Your Beginner Sprint Triathlon Training Guide discusses all the topics that you have questions about. use the toggles to the right to learn all about the knowledge you’ll need for your first sprint triathlon! 

Coach Suzanne,  Golden Gate Bridge, CA

This photo was taken the day before the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, after several months of  training, positive mental visualization and working with my personal triathlon coach.  See that smile on my face? That can be yours too, Just follow this plan!

Portrait of Georgia O'Keefe

You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.

Georgia O’Keeffe

About the Plan

How to Complete Your First Triathlon While Staying Injury Free, Enjoying Your Workouts and Feeling Energetic and Fresh after Crossing Your First Finish Line.

Welcome to the First Time Finisher’s ™  Triathlon Guide!

This FREE guide you are about to read was created from questions from women and men just like you–those who are planning to complete their first triathlon. Before you let me help you enjoy that thrill of crossing the finish line for the first time, here are three simple things you need to know:

    1. Everyone has questions about how to complete their first triathlon
    2. Everyone has doubts about whether they are doing the right type of training
    3. Anyone can complete their first triathlon with the right coaching and guidance

To help you complete your journey, i’ve put together this introductory guide, and hope that you will consider making the investment in my complete “First Time Finishers Plan” ™ for helping you get across that finish line.

This guide was created from actual questions (and answers) that I’ve received when doing lectures and clinics teaching people how to complete their first triathlon. You’ll find that many of your own questions are already answered or addressed right here, and if not, I will show you where to go to get more information about how to become a First Time Finisher ™

About the Author

aka Why You Should Bother Listening to Me

My name is Suzanne Atkinson, MD, and I am a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling Certified Coach as well as Emergency Room Doctor.  Triathlon became a passion of mine as I looked for a way to introduce cross training into my fitness lifestyle after finishing medical school and going into my Emergency Medicine Residency.  I completed my first formal triathlon during my internship in 2002 and started coaching triathletes in 2006. 

Since graduating college I’ve been teaching and coaching people and helping them accomplish goals they once thought were unreachable.  I started with Outward Bound School teaching wilderness expedition skills to teenagers and young adults, taught Rock Climbing and Kayaking Classes to groups like Breast Cancer Survivors and Vietnam Veterans, and now as a physician and coach, I get to help people create and follow training plans to reach their personal and competitive goals in cycling and triathlon.

Since then I’ve coached dozens of athletes through their first competitive triathlons and bike races, and firmly believe that if you WANT to finish your first triathlon, you CAN and WILL.  Many people don’t know how or where to start. 

I find such incredible gratification by helping athletes and soon-to-be-athletes that I want to help you as well.  This training plan and the guidance from the Pittsburgh Triathlon Club training committee is guaranteed to get you started training on the right foot so that you know you are spending your time doing the right type of training. 

As you progress in your journey, I want you to keep just one thing in mind…the most important thing I learned during my years at Outward Bound…we are capable of more than we think we are.

Let me say that one more time, because it’s vital that you and I agree on this:

We are capable of more than we think we are.

(This means you!)

Webb Family-Nautica Beach Tri copy

Successful first time finisher AND age group winner Jean Webb at the Nautica Triathlon in Florida

MikeW-Ironman Florida - Finishers Medal

Successful First Time Finisher™ Mike Walther at IronMan Florida

Suzanne Atkinson, MD, FACEP

USAT Certified Coach

Steel City Endurance, Ltd.

First Time Finisher’s Triathlon Guide

Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.

Thomas Jefferson

So you’re wondering what it would take to finish your first triathlon.  You’re wondering if you have the skill, the endurance and the mental effort required to train for a new accomplishment.  I’ve got great news for you.  If you’ve even considered it, you’ve got what it takes!  From teenage girls to an 81 year old man this plan hundreds of people finish their first triathlon!  Think I’m exaggerating? Over 10,000 people have downloaded this same training plan, and hundreds have emailed me to let me know they succeeded. 

The fact that you have joined this training group shows that you have an internal drive and motivation to try new and challenging physical activities.  The most vital components of being able to train and complete your first triathlon are motivation and desire! 

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.

Pat Riley

The First Time Finisher’s Guide to Triathlon will walk you through a three month training plan to complete your first sprint distance triathlon.  The sprint distance is the perfect race for your first triathlon and typically consists of a 400 to 800 yard swim, 12-20 mile bike ride and a 3 mile run. 

Who are these plans are for?

Who are these training plans for?

This training plan is for someone training for their first Olympic Distance triathlon who is currently in good health and has no injuries. You may have already done one or more sprint triathlons and are looking for a basic approach to increasing your triathlon distance safely.

The plan uses a time based approach and does not require a heart rate monitor or power meter unless you want to use one. All workouts can be done by perceived exertion alone. I refer to this as a “Level 1” plan to indicate that the workouts are time based, and mostly done at a “conversational pace.”

All of the workouts in this guide are intended to be done in Zone 2, the Endurance Zone. This is also known as a “conversational pace”, or the pace at which you could easily carry on a conversation with someone.

If you have previous experience completing a triathlon of this distance or have a solid endurance background from previous sports competition, then adding in workouts of higher intensity can help you build your aerobic power even more quickly. However increasing intensity also increases training load and can put you at risk for injury.

This plan is a LEVEL 1 plan, I’m advising that you stay in Zone 2 for most or all of their training in order to have an enjoyable, injury-free training experience. When you are ready for more, I have intermediate & advanced sprint & olympic plans available.

Equipment - The Right Gear for the First Time Triathlete

It matters little how much equipment we use;

it matters much that we be masters of all we do use.

Sam Abell

What kind of equipment does the First Time Finisher need?

Your first triathlon can be accomplished with a minimum amount of equipment.  While it can eventually become an expensive pursuits, as you start to by specialized equipment, most of us already have the equipment we need to train for and complete a triathlon.  The following is a list of the minimum required equipment to complete your first triathlon:

    1. Swimsuit & goggles
    2. Running shoes
    3. Bicycle (the one you currently own) and a helmet.

Let’s discuss each of those items separately.


OK, as much fun as it would be, we’re just not allowed (in most cases) to swim naked.  So you need a swimsuit.  For summer races, many people do the entire triathlon in their swim suit, including the bike & run without changing or adding additional clothing. There are a lot of options for what type of clothing to wear once you’re done with the swim and we’ll discuss that further on. 


It’s simply impossible to swim an efficient freestyle stroke if you are not willing to put your face & head into the water.  Goggles allow you to do so while still observing your surroundings, whether you’re in a pool or a pond.  It’s also possible to do a triathlon swim using breaststroke, sidestroke or even backstroke, but I still recommend goggles to make the experience more comfortable.  As a young swimmer, I had a terrible time finding goggles that didn’t leak.  “Goggle technology” has advanced since then, and there are many styles available that are leak proof, even for contact lens wearers.

Running Shoes:

The best thing you can do for your body and joints is to go to a reputable running store and get fitted for shoes that fit your build, foot shape and running style.   A good pair of running shoes will help minimize movement inside the shoe, may help control pronation & supination of the foot and provide cushioning from harsh road surfaces. Try the shoes out on a treadmill while you are in the store.  Buy a second pair of shoes before the first get too worn and rotate in the new pair.  For some people this may be after 150 miles or so of running.  Let your feet guide you.  No shoe can protect you from injury without a sound approach to training. Choose a shoe that is comfortable from the start without any ridges or bumps that will irritate your skin.  If it’s stylish in addition, that’s a bonus!


Any bicycle will do.  The bicycling you currently own or can borrow from your mom, dad or kid brother will work fine.  My first triathlon was done on a 15 year old, steel framed mountain bike with hubs so old that the wheels ground to a stop within three revolutions.  I viewed it as extra training resistance.  😉  Of course a bike that fits you will be most comfortable, but there is no need to go out and spend $500 or more on a new bike just for this event.  If  you are looking for an excuse to buy a good bike, however, this is a great opportunity to go shopping!  But don’t let the absence of a fancy carbon fiber time trail bike stop you from training. 


Absolutely mandatory.  Both by USA Triathlon Rules as well as by me. Your brain is your most valuable asset. Even a simple fall on a bicycle can result in a serious head injury.  Bicycle helmets are designed to absorb impact that would other wise be transmitted to your skull and your brain on the inside.  Because a bruise in your brain can’t swell like a bruise on your arm or leg, for example, even small head injuries can be devastating.

You must wear your helmet at all times, and that includes rides on “quiet” streets, trails, paved paths and even a quick spin to check your current tune up.  As an ER physician, I’ve seen far too many head injuries and the devastation that they cause.  The price range on helmets starts at a very affordable range and goes up to several hundred dollars. You can find one in your price range at your local bicycle shop. 

Never buy a used helmet that you don’t know the history of. Even one fall is enough to disrupt the helmet’s ability to absorb future impacts. A helmet should be replaced after any crash. If you don’t own one, you need to go out and buy one now. 

As helmets get more expensive, they tend to get lighter and more comfortable.  But the helmets on the low end of the price range are just as safe as long as they pass the industry standard.  Stop into any bike shop to ask and try them on. A more comfortable helmet is one that you will look forward to wearing, and who knows, it may be the helmet that saves your life!

Training to be a First Time Finisher

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Three Elements of Training that help you improve your performance

Positive changes in your fitness require physical stress, followed by recovery and repair. There are three basic elements of training that can be manipulated in a variety of ways to create the right stresses at the right times to achieve a positive benefit.

    1. Frequency
    2. Duration
    3. Intensity

After becoming familiar with these three fundamental variables, you can manipulate each of them one at a time as needed to achieve further progressive overload. Systematic application of progressive overload, followed by rest and recovery results in increased fitness specific to your training.

The 12 Week Sprint Triathlon Training Program included on this page is a basic plan that takes these elements into account, primarily duration.  As the weeks progress, you will see that the duration of each workout slowly increases, with adequate time for rest and recovery. I’ve already worked out the progression for you so all you have to do is follow the plan.

If you are following another training plan, you’ll need to look over these three fundamentals and make sure that each one is taken into account, but like I said, I’ve already done this for you in the 12 week plan included at the end of this book.

I want to go over two additional things that are vital for a successful training plan. These two things may seem contrary to each other.  Rest and Consistency  Let me explain what I mean by that. 

Reach Your Goals Sooner with Consistency

“We are what we continuously do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”


Achieving your short and long term goals, enjoying your sport and having progressive improvements in your skills, strength, speed and endurance require consistency in your training. Downtime suffered from illness, injury and loss of motivation result in a loss of fitness, and the need to spend time rebuilding your fitness. It is estimated that the time it takes to rebuild fitness after a layoff period is approximately twice the time that was taken off.

If you decide to chill out at the end of summer climbing season with a month of baseball playoffs, football preseason and beer, it will take you another two months to get back to your end of summer fitness level. If you were planning to make any progress over the winter or get out on the ice, that’s sure not a great way to start. Consistent training, not extreme training is the path to the highest personal level of fitness.

Rest Is a Mandatory Training Component

Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.

      Thomas Dekker (1572 – 1632)

Consistent training does not mean constant training. Fitness is actually gained only while resting. Workouts breakdown muscle tissue, deplete storage supplies and create waste products that your body needs to remove and recycle. Growth hormone is released only during REM sleep, about 30 minutes after falling to sleep.

A rested athlete looks forward to workouts, enjoys exercising, feels sharp, coordinated and in control and grows stronger. An overtired/over trained athlete requires extreme willpower just to finish workouts, is sluggish, recovers poorly from workouts and stops benefiting from workout out altogether. Overtraining/under resting mimics 5-HT depletion, the same chemical pathways shown to be depleted in depression.

Everyone has different internal motivations for training, and it’s not unusual for people training for a triathlon to be the type of person who is constantly looking for a new challenge…you probably have many other responsibilities in your life, and may be trying to cram in as much training as you possibly can (or at least you’ve thought about it).

Rest can and needs to be incorporated in many ways and on many levels in your training plan, including adequate sleep, easy training days, days off, entire recovery weeks, and an interruption of structured training at the end of a season.

Cross Training & Core Training

What about cross training?

Triathlon by its very nature consists of cross training. This is one aspect that attracts many athletes in their 30s & 40s to try their first triathlon. However most coaches recommend additional cross training to enhance your triathlon performance and overall conditioning.

The most important types of cross training to add are activities that strengthen the core and enhance flexibility. Examples include Yoga, Pilates, Core Training workouts such as those shown here:

Core Exercises for Cyclists & Triathletes Part 1:

Core Exercises for Cyclists & Triathletes Part 2:

Try to add 1-3 sessions of Core Training work to your weekly routine. These can be done on any training day and should be separated by at least 1-2 days.

Other activities many triathletes enjoy include Kettlebell workouts and p90x routines. p90x3 is a fantastic collection of 16 different 30 minute workouts that target a wide variety of body part combinations and fitness skills. I recommend p90x3 to all of my triathletes looking for home programs with little equipment needed.

Visit my beachbody coaching page for more information about p90x3 and to order a DVD set or on Demand

Moving from Swim to Bike and Bike to Run. AKA Transitions

Life is one big transition.
Willie Stargell


Transition is the period between each event. For a traditional triathlon, there is a swim to bike transition, known as “T1”, and a bike to run transition, known as “T2”. You should spend at least one session practicing each of these transitions in the week or two prior to your race.

Each athlete is usually given a small area for transition. At some races it’s first come first served, and at other races, each athlete is given a numbered area that corresponds with your race number. You will pick up your race packet, and then find your number on the bike racks in order to locate your transition area. Usually the even and odd numbers alternate on each side of a metal or wooden bar that acts as support for your bicycle. In other words, if you are number “3”, number “1” will be to your left, number “5” to your right, and numbers “2” and “4” will be on the other side of the rack.

Here is a link to a Triathlon Transition Layout. Print it out, double sided and cut it in half. Now you’ve got two transition diagrams. Put one in your race bag for race day, and use the other for practice right now. The best way to practice your first transition is to lay out all your gear according to the diagram, starting with a small sized towel to “stake your claim” and place the rest of your gear. As you layout your transition area think of the order in which you will need your gear.

The first step in transition is to “rack your bike”. You can either rack it by the seat or by the handlebars. If you rack it by the seat, you can usually place the nose of the saddle over the rack with the front wheel touching down on YOUR SIDE of the bike rack. Likewise, if you decide to rack it by the handlebars, the brake levers are typically placed over the rack with your BACK wheel touching down on YOUR SIDE of the bike rack. Regardless of which way you rack your bike, the most important point (and a very misunderstood USA Triathlon rule), is that the wheel of your bike should touch down on YOUR SIDE of the rack. See the pattern here?

Some race directors will specify in the pre-race meeting that all bikes should be racked by the seat. But note that you can place your bike in the rack hanging by the seat and the front wheel could be touching down either away from you or towards you. The correct placement is the wheel touching down towards you. If this all sounds confusing just look at the diagram and photos. If it’s still confusing you may just have to wait for your first race. Next in transition area will be the items you need to transition from the swim to the bike.

You will need to do the following:

  • Exit the water and find your transition area
  • Take off your wetsuit if wearing one
  • Put on your bike shoes (will you wash your feet off? Will you wear socks?)
  • Put on your bike helmet and fasten it.
  • Put on your sunglasses.
  • Run/walk with your bike to the mounting area.
  • Get on your bike and go!

Your bike should be stocked with one or two full water bottles, and if you will be using any sports gels or bars on the bike leg, they need to be in a place where you won’t forget them. (like placed inside your bike shoes).

Some people will also do a wardrobe change in T1. If you are wearing just a swimsuit for the swim, you will need to put on biking shorts and a shirt or cycling jersey. If you have invested in a “tri suit”, you can wear the same suit for all three events, saving time during T1.

When you finish the bike leg, you will (usually) arrive back in the same transition area for “T2”. For T2, you will need to do the following:

  • Dismount your bike at the dismount line
  • Walk/run your bike back to your transition area
  • Re-rack your bike without knocking any one else’s bike over
  • Change from biking shoes to running shoes
  • Take off your bike helmet
  • Be sure you have your race number on (pinned to your shirt or on a race belt)
  • Go run!

Note a few important rules here, first, you must ALWAYS have your helmet on and buckled while riding the bike anywhere at the race venue. If you are caught riding your bike, even from your car to transition without your helmet on, you can be disqualified from the race (but usually you will just get a warning). Secondly, you are not allowed to ride your bike in the transition area. There will be a mount and a dismount line for the bike leg, which means you must practice running with your bike, steering either by the bars or by the seat.

So now that you know the steps, you’ve seen the diagram, gathered your things and laid them all out, the next step is to practice. The easiest way to do this is to practice T1 during one training session about 3 weeks before race day. Then practice T2 the following week about 2 weeks before race day. In the week before the race, get all of your gear together and practice both transitions, going for a short 10 minute bike ride followed by a 5 minute run. Repeat this transition from start to finish 3-4 times for a nice workout during which you can get your transition area techniques completely wired.


Swim to Bike Transition Practice

You may be wondering if you should practice the swim to bike transition by doing an actual swim. If you have the ability to do this at an outdoor pool or body of water, this is ideal. If it is impractical for you to do an actual swim, just get dressed in your swim suit, tri suit or wetsuit, and get soaked in your shower or your garden sprinkler.

After you’re wet, start about 50 feet from your transition area set up. Do about 5-10 pushups to get your body working in that horizontal position. Then standup, jog towards your transition area and start your routine. Although you don’t get in the swim, you still get the experience of transitioning from horizontal to vertical as well as changing out of soaking wet clothing or suit and getting into your bike gear.

Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose.
Bo Bennett

If reading about transitions sounds stressful to you, all the more reason to try it before the race. Visualization and Mental rehearsal is invaluable. The idea is to reduce the amount of stress on race morning by practicing as much as possible and eliminating the unknown. You will still have a lot of excitement on race day morning. Do your best to channel this energy into a positive experience. Your main priorities for your first triathlon should be to have a good time, learn as much as possible and simply finish the race. It doesn’t matter where you finish, because you can only control your own training and preparation.

Triathlon coaches have a saying that goes like this: “DFL is better than DNF is better than DNS”. Translation: “Dead Friggin’ Last is better than Did Not Finish is better than Did Not Start.” If you show up for the race and participate, you are doing better than over 99% of the population who never even considered training for a triathlon. The most important part about all of this practice and training, however, is to have fun.

Bricks, Costume, Soreness & Planning

Sore muscles

Muscle soreness is caused by small amounts of damage to the muscle fibers from performing new activities. It is generally a good sign at the beginning of an exercise program indicating that you are giving your muscles new challenges. Muscle soreness shouldn’t last more than 2-3 days, and if it lasts longer than that, it’s a sign that you may have gone just a little overboard on your initial workouts. If that’s the case, learn from the experience. Make your next few workouts very gentle, just enough to get the blood flowing and wake up the muscles, but not so intense that you risk doing additional damage to muscles that have not yet fully recovered.

Sore joints

Ligaments and tendons take longer to adjust to new levels of physical activity due to relatively less blood flow compared to muscles. This is one of several reasons why you should begin a new exercise program slowly and ease into it. Soreness around your joints is not something you should try to “work through” by continuing to progress your exercise program. Take some additional time off, decrease the length of your next workout or skip the next workout entirely. When in doubt, slow down or leave it out!


Being organized for your workouts is no different from being organized in other areas of your life. If it takes extra time to gather your workout clothes, find your running shoes, biking helmet, water bottles, stop watch , etc, you will lose precious workout time and probably your motivation to workout as well.

Take the time each evening to prepare what you’ll need for the next day’s workout. This is especially true if you are trying to do a workout in the morning. For running, set out your running shoes, clean socks, a workout shirt, hat, sunglasses and your ipod (if you use one). For swimming, have your (clean, dry) swim suit, swim cap if you have long hair, goggles, your workout and a dry towel ready to go in a mesh duffle or bag. Biking requires the most equipment and searching for these items is likely to zap the motivation for your workout as well. Be sure you collect the following items in one place: Helmet, cycling shorts, cycling shoes, gloves, bike computer, water bottles ready to fill, and pump up your tires to an appropriate pressure the night before.

Immediately after each workout, change your clothes putting your dirty workout clothes in the hamper, place your shoes where you can grab them for the next workout, empty and rinse out your water bottles especially if you used a drink mix, put your bike away and hang your suit and or towel up to dry.

Following these easy steps significantly improves the possibility of you completing your workouts rather than skipping them due to disorganization.


Before the weekend comes I have visions of rising early, putting in a nice long bike ride, getting home feeling a healthy sense of accomplishment by having my workout already accomplished. The rest of the day is mine, free to relax, read or hang out at a coffee shop.

But what usually happens is that I sleep in, take a shower, put on a comfy tie dye & sandals, fix a cup of tea, read the paper and dream about the perfect bike ride I’ll take later in the day. Many weekends, I never get changed into my workout clothes and end up stressed about fitting in my 2 hour ride before the sun goes down. Assuming it doesn’t rain in the afternoon.

Costume is the simple solution to this problem. Rather than think about your long workout as you struggle to get out from underneath your cozy covers, just think about putting on your “costume”. Instead of slipping into your favorite Saturday T-shirt & jeans, slip right into your biking shorts and shoes. Once your that far, sitting down for a cup of tea is just a nice prelude to your morning ride, rather than another step in procrastination. Getting onto your bike and out the door is easy once you’re already dressed for it!


The 2nd half of the 3 month plan introduces a new type of workout called a “Brick”.  A brick is a workout that involves two of the triathlon sports performed back to back.  For example a swim followed by a bike ride, or a bike ride followed by a run.  It is important to practice these workouts since one of the main challenges of a triathlon is not necessarily competing in all three sports, but being able complete each leg immediately after finishing the first.

The bike to run transition is the most difficult to get used to if you have never tried it before.  Your leg muscles are generally fatigued from biking and you are now asking them to start running!  Normal sensations during this transition include a heavy feeling in your thighs, difficulty standing upright like you normally would during your run and a nagging doubt of whether or not you can finish the race.  By incorporating a simple brick workout once a week in the last few weeks of your training, you will overcome each of these obstacles

Your first few brick workouts are easy, you simply put on some running shoes after finishing your bike workout and head out for an easy 10 minute  jog, no more.  You are trying to get your legs used to the idea of running after finishing a bike workout.  For the best training effect, you need to begin your run within 10 minutes of finishing your bike.  This is not a substitute for “two-a-days” where your intention would be a quality workout in each of two sports separated by several hours for recovery.  The intention for these workouts is to deliberately fatigue your legs during the bike ride and immediately head out for a short run.

The three month plan calls for three of these bricks in weeks 7, 8 and 9.  Just put on your running shoes after your mid-week ride and go for a 10 minute jog.  You will begin to look forward to these short runs after your bike ride and find the “brick” sensation in your thighs is less and less noticable after time!

This chapter I covered some topics relating to your new habit of triathlon training, presented some tips for fitting your workouts into a busy schedule, and introduced you to a new type of workout.  Try out each of the previous tips this coming month to see which ones improve your motivation to train or give you more time. In the next chapter I will give you some tips on how to make your race day sport transitions seamless and fast. 

Moving from Sprint to Olympic

How do I move from sprint to olympic distance triathlons?

Moving from sprint to olympic distance triathlons requires little more than gradually adding volume to your training plan. Slowly adding time and/or distance to your current training will build endurance while minimizing risk of injury.

The underlying principal is called “progressive overload”. Your heart & muscles respond to regularly applied training loads that gradually increase over time by improving your body’s ability to burn fat for fuel, and increasing your body’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen in the working muscle cells.

Throughout this plan, you’ll see gradual increases in training volume from week to week. These are carefully planned increments in the length of each workout so that the total training volume is slowly increased without becoming too taxing on your body. Every 4th week there is a slight cutback in total volume to allow your body and mind a chance to rejuvenate a bit.

Am I training enough?

How do I make sure I’m adequately trained?

Following this plan will allow most people to complete their first Olympic distance triathlon. It’s OK to miss a workout here & there, but try not to

miss more than 3 workouts in a row. If you are injured, ill or traveling and miss 3 days in a row, just try to pick up where the plan is for that day.

If you miss a week of training, you should cautiously resume your training at the beginning of the week that you missed. If you are feeling good during this week, you can try to gradually “catch up” to the proper week for your race planning.

Consistency is the most important component of any training plan, so try to find a way to fit in the workouts with your schedule that allows you to be consistent. (ie 2 days on, 1 day off, rather than 1 hard day of training with 3 days off)

Injury Prevention

How do I keep from getting injured while training?

Assuming you are currently injury free, the best way to prevent injury is to add training volume into your schedule gradually. Of the three sports, running is the most strenuous, and increases should be done conservatively. The “Ten Percent” rule applies strongly here…do not add more than 10% of total training to your running volume per week.

Cycling & swimming are more forgiving and the total training volume can be increased a little bit more per week, but keeping the overload moderate will help ensure that you avoid developing overuse injuries.

You will feel some soreness and discomfort from increased levels of training…your body may be adapting to the workload…

Pay attention to any pain signals from your body. These are some questions your doctor may ask you, and you should ask yourself the same questions before any pain becomes a prominent complaint:

•Where is the pain located (is it a muscle, joint, tendon)?

•When does it bother you (only with use, when you wake up, during the night)?

•What makes it better and/or worse?

•When did the pain start?

If you begin to experience aches & pains, consider shortening your workout, replacing it with something that causes no pain or skipping the workout altogether. It is far better to be slightly undertrained and have no injuries prior to your event, than to be slightly overtrained and injured.

If your pain or discomfort persists after a few days of lightened workload, see your doctor. If at anytime you are concerned about a sports related injury, see your doctor right away.

Missed Workouts & Doubling Up

What if I miss a workout?

The workouts in this plan should all be done at a “conversational pace” if you are a first time (or occasional) Olympic Distance Triathlete. If you miss a day and feel that you can comfortably do two workouts in a day, then go ahead and see how you feel. For the first 6 weeks of the plan before the “bricks” begin, I’d recommend separating any “2 a day” workouts by several hours if possible.

If you miss more than 2 days in a row, do not try to make up more than one of them, just consider it lost time and pick up the plan where you are in time.

Should I try to double-up workouts?

See the answer above. In general, if you try to double up due to a missed day of training, leave several hours between workouts to allow for recovery. This will allow you to get the most out of your second workout for the day and build strength & endurance specific to that discipline.

Training Nutrition - Before, During & After

What should I eat & drink before, during & after training?

A full discussion of triathlon nutrition is beyond the scope of this guide. In addition only registered dietitians can provide individualized nutritional counseling. But some basic guidelines can be helpful in getting you started with proper training nutrition.

Pre Workout: You’ll want to be well hydrated before starting your workout. The best way is to stay well-hydrated throughout the day and before going to bed at night. When you awaken, begin replacing nighttime fluid losses right away.

Try to consume 8-12 ounces of water at least an hour or more before your workout and another 4-8 ounces within 15 minutes of starting. With running you may not tolerate this much fluid this close, so experiment with what works well for you.

If possible, try to eat a small well balanced snack of around 300 calories 2 hours before your workout. More than this and you may develop stomach upset. Fi)een minutes prior to your workout, consider a small 100 calorie snack of mostly carbs.

During the Workout:


3-8 ounces / 15 minutes. That means for an hour long ride, you may need to drink 1 – 2 standard 16 oz bottles of water or sports drink. Experiment with what works for you and err on the side of bringing too much fluid with you in the beginning. Anything you don’t drink will be “training weight”

For workouts of less than 1 hour duration, generally the only thing you will need is hydration in the form of plain water.


For workouts up to 45 minutes to an hour, generally no carbohydrates are needed. For workouts longer than that, you’ll want to consume around 100 calories every 45 minutes or so. A typical energy “gel” has about 80-100 calories in it (for example gels & blocks), so for a 90 minute bike ride, you can plan on bringing 2 gels with you. Most gels or blocks also have some electrolytes in them as well. Experiment with which brands and flavors work best for you and don’t cause stomach upset.

Sports Drinks:

Sports drinks combine fluid, carbohydrates and electrolytes in one solution. Using the guidelines above, for a workout less than 45 minutes or so, a sport drink isn’t necessary. For longer rides, calculate how many calories per hour you’ll be drinking along with your fluid.

Caution: Many new triathletes go overboard with sports drinks. They taste good and it makes you feel like an athlete to mix up your drink powder and swing it down on a ride or run. These drinks contain calories that need to be figured into your total daily caloric need. Drinking sports drinks excessively can inhibit weight loss or even cause weight gain. Be careful!

Post Workout: Eat a small well-balanced snack within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. Aim for 150-300 calories, but don’t go overboard. These calories will help replace muscle glycogen in the important 30 minute window a)er your workout. If you wait too long, your body will have a harder time replacing the glycogen, which is fuel for your workouts, and you may feel like you are dragging the next day.

Examples of well balanced post workout snacks include the following: Sliced apples with peanut or almond butter

  • Low fat yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Banana and a small handful of almonds
  • Turkey & Lettuce roll-up
  • Hummus & Carrots/Pita
  • Cereal with Skim Milk
  • Tuna fish on Whole wheat crackers
  • Low fat cottage cheese with fruit

Keep it simple and you are more likely to get your post-workout fueling in. Again, be careful not to go overboard with too many calories immediately afterwards. You’ll still need to eat a well balanced meal within the next few hours especially for longer & harder workouts.

Getting Started & Swim, Bike & Run Workouts for Starters

How do I get started?

Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia.

Alexis Carrel

This 3 month First Time Finisher’s plan has daily workouts that specify the activity and the duration.  If you follow the plan, your workouts will begin small, gradually build in duration, you will get adequate rest & recovery and you will be physically and mentally prepared to complete your first sprint distance triathlon.  Naturally if you are interested in doing other events, you can modify this plan, or look into personalized coaching.

Let’s get right down to business with details about your first month of training.  The training plan is designed with a first time triathlete in mind.  If you can do the following, then you should be successful following this plan.  If not, don’t let that discourage you.  Three months is ample time to get up to speed in all three disciplines.   

  • You can ride a bike,
  • You can swim 25-50 yards without stopping
  • You can do twenty minutes of a run/walk combination.   

Feel free to modify the plan to your own strengths and weaknesses.  if you are already a strong swimmer for example, you may want to devote a little more time to running or cycling.   Each week features two workouts in each sport for  a total of six workouts per week.  You should take at least one full day of rest each week, feel free to move this day to whatever suits your schedule.

I will go over the first week of each month in detail.  For the subsequent weeks, use the plan as a guide and if you have questions about anything contact your training officers.   Consider printing out the training plan  so that you can refer to it as needed during the descriptions of the workouts.

Week by Week Training for the First Time Finisher (Sprint)

Week One

Week one requires a total of about 2 1/2 hours of workouts.  


Two workouts of 400 and 500 yards.  Swim any combination of lengths to total the correct workout distance.  You can alternate strokes if you like, but if you would like to do the swim in all freestyle, then simply take your time and rest as needed in between lengths.  If you can only swim 25 yards at a time, then simply do sets of four lengths and do four sets total for your first workout.  The second workout do five sets of four lengths each.  


Swim 1:  Warmup 4 x 25 yards with long slow strokes resting as needed.  Main set:  4 x 25 yards at a moderate effort, rest 10 seconds after each length.  Rest for 60 seconds then repeat.  Cooldown:  4 x 25 yards focus on good form, resting as needed. Total 400 yards


Swim 2:   Warmup 4 x 25 yards with long slow strokes resting as needed.  Main set:  4 x 25 yards at a moderate effort, rest 10 seconds after each length.  Rest 60 seconds. 4x 25 yards moderate effort, rest for 5 seconds between each length.  Rest for 60 seconds then repeat first set.  Cooldown:  4 x 25 yards focus on good form, resting as needed. Total 500 yards


If you can’t swim at least 25 yards without stopping, or if you would like to improve your swim technique, consider having someone at your local swim club take a look at your form, or take a few private lessons. Even just one private lesson is requently enough to fast forwar your swim stroke to a more efficient, and thus more fun wya to workout.


 A note about safety:  You should be prepared for the most common biking incident which is a flat tire.  Carry with you a patch kit, a pump and/or CO2 cartridges.  All of this and a small tool set can be stored in a small under-the-seat zippered pouch.  I put a business card with my emergency contact information in the pouch as well.  Always wear a helmet and carry some type of identification with you.  A cell phone is also a great backup safety device that you’ll be glad to have when you need it. 

Bike #1:  30 minutes of easy riding.  Get used to your bike, change gears frequently to become accustomed to how they work.  Practice pedaling fast and slow and note the relation ship between your gear selection and how fast or slow you can pedal.  Have fun with this ride, see if you can get a friend to come along.  

Bike #2:  50 minutes of easy riding.  For this ride, focus on staying in a gear that lets you pedal at a cadence of around 90 rpm.   You don’t need a fancy bike computer for this, just count the number of pedal revolutions you make in 10 seconds and mutliply by six.  Fifteen revolutions in six seconds equals 90 revolutions per minute.  This may seem difficult at first, but if you practice it will get easier and it will pay off in the long run. 


I realize that running comes naturally for some people and for others is extremely difficult.  The best thing you can do is start off with a good fitting pair of running shoes.  If your shoes are more than 6 months old or have more than 300-500 miles on them, buy yourself a pair of new shoes from a good running store.  your ankles, knees, hips and back will thank you!

Run 1:  The first run is an easy 20 minute jog.  You should keep your effort at a “conversational” level. If you are breathing too hard to say more than a few words at a time, you need to slow down.  If you are not able to run for 20 minutes continuously, then alternate running and walking as needed.  A 5 minute brisk walk to warm up followed by alternating 2 minutes running & walking five times, followed by a 5 minute cooldown will add up to 20 minutes.  Treat yourself to a tall glass of water when you are done!

Run 2:  This is a slightly longer run of 25 minutes.  If you are following the run/walk plan, continue with 5 minute walking warmup and cool down with 15 minutes of alternating running and walking inbetween.  Try to slowly increase the amount of time you are able to continuosly run.  

Weeks 2, 3 & 4

Continue with weeks 2 through 4 in the plan by following the same suggestions as above. If you have a good background in one of the disciplines, you may want to continue your regular training if  it is currently more than what I’ve recommended here. Keep in mind that this plan was designed for the new triathlete in mind.  The truth is that nearly all triathletes have some background in one of the three sports.  If so, consider doing one extra workout per week in your weakest sport, and simply “maintaining” your current level of fitness in your best sport.  On race day, you’ll be glad you devoted the extra time.  Coming up is Month two and additional topics such as dealing with sore muscles, staying organized so that you can fit in your workouts, recovery and more.

The Middle Stretch – Fortifying your Endurance

Month 2

In the last section,  I introduced you to the idea of training for your first triathlon. We reviewed the necessary equipment, basic elements of training in order to see continued improvement and reduce the chance of injury and how to get started with the first weeks of your training plan.  If you have been following the First Time Finisher’s plan, you will currently be swimming 700-900 yards per workout, biking for a little over an hour at a time, and running up to 45 minutes on weekends.

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself

within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.

Dante Alighieri

Now  I would like to discuss a few topics that may be on your mind, and introduce a new type of workout called a “brick”.

The Final Stretch – Preparing for your Peak and Crushing Race Day

Month 3

Hello again, triathletes!  By now you are well into the first 2 months of your triathlon training and are starting to believe in yourself.  Congratulations!  Did you think you would come this far?  Remember what I talked about in the very beginning?  You are capable of more than you think you are!  You WILL finish your first triathlon.  The past chapters I have discussed several common questions and obstacles that everyone faces on the road to becoming a triathlete.  The first chapter we discussed equipment and basic workouts.  The second chapter we discussed some tips and tricks to stay motivated as well as introducing the “brick” workout.  Now I want to discuss the “brick” workout just a little bit more, and talk about transitions. 

In last earlier discussion of brick workouts, I suggested that you start with a ten-minute run following one of your weekly bike rides.  If you have been doing this for the past four weeks, you should now be accustomed to the sensation of running on “tired” legs.  Changing activities from biking to running requires the recruitment of your hamstrings, glutes, quads and calves in different proportions as well as a change in technique.  The first ten minutes of the run is the hardest part for most triathletes.  Congratulations, because you now have this most challenging part behind you!

Longer Bricks

As you get closer to your goal race, in the last 2-3 weeks, you should begin to increase the length of your run.  A great way to do this is to combine your short bike and short run into a full-length brick workout, instead of just the 10 minute run.  If you are uncertain about how long to bike and run, aim for a 2:1 ratio.  In other words, a 60 minute bike followed by a 20-30 minute run.  If you’ve been doing the short 10 minute runs after your bikes up to this point, advancing to a 20-30 minute run should be no problem.  This helps your body learn to keep drawing on the strength and endurance you have built up for your run, and forces you to practice pacing and nutrition for this part of the upcoming race. 

12 Week Sprint Basic Triathlon Training Plan

Please note that this is a basic plan designed to build endurance in the novice triathlete in their 1st or 2nd year of the sport. Workout durations are based on projected “First Time Finisher” times. If you are able to complete this plan while remaining injury free, you should be successful in completing your first triathlon.

View & Download the 12 Week Sprint Plan here

12 Week Olympic Basic Triathlon Training Plan

Please note that this is a basic plan designed to build endurance in the novice triathlete in their 1st or 2nd year of the sport. Workout durations are based on projected “First Time Finisher” times. If you are able to complete this plan while remaining injury free, you should be successful in completing your first triathlon.

View & Download the  Olympic Distance Triathlon 12 Week Plan

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