WinforKCWed: Your Starting Point

You're ready to sign up for your first triathlon. You know this means you're going to swim 550 yards, then bike 10 miles, then run 3.1 miles. How do you get from point A, where you are now, to point B, finishing the race strong?

That all depends on your Point A. Are you a lifelong athlete in some sport who has never done a triathlon? Are you coming off the couch and setting the triathlon as your goal? Your preparation for race day will be different.

At the end of this post, I'm going to list some resources to help you get started understanding the activities that will help you complete your triathlon. But none of those resources is based on starting from your Point A.

So I'm also going to suggest a four step approach to planning the months before you race. This approach helped me organize my thoughts, my time, and my goals, and helped me see how I could conquer a seemingly impossible goal. It is geared for someone who is a new athlete and at a true beginner point in all three disciplines.

*NOTE - There's value in setting out your goals and interim goals as outlined below, but next week's post has a quick version to organizing your training time.

Four Steps to Triathlon Prep Planning

Step One: Define Point A

Write down an assessment of where you are in each triathlon discipline. No, don't just know it in your head! This is essentially arithmetic and calendaring. So get out your paper and pen. Write it down.

How far, or for how many minutes, can you swim? If you don't know, guess. If it's "not at all," that's just as valid a starting point.

How long, or how many minutes, was your last bike ride? If it was when you were twelve, you won't know your real starting point until you get out on a bike. The good news is, you can rework your race prep as you go based on what you find out.

How far, or for how many minutes, can you run? If you are not running at all, how far or for how many minutes can you walk?

Notice I didn't ask you to figure out how fast you can go. That is what you are going to find out on race day. It doesn't matter when you're getting started. Not one tiny little bit.

Step Two: Make Your Calendar

You will need four copies of a daily/weekly calendar that looks like this, starting with today's date and going to July 28:

Wed, Jan 25
Thur, Jan 26
Fri, Jan 27
Sat, Jan 28
Sun, Jan 29

Mon, Jan 30
Tues, Jan 31
Wed, Feb 1

and so on. It doesn't matter how you generate this list. You'll need space to scribble next to each date. By July 28, write this: RACE DAY

And by today's date, write your sport assessments, for example: Swim 50 yds, Bike ?, Walk 30 mins. By July 14, write your race goals. If you are coming from the couch and aiming to finish, this will be Swim 550, Bike 10, Run 3 miles. You can do this! If you already have some base experience in a sport, your goals might be different; you might want to increase your bike distance, for instance. Refer to the resource list below for schedules geared more to you.

Take one of the calendar copies and use it for the swim. July 14: Swim 550. Today: wherever you are today. April 28 is roughly the halfway point. On that date, write: Swim 300. Count out the weeks and find the quarter point; write Swim 150. That's what you're aiming to swim without stopping. Don't worry about the latter half of the race prep period yet. You will likely need to reassess your swim capacity as you move through the weeks. You may be able to do a lot more than you think you can!

Take the second calendar copy and use it for the bike. July 14: Bike 10. Now, by the end of the summer, you might be cycling a lot farther than that! But if you are not used to a bike, coming to it as an adult, is is a huge, huge achievement to get comfortable riding 10 miles on the road. (Never say "only 10 miles." It is a really big deal to do that.) Again, break the summer into halves, then halves again — but start in April. Seriously, if you can bike before then, great, but don't fight the weather if you're not ready. Cut your goals in half to correspond with the time periods. If you're starting from ground zero and have never ridden a bike, a one to three mile ride is a fine starting point.

Take the third calendar and use it for the run. You get the idea... you are going to run 3.1 miles by July 14, so aim to run 1.5 miles by April 28.

Step Three: Fill in Workouts

Consider a workout as 30 minutes to an hour for each of these sports. (If you can do more, I'm not stopping you! But let's face it, most of us have full plates with our time as it is.) VERY IMPORTANT: You are creating guidelines, not laws. This kind of planning creates a flexible framework, not a by-the-book recipe.

Take each calendar by itself. If you were ONLY swimming, how would you reach each interim goal in 3 workouts per week? You would do some longer swims; you would do some sessions of drills and short, faster swims; you would maybe take some lessons or swim with a master's group. You would aim to stay in the pool swimming progressively longer.

If you were ONLY cycling, how would you increase your distance? If you could ride your bike three times a week, how would you incrementally increase the distance or time you were riding to meet your goals? Write it down.

If you were ONLY running... well, on this one you have a great cheat sheet, with the couch to 5K program, below. It is a 6 week program, but if you are a new runner, you can spread it out over the entire time between now and the race. Again, given your own Point A, calendar out your three runs per week.

Are you doing the math? That's 9 workouts in a week, which means some days you would be doing 2 workouts! You may find this doable, or you may not. If you can't do 2 workouts a day, that doesn't mean you can't do a triathlon. It does mean your goals will be different from the person who can divert a lot of time to workouts. You will both have a great triathlon day.

The next step is to combine all 3 calendars into one master calendar.

When you do this, be sure to write on 3 weekends in the month before race day, "Brick." This is a workout that combines the bike and run. Leave July 21 blank. Those last 2 weeks before the race are special as you let your muscles recover. We'll get to that later.

Now, transfer your sports-specific goals to the master calendar. Next — wait, don't start filling in workouts! Put a rest day in each week. It doesn't matter where. Now, start filling in your workouts. Take a tip from the Triathlon guru, Joe Friel — however many hours you can spend, put 50% of them on the bike, 30% on the run, 20% on swim.

Your workouts don't need to have goals next to them - swim, bike, or run is enough. Your mini-goals will keep you on track. Don't worry if it looks like a lot or which day you stack up 2 workouts or whether you need to shuffle things around later. You are in charge. You can revise.


This step is going to go on from now until July 14. You will revise when you learn what your capabilities are. You will revise when that unexpected project lands on your desk at work. You will revise if you have an injury or other slowdown. You will revise when you find yourself progressing faster than you thought. Set more mini-goals as you go!

As you fill in workouts, remember — keep it doable in terms of your time. Maybe you can do 9 workouts in a week! Maybe you can do four. Stretch your goals and mini-goals out over the weeks so they make sense for you. Some weeks, you can concentrate on swim; others, do more bike rides. Look for balance. For instance, the week you're aiming to run your first mile, you might want to do shorter, lighter swims. The weekend you're riding your first 15 mile bike ride, you might do a long walk the next day. If you can devote 1 hour every day to activity, your calendar will look different from the person's who can devote 45 minutes, and different from the person who can devote 1 hour three or four times a week. And along the way, revise, revise, revise.

Take what you learn from the resources below to revise your plan: all these resources have actual expertise in triathlon coaching as opposed to me offering my experience! Look at their schedules, compare them to your own, and revise with what makes sense.

Your Starting Point Resource List

1) WinforKC. After you sign up for the triathlon, or if you don't sign up this year but want to find out more, take advantage of the information and mentored workouts offered. They're fun and will rocket-boost your effort.

2) Books. I recommend Triathlon Training and Slow Fat Triathlete — even if that's not how you identify, this is a great book for first time women triathletes. Joe Friel's book, The Triathlete's Training Bible, is helpful if you want to go into more depth, but isn't geared toward new athletes.

3) Web sites. You'll find lots of blogs about other womens' athletic journeys, and it may be helpful to read those stories. But for triathlon prep, I'm a fan of these: for general triathlon preparation; for the Couch to 5K running plan; and for swim technique.

As with any resource, remember that you are an experiment of one. Pay attention to what works for you, use what helps, don't get too wrapped up in whether you are following anything to the letter.