Triathlons. How do I get into them?

You'd like to give one a go, but where do you start?

words: MATTHEW COWAN

 

You're reading this because you're toying with the idea of doing a triathlon for the first time. You might have this idea for a number of reasons. Perhaps you know someone who does them, or you've seen someone the same age posting photos of themselves on social media crossing a finishing line.

And you're thinking, if they can do it, then so can you. 

Great. That's an excellent first step towards doing a triathlon. Having the confidence to try one out is an important milestone for anyone thinking about it. But how do you start?

Let me preface this article first by saying I've never done a triathlon. So I'm far from being an expert. But I'm in training for one and I'm quickly learning the basics of how to prepare. Much of it at the moment is trial and error, so I'm looking forward to getting the first one under my belt to reflect on what worked and what didn't.

Vietnam 70.3 Danang Bikes
Photo: IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam

But first, a little about my background.

I'm 44 years old and have been swimming on-and-off for years for fitness. It's low impact, great for cardio-vascular health, and after a solid session in the pool, there's nothing quite like the way you feel for the next hour or two.

It's hard to describe, but because swimming is low impact, there aren't the aches and pains like I'd have if I went for a 5km run. So there's the high that you feel after intense exercise, but with much less pain.

 

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When I say solid session in the pool, these days for me it means 2km in about 45 minutes. Ten years ago I was doing 3km in an hour. Not IRONMAN times, but I can swim. Still, a solid 2km session has me feeling great afterwards. It's exciting when your lungs finally start to 'open up' after weeks of training and you feel like you're really getting the most out of them. This might sound obvious, but you can tell they inflate more so you can draw in deeper breaths under duress. (More on VO2 Max in a later post)

Ironman 70.3 Danang Runner
Photo: IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam

The downside to swimming in Vietnam, where I live, is that Olympic-size swimming pools aren't as common as they are in Australia, where I'm from. It often means swimming in much shallower and shorter pools. Currently I'm training in a 30m pool that is just 1.6 metres deep. In pools like this, the water warms up quickly in this climate.

Also, the water in Vietnam is nowhere near as clean as in Australia. As a result, I often pick up head colds and sinus and throat problems. This means that it's hard for me to get continuity in my training. But I'm now swimming in a pool that is one of the cleanest I've seen here, and I time my swims so that the filtration system has had time to do its job after weekends of kids and toddlers doing what they do in pools.   

So what event am I entering? I'm about to sign-up to the upcoming sprint event at the IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam in Danang. For those of you unfamiliar with triathlons, sprint events enable people like me, who have never participated in a triathlon, to try it out over a much shorter distance for the first time. It's like an entree into the main course. Many of my friends were unaware of these events before I told them — one even questioned if it was cheating or not. 

 

RELATED: Exclusive interview with 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion, Tim Reed

 

Triathlons vary in distance over events and locations. The New York City triathlon (Olympic distance or 5150), for example, involves a 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride, and a 10km run — a total of 51.5km.

The IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam (70.3 miles) being held in Danang on May 13 is part of the international pro-circuit and involves a 1.9km ocean swim, a 90km bike leg, and finishes with a half marathon (21km).

The winner last year went round in 3hrs 56m 19s. Pretty amazing stuff, but he is a pro!

Ironman 70.3 Danang Cycling
Photo: IRONMAN 70.3 Danang

So what about weekend warriors like me? People who like to keep reasonably fit, maintain a healthy social life, but still have a competitive urge in them. How do I get into it? 

As I mentioned above, the IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam offers a sprint event held on the day before the main event. The distance for the sprint is drastically reduced to a 750m ocean swim, a 20km bike ride, and a 5km run. Compared to the main event, it's a sprint as the name suggests. Still, it will be a challenge for me, especially given that I train in the pool and rarely get to the beach.

While the sprint is about introducing people to the sport of triathlon, there is still a cut-off time for competitors to meet. Each participant is given 30 minutes to complete the swim after the last swimmers set out, then they are given 1hr 25m to complete the bike leg after the last swim start, and then the finish line cut-off for the run is 2hrs 15m after the last swim start. 

But, I've been misleading you a bit.

I'm not a cyclist. I don't even own a bike. I can run a bit, but I'm not that into it. However, I'm not a bad swimmer. I've never swum competitively, except for at school swimming carnivals that were compulsory, but I've always been solid at it. When you grow up in Australia, you're in the pool from the beginning and learn good technique. It's part of school curricula and is perhaps what snow skiing or ice-skating is for Canadians or latin dance for South Americans. It's in the blood.

As an adult I've always been involved in watersports — early on with swimming, then waterskiing, and as I've gotten older, back in the pool swimming laps and hitting the surf whenever I can, which is rare these days because of where I live. I also played competitive tennis into adulthood and played Australian Rules football at a serious level until I was 25. So the muscle memory is there, which gives me confidence.

IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam

The great thing about the sprint in Danang is that there is a relay event where teams of three can enter. That's what I've decided to do as a way of entering the sport of triathlon. I've put my hand up for the swim leg, and I've convinced my two buddies, John and Danny, to do it with me. They will do the bike and run legs respectively. 

In my next post about IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam, I'm going to introduce you to them so you can get an idea of the sporting backgrounds they are from and how they live their lives. I'm also going to introduce some of the training we've been doing and the information we've found online that's been helpful in preparing us — we think.

By doing this, I hope it inspires you to get out there with friends and give something like this a go, or at the very least, follow us here at The Bureau and cheer us on to the finish line. 

The IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam is a five-day event being held in Danang, Vietnam from May 10 to 15, 2018.

The sprint will be held on Saturday, May 12, while the main event (IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam) will be held on Sunday, May 13.

For more information, go to IRONMAN 70.3 Vietnam 

Matthew Cowan

Matt has been based in Vietnam since 2010. You can follow him on Twitter @mattcowansaigon and Instagram @mattcowansaigon

4 thoughts on “Triathlons. How do I get into them?

  1. So happy to hear this Matt! Im excited for you! If you are doing the swim…my suggestion is not to swim open water for the first time on race day…put some ocean swims into your program. Also incorporate some simulations in the pool of swimming with 10 other bodies in the same lane. It can get pretty chaotic during mass start. Good luck!

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! Yes, I plan to do some ocean swims beforehand, just trying to find out where is safe and clean around my neck of the woods. The start is the part I’m most concerned about. I’ve swum a lot in the ocean and love bodysurfing in fairly heavy surf, but the start has me anxious lol!

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