By Mary Kay Jessen (Triathlete, RRCA Coach, CPT)
I vividly remember accompanying my boyfriend (now husband, Kory) to his first triathlon and thinking, "these people are insane." In shock, I watch the athletes hit the water with the furiosity of a washing machine, churning and jostling for position. Quickly losing sight of him in the surf, I could only hope that he would reach the finish line unscathed.
Kory is an "all-in" type of person. When he set's his mind to something, he goes full force regardless of the unknown challenges ahead. I prefer to ease my way into new hobbies and activities. I never liked running much growing up other than time spent on the pitch, and throughout schooling, I played goalie to help paint the picture.
Running didn't become an actual hobby of mine until college, and more seriously after I graduated. So when Kory came home one night and announced that he had signed us up for a local triathlon team, I was less than amused, and no, the couples discount he mentioned did not lessen the blow.
For some people, it's a natural progression to move from a stand-alone sport to one that involves the big three: swim, bike, and run. Besides occasional miles on a bike after college, cycling was mostly foreign to me. And swimming? While I wasn't going to drown, I didn't exactly have the confidence to run toward an open body of water with athletes pushing for position.
Nonetheless, Kory assured me that our teammates were cool, so I attended the meet and greet happy hour, slightly optimistic. A beer in and reconnecting with an old high school friend of mine, I was sold on the camaraderie. Like the rest of the endurance community, everyone was friendly, cared deeply about the sport, and was so encouraging, building internal drive and confidence. However, the idea of a triathlon, even a short one, was still overwhelming.
“Follow your dreams, believe in yourself and work hard for what you want to achieve, even in difficult times. It will be worth it.” ~ Lucy Charles-Barclay (2021 Ironman World Champion)
With some help, I began mapping out a potential race calendar for the following year. I'd run a few road races up to this point and was fairly familiar with the idea of a "build-up" to an event, but this would take some more planning because of the need to cater to two additional sports.
How do you get started in triathlons, especially if you don't have a background in all three sports?
While each person's journey is different, here are my recommendations:
Join a local team or club - These people will become part of your support network. Regarding recommendations for training, gear, and techniques, you'll have a group of athletes you can bounce ideas off. Take the time to learn from their mistakes, especially early on. Since most new athletes tend to push too hard too soon, it'll be valuable to have a community to help keep you accountable. And for those days when it's hard to get out the door to train, perhaps you'll connect with a few teammates to help complete those more challenging training sessions.
Get a properly fitted road bike - You do not need to shell out a ton of money, and a second-hand bike is more than sufficient to get you going. If you attend local races, you will see ALL sorts of bikes. So as long as the one you have is in good condition, has been checked out, and fits you, use it!
Get fitted for running shoes - Yes, you can ask for recommendations and order them online, but shoes tend to fit each person very differently. Most stores offer fittings for free and with no obligation.
Start training slow and slow down if needed - Go for a short ride, run, or swim. It doesn't matter about your speed/time/pace/distance. Moving and getting your body acclimated is essential when you are first starting. Consult with your teammates when considering weekly training and how to adjust accordingly.
Join a social media group for beginners - Several triathlon groups are geared specifically towards beginners. These groups can be a great start, especially if you don't have a local support network.
Pick a race - For many people, having an extrinsic goal is a huge motivating factor and can help keep you going. Make sure you pick one that is far enough out you have adequate time to train, but not so far that you keep pushing off starting :)
Olympic (International Distance)
Half-Iron (70.3 Triathlon)
Ironman (Long-Course Triathlon)
The triathlon has become much more than just a sport, but an ingrained piece of me. The people I've met became some of my closest friends. We spent many days each week at team workouts, happy hours, and traveling to races together. I learned so much from them and eventually felt I could share some knowledge with other new triathletes. Those early years shaped me as an athlete, and I am so grateful that I took a moment to be brave and jump in.