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Starting from Scratch in Multisport Racing

By Steve Jonas | May 12, 2015, 1:56 p.m. (ET)

Talking Tri-/Duathlon for Ordinary Mortals®: A Series, (No. 22, 2015, 5-12) by Dr. Steve Jonas

Last year, I published a column in this space on getting started as a regular exerciser. So how about getting started in multisport racing? In many parts of the country we are just now getting to outdoor temperatures and conditions that permit and/or encourage cycling out-of-doors. (Actually I just read that the day before I sat down to write this column on May 11, 2015, four inches of snow had to be cleared off Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, before a baseball game could be played there.) Not liking to ride my bike outdoors in anything under 50 degrees Fahrenheit anymore (although in the past I did ride down into the 30s), so far I’ve had one outdoor ride. I do ride my stationary bike in my basement, but it’s hardly the same as riding on the road, as anyone who rides an indoor bike will tell you. And in my part of the world, the New York City Metropolitan area, we seemed to have gone directly from winter to summer, with no spring in between.

And so this is a long way of getting around to offering a few tips that you might suggest to friends or family members who are considering getting started in duathlon or triathlon right about now. Let’s say the person is starting from scratch, meaning that they have never done anything athletic on a regular basis or haven't done it for rather a long time. Can they start from scratch? Surely. How do I know this? Because every athlete in the world, for all time, at one time started from scratch. Arguably the greatest pure hitter in the history of baseball, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, at one time (when he was very young no doubt) picked up a baseball bat for the first time. The first truly all-everything triathlete, the great IRONMAN of the 1980s, Dave Scott, swam, biked and ran for the first time, and did his very first triathlon. And every single recreational tri- or duathlete, of whatever age, getting out on the course for the first time, at some point started their general physical and mental conditioning, and then swimming, biking and running, each for the first time.

Your friends and family members don't ever have to have been in shape. They can get in shape to race, starting from scratch (read an earlier blog of mine on this topic). They can learn how to swim at a local swim club, health and fitness club with a pool, or a "Y" or its equivalent. Most everyone learned how to ride a bike when they were young, but if they didn't and don't have a friend or family member who can teach them, they can ask at their local bike shop or cycling club (which they can find through your local bike shop). They will fix you up with someone who can. As for running, well for beginners at least it's as simple as my local running shoe store owner and former University of Pennsylvania champion high hurdler Harold Schwab put it to me a long time ago: right, left, right, left (although to learn modern technique, a consultation at their local running shoe store might be helpful). As for training programs, there are plenty of those around in magazine articles and in books by myself, by Joe Friel, by Gale Bernhardt, and numbers of others. Just take a look at several to see which one seems to suit.

But the most important keys to starting from scratch go beyond technique and training programs. The first key is patience. One does not become a multisport athlete overnight. The second is one of my favorite principles for sport (and for living as well): gradual change leads to permanent changes. The third is the most important one: having clear, reasonable and rational goals that one sets for oneself. We will be getting to this topic later on in this series.

Want to encourage friends, family members or co-workers to get involved with multisport? Tag them with Tri it Forward to help them get to the start line of their first race.


This series of thoughts and recommendations about multisport racing by Dr. Steve Jonas is, over time, drawn in part from his book, "101 Ideas and Insights for Triathletes and Duathletes" (Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning/Coaches Choice, 2011), from which text is used with permission. The book can be purchased here and is available at and

Steve’s most recent multisport book is "Duathlon Training and Racing for Ordinary Mortals®: Getting Started and Staying with It" (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press/FalconGuides, 2012), available at and

His first book on multisport racing, "Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals®" 2nd Ed. (New York: WW Norton, 2006) also can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Dr. Jonas recently was featured in World Class Magazine. Click here to read the article.