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Your First Triathlon - By Ironman Pro Katrina Matthews

As soon as you get the idea of doing a triathlon into your head you’ll be hooked! Triathlon distances range from sprint distance (400-750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) up to full iron distance (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run). Katrina Matthews would recommend starting at sprint or standard (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) as this will nicely introduce you into the technical aspects of triathlon as well as the physical effort. To find events you can just search online, a good website is run by British Triathlon where you can filter distances and local area.

I would recommend you give yourself at least 8 weeks to train for your first triathlon, but this will vary on your previous fitness levels as you may want longer to prepare. The amount you train during the week will vary a lot depending on what other life commitments you have. A really good training goal would be 2 swims, 2 bikes and 2 runs a week. These can be short or longer, whatever you can fit in with the time you have. Special to triathlon is the run straight after the cycle. Your body is very good at bringing all of the necessary blood and nutrients into your legs for the cycle but then when you run you need the blood all over your body and your legs can feel very heavy. To teach the body to adapt to this bike-run transition it is worth doing a few runs straight after your cycling sessions, this is called a “brick” session. You only need to be doing this every other week or so to start with but you can mix this up as you learn about what works for you.

Now you have been doing the training for a few weeks the race you’ve entered starts to become more real. As you start to think about kit it can be very daunting… and expensive. The key bits of kit you already have; a bike, shoes, helmet, swim kit and run trainers. However, for most triathlons there are some other necessary bits of kit as well as some items that just make your race a lot easier. If it is an open water swim you are likely to need a wetsuit. The rules of the event will outline the likely water temperature, the requirement for a wetsuit depends on the temperature on the morning of the race. You will want a wetsuit designed for open water swimming or triathlon (rather than a surfing style wetsuit) as it is designed to give you the movement you need around your shoulders to swim properly. For most triathlons you can opt to change clothes after the swim in T1 (Transition 1) and after the bike in T2 but most people will choose to wear a tri-suit. This is a swimming/cycling kit material which has a small light weight chamois, which therefore allows you to swim, bike and then run in the same piece of kit with no changing. In addition, you will want to have a race belt. You will be issued a paper number to wear on race day it has to be worn on your back for the bike and on your front for the run. To make this easy and so you don’t have to pin through your tri suit athletes attach the number to a race belt which can then just be manually twisted around in T2 (from your back to front). These can be bought cheaply online or home made with some elastic. Finally, you should have a hard think about how you will fuel yourself and get enough water through the event. Have a read of the race details to see where the aid/fuelling stations are and plan your race. Everyone has their own way of doing this but an easy start point is some energy gels and a couple of water bottles.

With your training well underway and you have all of your kit and equipment ready everything should be downhill to the race. However, sometimes with an increase to the amount of training that you are doing you might pick up a “niggle”; an area of discomfort during or after a training session. This is different to normal muscle soreness or DOMS this is acutely painful and is often still there the next day. This is an indication that that bit of your body has been overloaded (asked more of than which it is capable) and it is asking for a bit of a rest. It is wise at this point to listen. 2-3 days of lighter training which is not hurting that area or no training if you need to should allow this niggle to ease. Often this is all you need to do and you can return to training as you had planned. Sometimes this niggle is an indication that something else isn’t strong enough to cope with what you are asking of your body and it requires more attention that just rest. The niggle may not settle or it may come back again, at this point you want to consider going to see a Physiotherapist to identify a target area for you to improve to allow you to continue on the training plan you have and be ready for race day. To mitigate some of the risk of injury during your training I would recommend you have a professional bike fit, build your training load (hours/intensity) slowly and allow enough time to recover (easy steady sessions, a yoga session or feet up on the sofa!).

Read more about Katrina Matthews & her story here

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