303 Beginner Tri Project – I’m Hooked! What’s Next?

by Alison Freeman, D3 Multisport Coach

So you’ve completed your first triathlon, or maybe even your third – congratulations! – and you realize you’ve caught the bug. You’re looking to move from “I did a triathlon” to “I’m a triathlete.” Woohoo!!! Welcome to our awesome, if not just slightly crazy, club. And let me be the first to ask: What’s next for you?
To answer that question, you want to think about what kind of triathlete you’d like to be. In other words: how much time time, energy, and yes, money, are you interested in investing in your new favorite hobby? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. All that matters is what matters to YOU and what works for your life and your lifestyle.
Not sure? Here are three possible answers and the “investment level” that goes along with each of them. You might find that one resonates perfectly, or that you’re somewhere in between two of them. No problem – just cherry pick exactly what you want or need and go from there.

I’m Excited About Triathlon, But I’ve Got A Lot Of Other Stuff On My Plate Too
Cool! That works. You basically just want to keep doing what you’re doing. You can pick one or even a few races to do next season – the great thing about the Denver/Boulder area is that there are TONS of races to pick from, so you can have your favorites that you come back to year after year or try a new race each season.
As for training, if what you did this year worked for you – perfect! – just stick with that. Felt like one leg of the race didn’t go as well as you’d hoped? Consider starting to build endurance in that discipline a few weeks earlier this year. But no need to overthink it.
In terms of gear, no need to break out the wallet unless there was something specific that you really wanted to add to your arsenal. If it worked this year, it’ll work next year too. One fun purchase under $10 is speed laces (elastic laces that stay tied and turn your running shoes into slip-ons) – save time in transition and look like a pro too!
I’m So Excited To Get More Serious About Triathlon, But Let’s Not Go Crazy
Cool! That works. There are a bunch of ways to dive in deeper without going totally overboard.
First: race distance. Training and racing at the Olympic-distance (Oly for short) is definitely more “serious” than a sprint. Adding one Oly-distance race into your mix next year is an excellent way to up your game without letting it taking over your life.
Second: the races themselves. At the sprint and Olympic distances, you can easily do three or five races a season. Start looking around and talking to fellow triathletes and mentally bookmark some races for next season. Pick one as your “A” race – the race that’s the most important to you, where you want to perform at your absolute best (likely that Oly we talked about above) – and make that the focus of your season, with the remaining races as fitness benchmarks or just-for-fun races.

Third: training. Especially if you’re looking at an Oly, getting a little more structured in your training is a great way to get more serious about triathlon. You can refer to the Training 201 article on “getting fancy” with your training, or for even greater structure consider following a structured training plan. Want to go the DIY route? It takes some time, but Joel Friel’s “The Triathlete’s Training Bible”  will teach you everything you need to know to write your own training plan. Looking for a turn-key solution? There are tons of training plans available for purchase on TrainingPeaks, the go-to training calendar web and mobile app for triathletes.
Finally: gear. There’s a lot of fun gear that goes along with triathlon! But you don’t need it all – in general, and certainly not right away. You may want to pick one or two bigger purchases each year, so your investment deepens alongside your involvement in the sport. The biggest option is clearly a triathlon-specific bike, but honestly you are fine on a road bike if you already have one in your stable. I would recommend purchasing a tri kit (outfit you wear on race day that works for swim, bike, and run) if you don’t already have one. Another great upgrade if you don’t already have them (and quick way to get faster and stronger on the bike) is clipless pedals and bike shoes with cleats.
Sure, I’m Not Getting Paid To Be A Triathlete, But I Can Pretend, Right?
Cool! That works. And how fun when the sky’s the limit! This level looks a lot like “let’s get more serious, but not go crazy” except you get to keep in the crazy. For race distance, I still recommend doing a season with sprints and Olympic-distance racing before looking at long-course races (half and full Ironman-distance races).
For training, you can do a DIY plan or purchase a training plan (see above), and you can also consider hiring a coach for a more personalized training approach along with guidance on everything from pacing to fueling.
Finally, for gear, I still wouldn’t recommend purchasing every triathlon accessory in the next thirty days, but I do suggest at a minimum having a tri kit, clipless bike pedals and bike shoes with cleats, and a multi-sport GPS training watch. Beyond that, a wetsuit, a smart trainer, and a power meter are all valuable – but not necessary – investments.

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