By ADVANCE TAN

Have you ever wondered how to become that strange alien known as a triathlete? How do they train?

To begin with, you need to understand this multi-sports event consists of swimming, cycling and running disciplines. Having some sense of the rules and regulations will provide a better idea of what you are about to get into. And be prepared that training can be tougher than the actual event.

Push, push, push...more training at a Tadonamo Triathletes session.

Push, push, push…more training at a Tadonamo Triathletes session.

In my previous article, short and long distance triathlon events were mentioned. In my humble opinion, choose the shorter distances first before aiming for the ultimate Ironman category.

I am not writing this as a professional coach, but just sharing tips from many triathletes I have known personally. And I’ve also learnt from some bad experiences.

Kick starting

Getting a triathlon coach is a good start. In general, a good coach will work based on your goals and identify the specific areas that you need to cover for your next triathlon event.

However, there are also those who hire a specific coach in the discipline he/she is weakest. As for me I started with running, then I bought a bike, and eventually I took up swimming lessons. So it was gradual, almost accidental, progress.

Once you have all the three disciplines under your belt, a triathlete will target an event and focus on the appropriate training requirements. Study the event conditions and requirements for each discipline.

Swim, cycle tactics

For instance, in the swim, you might want to know if it is in the sea, lake or pool and then prepare accordingly. There are more variables if you are to swim in the sea, such as the water condition, waves, swim route, number of loops, and sometimes jellyfish.

You need to have the actual feel of the sea, get comfortable with it. As the triathelete saying goes, a good swim may not win you the race but a bad swim can lose you the place.

Get wet When preparing for a triathlon, you need to get a feel of the places where you will be swimming, running or cycling. Photos: TADONAMO TRIATHLETES

Get wet! When preparing for a triathlon, you need to get a feel of the places where you will be swimming, running or cycling. Photos: TADONAMO TRIATHLETES

For the cycling portion, you need to know about the route, water stations, terrain conditions, total elevation gain etc. It’s best to train on the same route to get the feel of it. It’s even better to cycle at the same time of day that you anticipate you will hop onto your bike (from the swimming section) on the actual event day.

After cycling the route, you can estimate what needs to be done at certain stretches. You can plan your fueling strategy, such as when to take energy gels and electrolytes. You need to discover this for yourself individually to reduce fatigue and cramps.

The cycling portion can be highly technical. Serious competitors need to know the bike setting requirements for the route. The seat, arm and leg positions should provide comfort and efficiency for your ride. Sometimes, some change of bike components are required. You need to have a professional bike fitter to sort this out for you.

Running strategy

Running is pretty much the same as cycling – study the route and water stations to help plan for your training and fueling strategy. As for a slow runner like me, I try not to depend too much on the water station as it may go dry by the time I get there. So I bring along cash to be ever ready to run into convenience stores for a quick pit stop.

Suitable running shoes certainly help, unless you prefer barefoot running – a pro running outlet can guide your choices. Don’t be shy to inform them what you want to do for your next target event.

It’s essential to prepare for the transitions – from swim to cycle, and from cycle to run. The key is to recognise your numbered spot among hundreds or even thousands of other triathletes in the transition area so that you don’t end up lost or eating up others’ food!

A sequential arrangement of gears for the next discipline will be helpful to reduce unnecessary time spent to search and dig for your stuff. Don’t forget, you may not have time to even think!

Simulation support

So much for the basic preparations. But actually it’s training that is the biggest part of a triathlete’s activities. Some even dream of it in their sleep!

Simulation of the coming event is important. On the recent Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya, the Tadonamo Triathlete group set a simulation platform for fellow triathletes to feel the event.

Many aspects were covered such as checking-in, body marking and race rules briefings for the swim, bike and run.

Even bikes were photographed with every owner, to help in any disputed claims.

The similation was much appreciated by the participants. It was like a carnival with contests and lucky draws to spice up the atmosphere.

Who can be tri

NO one starts as an expert. In my case, I started from being a couch potato who was in 20 years of hibernation. You can start from wherever you are now, and build on your capabilities along the way.

Let’s clear some myths. Based on my observations, age, surprisingly, is not a limit. The oldest Malaysian Ironman Yee Sze Mun, is 77 years old. He has completed 11 Ironman Langkawi events (including last year’s event) and has also been to the prestigious Ironman Kona in Hawaii six times. We are younger than we think we are!

I have noticed that a lot of the triathletes start from their late 20s, and a lot more are in their 30s. Veterans are a well recognised category.

Some triathletes are former champions that have passed their prime 20s in their respective sports. This seems to be a trend around the world. For instance, the recent Ironman African Championship winners, Frederik Van Lierde and Jodie Swallow, are both in their mid-30s. I wish Datuk Lee Chong Wei would read this and give a thought for his next sports career.

In the Malaysian scene, we have two prominent triathletes namely Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, former CEO of Malaysia Airlines and Azran Osman Rani, the former CEO of Air Asia X. Pilots and bankers are also common in the triathlete community.

(Ahmad Jauhari, 61, was quoted by Bernama in March as saying that his enthusiasm for extreme sports competitions helped him in coping with and managing the double crisis of MH17 and MH370.)

Besides them, we also have a national paralympian Mohd Sabki bin Arifin being a regular feature in tri events around Malaysia and abroad.

So there you go. What’s stopping you? Age is not the limit. Just set your mind clear and put in some courage. As the sports grows, we may see lots of parents enrolling their children to start them young.


Read Advance Tan’s articles on ultra marathons and swim training for triathlons.