10 Apr

Give It A Tri

Swimmer, Cyclist and Runner

Triathlon is growing in popularity but isn't it just for 'super-fit all-round' athletic types? Not so - as the sport attempts to attract joggers and low-key peddlers ...

It's spring and as many of us begin to adapt a more enthusiastic approach to training thanks to lighter nights and warmer weather it might be worth considering adding a new dimension to your keep fit regime and spicing things up while the momentum is there.

For most newcomers to running (or any form of exercise) the word triathlon might sound a little intimidating - the sort of activity that only thoroughbred athletes participate in and certainly not the sort of thing that a first time 5ker could ever contemplate. But any such assumptions are just plain wrong, as triathlon training and triathlon races for novices continue to grow in popularity and prove that anybody really can try a tri!

Since the Sydney Olympics in 2000 where it made its debut to the wider world, triathlon popularity has grown some 10% a year in the UK, losing the macho image along the way and welcoming newcomers to the fold in increasing numbers. The appeal of a triathlon lies in the enjoyment factor that can be achieved by combining three very different and challenging physical activities into one exciting format.

If you think back to your childhood years and how great it was to run, cycle and swim - you will see that we were all mini triathletes then and innately understood the positives that were to be drawn from mixing it up. Running itself is great - it keeps us fit, helps us lose those unwanted extra pounds and generally makes us feel good about ourselves, but aren't there times when you fancy doing something a bit different? This is where training for a triathlon comes in - you still get to run, but add to the equation a dose of swimming and a measure of cycling and hey presto things start to get more interesting!

It is through the combination of these three elements that you will achieve your fitness goals even faster as you enjoy the benefits of the ultimate example of cross training. So what is triathlon and what is triathlon training all about? There are plenty of books for novice triathletes and we would advise that you take a look at their training plans before you embark on any serious preparation.

Deciding to take part in your first triathlon is a big decision and it is wise to set yourself a goal of simply finishing the course rather than achieving a great time or winning the race itself! As much fun as training for a triathlon can be, your body will be shocked by the level of endurance you will have to pull together on the day, for this reason some people prefer to use triathlon training as a means of building fantastic aerobic fitness and working upper and lower body muscles more effectively than one sport could do alone.

Triathlon is also a great way of getting yourself out in the beautiful British countryside and away from the gym's treadmill as you take to the streets on your bike and the local pool in your swimmies.

It is wise to concentrate on your weakest sport first, for most people this will be swimming as triathletes tend to come from a running background and cycling is a skill the majority of us already have. Many people will start doing the breaststroke, which is fine in the beginning but as you become more serious (if you want to) then you will really need to think about taking on the front crawl in order to get that speed up. It is worthwhile investing some time and perhaps seeking expert advice on swimming technique as a good technique is the key to developing not only speed and efficiency but also to achieving the best physical results.

Moving on to cycling where the key piece of advice is rather like the advice we give about running shoes - make sure you ride a bike that is properly fitted. If you are on a bike that is comfortable to ride then you will be half way to achieving great efficiency, and making sure you can retain a little energy for the last leg - the run.

It is important that you make sure your bike's gears and brakes are working well and that your tyres are rock hard so that you can reduce the risk of punctures and go faster due to less rolling resistance. You will need to build real stamina here as the bike ride is the longest part of a triathlon, perhaps try spinning classes or cycle to and from work - a long ride at the weekend with friends is also a great way of combining training with socialising and having fun!

And so to the running, something you should know a little about already. Running should be the easiest part of the three, but after you have done a swim and a bike ride it might not feel so easy. It is because of this that you have to build the strength you will require during your training so that your legs don't feel so numb and respond well to your commands.

Long, steady runs at a relatively slow pace are great for building this strength as is interval training - jog for one minute, run hard for one minute repeating for a total of 30 minutes. It is also important that you practise running after cycling, so that you get used to the heavy legged feeling and can survive the run on the day.

Whether you decide to take up triathlon training in order to take part in a race or just to reap the benefits that preparing for one can bring, the most important thing of all is that you don't lose sight of what it is all about - having fun and getting fit into the bargain. Go on - give it a try and see what you can achieve!

Visit www.britishtriathlon.org for more information about taking part in triathlons and for details on clubs where you can learn more about the sport with other like-minded people.