Your First Triathlon

If you are sitting on the couch right now wanting desperately to change your life, this book is for you.

The first thing you must do is forget everything you have heard about triathlon. It doesn’t require super-human strength or the will to push through excruciating pain. Yes, to race an ironman distance race, you need a lot of training, dedication, and perseverance; but that should not be your goal for your first triathlon. Your goal for your first race is to get your lazy butt off the couch and turn your life around.

You and I will set a goal, for this change in your life, of completing a triathlon. Whether you finish your triathlon or not will not define success or failure. Read that sentence again, it’s important. Success is getting off the couch. Success is going out for that run. Success is when you get a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere and you change the tube and get going again. Success is being outside exercising and pushing yourself. You will put un-needed stress on yourself if you focus on finishing the race. Triathlon is a journey that starts with a swim, then a bike ride, and ends with a run. The finish is the end, but every swim stroke, breath, pedal turn, stride, and drink is more important than the finish. Do them all well and the finish will happen.

For you, the focus of training and racing should be having fun. That’s it. Each workout should be difficult, but never painful. You should end each workout happy and looking forward to the next one, not in pain for three days losing fitness because you went too hard. You need to gradually build your strength and stamina and that means starting easy and only doing more when your body is ready for more.

Triathlon is a celebration of life. It is not torture. You are alive! Celebrate each day by moving your body, laughing, swimming, riding, and enjoying the outdoors. This is the true win. You will not win your first race, but this true win will be yours.

For your first triathlon you should not care about your time or how you place. Why put that added stress on yourself? The race should be a celebration of everything you have accomplished. You should invite everyone you know to come watch you and be a part of your accomplishment. Triathlon can be a lonely sport during the workouts but having friends and family at the race makes it all worth it. Nobody coming to watch you cares one bit about your finishing time. They want you to finish because they care about you and wish you the best. That will not change if you do not finish.

It’s now time to find a race around twelve weeks from now that is close to your home. Your first race should be a sprint distance race. A sprint is a perfect first race because each of the distances is something you will do as a normal daily workout in the last months of your training.

Check out At TriFind you can search for triathlons in your state just by clicking on their map.

You can then pick the year and the month that you want to find a race for.  You’re looking for a sprint distance race, something with about three miles of running. Don’t be fooled by the name. Sprint does not mean you have to sprint the whole race. Sprint means it is a shorter distance race.

The Training Plan

chart of CPtT training plan
This is a twelve week plan. Each week is explained in detail in the coming sections, but this shows an overview of all the weeks.

Feel free to print the above graphic and put it on your wall as a calendar that you can cross off training days you complete. This is a great way to graphically see the progress you are making as well as know where you are within the entire program.

If your race is sooner than twelve weeks away then I suggest you cut weeks from the end of the first month of training. For example, if your race is ten weeks away, do the first and second week of the first month and then skip the rest of that month and start the second month. This will get you on track for your race. I wouldn’t recommend cutting your training down to anything less than ten weeks though unless you have a base of fitness from regular swimming, biking, or running already.

During any of the weeks, feel free to move the workouts around to fit your schedule. The order throughout the week is not important. However, the first few weeks are designed to work you hard and then rest you a lot. Running is the hardest on your body. Swimming is the easiest, so in a training sense, swimming and rest days are both rest days. Yeah, you’re rolling your eyes right now if you are not a very good swimmer. Don’t worry, there will be actual rest days. Swimming is great exercise because it works your body in a non-damaging way. Biking is kind of in the middle. It’s still easier on the body than running, but there is much bumping of the arms along with strain in the back, neck, and knees that requires recovery before repeating. There is also butt pain that will get better as you ride more. Keep this in mind as you plan out your week.

For any of these workouts, if you have a better start than your average couch potato in either of the three sports then please go further than the prescribed workout. Same if you are struggling with any. Go easier if you have to and don’t feel bad about it. You’ll get there. You will improve.

Week One Training

You don’t need to shop for a bunch of equipment or do an epic ride today. You just need to get started. Put some running shoes on, some shorts, or whatever is comfortable and go out for a walk/run. Do not think about speed or distance, your goal is to listen to your body today.

You must always listen to your body.

If you have a smart phone, download Strava. Strava can measure your runs, rides, and swims if you have a swim watch (which you don’t need). You can then post your rides to the CPtT Facebook page or join the CPtT Strava group to get encouragement from me and others.

Week 1 Day 1
  • Walk a bit to get moving.
  • Run until winded. Remember this spot.
  • Walk until breathing and heart rate normalize.
  • Repeat Walk/Run twice more for a total of 3.
  • Walk back to start.
  • Post or journal your results, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Start by walking. Walk at a brisk pace. Walking is a great way to get your heart beating and your muscles working and warmed up. Whenever you are ready, transition into a jog. Today you may feel like dying after a twenty feet or a quarter mile. It all depends on where you are starting from in your fitness.

When you feel like stopping, it is time to walk. Your heart rate should be elevated and your breathing should be fast enough that you could not carry on a conversation very well.

Remember where this happened. Near a certain tree, sign, or house. Take a selfie at this place and share it on Facebook. Let me and others know how you felt. This place will be an important landmark for all future training. When you pass this mark in a month or so and you are not even warmed up, you will know you are making progress.

When I started training, I went for a run at the marina near my house. There is a Par Course there with distance numbers all the way around. I started my run worried that everyone out there was looking at me, judging me. No one cares, believe me. Anyway, the loop is about a mile. I felt like I could run that. I got to the 1/4 mile mark and felt like I was going to die. Defeated and dejected, I walked about the next half mile of the course re-evaluating my goals. Maybe I couldn’t do it? Maybe I should just go home. Red-faced and embarrassed, I decided to push on. I ran some more only to stop again after another even shorter distance. I walked around to the finish of the course and sat down on a park bench.

You are going to do exactly what I did. The difference between what I did and what you are going to do, is that this is your training plan. In this first run/walk we are setting a benchmark for where you are starting. Do not try to push past the point where you feel like stopping, you will do that later, I promise. This point will be a reference point for much of what you do later.

Also, do not feel negative about where you are in your fitness or how terrible you feel. There is nothing but positive in what you are doing no matter how little you ran or how terrible you feel. You ran, you walked, you sweated, you’re alive! That’s all positive stuff there. Don’t allow yourself or anyone else turn it into a negative.

image showing day one workoutStart your workout with a walk, then run until you are winded. Remember this spot. Then walk again until your heart rate and breathing normalize. Repeat this walk/run cycle two more times. It doesn’t matter how far each run/walk segment is, it depends on you and the signals your body are sending you. You are learning how to listen to your body.

When you are done with three total walk/run segments, mark your location in your mind. Tomorrow you will go this far again. Take a picture, post it when you get back and let me and your friends know how you felt at this point.  It’s ok, actually it’s great if you feel worn out. Don’t feel defeated. You are so much better off now than you were just a half hour ago.

Walk back home or to where you started. This walk back is a recovery walk. Your breathing and heart rate will normalize, the sweat will dry and cool your body. You can look around and enjoy where you are and what you’ve just done. The recovery walk is an important part of any run workout as it’s the transition between hard work and rest. You keep the blood pumping and the muscles working as you walk. You also increase the total distance of your workout!

When you get home, post your workout for me and everyone else to see and give you kudos for. You’re awesome and you deserve praise for what you have done. Seriously, a seasoned athlete can do so much more and so much faster. But they are trained for it. It’s easier for them. What you’ve done today is a greater accomplishment. Tell us how far you went for that first run segment, how you felt, how far you got before you walked back, and something that you were thinking during the workout. Do you have any questions? You may find the answers in this book or someone online can answer them. If you don’t do Facebook or Strava, write this all down in a journal.

Week 1 Day 2
  • Walk about the same as yesterday.
  • Run half way to where you were winded yesterday.
  • Walk until breathing and heart rate normalize.
  • Repeat Walk/Run until you reach the point you reached yesterday.
  • Walk/Run once more on the way back.
  • Walk the rest of the way back.
  • Post or journal your results, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Today you will go the same distance as yesterday but at an easier pace. You should notice some soreness in your muscles due to yesterday’s run. If you have been idle for a while, your body is now shocked by what you just did to it and all kinds of things are happening internally. You should not feel pain, just a tightness in your legs or a slight soreness. If anything hurts, you went too hard yesterday. If so, today may be a good day to just walk. Walking is still moving. You are way better off than when you were on the couch a few days ago.

If you are feeling pain at any time during any workout, walk or rest. If the pain persists while walking or moving slowly, stop and call someone to pick you up and take you home. Rest until you can move pain free. There is no need to workout while in pain as it can lead to worse injury.

image showing day two workout

Start the workout by walking. Carry a bottle of water so you can get some fluid in you and maybe listen to your favorite music. Take it easy today.

Walk about the same distance as you started with yesterday and then move into a jog when you feel ready. When you get about half way to the place where you were out of breath yesterday, start walking. You are deliberately not going to where you were out of breath yesterday. Walk to that place.

When you get to your place, start to jog. Jog slow and steady. Breath deep and keep your knees high in each stride. It’s ok to run like a marching band member, you are training and a nice high knee will put some pep in your stride and help you later when you tackle hills.

Jog slow and easy trying to keep your breathing even and at a level where you could hold a conversation with someone running with you. If you have a friend along with you, talk. If your breathing becomes such that you could not hold a conversation with someone or you feel like stopping, walk until your breathing slows and you feel comfortable again. Once you feel comfortable, enjoy your surroundings a bit. Look around, enjoy what you are doing, and smile.

Walk/jog repeat until you get to the place where you turned around yesterday. Once you reach yesterday’s turn around point, turn around and do one more walk jog interval on the way back.

Walk the rest of the way to your starting point. Enjoy the walk back, you earned it. You have done the same distance as yesterday but did more running today. This entire training plan is a trick we are playing on your body to get a little further, a little faster, and keep you rested and uninjured while you do it.

Post your walk/jog to Strava, Facebook, or your journal. Write down how you felt starting out. Were you sore? Did you feel like you could have or should have done more? This is a common feeling and it’s one you have to get used to.

Athletes need to learn to trust the plan. This plan will gradually increase your fitness until you are ready for more. Then you will do more, then you will rest. You will never push beyond your limits because you should never do that. You should feel ready to do more when you are done with a workout and never ruin tomorrow’s workout or rest because of what you did today.

When you get home be sure to eat some protein and drink some water. Remember that rest and nutrition are what builds muscle after you have stressed your muscles and cardiovascular system with a workout.

You will not run for a few days. This is by design because running is the hardest on the body. Also, it turns out there are two other sports in triathlon and it doesn’t do you any good to be a great runner if you can’t swim and ride. Having a good two day break from running will allow your ligaments and muscles the time they need to heal. Your cardiovascular system will start to change as well. Your heart will become stronger and your lungs will change to allow more oxygen to be absorbed per breath. Capillaries will grow to bring more oxygenated blood to your muscles.

Your body will start to change immediately and it needs rest and good nutrition during this time. Be mindful of the tightness in your core, the soreness in your legs. Notice the changes in your body. Use this as motivation to keep training.

Tomorrow you swim.

Week 1 Day 3
  • 10×25 w/rest after each 25
  • Swim up and back 10 times.
  • Do more if you are feeling good.
  • Do at least one up and back as a cool down.
  • Post or journal your results, how you felt, and how you feel now.

Today is your first swim workout. Swimming is different than running. It’s not as hard on your body so it’s really hard to do too much. However, what you don’t want to do is swim to when you are so tired your swim form becomes sloppy. It doesn’t help you at all. When your swim form becomes sloppy you further engrain sloppy swimming into your technique. It can also lead to injury.

So, just like with running, you need to listen to your body. Be in touch with what’s going on and rest when you are tired. That’s what today’s workout is all about.

Swim to the other side of the pool. When you get there, rest for about fifteen seconds or as long as it takes for you to catch your breath and breath normally. Then swim back across the pool.

Swim ten lengths of the pool and then assess whether you are done or not. If you’re not a strong swimmer then this will be enough for the day. If you only did five, that’s fine too. You know where you are with your swimming. If you feel like doing more, then go for it.

When you are done, take a couple more laps doing random strokes and enjoy the water a bit as you cool down. This is like your walk home after a run. You can float to the other side, dive to the bottom, kick easy on your back, or do a slow breast stroke. Your job during this cool down period is to enjoy the water, feel the water, splash a friend! Just days ago you were sitting on the couch wishing you could do something more with your life. Today you are swimming!

If you feel like doing some more, go ahead. Try five or ten more laps. If your pool is 25 meters or yards across (you will want to find out), then 10 25’s add up to 250 m or 250 yds. If you did a cool down lap up and back then your total swim was 300 m or 300 yds.

In swim workout speak, you are doing “10×25 w/rest after each.” This means you are swimming ten 25s with a rest after each.

Week 1 Day 4
  • Ride 4-8 miles
  • Start easy and build to a good pace.
  • Drink water or a sports drink on your ride.

Today is the day for your first bike ride! Like the other workouts in this first week, this ride is about setting a benchmark for where you are right now with your bike riding. Unlike running, where you can walk back from wherever you are, if you get tired on the bike you have to ride back unless you have someone to call to pick you up.

It’s a good idea to have some go-to phone numbers for friends and loved ones that are willing to drive out to where you are in case you have a mechanical problem or a couple flats in a row. It happens, so be ready. Today we are staying close to home so save those favors for later when you really need one.

For this first ride you should plan to stay near home. Plan out a loop that is about 2-4 miles around and you will never be more than a couple miles from the start. If you need to skip to the Planning a Ride section to learn how to plan a ride with Google Maps. If you can, try to plan right turns (if you live in a place where cars drive on the right) because you have to cross traffic for every left turn.

Start every bike ride slowly and build to a comfortable speed that you know you can sustain for a long time. You should not be pushing hard, but your heart rate and breathing should increase a bit. You want to feel a bit like when you are running a slow jog but you want to keep a consistent pace.

If you plotted out a 4 mile loop, do one loop. If you feel good after this loop, go ahead and do the loop again. Bring at least one bottle of water or a sports drink with you along with a nutritional bar. Drink every mile or so. Eat when you feel hungry. If your butt starts to hurt, that’s normal. It takes seat time to get your butt and back into being able to ride long distances. It’s really not about the legs. The legs can keep going. It’s your butt, your back, and your shoulders and arms that usually send you the signal that you are done.

How far did you ride? If you use Strava you can see your route as well as how far you rode. When you get back, let me and your friends know how far you went and how you felt. This isn’t a competition, so however far you rode we are with you and will celebrate your ride. The distance that you went today is another benchmark that you will use to gauge your future rides.

If you’re sore, have no fear. Tomorrow’s a rest day.

Week 1 Day 5&6
  • Rest and read

Today and tomorrow you rest. Like I said before, rest is an important part of training and you ignore it at your peril. If you’re like me, rest days are more difficult than workout days because you feel like you should be doing something. Do some walking if you feel like this. You can also take some time to stretch the parts that are tight and sore.

You may have two days off from training, but you have some work to do. If you have not signed up for a race yet, find and sign up for that first race. If you’re thinking of buying a bike, a wetsuit, or any other piece of equipment skip ahead to the chapters on it. You have now gone out on a run, a ride, and a swim. If there is anything you need go get it.

Week 1 Day 7
  • 2×25 warmup
  • 8x25s
  • 1×50 cool down
  • Total: 300 yards or meters.

Day  7 is a swim workout. Do two 25s as a warm up. Do whatever stroke you want and just get used to the water. Then do eight 25s. For these eight 25’s, swim across the pool fast, rest for 10 seconds, and then come back slowly. Catch your breath as much as you can on the way back and then rest for 10-20 seconds or until your breathing comes down to a level that you could hold a conversation at. Do some more if you feel up to it or do some cool down laps.

Congratulations, you finished your first week of training!

The Journey


Triathlon is about the journey. Both in training and the race. For me, thoughts of victory need to be far from my mind. When I entertain thoughts of winning or comparing myself to others, I am setting myself up for disappointment. I do it all the time though…

My triathlons are about the experience of doing all three sports. I approach each triathlon like I would a backpacking trip. I am going on an adventure! The trip will be long but I will enjoy every minute of it. I make a point of smiling at the spectators, thanking the course workers, and cheering on my fellow athletes. I’m the one at the end of the race encouraging those athletes walking up that last hill to finish strong! I’ve also been one of those walking athletes and needed that same help from others. Finishing with a smile is always my goal. Most of the time it is a smile of relief that it’s finally over but also of a goal achieved. Triathlon requires so much training. It is important to set a goal, like finishing a long practice, finishing a race, or just getting past all those voices in your head keeping you on the couch, and then celebrate that goal achieved.

Racing is special, but the true journey is the training. The majority of your time will be spent in training, so why not treat that as an adventure also? When I see a road stretching out before me like the road in the picture on this page I feel so lucky to be able to ride that road. So lucky to be on a bike zooming around the corners and getting to the top to look at the view. I feel the same thing when I am swimming. I love open water swimming because I love swimming like a fish, looking across a long lake, and then getting to the other side. I don’t really like swimming in pools. I feel ok sometimes when I’m running. Not often. But even when the running is hard and I am tired, I think of how thankful I am to be moving, to be exercising, to be alive.

On race day I begin my day eating good food and getting excited for what I am lucky enough to be doing. All my packing is done (I hope) and I am just putting everything in my car to get to the race. My routine is that I stop at a coffee shop and get a large coffee and a pastry for the drive there. I love showing up really early and getting my bike and gear in transition and set up where I want. I am then able to relax, watch the morning unfold, and watch the other athletes hustle and bustle.

The swim is a time for me to relax and enjoy being in the water.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to go fast. I want to do my best. I look at my finishing times as much or more than the next triathlete. But adding stress to your race will not make you faster. Relaxing and staying within your ability, in my opinion, will result in a better time on the clock as well as a more enjoyable time. So I relax. I get into my swim stroke and remember my technique. The swim is the most nervous time for most first year triathletes. You imagine getting pulled under by others. You’ve heard stories that scare the hell out of you. They’re probably all true, but you should not start your race in the front. Starting just ten seconds behind the front of the pack will put you in clean water and keep you out of the washing machine.

The bike ride, for me, is a time to go fast! I love going fast on the bike. I am not that fast compared to most riders who have been doing it for years but I love covering ground fast. I really love the downhills where my love for speed overcomes my fear of falling.  I also try to enjoy the scenery, but concentration on the task at hand comes first on the bike. Most of the deaths in triathlon come during the swim, but most of the injuries happen on the bike. You  have to keep your wits about you and stay within your abilities on a bike. And unless you’ve been riding a long time, expect to be passed all race long and just get over it. You are going your speed. It’s your race.

The run, for me, is always a necessary evil. I love running when I feel fast and like I can run forever. But those times are few and far between in training and have never happened in a race. Maybe as I run more and build up my strength running will be more fun. The run, however, is when I can really enjoy the scenery, the crowd, and my fellow triathletes. By this time, the speedy ones are long gone and the slower ones are behind. You usually settle into a group of people going about your pace. I run slow and controlled. I pick up the pace when I feel good and I walk when I have to. Most triathlons have an aid station about every mile on the run. I usually plan to walk through the aid stations so I can get all the water and nutrition I need in with no hurry. When I get through, I’ll start with a light jog and see where I go from there.

The finish is a time for celebration. You’ve done it! I have to admit that I usually get caught up in racing those around me along with the fact that I can see the finish line, that I usually sprint that last bit across the line. But you shouldn’t. High five your family and friends that are there. Celebrate with the other athletes who are finishing along with you. The finish is what you worked for, a goal achieved. Take your medal and enjoy being a participant in such an awesome sport.

You could not finish. We put so much into the finish in triathlon that the possibility of not finishing is a cause of so much stress and worry to the first year triathlete. Your friends and family are all there and not finishing can feel like a huge failure. I was so worried about getting a flat in my first race that I had two tubes, three CO2 cartridges, and a bottle of that green-gu stop leak. I ended up not needing any of it but I needed the peace of mind. I just had to finish.

Things can go wrong. You could have a mechanical breakdown. You could get sick during the swim. You could pull a muscle during the run. There is only one thing you need to know and understand when this happens. Everyone around you in the race as well as your family and friends are there for you in that moment. Everyone is on your side, thinking about you in the most positive light. Everyone has your back.

You toed up to the starting line. You were in the race. There is no disgrace to anyone who enters the ring, starts the race, and puts forward the effort they are able to put forward on that day.

Put that stress and worry about not finishing behind you and enjoy the journey. Things will occur, bad things may happen, but you can get through each one. And if something keeps you from finishing, so be it. Hold your head up high and race another day.