to set you up well for the endurance necessary on the big day. Also be ready to run your slowest ?k ever. If running is your strength try to do most of your longest workouts on the bike. The muscles you use for running will help you on the bike but they are different. Ideally while you’re running in training, run hills. This will help you but spending more time of the bike will help you more with your time than running which you’re already good at. Make your longest bike ride about 50% longer than your race day distance. Run about once or twice a week on average working up to a run only 20% longer than race distance.

Weakness: If you’re not a strong runner you’re not alone. Prepare to have the worst run of your life though, just keep in mind it’s almost over at this point. The brick effect is going to hit you hard when you get off the bike and you’ll be suffering so make sure to practice this a few extra times. The sports that really count for speed are running and the bike course so your time might suffer but that’s okay. As for training recommendations make sure you’re running a minimum of twice a week and ideally three times. In weeks where you have less running add a 2-4 km long easy to your schedule to minimize your discomfort on the big day. A great way to do that is to go for a 10 minute easy jog after your bike workouts.

Bike

Strength: You think this is going to be easy don’t you? The bike leg of your race might not even seem like a ‘real’ ride to you. The thing is you’re going to be wet and chances are emotionally drained after the swim if this is your weakness. Then you have to run. Your particular struggle is going to be holding back on the bike to save some legs. That said your strength is a really good one for making you one of the fast kids. Expect that you will feel really discombobulated on the day and try to be humble about what to expect. As for training focus on the run and the swim equally alternating your longer weekly workouts between the two disciplines. Especially if the bike distance is literally peanuts to you then you really only need to be on your bike once a week on average. Ideally that time might be commuting or running errands, heavy errands, like getting groceries. You want to get a feel for holding yourself back from your usual pace. But you do need to practice the brick workout at least once or twice so you get why you actually need to hold back.

Weakness: Get ready to hear “on your left” a whole damn lot because that’s what people say when they pass you. Also you can totally do a triathlon on a mountain bike but its not the best idea. You will be way happier and way faster on a road bike, that said I did my first 2 sprints on a mountain bike and I didn’t lose either one so… You need to be on your bike at least twice a week getting comfortable with your skills and developing your saddle sores. Your longest ride should be about a month before race day and about 20% longer than race day. Also it’s only a few $20 bills to get your bike a tune up by a professional if you’re clueless, it’s worth it. If your race is on the road you do need to get a tiny but comfortable on the open roads. Usually there is a lot of traffic control and few cars but rarely are the roads closed completely for a race. A great way to do this is to do a few errands on your bike each week. Take it slow and you will actually be okay. Also know that on the big day in the moment you’ll have so much on your mind that you won’t even have time to think about the cars.

Swim

Strength: Congadulations you are in fact the rarest type of triathlete! Sad face though killing the swim is generally not regarded as something that sets you apart from the rest time wise. You do have a few edges though one is that you’ll be in transition 1 early and before it’s crowded but the bigger advantage is how you’ll be feeling at the start of the race. The nerves as you’re waiting to get into the water can be intense. A few people might even have panic attacks as it’s happening. Most of the horror stories are not all that true about being kicked but you will be away from all of that at the front of the pack. You should do a couple of swims a week but focus your attentions elsewhere if you want to win then on your bike skills if finishing strong is your goal then the run since it’s last. One swim a week and at least two of each other the others a week is also a pretty reliable strategy. Make sure you get some time in open water and try to schedule them after your hard workouts as a form of rehab each week.

Weakness: I put this last because it’s by far the most common and I wanted you to read until the end because there were some gems up there I swear! The good news is you and everyone else out there is in this exact boat so much so that I have a post all about dealing with the triathlon swim. The good news is if you’re going to suck at one thing you picked the right one! Being fast in the swim is widely considered to be the most useless for overall placement for triathlon. If this is you I’d like to encourage you to branch out a bit or a lot. Triathletes and triathlons in general can be a little too same-y and ‘we do it this way.’ I’m very, very blind without my glasses to the point that I can have a hard time sighting buoys the size of row boats in the distance and smaller ones closer up. So I do breaststroke, I have a fast one from way back and I keep up, I still even consider the swim a strong suit of mine while I do it. If you want to do something different go for it. What is working against you is your nerves will be the highest right before that event you dread the most. I still get a little panicky getting in the water and I have to work on slowing down my breathing. Know that that happens to everyone even if they look super chill. You probably think I’m going to say you need to swim twice a week like before but that’s not the case. You do need to do at least one or two swims 15% or more longer than race day and in similar conditions (so probably not a pool). All you have to do is work on getting your self to that point and through it on race day. Distance wise you can do the work in the pool but nerves wise you need to get used to open water. No one says you have to train to love it just to get through it!

Changing clothes really fast

Not really a big thing but if this is your super hero skill you’ll make it through your transitions like super fast. Either way make sure to practice them a few times before race day.

My experience

I signed up for my firs tri on a whim which you can read about here without any ‘real’ training. I considered myself a strong swimmer, cyclist and not so much on the running. The thing is my goggles broke as soon as I hit the water, the course was hilly and I brought a 30 lb+ mountain bike, the run actually went pretty well. Things happen on the day you can’t plan for and I don’t think I’ve done a one where the whole thing went totally to plan. That first time I had no idea how intense triathletes could be and it frazzled me big time and it still does a bit. The thing is I know I’m not in it to win it. I just want to live through it and make myself happy that’s all that matters. Sure there are super serious kids there but there will be a few just like you and you can spot them. Just strike up a conversation with them to pass the time.

I don’t think anyone has ever come to triathlon being an absolute expert in all three disciplines ad you don’t have to be either. Tri it out and see if you like it a few times. What sport it the one holding you back? If you’ve done one how much was your weak spot a hinderance? Is it still? How did you get over it. Check out my triathlon training plans here!

2 thoughts on “How to Tackle a Triathlon by your Strengths and Weaknesses

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the blog on triathlons. Great tips for people who are interested in giving it a shot. Its not easy. The hardest part for me was the open water swim because of the lack of visibility. Also, it is tough to find time to train. Especially to try two of the events at once and practice. Good luck in your future triathlons and thanks for the great blog.

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