Group of individuals participating in a race.

Imagine your adrenaline pumping, sweat glistening on your skin as your stride quickens finally seeing the finish line up ahead—so close, yet so far. It’s like a scene right out of a movie, arms pumped into fists above your head as you cross the finish line, exhausted but feeling accomplished. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer and Cardiovascular Pro Jonny Wright and Swim Pro Marni Kerner share tips for helping you cross the finish line to your first sprint triathlon.

The basics

First things first, what is a sprint triathlon? A sprint triathlon is a series of three athletic events typically including a 500-meter swim (pool or open water), 12- to 15-mile cycle and 5K run (3.1 miles). Combining three athletic events into one race can seem daunting but breaking it into smaller chunks will help you accomplish the challenge.

If you are starting from scratch, allowing yourself 12 weeks to prepare for the event is optimal. “I recommend my clients who exercise regularly to spend at least eight weeks preparing for their race,” says Wright. This allows proper time to train for each individual aspect of the race. Training three to five days a week (one to two days for each event) is plenty. Be sure to schedule regular rest days into your training as well to prevent injury.

  • Swimming. Swimming is the shortest part of the triathlon at only 20% of the total race. It is important to conserve energy and save your legs for the next two sections. Focus on correct form and steady breathing. You can often make up time in the bike and run portions of your race. A place to start when training for the swimming portion of the triathlon is practicing swimming for 20 minutes or so one to two days a week. Exclude your breaks from total swim time.
  • Biking. Biking is the longest part of the triathlon at 50%. For the bike portion, keep a steady pace throughout the 12 miles and focus on a smooth transition into running. When transitioning off the bike, give your legs a quick stretch to get your blood flowing. Focus on endurance when training for this portion of the race. Practice biking at a steady rate for long periods of time.
  • Running. Your last leg of the race, running, takes up 30% of your time. Instead of sprinting right out of the gate, it is best to slowly build your speed throughout this event and finish strong. When beginning your training, interval training is beneficial. Run for 30 seconds, walk for two minutes and then repeat. As your training progresses, increase the amount of time you’re running and decrease the walking time.

“Focus on your weakest event,” says Wright. “If you’re already an avid swimmer, your training program could include swimming once a week allowing more time for running and biking.” Training varies depending on your fitness level and limitations.

Being mentally prepared for your first triathlon is key. “You will likely hit a wall during your triathlon, especially during the running portion after having already completed the swim and bike part,” says Kerner. “Think about how far you’ve already come and the finish line up ahead to help motivate you to keep going.”

Top tips

Having competed in multiple triathlons each, Wright and Kerner share their top three tips for completing your first sprint triathlon:

Jonny Wright

  • Keep your training simple. The more complicated you make it, the less fun the event will be.
  • Don’t get caught up in the numbers and data. Focus on just completing each section, no matter how long it takes you.
  • Practice your transitions. Brick workouts can help you train for your transitions from swim to bike and bike to run. An example brick workout would be biking a mile and then transitioning to running 800 meters or so. Practicing this multiple times will ensure you are well prepared for race day.

Marni Kerner

  • Ensure you have proper gear. Local bike shops and triathlon shops such as PlayTri rent out necessary gear so you don’t break the bank purchasing for your first triathlon.
  • Consult with a credible professional such as a professional fitness trainer. They can help you build a training program to prevent injury.
  • Do your research. Researching will ensure you know what you’re getting yourself into and not biting off more than you can chew. When exploring specific races, pay attention to the course map, where the transitions are and start times.

Lastly, just have fun! Signing up for your first triathlon can be scary, so make it less intimidating by finding a training group. Running, biking and swimming clubs can be found in most major cities. PlayTri and other local triathlon shops can help connect you with a group and help you register for your first race. On race day, talk to other competitors. You may learn something about the course or gain helpful tips and tricks from seasoned triathletes.

Interested in training for your first triathlon? Get sport-specific and professional fitness training at Cooper Fitness Center. Learn more at cooperfitnesscenter.com. And it’s never too young to start. Get the whole family involved with our youth triathlon clinics.