100 Tips for a Successful Triathlon


A good resource for finding triathlons of all kinds and lengths is http://www.trifind.net 

Watch your budget!

The sport of triathlon has been growing rapidly and so has advertising for very expensive products. Most of these products give little advantage to anyone other than (sometimes) top triathletes. The vast majority of triathletes will do very well with a light bicycle with excellent hardware and aerobars for under $2500; a light,  strong pair of wheels with good hubs, spokes  and rims for under $800; helmets and shoes for under $110 each and sunglasses for under $30. Other items such as special containers for liquids on your bike offer little if any improvement over less expensive items (water bottles in this case)..

Women's Issues

Women have unique issues related to training and competing in triathlons. For an excellent discussion, see "How to Run Like a Girl", by Jen A. Miller, New York Times

Follow a good stretching and weight lifting regime for major muscles, especially the core back and stomach muscles

You inevitably lose muscle mass if you train without lifting weights. In addition to core muscles, work on arms, shoulders, and legs. I highly recommend that you get professional advice on how to use weights and weight machines.  One or two sessions with a fitness expert, with an occasional refresher, can help you strengthen and balance muscles appropriately for running, biking and swimming. Typically you should do three sets of 10 repetitions with what seems like a reasonably heavy weight for each exercise. Middle aged and older athletes should pursue a more limited weight lifting program (see below).

Two exercises that I highly recommend: First, stand on the edge of a raised platform, rise to your tiptoes, hold and then lower to a point where your heel is below the edge of the platform. Repeated several times, this strengthens the calf, achilles and other tendons in the ankle.

The other exercise I especially recommend stretches the back and strengthens the core muscles. Lie on your back and, keeping your legs straight, raise them over your head and touch the floor behind you. Hold for four seconds, then return, holding your legs in front of you several inches above the floor for another four seconds. Repeat several times

Use hard foam rollers

Rollers are great for massaging and stretching muscles shortened by repetitive use, and thus preventing injuries. Typical advice recommends using rollers on major muscles in legs and back.  I also found them helpful for upper arm muscles sore from swimming. See Runners World

Use waterproof, sweat proof sunblock all year round to avoid skin damage and cancer

Triathletes spend a lot of time outdoors. Exposure means skin damage, and a lot of exposure means more damage. A good sun screen protects the skin and nowadays keeps your skin from drying out. Pre-cancerous lesions in the form of small sores or raised, rough bumps on the skin should be removed by a dermatologist. To avoid Vitamin D deficiency. spend 15-30 minutes outdoors without sunblock in areas with a history of limited long term exposure several times a week.  In the summer when I wear shorts,  I ride and run without sunscreen on my legs, but use it liberally on face and arms.

Wear sunglasses (and tinted goggles in the swim)

In the long run, sun will damage your eyes. In addition, glasses protect eyes from flying bugs and spray from a bike in front of you. I recommend glasses that are tight to your face; a bee stung me when it got between my eye and sunglasses . The sun in your eyes makes it hard to see on early morning swims without tinted goggles.

Sustain a low fat, high carb diet

Scientific studies have shown this diet is best for athletes and for prevention of a variety of diseases. The most difficult component is to keep your relative fat intake low, especially from red meat. Recognize foods that are high in fat and avoid them. Eat low fat or fat-free dairy products and avoid off the shelf prepared foods as much as possible. Fresh fruit and vegetables, simple low fat meat and fish, and whole grain carbohydrates should be the focus for most , if not all your diet. New studies show that you should avoid sugar at all times except during and shortly after a training session or competition.  The sugar causes inflammation which can lead to a host of medical problems including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Save time by starting practice runs and bikes from the house

Towel off rather than shower if you expect to continue training later in the day; it saves time and is better for the muscles than a warm water shower

Train as much as possible with your significant other or children

Follow Tri-Fed rules during a race; Tri-Fed officials can be very inflexible

Tri Fed sets the rules for triathlons, and many of the more competitive races have Tri-Fed sanctioned personnel officiating. I have seen officials assessing penalties for riding a few inches over the dismount line. I was penalized for urinating well off the bike course even though I was delayed almost an hour by flat tires and had no choice.

Fully warming up your cardiovascular system takes longer with age: 20-30 minutes when young, 40-45 minutes when over 60

Doing a high speed workout before you are completely warmed up risks injury. so it takes us old folks a long time during a workout before we can go at what we may view as high speed. Aging also slows recovery so that you cannot put hard workouts back to back without risking injury

Adapt a training schedule to your own needs, lifestyle, injuries, objectives and progress.

Books and magazines are replete with detailed day-by-day training schedules for triathletes to get ready for races. These contain good advice, but are almost impossible to follow for the average person that has other commitments and activities in their life. The first few weeks are fine and then you have a business trip, or a minor injury, a crisis in the family, or some other disruption. If you can't keep up with one of these schedules, adjust it to fit your own needs, or make up your own. Just remember a few basic ideas for each sport: Start slow with short distances and build distance and speed until you begin to taper off training shortly before the race. Include a speed session and a long distance session in your workouts in each sport each week.

I try to fit long workouts in on weekends and short workouts on weekdays. Weekdays I run or swim after commuting home on my bike. Running right after I bike home allows me to practice the transition from bike to run (called a "brick", presumably because of how your legs feel when you start running).

Rest at least one day a week.  Cut back on your total training as you get older

I find two rest days a week are essential now that I am over 65 years old.

Wear layered clothing appropriate to the temperature expected during a ride or run. If I expect to be in the rain, I wear clothing appropriate for a temperature 10-15 degrees colder than the thermometer temperature.

For dry weather, switch to long sleeves and full length tights when temperatures are below 50 degrees. If you expect to be wet, go with these warmer clothes at 65 degrees or less.

I have gotten both hypo and hyperthermia on my bike. If it is very hot, try to bike in the shade as much as possible and stay hydrated. Splash water on yourself as frequently as possible.

Dress appropriately for cold conditions, especially those that will leave you wet from the rain or snow. Control of your bike is very difficult when you are very cold. I was lucky enough to be able to stop at a recreation center once when I got hypothermia. I spent half an hour warming up in the sauna and never broke a sweat. My teeth chattered so much that I bit the sides and end of my tongue and spoke with a lisp for the next several days.

In the winter, I always had difficulty keeping my hands and feet warm. I solved the problem with warm skiing gloves (where the fingers keep each other warm), and bicycling shoes made especially for biking in sub-freezing weather (for example, by Lake and Louis  Garneau).

For hot runs, pour water over your head as often as possible.  Put ice, if available,  in your clothes and drink iced fluids.

Cover your shoulders and wear a cap.

Protect from chafing anywhere your clothing or wet suit creates a problem by applying Powerglide, A+D ointment or equivalent to potentially affected area

Areas that could be affected include around the crotch , nipples (for a man wearing a t-shirt), and neck (for a wet suit). You may wish to look for a different type of running or biking shorts if you have a chronic problem, though over long distances, some chafing is inevitable.Besides Powerglide, I have found A+D ointment very effective at preventing chafing.

Wash clothing often to avoid jock itch and saddle sores

Treat jock itch with the same medicine as for athlete's foot (which can be avoided by wearing sandals at all times around a swimming pool). I treat sores with antibiotic ointment. Sometimes I've failed to catch the problem early and developed large boil-like abscesses. One burst while I was changing planes in Chicago and caused me to do some fast clean-up.

Training for Seniors (over 60)

Seniors are less flexible, more prone to injury and slower to recover. They need to train shorter total distances and do less speed work. A soreness should be iced frequently until it goes away for good.

Stretching is extremely important for seniors before and after exercise to enhance flexibility and compensate for competitive motion.

Typical  advice suggests that when training for the bike and run, you should go long once a week , do long intervals once a  week and short intervals once a week for each sport. I would radically modify this for most persons over 60, based on bitter experience, to recommend  going long every other week, and doing some kind of intervals no more than once a week in each sport, with light workouts in between. Depending on your experience, you may drop intervals altogether.  The alternative to cutting back along these lines is injury.

 A friend and very successful triathlete (age 68 when he wrote this) followed the  two week peak training schedule below prior to Ironman Hawaii for which he regularly qualified:

     Sun 8/31  off
     Mon 9/1   bike 100 miles, run hilly 6 miles after
     Tue  9/2   10 mile flat time trial  with 3 mile warm up and 3 mile cool down
     Wed 9/3   Run 20 miles - approx 7 hilly, 13 flat
     Thur 9/4   60 laps in college pool at race pace (no intervals)
     Fri   9/5    Bike 40 miles, run 3.1 miles after
     Sat  9/6   OFF
     Sun 9/7    Half Iron race - Delaware Diamondman
     Mon 9/8    OFF
     Tue  9/9    (AM) 70 laps in pool - no intervals
                     (PM) Bike club 10K Hill Climb
     Wed 9/10  50 mile bike (flat to rolling)
     Thur  9/11  20 mile run  7 hilly, 13 flat
     Fri    9/12   70 laps in pool ( continuous, no intervals)
     Sat   9/13   100 mile bike (mostly rolling to flat - no major climbs), 6 mile run (hilly)
My friend noted that  "this is maximum pre Ironman volume.  I do 100 mile rides and 20 mile runs only from May thru Sept., usually 2 each per month.  Non Ironman training will have maximum bikes of 50 to 60 miles and runs of 13 to 15 miles.  I don't ride at all from November thru March and do weight training during the winter along with running."

He added "  I do a limited amount of stretching after riding and running.  I do little or no formal speedwork.  My speedwork consists of running the last mile of a run hard or running a 5 or 10K course faster than my half or full iron race pace.  I do bike time trials once a week with a local bike club of varying distances and terrains (10 to 25 miles).  I ice only if I have a particular area of hurt, but use it regularly in my drink at night."

Prevention and Recovery From Injury for Seniors

Kinesio Tape can help you train, compete and recover when lightly injured. Compression socks can help protect your calves and assist with recovery.  Pool running can keep you fit when injured. Pool running and elliptical machine workouts may be a good substitute for part of your run training even when not injured. (See section on Injuries).


I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto immune disease where the body turns on and damages the joints (and, progressively, major organ systems)  I have been suffering from upper body joint pain for some time but blamed it on muscle overuse or a virus.  Only when it became so bad that I could not swim did I see a doctor who quickly diagnosed and treated the problem successfully. Seniors are very likely to have some kind of arthritis and should seek medical advice whenever you have soreness or swelling not easily explained. Exercise is an important part of treatment for any arthritis.

Knee Surgery

Certain knee problems such as a torn meniscus are easily treated with arthroscopic knee surgery with the expectation of being able to return to competition. Don't despair.

Weight Lifting for Seniors

Novices who are seniors should pursue a limited weight program.  Also, more experienced senior athletes should taper weight lifting with age, avoiding sore muscles. Here is excellent advice from Dr. Gabe Mirkin ( drmirkin.com ):

"...older men and women should...pick the weight that they can lift and lower 10 times in a row comfortably, without straining or damaging their muscles (which would make the muscles feel sore the next day)....As they become stronger and the weights feel very easy for them, they should try to lift 15 times in a row, then 20 and perhaps 25. Only when you can lift the weight at least 20 times in a row and not feel sore the next morning, should they increase the resistance by going to the next heavier weight. The key to this program is to avoid injuring their muscles by lifting weights in a single set and increasing the number of repetitions gradually so they do not cause next-day muscle soreness."

How Fast Do You Age?

A professor at Yale has analyzed reams of data on running performance and developed a calculator to tell you how much you can expect to slow in running times for various distances as you age. If you beat the calculated time, you can consider it a personal record
.(See fairmodel.econ.yale.edu/aging ).  Slowing is particularly fast after 60.