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Triathlon training: An expert offers advice

Posted by Elizabeth Comeau  March 22, 2013 07:47 AM

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Remember how I'm just a crazy girl with a penchant for trying things that seem really intimidating to me? Well, I'm all that and a kettle of fish, but one thing I am most decidedly NOT is an expert.

So, when I decided to train for a triathlon, I knew I would need to haul in the big guns for advice, since it is something I have never attempted and literally had no idea where to start.

Plus, Adam Salsman (one half of #ProjectAdam) said he'd to this tri with me, and while I think beating up on myself is perfectly acceptable because I know my limits, I certainly do not want to see him (or any of you for that matter) get hurt.

Colin1.jpgEnter Colin Cook. Cook is president of the NorthEast MultiSport Triathlon Club, not to mention a 6x Ironman finisher, and Half Ironman finisher, and more.

Here's my Q&A with Cook, who is helping to guide this newbie (me) along.

Q. What are the absolute bare necessities you need for gear when training for a triathlon?

A. The bare necessities for triathlon as follows:
Swim- a bathing suit, that’s it! Goggles are recommended, but not required.

Bike- a bike, shoes, and a helmet. Basically ANY bike that is safe to ride is allowed. This includes mountain, BMX, Hybrid, Road, and Triathlon bikes. Especially for sprint distance races, you will see quite a few different types of bikes.

Run- shoes. Despite the barefoot running craze, shoes are required for USAT sanctioned races.

Q. Can anyone attempt a triathlon? If someone is interested, what do you suggest for training, and about how long to prepare? If someone is interested, what do you suggest for training, and about how long to prepare?

A. ABSOLUTELY! I am a firm believe that ANYONE that has the desire and will power to properly train can complete a sprint distance triathlon. You will see people of all shapes and sizes competing in triathlons.

As for the amount of time to train, that is very difficult to generalize. However, a standard sprint distance triathlon training plan will have people train in each discipline (swim, bike, run) either 2 or 3 times per week for at least 2, but upwards of 4 months If you have time to train in each discipline 3x a week, I would recommend that. However, if you’re strapped for time, spend more time training in the discipline(s) you’re weaker at. If you’re very weak in a particular discipline, it recommend even more than 3x per week until you make some improvements.

Q. The words triathlon and triathlete sound intimidating to most people: How did you get your start? Everyone starts somewhere, right?

A. Yes, I am amazed at how intimidated some people get when they hear the words triathlon or triathlete. However, I would once again like to remind everyone that anyone can do it if they put their mind (and body) to it!

For me, I first got interested in triathlons when I was in college. I had a teacher that trained and completed an Ironman while I was taking his class. I was amazed by this super intimating feat, but it really sparked my attention. I played hockey through college so I do have an athletic background. After I graduated from school, I thought I had lost my ability to compete in sports at a high level. This was very disappointing to me. That all changed when I found triathlons. Most triathlons offer age based awards and overall finisher awards. This allows you to compete against your peers and athletes in other age groups. This is what I first found appealing about the sport.

Q. Where can people find help if they want to try an triathlon?

A. There are many great resources out there for those that are interested, particularly online. One site that is great for people new to triathlons is They specialize in assisting people that are new to the sport.

However, there are also triathlon clubs in every state of the US. This is a great way to meet fellow triathletes and find opportunities to train with a group. Lastly, you could consider hiring a coach. A good coach will provide a training plan specialized for you, your needs, and your goals. They can also help answer any questions that you may have and assist with the preparation for every aspect of your race. This should include your training, transitions, nutrition, and the mental side of the race. Most people find having a coach helps to guide and keep them on track with their training.

Q. I’m doing a sprint in August, but can you explain the various types of triathlons out there?

A. There a four typical distances for triathlons. The shortest distance race would be a sprint like the one you’re training for. The distances for each leg of the race can vary quite a bit. The distance for a sprint is typically a .25 to .5 mile swim, 10 to 16 mile bike, and 5K (3.1 mile) run. The next distance would be the Olympic or International distance. Again, these distances races can fluctuate depending on the particular race, but typically consist of a .9 mile swim, 24-25 mile bike, and 10K (6.2 mile) run. The next level up would be the Half Ironman distance. These races are consistently a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run (70.3 total miles). Last but not least is the big dog, the full Ironman. These races are 2.4 mile swims, 112 mile bikes, and 26.2 mile runs (140.6 total miles).

Q. Any words of advice for me (or anyone else out there?)

A. If I could give you one piece of advice for your training and during your race, it would be to be happy and smile. Don’t get me wrong there will be times when you’re in pain and smiling is the last thing on your mind. If you can remind yourself what a great thing it is you’re doing and maintain a positive attitude, you will be bring your training and racing to a whole new level. Picturing yourself crossing that finishing line and knowing how AWESOME it is going to feel will help you tremendously.

You can learn more about Colin via or follow him on Twitter

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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