How to start doing triathlons – even if you think they seem scary
Triathlons are undoubtedly daunting.
Swim, bike, run – that’s three different things you have to train for, three different things you have to try to be vaguely good at.
Put the pay-off is phenomenal. Working for weeks or months to perfect your form, getting into the shape of your life and then challenging yourself beyond your boundaries – crossing that finish line feels like nothing else.
But there is a significant gender gap when it comes to taking part in triathlons. According to the Triathlon Industry Association, and despite some recent increases, 68% of UK triathlon competitors are male.
Whether it’s because of fears of open water swimming, not finding time to train, or the intimidatingly male-dominant environment, women aren’t being equally represented in the world of triathlons.
But, global fitness community Her Spirit and the London Triathlon have teamed up for the second year to offer women new to triathlon the opportunity to give it a try.
The Her Spirit coaching team and app will be offering a dedicated virtual triathlon support group, coaching and nutrition plans, coaching sessions, tips and techniques that will help more women get to the start line ready to enjoy their first triathlon experience.
We asked Melanie Berry, co-founder of Her Spirit, for her top tips on how to get into triathlon training – and how to overcome common fears.
‘We know joining a triathlon club isn’t for everyone,’ Melanie tells Metro.co.uk. ‘And it can seem very daunting when you are relatively new to the sport.
‘If you have dipped your toe in the triathlon water and keen to do more then, Her Spirit offers a fun, friendly way to meet other like-minded women and access expert coaching to help you do more.’
‘You can do any stroke you want to,’ says Melanie. ‘If you are someone who swims breaststroke that’s fine.’
Many events have several distances, starting at just 200m. Melanie says that if you want to improve your swimming, having a plan will help, as will joining up with a learn-to-swim freestyle group.
‘Her Spirit in partnership with British Triathlon offers many of them across the UK.’
Melanie says any bike will do, just as long it is roadworthy.
‘You need a helmet too and then you are ready to get going,’ she adds. ‘Getting out with friends or rides such as Breeze that are delivered with British Cycling, is a great way to boost your confidence.’
You can walk or run on event day, but learning to run more efficiently is vital.
‘Running drills are so important and doing yoga is a great way to compliment your body and help you move better,’ says Melanie. ‘Simple drills make such a big difference.’
The right shoes
‘Having good footwear is super important,’ says Melanie, ‘so it’s worthwhile making sure you find the right trainers that fit well and work with your biomechanics.
‘My tip here would be to make sure you get the right support, but also make sure they’re not too heavy.’
Find a running partner
It’s always easier to get yourself out the door when you know you’re meeting someone, Mel suggests.
‘It also means you probably won’t miss your runs, after all you wouldn’t want to let a friend down (unless you really have to) if you’ve arranged to run together.’
Melanie says a good training plan is all about forward planning and good organisation.
‘Life is hectic enough with work, family, social stuff, ‘ she explains, ‘so if you put your planned runs in your diary like you would any other appointment, you’re much more likely to do it.’
Be patient and persistent
Melanie adds that progress isn’t always linear, and you have to be patient with yourself and trust the process.
‘You will experience highs and lows on your journey, that’s natural,’ she says. ‘Enjoy the highs and accept and learn from the lows.’
Brick sessions are cycling and running sessions – one after the other.
‘These are to get you used to that “jelly legs” feeling,’ says Melanie, ‘and they give you a much better idea as to how that will feel on event day.’
What kit to buy
‘If you are doing an open water triathlon, you will need a wetsuit, swimsuit or tri suit,’ says Melanie.
‘You also need swimming goggles, a bike, cycling helmet, running shoes and if you don’t have a tri suit – a t-shirt and shorts and socks.’
Melanie says that having fun and feeling the high of the adrenaline is the whole point – it’s why you train so hard, so it’s important not to forget about that element.
‘At the end of the day, you should really embrace your first race and enjoy it,’ says Melanie.
‘There will lots of competitors there with very fancy looking bikes and aero helmets but don’t let them put you off.
‘Everyone, at every level, is always very friendly and very welcoming. Embrace the fact that you are doing something completely new, in an incredible location.
‘If you do find nerves getting the better of you just take a breath, enjoy the views and smile.’
How to cope with triathlon fears
Never done open water swimming before
There are many open water swim venues around the UK and if you are doing an open water event you will be in a wetsuit.
You don’t need to have an expensive suit, you can borrow one from friends. Making the time to join a beginners session is a great day to get used to the environment.
Her Spirit runs numerous first time session for women.
Event day swim
The swim is perhaps the most daunting part of triathlon. There is an element of chaos in the swim section of the triathlon, as people try to get ahead of one another.
Don’t be afraid to take your time and separate yourself from the pack a little bit. Just find a space of your own and remember that this is your race, forget about everyone else.
This may seem a really confusing environment, but don’t worry you can make it into a great experience.
Events like London Triathlon with Her Spirit walk you through this, which is a great way to reduce your nerves.
If you don’t get a walk-through, then think about your transition in small chunks. One key thing to remember is where did you leave your bike?
Write down on your hand where you left it, many transitions have numbers to help guide you.
Overcoming your fears
Being supported by like-minded women is a great way to help you. Women like Lisa and Kerry were supported by Her Spirit.
Kerry took part in the triathlon with the support of Her Spirit last year, and it was a brilliant first introduction to the sport.
‘Being part of the Her Spirit team at the London Triathlon was very special,’ Kerry explains. ‘From lining up on the start line to crossing the finish line, there was a real buzz and excitement.
‘We were all in it together and we were there to support each other every step of the way, making the impossible, possible.
She says her first experience of triathlon was amazing, despite the butterflies in her stomach.
‘The nerves building up to race day disappeared the minute we started swimming,’ she says. ‘I loved every minute, the whole event was so well organised and everyone was so friendly and welcoming into the sport.
‘Taking part in a triathlon seemed crazy when you cannot swim confidently, but with the support and training plan from Her Spirit, I cannot believe I actually did it.
‘I now love swimming and cannot wait to go back for more.’
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