How to train for your first triathlon

I constantly hear others refer to me as “crazy” or respond to my next goal by “oh boy!”. The nice thing about that is that it reassures me that what I am setting out to do isn’t the rule, it’s the exception.

In 2018 I set a goal to complete my first triathlon. Granted, it was a sprint tri (5k run, 1/4mi swim and 10mi bike) – no iron man or anything REALLY crazy;  but a triathlon race nonetheless. I was inspired by watching elite athletes that completed Iron Mans and decided I wanted to try something new. At this point I had only ran half marathons. I didn’t own a bike nor did I know how to swim aside from a doggie paddle. I dedicated 60 days to train for my tri sprint and although I would recommend at least 90 (if you are already active), it is something that is doable if you are committed. I didn’t hire a coach or join a club which I also think could have been beneficial for me. Nonetheless, self-training is possible! This is how I did it:


  1. Buy your ticket – yes, this is step 1. Why? Because you have a goal and are less-likely to bail if you already spent the money on the ticket. You have a specific deadline for a race, therefore can work backwards and train yourself with a goal in mind. I have never done a tri before, so I chose the sprint distance because it was realistic rather than trying to jump straight into an international distance.
  2. Set a schedule – As I mentioned before, my only athleticism really stemmed from running. According to the different blogs I read, you should complete every sport 2-3 times per week. The sports that you are less great at should definitely be 3 times per week. Another thing to keep in mind for all sports is that strength training shouldn’t be taken for granted. Lifting some weights, doing ab workouts and sustained body strength movements are imperative to build up your overall muscle and endurance. This said, my schedule went a little like this:Monday: Run (1-2 miles) and weights (15-20 mins)
    1. Tuesday: Run (1-2 miles), bike (5 miles) and swim (250-500 meters)
    1. Wednesday: Bike (5 miles)
    1. Thursday: Swim (500 meters) and weights (15-20 mins)
    1. Friday: Rest
    1. Saturday: Long training day – Swim 250 meters, bike 11 miles, run 3.1 miles
    1. Sunday: Rest


The days and regimen would change per week, but I would try to mix it up as much as I could to have a ratio where I was swimming 3 times for sure. I am a morning workout person, so I would try to do both workouts in the morning. If it wasn’t possible, one would be before work, then the other after. I also believe in balance and working out 5 days per week vs 7. I think it is nice to have 2 days off to relax and allow your body to recover. These are great days to roll and stretch because that is what recovery is all about! I also found a lot of value in watching YouTube on various techniques for swimming. I listened to various triathlon Podcasts.. YES THEY EXIST! And they were another great tool in learning more about the community, as well as different tips and tricks for training. There are so many great people on Instagram as well that serve as motivation on a daily basis, so start following different hashtags to gets tips and training ideas. Don’t forget that getting your mind right is also part of your schedule and training plan.

3. Grab your gear! – As I mentioned before, I had nothing aside from my Asics to get started on this journey. I went to a local sports store and bought my swim cap, goggles, and bike shorts to start off. I still wasn’t sure what type of bike I would buy, but wanted to start cycling so I got the basics to start with indoor cycle. A few things to note when buying your gear:

  • Try on your cap! I have very long hair so I had to make sure the material I was buying fit my head.
  • Buy lighter tinted goggles. I would have never thought the tint of the goggles would make a difference, but I made the mistake and bought dark purple goggles (they were cute too!). There was nothing WRONG with them, but you felt like you couldn’t see the full swim area, which was definitely not something you want for your first tri. Especially if you are swimming in the bay which is already dark; there is no real comfort in seeing nothing.
  • Check the ratings on your bike shorts online, but don’t get too stuck on them. Gel vs non-gel, etc. try them on and if they are comfy, buy them!

After I got these essentials to start, I decided that I wanted to get a semi-nice bike although I could live without one. I set myself up for alerts on Offer Up and found a great deal! I bought a Fiji that was 2 years old but in great condition. I immediately took it to the bike shop to get a tuneup (bike shops I went to did this for free – so it is worth it!) and they semi-taught me how to use the gears and take the tires on/off. I also got myself a helmet and found a trail where bikes were allowed without cars so I can train in peace. Outdoor cycle is so different than indoor, so make sure you train on both!

If you are going to buy a wetsuit, don’t do what I did. I bought a surfer wetsuit, which is a completely different material than a tri wetsuit. Look into the race info and there will likely be a discount on the wetsuits through them. I am yet to buy a tri one (I need to sell my other one) but know it will be beneficial. The price for both, when on sale, are comparable in the $70-85 range. If you decided to buy a tri suit (which I didn’t), then depending how warm you feel in it and when you are racing, you may not even need a wetsuit, but that is personal preference.

  1. Find a friend that can do at least one sport with you – I was lucky to have a swimmer friend who would swim with me once a week for about 3 weeks and that really helped with my confidence. Even if you have support in one area, it will encourage you in all others. This is another reason why joining a club would also be a great idea!


  1. Have long training days – Although this may be difficult, having one long training day is necessary. Training the sports right after each other like you will on racing day makes a difference. I thought I was fine with my running so the bike/run transition was going to be a breeze (I used to run 13.1 miles for gosh sakes! What’s a 5k!), but after biking 10 miles, that 5k becomes a lot more challenging. You can also tell in these training days where you start getting tired and need the extra boost. I am not the type of person to take pre-workout. I just make sure to eat enough food to fuel me through the race; however, after training I noticed that I need a boost after biking. I bought some caffeine jelly beans and popped 2 and felt like a champ through the running portion.


  1. Eat! Yes, you are going to be hungry so make sure you are eating enough protein and healthy carbs (oatmeal, beans, rice) to keep you fueled on a daily basis. Also make sure to have food right after working out and hydrate! After every long training day I would buy an electrolyte replenishing drink such as Pedialyte and a protein bar so I had something in my system within 15 minutes or working out. Not staying up with my nutrition when I used to run halves was one of my biggest mistakes and I learned my lesson for this sport!

Learn from my mistakes

Being self-taught, there are obviously things I learned along the way that I would change, so learn from me!

  • Get all of your gear as soon as possible. I got my wetsuit 2 weeks before the race and it was so different swimming with it on vs just a bathing suit. It is heavier, my arms were less mobile AND I forgot I need to wear my clothes under it so my swim experience was completely different.
  • If you think you are going to do a tri again, get a tri suit. I don’t have one but think it is worth it and will buy one for my next race. If you aren’t buying one and are using regular bike shorts and a shirt, train with that ON.
  • Train at the location you are going race at (if possible). I did all my swim training in a pool which was great, but swimming in a salty bay with seaweed was very different. I only gave myself 2 chances prior to race day to really feel the experience and I should have done it sooner.
  • Get bike shoes! I still need to get mine, but buying shoes with pedals will help you feel more secure on your bike.
  • Join a club – self-training is a commendable thing, but nothing serves you better than joining other people who enjoy doing what you (want to) do. This will also help with things such as learning better techniques for all the sports and learning how to use gears on a bike (again, another thing I still need to learn).


All of these things said, I LOVED my first tri. I felt so inspired, strong and happy. I plan to complete the San Diego Triathlon Triple Crown with my first race in May 2019 and put into action all of the things I learned from my first tri. I hope these tips help you out and you are inspired to take on the tri challenge!! 🙂


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