Your First Triathlon: 4 Steps to Start on the Right Foot

Before you hit submit on that race registration, learn a few steps you should take first

Your first triathlon

So, you’ve decided to complete a triathlon. The decision to take on this challenge is only one of the pieces you’ll need to get started. Before you take a single step, pedal or swim stroke, take time to establish your foundational beliefs, budget and support system.

Triathlon is a sizable undertaking, especially the long distance races. Addressing these four points from the onset could be the difference between failure and success.

Establish your WHY

First, clarify your purpose or core reason for setting out on this journey. This will lay the foundation for your motivation and belief system and help you push through the mental and physical challenges.

“Find your WHY, remember it for when times are tough. It may get hard sometimes but it is all worth it. Believe me,” encourages AgeGrouper Angie Jackson (F50-59, NC).

Your purpose doesn’t need to be some divine new vision for how to live your life, but it must be meaningful and unique to you.

AgeGrouper Eric Chandeck (M35-39, FL), a fourth year athlete focusing on the 70.3 half Ironman distance, shared his purpose: “To prove to myself I can achieve something I thought (and still think) is impossible.”

Some other examples:

  • Build my mental fitness to be a better father, husband, and person
  • Improve my health and physical fitness so I can be stronger and live longer

Set Clear Goals that Align with Your Purpose

Unlike purpose, goals are specific and measurable and will allow you to track your progress. AgeGrouper, Mike Maher (M35-40, NY), a sixth year athlete, said it best: “The most rewarding aspect of triathlon is being able to set a goal, whether it’s a personal best for time or distance, and then exceeding that goal for yourself.”

Consider setting two types of goals: outcome goals and process goals.

Outcome goals: This is the end result you hope to achieve in the sport. They should have quantifiable metrics that you can evaluate. Without it, you would be training in a vacuum. Examples:

  • I want to finish my first Olympic distance triathlon in under three hours
  • I want to complete a full Ironman race at Ironman Lake Placid in June 2022
  • I want to lose 10 pounds prior to my first sprint triathlon

Process goals: This is the HOW. Break down the steps you will take to achieve your outcome goal. Examples:

  • I will commit to four hours of training per week for the next three months to prepare for my race
  • I will execute a 12 week training program on my bike trainer to boost my power and improve my bike split
  • I will cut out refined sugar from my diet for the next three months

Establish a Budget

A reality of triathlon is that it can get expensive. The gear, accessories, nutrition and race fees add up quickly. But it doesn’t need to break the bank.

“I think the sport can be very intimidating financially. There’s nothing wrong with starting off with even less, borrowing a wetsuit, getting a used indoor trainer, etc. Many of my most accomplished friends still use a basic trainer, not a smart one. Don’t feel you have to invest so much just to try out the sport,” says AgeGrouper Anne McDonnell (F45-49, NJ).

Set a budget for year one to help you focus on the essentials. The typical costs a first-year triathlete might incur, include:

Thirty year veteran and fellow AgeGrouper Brandon Starkoff (M45-50, OH) advises, “Grow into the sport. Don’t feel the need to buy all of the expensive equipment for the first time.”

Form your Support Team

A triathlete is built on the backs of his or her support team. Having a support team is crucial for you to take on the volume of physical and psychological work that training creates.

Doctor: Triathlon is a high-stress, physically taxing sport. Consult your doctor for a physical before you begin training.

Spouse/Partner/Significant Other/Children/Parent: Age Grouper Paul Capuzzo (M45-49, NJ) has been racing triathlon for 19 years. For him the key to fitting training into life is having a like-minded, supportive spouse.

Make sure your closest relationships are aligned and supportive of your new journey. Effectively communicate your plan and any foreseeable changes to your lifestyle, spending habits and time commitments. It is crucial for the loved ones in your life to be on board as they provide emotional and physical support throughout training and on race day.

Training Partners: Training will take many forms and it can boost your likelihood of success to have a workout partner. “Surround yourself with other like-minded people. Find a group to train with, it’s always better with friends,” said AgeGrouper Jonathan Schwartz (M45-50, NJ).

Career Support: As you take on this new challenge, consider educating your peers and supervisor of this endeavor so they can prepare for some of these personal changes (e.g., strong approach to goal setting, improvement of time management skills, strong mental fitness, higher than usual fatigue) as well as offer additional support.