Q&A: Is there enough time to train for my first triathlon?

Paul: I plan to do my first triathlon this year. All the advice I read points towards entering a sprint distance to start with, to get into things. But the daunting and exiting challenge of the Olympic distance is what gets me onto my bike in the cold and into the pool in the mornings. Is this a stupid distance to do for my first ever race? And is 4 months enough time to train for this from scratch?

Welcome to the world of triathlon! You sound very excited about reaching your goal of completing an Olympic distance race. You have your goal in place and from the sound of it, you have already begun working (training) towards that goal. So far, you are doing everything right. All those early morning swims, long weekend bikes, and hard runs can seem like drudgery without a goal on the horizon. Often, I have my athletes (and I used to do this as well when I was racing) use races as training.

We often use a sprint triathlon as a hard training day as we work towards the goal of racing an Olympic distance race. Placing a sprint triathlon (or two) on your schedule some weeks before your goal Olympic distance race can do a few things. Firstly, this schedule gives you a day on the calendar to focus on, to look forward to – a mini-goal. All goals keep the motivation high even on the toughest training days. Secondly, a sprint race will test your speed, and make you go hard – harder than if you were to to similar training by yourself. There is something about a race that gets people moving so much harder than on a normal training day.

Thirdly, because you will race a sprint distance – and race it hard – this sprint will put your Olympic distance race in perspective. After racing short, you will be able to pull back a bit on the speed in the Olympic distance race, which will feel nice. The combination of the endurance training you have been doing, paired with the speed you have used in your sprint race or races equals speed endurance – and that is what one needs for a great Olympic distance triathlon – speed and endurance. But in following this schedule of races, remember that these sprint races are hard training – not a goal race. Often these sprint races will be put into your schedule without any taper, so although you will still go hard, you will not be lining up for an “A” race. The truth is, you may even be a little tired when you line up.

Don’t worry about your overall place or finishing time – just go hard! The point in doing these sprints is simply to go really hard and get a super hard, fast, speed day. Some triathletes can not seem to use races as training because they become too obsessed with winning, doing a personal best time, or winning their age-group. Do not fall into this way of thinking. Use the race as a tool to make your goal race as good as it can be. It is ok to have to swallow your pride for a small sprint race when you know it will make you beam with pride after you finish you “A” race.

I hope you decide to do a sprint or two before you tackle your Olympic distance race. Just keep it all in perspective and keep your eyes on your big goal – your Olympic distance race.

Good Luck, Paul!