As you get ready to take on the adventure of training for and racing triathlons, let’s nip some of the big myths in the bud right away.
Myth No. 1: I need to train everything all the time (swim-bike-run every day)
It’s tempting to feel that the more we train the better we can get. While there is a bit of truth to that, there is also the reality that training all three sports all the time will lead to fatigue and burn out. It’s hard to hear in today’s “insta-everything” world, but patience is arguably the biggest tool in your training toolbox for long-term growth. It’s absolutely OK to only do one discipline or two on any given day, and you should have at least one, if not two days completely off.
Myth No. 2: Rigid plans are required
Many athletes believe the key to long-term performance is a very clear plan that is religiously implemented. The reality — and this transcends sports — is that a plan to point the way makes sense. That plan is going to be constantly adjusted, tweaked, renewed and changed to fit the evolution of your reality. In other words, training plans that work best are dynamic, not static. This is actually an interesting difference between top performers and new athletes. Top performers are going to do the work, but it’s going to happen in a dynamic way — adapting to the athlete’s evolution. New athletes tend to be more rigid in their planning and execution as they learn the ropes. The key point: stay adaptable, not rigid in your planning!
Myth No. 3: Open water swimming is terrifyingly scary!
As someone who was sure he was going to drown during his first open water swim in a triathlon, I feel for folks who become really fearful of open water swims. That said, I can also tell you that it’s something you can overcome. The first step is safety. Get a swim safety buoy and choose to swim with others only. Never alone. This will create a bit of a safety support system to help you take on the challenge of open water swimming. Next, start out swimming shallow — even going back and forth doing “laps” of a refined swimming area in water that may only be waist deep. As you gain comfort, you can challenge yourself by going a bit deeper, and getting beyond the swim area. Over time, your competence will grow, and you will find joy from taking on the challenge of swimming for distance. Additionally, take a few lessons with a local triathlon or open water swim coach. These coaches will understand the nuanced skills like sighting, dealing with chop, drafting, etc., which can really improve your open water swimming competence.
Myth No. 4: Swim – Bike – Run vs. SwimBikeRun
One of the biggest flaws that coaches see in triathletes of all levels, is thinking they have to train like a swimmer, a cyclist and a runner. Certainly the sport of triathlon is built upon those disciplines, but it’s the seamless intermingling of those disciplines that creates the unique sport of triathlon. If you come to triathlon from another sport, be willing to look at your approach with new eyes! Doing one to two workouts per sport, per week, can work well as you get into triathlon. As you improve, going up to two to three per sport, per week, can work. Remember that all distances of triathlon are very aerobic, which means you don’t need to do tons of super hard/aggressive workouts. Instead, focus on about 60-80 percent of your total training time being done at about a 5 or 6 on a scale where 10 is a max effort.
Myth No. 5: You are not a “real” triathlete if you haven’t raced long
One frustrating, growing theme among triathletes and non-triathletes who “know” of the sport, is this sense that unless you do an ultra-distance event, you have not done a triathlon. That’s extremely frustrating! Know that the adventure is to try, challenge yourself and grow. Doing short races certainly counts toward that goal. You can really try to grow over these distances. Remember, the fastest triathletes in the world focus on short course races. Those folks are every bit the triathlete that ultra-distance racers are, and so are you!
Myth No. 6: I need expensive gear to participate
Like so many areas of life today, people seem to be pushed into believing they need to have the latest and greatest in order to fit in or take on triathlons. That is not true — in triathlon or most other parts of our lives for that matter. You can have a great experience in triathlon with basic gear. That’s true today more than ever — even entry level gear today is better than the best gear 10-15 years ago.
Myth No. 7: You have to be an athletic mutant to participate in triathlon
This is true if you want to win a major race 10 years from now. Sport is competitive, and the best of the best tend to luck into a unique combination of incredible emotional and physical resilience, with a body that facilitates endurance performance. That’s a really unique combo of life experience, hard wiring and physical infrastructure. The good news is that there are very few people who are in that situation. The huge majority of people you see at a triathlon are just like you! They have jobs, families, responsibilities and need to work at making life blend with sport as well as possible. Triathlon is a participatory sport, and we all are able to take part.
Remember, there is no one way. There is your way, and it is going to constantly change. Seek it out, and enjoy your journey with this awesome sport.
About the Author
Will Kirousis, MS, has coached athletes from newcomers to age-group world champs and pros in multiple endurance disciplines. Will has focused on athlete-centered coaching for over 20 years. Reach Will @willkirousis or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.