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From Couch Potato to Ironman

Tips on how to prepare for your first triathlon from a former couch potato-turned-Ironman. 

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If you’ve signed up for a triathlon on a whim or to get in shape, or you’ve always dreamed about how amazing it would be to cross that finish line, here are some tips to get you off your sofa and running—and biking and swimming—towards your goal, from someone who’s been there:

Decide on Distance

Determine which length is best for you to start at based on your level of fitness—and how motivated you are. Until 2011, Herb Blecher, a Boulder-based data analyst, led a relatively sedentary life. But after he had kids, he began to exercise and was drawn to long-distance hiking, biking, and running. When he heard that Boulder would host its first full Ironman triathlon last year, he decided to give it a go, even though the little he’d read said to start small—sprint or Olympic length—and work your way up. Blecher’s rationale was that he was already used to the long-distance workouts; it was just the logistics he was concerned about. So he did a “practice” half triathlon (70.3 miles) to help get him up to speed.

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Buy the Bible

Being analytical by nature, Blecher bought the bible on triathlon training—the Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. Although he simplified it a bit, focusing more on volume than intensity, Blecher generally followed Friel’s advice of building up training hours gradually over a three-week period, then taking a rest week. “My plan also involved a couple of what Friel calls “Big Days”—each of which included about eight hours of swimming, biking, and running,” says Blecher.

(Test your skills on these epic trail runs near Denver)

Build Up Your Confidence

The best way to do this is by spending time on the activity you’re least comfortable with, says Blecher. For him, that was swimming. Blecher typically swam and biked four to five days a week and ran three or four, with one recovery day per week. He held these proportions (22 percent swim, 28 percent run, and 50 percent bike) relatively constant throughout his training. For Blecher, the mental preparation was mostly about making a plan and sticking to it. “As long as I was on track with my plan, I felt I would be prepared,” he says.

Find the Right Equipment

Blecher’s goal was to complete the Ironman on a budget, so he didn’t invest in any new equipment. “For the swim, you’ll probably need a wetsuit,” he says, “but Craiglist is a great resource.” If it’s your first triathlon and you’re just looking to finish, he believes that almost any road bike will do. “It can be intimidating to look at some of the monster machines they’ve got out there today,” Blecher says, “but it’s definitely not necessary, and it’s really fun to pass someone wearing one of those super-extended aero helmets on a slick, carbon stealth-fighter-looking job.”

(Looking for used gear or ready to trade up? Check out these local places)

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Listen to Your Body

Blecher’s ultimate advice is to listen to your body. “You can spend as much time reading about training as you do actually training,” he says. “To me it’s good to have some knowledge, but don’t go overboard. You’ll likely have to adjust to whatever you feel is right anyway.”

Enjoy Yourself

Regardless of you objective, says Blecher, remember to have fun. “If, above all, you’re enjoying yourself, I’ve got to believe the odds are with you,” he says. “For me, the Ironman was an end to a means; it was less about the race itself than maintaining my ability to complete it by spending time doing activities I enjoy.”

(Read these pro nutrition tips for endurance athletes)

Terri Cook, 5280 Contributor

Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.

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