Are you bored with running? Maybe marathon distance is pushing your body too far. Many runners want to change up their game after becoming comfortable with running, or after one-too-many marathon injuries. One way to increase both variety and intensity of training is to climb the ranks from ‘Runner’ to ‘Triathlete’. A successful transition requires a breadth of knowledge, physical and mental adaptability, and of course, dedication to the extreme – but hey, we runners can accomplish anything!

Let’s talk triathlons for a minute. Simply put, a triathlon is an event where athletes swim, bike, and then run their way to victory – sequentially, and without breaks. There are different lengths of triathlons to account for different skill levels: A sprint competition will consist of half a mile of swimming, 12.4 miles of biking, and then a 5k run. Ironman triathlons, on the other hand, start with 2.4 miles of swimming, continue into a full 112 miles of biking, and then end with a full 26.2 mile marathon.

Sound crazy? Absolutely. But we don’t love running because it’s easy. Let’s take a look at what needs to happen for a successful transition into triathlons.

  1. Train, train, train. If you’re a dedicated runner, then you’re not accustomed to swimming and biking in your routine. It will take a while for muscle memory to enforce good technique. If you’re not sure what “good technique” is for swimming or cycling, don’t hesitate to ask a friend at the pool for help, or hire a trainer. You’ll be a much stronger swimmer and cycler, and much less prone to injuries, if a seasoned athlete helps you get started.

  2. Simulate real conditions. Many first-time triathletes are taken by surprise at the initial waterlogged frenzy of the race’s opening seconds. Being in the water with so many people can be a disorienting experience. Try swimming with other people in your lane to get used to the feeling. But the pool cannot fully prepare you for the challenges of open water – you have to experience open water swimming first hand. The temperature of the water, currents or waves, even using a wetsuit – these are all experiences you’ll need to prepare for before your first triathlon. Likewise, cycling at the gym can only take you so far – you need to embrace the resistance of the road, the feeling of the wind, and make sure your helmet and seat are going to be comfortable.

  3. Adapt your routine. Aside from working in running and cycling into your schedule, your fuel and hydration rhythm have to be adjusted come race day. After so much exertion, your end segment of running will be more taxing then normal: be prepared with an end-game strategy to keep you moving.

  4. Don’t go overboard, physically or financially. Many first-time triathletes are underprepared for the challenge ahead and don’t pace correctly. Don’t be afraid to take breaks or short slower periods. Nothing dampens the excitement of triathlon as badly as an injury in the first act. Don’t be afraid to take it slow until you’re used to the triathlon. While your first triathlon is exciting, novel, and a little scary, remember that you don’t need a top-notch bicycle to complete it, so save that 800 dollars for something else! On the same note, you don’t need to buy a wetsuit – renting one is much cheaper and will do just fine.

A successful transition from the runner’s mindset to the triathlete’s world requires diligence, patience, and flexibility. Just remember, even if you don’t win the race, “slow and steady” will at least help you complete it safely!