Last updated: February 21, 2016

Your First Triathlon: Part 1



Originally featured at Return of Kings.

Much is discussed in this realm of the Internet regarding the best way to go about approaching fitness.  Let’s face it, it is a core principle of who you are as a man.  It needs to be a part of every successful man’s life, and there is no getting around this as far as I’m concerned.  Much of the emphasis is on weight training and bulking up.  While I would not pose any argument that is the way to get to get girls, there are also other forms of exercise that can easily become part of your mission, or at least an attractive hobby.  It takes dedication, passion, and the willingness to take a lot of hurt.

I’m speaking of a triathlon.


I tentatively tend to run this as a three part series.  The first one will cover the first baby steps into the sport, the second will cover race training, and the final one will cover an actual race.

If you don’t know what triathlon is, it’s an endurance sport that combines three endurance sports into one long race.  Swim, bike, run.  This is typically the order, save for a few reverse races that pop up on the calendar.  It is not a duathlon, it is not a bike race, it is a triathlon.  The distances of these races varies greatly, from the beginning sprint distance (roughly a 400-800 meter swim, 12 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run) to the elusive Ironman races (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and then a marathon, 26.2 miles).

Obviously, training for an Ironman cannot be taken lightly.  For the average person, an Ironman day consists of probably about 25,000 calories and numerous stops on the side of the course at the porta-pottys.

Triathlon is a great sport for anyone to get in and try once.  Don’t start with the Ironman.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to invest tons of money into the sport right off the bat.  Get into a local sprint triathlon for about $50 with a friend or two, and see if you enjoy the sport.  If you decide to undertake this journey, here is some very beginner-friendly advice to get you off the couch, and into the water, on a bike. or out running.

Things people say you need (you don’t)

$2,000 super duper aerodynamic carbon fiber triathlon bike

It’s simply not necessary.  Assuming you are doing a sprint distance, even a professional biker would only squeeze a few extra seconds out of a high-end bike.  I strongly encourage getting a bike with gears though, and preferably a road bike with skinny tires as opposed to a mountain bike.  However, a mountain bike is sufficient.  A fixie lacking brakes, or a 55-pound beach cruiser, is not.

Nice. Not necessary.

Expensive nutrition or recovery drinks

You don’t need the gel shots that are pure sugar.  Eat a granola bar instead, or drink a soda.  You don’t need the $50 “recovery mix” from the latest nutrition vendor.  Drink a class of chocolate milk.

A team or club

Any good club worth their salt welcomes all triathletes of all skill levels on their weekly group swims, rides or runs.  Go and join in, see if you like the people.  Avoid membership dues or fancy club kits until you know you like racing.


This one may vary depending on where you live.  I’m fortunate enough to live in Southern California, which means I can get by without a wetsuit for much of the year.  For longer races a wetsuit is a necessity for buoyancy, but for short races you can do without one.  Also, keep in mind that if you want to race with a wetsuit, that means you need to *practice* with the wetsuit on.  Shoulder/arm movement is greatly restricted by wetsuits.  More than likely, the majority of swim training will be done in a heated pool where a wetsuit isn’t going to be much fun (keep in mind chlorine also can have negative effects depending on the type of wetsuit).

Things people don’t mention (they should)

A good pair of swim goggles

This is NOT an area to cheap out on.  Spend at least $20.  Try them out in the store.  Press them against your face, they should stick onto your eyes with good suction.  If they fall off immediately, do not buy them.  If you know the races you are competing in are going to be open-water versus pool swims, I would recommend trying some goggles designed more for that.

There are few things less fun in the world than having ocean water fill your eyes for 1,500 meters of swimming.

Running shoes

Can’t stress this one enough, do NOT go the cheap route on your running shoes.  I’m a strong advocate of minimalist running, but you need to work into it.  Make sure you have a good pair of running shoes that don’t leave your feet aching afterwards.  Gradually make the transition to lighter, more minimalistic shoes.

Personally, I train in Nike Frees and race in Zoot TTs.


A helmet

Obvious.  Don’t be stupid.

The girls…

…are not that cute.  Don’t get me wrong, there will be some, but if you’re better off doing yoga or spin class if you want to pick up chicks.  The ones who are cute are likely not that into the sport.  The girls who are really into the sport age horribly.  All the hours of feet pounding the pavement, and hours in the sun make female triathletes look years older than they actually are.  One of my teammates last year qualified for the Ironman world championships in Hawaii.  When I first met her, I thought she was 26.

She was 21.

The below is the exception, not the norm.

Exception. Not the norm.

Keep up your weight-lifting regimen

…but stop lifting heavy.  Higher reps, lighter weights are your friends.  Try to organize your training in a smart way; and you’ll need to figure out your recovery times individually.  If you lift upper body on Monday but then your swim workout is greatly impacted Tuesday, it will hurt you in the long run.

You need a full day to recover

Once a week.  On this day, know that if you can sit, it’s better than standing.  If you can lie, it’s better than sitting.  If you can sleep, it’s better than being awake.

You will likely be skinny-fat

Endurance sports are not for those who want to look great.  If that’s your cup of tea, stick to lifting.  Personally, all the hours in the sun make me crave sugar, carbs, and other junk food.  I generally satisfy these cravings, but I believe that’s a firm reason why I’m usually not as lean during the season.  I tend to have a more ripped/lean look in the offseason.

Know that you are going to be stronger in one discipline.  Accept that.

If you have been running for five years but have never done a flip turn in your life, that’s okay.  Accept that swimming is going to be a struggle at first.  This does not mean you give up run training for swimming.  You need to be a stone-cold killer in at least one discipline, this will help your confidence in training and on race day immensely.

More importantly than anything, and while it make sound cliche: have fun.  Make it your mission to finish an Ironman.  Use it as a way to get in shape.  Use it to make a new social group.

See you at the starting line.

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