So you made it through your first or second full season in triathlon. You may have a one or two races underneath your fuel belt, and may have scheduled your races for 2018. But are you ready to take your triathlon training to the next level and graduate from being a “newbie”?
Going from a beginner to an intermediate or advanced triathlete does not come down to how much training volume you are doing. It does not mean buying the newest super bike or the multi-sport watch. It also does not come down to racing 6 Ironmans in a year.
Yes, you do need to have some experience with racing and training volume to graduate. But you can still be stuck in beginner mode even after several races and training season.
Beginners focus on (and should focus on) the fundamentals of each component of triathlon and triathlon as a whole. This means:
Mastering how to swim through drills so that you can swim continuously for specific sets and fairly efficiently.
Being comfortable in the water so that it no longer feels like you are swimming through sludge or need to take breaks every 100m (unless of course that’s the workout).
Learning bike handling skills and form so that you can ride with others, brake safely, pedal up decent climbs, and descend hills without freaking out.
Running continuously and able to handle moderate volume without injury.
The feeling of running off the bike or transitioning between the water and the bike.
Fueling appropriately throughout each event.
To graduate, you do not need to have mastered the above–even pros continue to fine tune these. But you should have a good grip on and practice with all of them. To graduate, you need to have this base so that you can focus on your fitness rather the basics. There is more to becoming an intermediate triathlete than the basics; it’s also a matter of how they are training.
Many beginners get their training offline, from a cookie cutter program that gives very vague descriptions like “10 min warmup followed by 15 min moderate and a 10 min cool down then stretching”. Others just go out and train by feel. If they feel like going to the pool, they will go and just swim continuously. Or do a workout that they found on the Slowtwitch forum board. Yes, both ways will get you fitter than sitting on a couch and watching replays of Kona on YouTube. But there is little progression or focus, and more importantly, neither target your individual needs as a triathlete.
Intermediate and advanced triathletes structure their training around what they need to develop. They target their limiters and build on those instead of training generically. Or hoping that their fitness will allow them to muscle their way to the finish. Instead, intermediate triathletes know what zones they should be training in, or what drills they need to focus on and stick with it. Each week builds off the previous and cycles through intensities so that they stress their bodies just enough, recover, and then repeat.
While the “how” of triathletes’ training changes over time as they graduate between levels, what does not change (or should not change) is the mindset. No matter what level a triathlete claims to be, they should always keep a beginner’s mindset of continual growth, an open mind, a focus on the process, and smiling at the enjoyment of being able to train.