5 questions to ask yourself before stepping up in triathlon race distance

I have some exciting news to share. Last week I wrote my first article for Training a Runner magazine as its new Triathlon Editor. Training a Runner is a new online endurance sports magazine with a focus on running, triathlon, and health. I’ll be writing a weekly article that will come out each Friday. Check it out!

Here’s my first article from last week.

The New Year is upon us and many are planning their 2015 triathlon calendar. Are you considering a new distance this year? Maybe you’ve competed in a few sprint or Olympic distance triathlons but you feel like now is the time to jump to a longer distance. Or maybe you’re a triathlon newbie and inspired by the images from October’s IRONMAN World Championships, you want to see what you’re made of. Before you commit to stepping up in triathlon race distance, ask yourself these five questions. Finish line

1. What are my goals?

Decisions about triathlons (or really any fitness pursuit) should start with this fundamental question. Know where you want to be and where you’re going. Your answer to this question will drive every decision you make afterwards. Are you a competitive age group athlete trying to earn your pro card? Or, is an IRONMAN something to check off the bucket list? There is no right or wrong answer, just your answer.

Many top long-course professional triathletes began their careers on the short-course circuit. The likes of Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander and Jan Frodeno all come to mind. Others have the unique ability to drift between distances, such as Andy Potts, or Javier Gomez in the case of short-course and 70.3 distance. But if you’re more the type who wants a big goal to shoot for, or you just want to test your individual limits by attempting an IRONMAN, progression might not be as important. My first competitive running event was a marathon. I wanted the satisfaction of knowing I could do it before I even contemplated becoming competitive in the sport.

2. What’s my history in the sport?

This question relates to the first and sometimes influences its answer. For an aspiring long-course triathlete, or if you see an IRONMAN in your future, durability is the key question. Have you accumulated enough training volume over the years (yes, years) to prepare your body for the extreme stress it will endure during an IRONMAN? Long course triathlon takes a serious toll on the body. Have your muscular, nervous, digestive and endocrine systems all adapted for this type of stress?

3. How much time do I have to train?

Most of us don’t have the luxury of training full-time. We have our day jobs. Some are flexible, others aren’t. When I coach athletes, planning the logistics of training is often the hardest challenge. When can you fit training into your daily and weekly schedule? Can you be consistent with it? Can you devote enough time to each discipline to adequately prepare for the event? Can you balance training with your other work and family obligations? What sacrifices do you have to make to accommodate your training needs (and don’t say sleep, because recovery is just as important?

4. What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Different race distances play to particular strengths. Compare Olympic and half Ironman distance triathlons. Though the bike and run are about twice as long in a 70.3 and Olympic distance triathlon, the difference in the swim distances is only a matter of a couple hundred meters. What does this mean? The Olympic distance triathlon suits a stronger swimmer because the swim leg makes up a larger proportion of the overall race compared to the half-Ironman distance. So, if you’re a weaker swimmer, you may find yourself chasing the race, whereas with a longer course, you have more real estate to make up your early race deficit.

5. Can I financially afford it?

If you plan to step up in race distance, prepare to spend more. Higher registration costs are the obvious area, with 70.3 races going for around $250 and well over $600 to claim your spot on the start line of a full distance race. But, this is just the cost to enter the race. Depending on where the closest race is be sure to factor in travel and lodging. Competing at a longer distance also means additional training costs, whether food or gear-related. You might blow through your running shoes quicker with a larger training volume. Ditto for some aspects of your nutrition.

So, before undertaking the challenge (and huge reward) of training and racing at a new race distance. Take a few moments to strategize and plan. You’ll be better prepared.


This article originally appeared in TRAINING a RUNNER, the better running magazine.


One thought on “5 questions to ask yourself before stepping up in triathlon race distance

  1. Nice article. Great questions to ask before moving up. Most people will not make a plan based on those points and need to learn those lessons the hard way. Especially your point about build base volume.


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