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Before training, hit pause

By Mark Turner | July 07, 2020, 2:23 p.m. (ET)

woman looking down at her sport watch

You have finally pulled the trigger. You signed up for your first triathlon. You are excited. You are ready to start training so what do you do first? 

Hit pause.

By first hitting pause, you have time for the important first step: a self-assessment of where you are as an athlete. It is hard to begin any journey without really knowing where you are starting.

Are you going from the couch to the starting line? Or are you an already seasoned athlete in another sport? Are you already at a healthy body weight? Or would you benefit from a change in your diet and personal care routine?

How you answer these and similar questions will tell you a great deal about where and when you should start.

An athlete already training in an endurance discipline and who wants to put the swim, bike, and run together can start from a very different point than the person seeking to move from a largely sedentary lifestyle. If you are starting from the couch the first, an often overlooked but important first step in pursuing multi-sport training is a visit with your primary care physician. Once cleared to pursue training, it’s time to get started!

By signing up you have established the most important checkpoint in embracing a new lifestyle: race day! 

The next step is to build your calendar from now until race day. Let’s consider an example: You are three months (or roughly 12 weeks) out from your first sprint-distance triathlon. A great way to begin your training is to divide this three month training cycle into three cycles of emphasis. Let’s say you are a better runner, and an OK cyclist, but you need to work on your swim. This is a fairly common starting point for the average age group athlete. 

In the first month spend perhaps 60% of your training time focusing on swim training and swim specific strength training. Divide the remaining training time evenly between your bike and run. Your bike training should emphasize base endurance and  time in the saddle. 

In the second month spend about 60% of your training time focusing on the bike and cycling specific strength training. During this phase emphasize building power on the bike with interval sets that begin to push your neural needle. In other words, short duration, high intensity efforts with a great deal of recovery time built into your bike workouts to allow you to push hard for a short amount of time.

The goal of these efforts is to allow your nervous system to adapt to higher anaerobic demands. The remaining training time in this phase should be equally divided between the swim and the run. Now that you have built some base swimming endurance in your first phase you can add some swim intensity during this phase. Since you started as a competent runner your run focused training should be used as supporting workouts to your bike and swim. 

In your third phase of training, you are now four weeks out from the race. During this phase you should work on putting it all together by incorporating brick workouts, like a 2 mile run, followed by a 5 mile fast bike, followed by a 2 mile run. This is a good time to practice your transitions. 

With the race selected, the self assessment done, and training calendar created it is time to go. By hitting pause and developing the plan, you are set up for success. Now it is time to execute. Start today. See you at the finish line!

Team MPI Senior Coach Mark Turner is a USAT Level II Endurance and IRONMAN Certified Coach at Team MPI ( He can be reached at 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.