You've seen them at the gym swimming laps in the pool. You've seen them peddling down the road with a determined look on their faces. You've seen them running in extreme heat and in bitter cold. They are triathletes. Triathletes are people who compete in a race where they swim, bike, and run to the finish line. It takes dedication, will power, and a healthy dose of training, but you can do it. Yes, you. You may not have gotten on a bike since childhood or maybe your idea of swimming is lounging in the pool with a beverage in hand. You may be a seasoned runner, swimmer, or cyclist. But until now, you haven't thought about putting the three together, which is why you are reading this. You want to be a triathlete.

Your Goals
Before you hop in the pool or get on that bike, you need a map to guide you to your destination and set you up for success. Mapping out your goals will help make them more concrete and more manageable. Of course your main goal is to finish the race. But which race? And how much training is involved? Customise your triathlon to your skill level with these easy steps.

1. Choose your distance.
There are four main types of distances:

  • Sprint
  • Olympic distance
  • Half Ironman
  • Ironman

As a beginner, it's best to start small and work your way up. The sprint distance is the shortest of them all with a .25 mile swim, a 12 mile bike, and a 3.1 mile run. Depending on your speed, this sprint will take you about two hours to complete.

2. Choose your race.
Now that you have your distance chosen, the next step is picking a race. A local race will give you less stress than one that you have to travel for. It also allows you the option to train on the course before race day.

3. Determine your training time.
You also want to make sure that the race date is far enough in the future that you have enough time to train. Most beginner race plans are anywhere from eight to 20 weeks. Based on your physical fitness, you will have to decide the length of the training.

Your Training Plan
There are a variety of training plan books and online guides. Training plans are categorized into two groups: plans that practice each sport twice a week, and those that have you doing each sport three times a week. For a sprint triathlon, you can complete the race while doing each sport twice a week. A two-balanced training program will look something like this:

Monday: Swim, Run
Tuesday: Rest Day
Wednesday: Run
Thursday: Bike
Friday: 
Swim
Saturday: 
Rest Day
Sunday: 
Bike

If you want more practice, go for a plan that practices each sport three times a week. A three-balanced training plan will look something like this:

Monday: Swim, Run
Tuesday: Bike
Wednesday: Swim, Run
Thursday: Bike
Friday: 
REST DAY
Saturday: 
Swim, Run
Sunday: 
Bike

Follow your training plan as closely as you can, as it's your stepping stone to the finish line. Matt Fitzgerald, author of the book, Complete Triathlon, recommends that beginners have a 12 week training plan that incorporates each sport twice a week.

All Together Now: Life and Training
Let's put everything together. You have your distance, your race date, and your plan. Now you just have to figure out when and where you're going to train. If you're like most triathletes, you probably have responsibilities other than training.

The best way to figure out where to fit training into your day is to write out your schedule for each day of the week. Look for breaks in the day where you can fit in a workout. Many triathletes train early in the morning before going to work. Some triathletes workout during their lunch breaks and eat lunch back at their desks.

Once you find time in your schedule for training, put it in your calendar like you would a meeting. This way, you're more likely to stick to it. Finding the time to workout is difficult, but it's a critical step in being able to cross that finish line.

Race Day
Congratulations! You've arrived at race day! All those stepping-stones that you've followed up to this day will allow you to reach your goal of finishing a triathlon. After you finish your first race, you will be a triathlete. You'll always remember that feeling of joy and accomplishment once you cross the finish line.

What should you do after you finish your first race? Sign up for your next triathlon!