When 1,800 athletes entered Kailua Bay in Hawaii for the 33rd annual Ironman World Championship on Oct. 9, they embarked on what for many is the ultimate endurance sports accomplishment.
The race is considered the end of the triathlon season for most of the country, though Florida hosts a number of events later this year, including Ironman’s 70.3 (half Ironman) championship in Clearwater on Nov. 13 and the inaugural Key West Triathlon on Dec. 5.
Triathlon is one of America’s fastest-growing sports, booming even in the midst of the recession. More than 1.2 million participated in a triathlon in 2009, according to the Sporting Good Manufacturers Association (SGMA). That’s up 51 percent since 2007. Membership in USA Triathlon has grown from 40,000 in 2002 to 135,000 this year.
Most newcomers to triathlon jump into the sport as a New Year’s resolution, aiming for an early spring debut. That’s not an unreasonable timetable for a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, especially if you have a strong swimming background.
But the fall is a better time to begin training for your first triathlon, especially if you have little to no competitive swimming experience.
Joe Biondi, a longtime masters swim coach in the Tampa Bay area, gets calls every February and March from non-swimmers looking to complete the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, an Olympic-distance event (1,500-meter swim, 24.8-mile bike, and 5K run) in St. Petersburg usually held in late April.
“You need to give yourself more time to learn the freestyle stroke and also build up enough endurance,” Biondi says.
Many people learn “survival swimming” as kids but do not know how to exhale underwater, catch-and-pull, and take advantage of body roll. The easiest and least expensive way to learn is by joining a masters swim program, where a coach will work with you as part of a practice involving more experienced swimmers.
You probably know how to ride a bike, but many new triathletes have never donned lycra shorts, bike shoes or even a helmet. It’s a lot easier to get comfortable on a bike in the fall – and find year-end closeouts on bikes, which will be your biggest triathlon purchase – than it is in the winter, especially if you live in parts of the country where ice and snow is a factor.
It’s also wise to learn basic bicycle maintenance, including how to change tires. Many bike shops offer clinics.
If you can get comfortable on the bike in the fall, you won’t worry as much about missing time on the bike in the winter months due to weather. Instead, you can take group cycling or “spin” classes to get your ESD (Energy System Development) fix.
As with swimming, the best way to get up to speed on a bike is by joining a group ride. Even if you’re just riding in a group of three or four, that’s invaluable experience since you’re able to alternate between being out front and pulling and drafting off the riders in front of you. Drafting is illegal in most triathlons, but group riding experience is invaluable as interval training. Plus, it’s more fun to ride with others than going it alone.
Many triathletes enter the sport with strong running backgrounds and focus on swimming and cycling. But the fall months are the best times to run and feature the most 5K, 10K, and half-marathon races.
If your running is typically lots of long, slow, distance, there’s no better time to get on an interval program to work on your ESD. This will make you a faster runner while training less, which is important since you’ll also be spending time in the pool and on the bike. That cross training also will help your running.
In many parts of the country, it’s possible to compete in duathlon (run-bike-run) events in the fall and into the winter months. This is a great way to ease into multisport, master transitions, and build confidence, especially if you’re still getting a handle on swimming.
By getting a jump on triathlon training in the fall, you’ll be much further along when January comes and can hit the New Year running, as well as swimming and biking.
"Enter a race. Train to become faster and stronger. Honor the commitment. Reap the rewards." - me
Hi, I'm new Triathlete and have lived in southwest Florida last 8years... I agree, fall is a great time to train..So far all I know is training in the hot and humid weather. It's finally cooling down here and swimming, biking and especially running is now so much more comfortable!
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