The Trinity of Racing

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How to prepare for a triathlon.

MYTH: You need to be a former-collegiate athlete, regularly run 10 miles before your morning coffee and have a strict diet of tofu to complete a triathlon. FACT: With some training, you can complete a triathlon.

A little over 10 years ago, Diane Kovarik completed her first triathlon. Her age at the time? 43. Her prior athletic experience? High school marching band. Now an employee at the Deerfield Running Away Multisport, which also has a location in Chicago, Ms. Kovarik has completed multiple triathlons, including two Ironmans. Her journey toward her first triathlon, which was a sprint distance, started with a triathlon-training program she saw at her health club.

“I thought it would be so crazy if I could do something like that, and I went home and thought, ‘What if I just signed up? I don‘t have to actually do it,’” she explains. “But one thing led to another, and I made it through the triathlon and I was transformed. I really felt empowered.”

One of the saving graces about triathlons is that there are many types with differing distances. Beginner triathletes may want to start at the sprint distance, which has a 0.47-mile swim, a 13.67-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run. And once that distance is achieved, you can work your way up to a full triathlon with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

Once you decide what distance you’d like to conquer, it’s time to take a look at your equipment. But don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune. Whatever you have should suffice – as long as it is in good-working condition. “Your equipment doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to be in good, working order for safety reasons,” affirms Ms. Kovarik. Wetsuits typically are not necessary for the sprint distance, but you may want to consider purchasing one for the longer distances for warmth and buoyancy.

Ms. Kovarik also suggests finding a training group to work with to prepare for a triathlon. “It can be a little overwhelming if you feel like you’re in this all by yourself,” she’s observed. Running Away Multisport offers free group runs and bike rides that could be a good place to start. Ms. Kovarik also suggests checking your health club to see if they offer training classes. A training group can also help you get through the component of the triathlon that you may be dreading.

“There are certain things I like to do more than other things,” reveals Ms. Kovarik. “I’d rather bike than swim. So sometimes it’s that off component of the triathlon that you just have to get done.”

If you’re planning on completing a triathlon, you need to commit to carving time out of your week to train. Start training early and make it consistent. “Do what you’re supposed to do and then you don’t feel overwhelmed a week before the race,” advises Ms. Kovarik. “You can get a lot of confidence from telling yourself, ‘You know what? I did my training, and I’m ready.’”

Once you’ve completed your training and the big day arrives, Ms. Kovarik says the amount of crowd support is something that athletes should be ready for. “Even if you’re training with people, you’re kind of just training in a vacuum and there’s no one really around paying attention to you,” she says. “It’s just so rewarding [at the race] to see people who you don’t even know, jumping up and down, clapping and cheering you on. It makes you feel wonderful.”

Still on the fence? Ms. Kovarik says to just go for it. “You don’t have to come in first place – the journey is the reward. It’s not how you finish – it’s the fact you set a goal for yourself and you finished the race. I always tell my kids, ‘My T-shirt looks the same as the lady who won.’”

By Kirsten Keller

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