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Posted in Team Finish Line.

July 12th, 2021

8 Reasons Why I’d Recommend Training for a Triathlon with Brendan Martin, DPT, PT, FAFS

(we’ll spare you the “give it a tri!” pun)

Few endurance athletes begin as triathletes. More often it happens by chance.  For example, you’ll see a runner taking up cycling or swimming as a form of cross training through an injury. They’ll find that they love it & keep it as part of their training routine to mix things up & minimize injury risk. Next, they realize they’re 2/3 of the way to being a triathlete, so why not give it a go? 

If this sounds a little bit like you, you could be on your way to being a triathlete. The hypothetical person described above is actually me. At different times in my 18 years as a competitive runner, I’ve used either swimming or cycling as a way of continuing to train cardiovascularly while dealing with a setback. I have always enjoyed swimming & riding bikes, even as a kid, so it was easy enough to get into them a bit

Here are 8 reasons why I’d recommend training for & racing a triathlon if you’re a runner (or non-runner!) that is thinking about it.

  1. Try something different; swimming is pretty great when it is 96 degrees outside. You’re able to be purposeful & work towards a race in a variety of different settings.  Instead of forcing an interval session on the track on a sweltering day, you can still work towards your goals by heading to the beach & doing some open water swimming intervals. I’ve found a new connection to & appreciation for the places that I’ve lived & run past by learning the value of safe & beautiful areas to open water swim (Long Island!)
  2. Give your body different stimuli; Triathlon Training can help us develop into more well rounded athletes. For example, nothing quite teaches strong breath control like swimming. Nothing can build quads of steel quite like cycling. You may find yourself an even better runner when you return to running races again after a tri season. My running has definitely gotten a boost after blocks of hard cycling or swimming training.
  3. Learn to be more flexible with training & racing; The same could maybe apply to a marathon buildup & race, but nowhere in endurance racing is it more true that not everything will go according to plan. Once you accept that, it is a very liberating feeling. You don’t need to be perfect because only .1% of peoples’ races are going to go perfect. Something will go awry but if you hang in there you’ll be astonished to see that you still placed well thanks to never giving up or losing your cool (at least not losing it too much.) You may have a long ride planned & the rain won’t let up. You’ll do your long run today instead & learn that your training schedule is more flexible than you once thought.
  4. Cycling can take you on adventures; Think about how much ground you can cover on a marathon training long run. Now imagine going 3, 4 or 5 times farther, & how much that opens up your adventures. Plus, it’s far easier to eat a slice of pizza & immediately get back onto the bike than it is to eat one mid-run. Author’s favorite ride from the city; across the George Washington Bridge & up 9W into Nyack, NY.
  5. Feel purposeful while cross-training to sidestep running-related injuries; Swimming or cycling becomes more than just dreaded “cross-training minutes” when you are actually preparing for a race that requires them. When I’m preparing for a running race & dealing with a setback, time spent cross-training used to feel like serving time in the penalty box or a prison sentence. During triathlon training, a little setback to my running can be viewed as a great opportunity to work on my other disciplines. Further, if you’re treating it like training to help your race performance more directly, I’d almost guarantee you are putting in higher quality time when you’re swimming or riding.  That in turn will seriously boost the likelihood of a positive carryover from swimming & cycling to your running. The last thing I’ll add is that when alternatives to running feel more directly beneficial to my race performance, I’m far more likely to utilize them sooner, & am thus far more likely to avoid the serious running injuries that come from running through aches & pains.
  6. Lots of ways to improve; between working on the three different disciplines, & having 2 different types of transition (swim to bike, bike to run,) there are many opportunities to improve your game. Each race has 5 segments to improve on over last time. For example, you got a flat tire & your bike leg was disappointing today, but you used that frustration to blast the run & had your fastest triathlon run leg ever. Learning how to get faster & faster in the transition zones isn’t just about plugging away on aerobic training like we’re so used to. You get better at transitions in more of a skill acquisition manner, which is a fun change for endurance athletes. It’s more like getting good at putting or free throws, which is a refreshing change compared with running, where most progress is achieved through uncomfortable training. I mean, even getting faster at changing a flat is a way you can up your game. Think about all the opportunities for “little wins” in a tri!
  7. Remove the expectations you put on yourself; Depending on how long you’ve been a runner for, your PBs & prior achievements may start to feel more & more difficult to top. Triathlon offers you a fresh start as an athlete. It is a great feeling to have the beginner’s enthusiasm coupled with the ability to consistently improve week to week. I have been running for a long time, & it can be years of hard work between tiny PBs in my primary racing events. Triathlon sets me free from expectations & previous accomplishments, & allows me to just work hard, race tough, & be excited about getting unequivocally better at something at again!
  8. Meet new communities of athletes; All my life I’ve identified as “a runner” & the vast majority of my friends are runners. Getting into cycling & triathlon has opened the to door to making new friends with cyclists & the multi-sport community. Turns out there are really friendly people out there that aren’t just runners 🙂

Potential downsides to be aware of:

  1. Logistics are more complicated; Fair warning that getting pool access, setting up a bike trainer, repairing & maintaining a bike, getting to open water to practice, etc, can be a lot of extra work that isn’t even part of the physical preparation. If you’ve got a lot going on, this can feel like a lot of extra work.
  2. More expen$ive; Bikes & bike maintenance aren’t cheap. Gym/pool memberships in NYC aren’t cheap. Multi-sport events aren’t cheap (think about all the additional logistics that the race organization has to take care of, & for a small number of racers. That drives the entry fee cost up.)
  3. The variety that makes triathlon training fun can also make it a bit stressful; Trying to fit in all the swims, bikes, runs, & strength training in a well-rounded triathlon training program can be enough to make your head spin, especially if you’ve got lots of other things going on in your life. This is another challenge to navigate, but with some of the flexibility you’ve learned to appreciate thanks to triathlon training, I’m sure you’ll be able to adapt to the situation & pull it off!
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