When it comes to physical conditioning, jogging and push-ups are all well and fine – but the real challenge is in pushing one’s abilities further than they thought they could, and a Triathlon can be just the ticket. The word “triathlon” originates in Greek, meaning “three sports.” Triathlons require rigorous physical and mental preparedness to ensure safety and fun. In this issue of Better Health, we’ve gathered the information you’ll need to put yourself on the track to a successful triathlon.
Swimming, cycling and running: The ironman regimen
Sometimes referred to as the sport of ironmen, the triathlon takes many forms depending on the endurance sports featured. The most popular lineup starts with swimming, followed by a bicycle portion, finishing with a race. Distances and cut-off times vary according to the course’s geographical profile and organizers’ priorities.
Dr. Winyou Ratanachai, orthopedic surgeon, has high praise for this sport, saying “triathlon fascinates me, not only for its ability to test a person’s physical and mental strength but also because it’s one of a few sports that equally tests all competitors.” Dr. Winyou adds, “Whether a newbie or world-class athlete, all must rise to meet the incredible challenge. Moreover, all competitors who take up the challenge accept each other as a fellow athlete.”
Taking part in a triathlon offers significant health advantages including cardiovascular strength, sturdy bones and muscles, and a strong, focused mind that pushes the body to persevere.
Indeed, the sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the finish line pays big dividends in both mental and physical health.
Train with dedication and common sense
Although it requires concerted dedication and regular exercise, the triathlon isn’t just for Olympic gods. Amateur triathlon athletes can take part in a moderate training program, one that is suited to their fitness levels. As the saying goes, everybody must start somewhere, and then set a clear path to achieving your goals for success.
It’s also important to remember that every triathlon athlete isn’t a master of all three sports. In fact, Dr. Winyou advises to “use the sport your most comfortable with as your anchor to compensate for weakness in the other two events.” Dr. Winyou continues, “for example, use the cycling portion to make up for slower running or swimming times. And if you’re about the same in all three (swimming 750 meters, cycling 20 kilometers and running 5 kilometers) tailor training to improve your scores in each event. The amount of training depends on each athlete’s physical condition.”
Athletes who already participate in single competitions or train regularly will need two to three weeks to prepare. Those with no competitive event training might need six weeks or more to get in shape for a short-distance race. To start, clock your performance in each triathlon event. If you can comfortably run one kilometer in nine to 10 minutes, then you’re well on your way. And if you’re not sure you have adequate physical strength, get an exercise stress test (EST) before starting a rigorous training program.
Consider your current condition when it’s time to pick appropriate events. Before participating in timed events, determine if you’re currently in good enough shape. Dr. Winyou advises these criteria for a short-distance triathlon, or “sprint” competition: the ability to swim continually for 100 meters within three minutes, cycle 23 kilometers in an hour and run one kilometer in eight to nine minutes.
“Physical preparation is the best way to guard against injuries.” Dr. Winyou Ratanachai
Injuries and their prevention
Compared to other contact sports, triathlon general has fewer injuries; but that doesn’t mean that injuries never happen. It’s important to note that the majority of triathlon-related injuries are a result of inadequate training. Watch out for running injuries to muscles, tendons and ligaments such as patellar tendinitis. This knee injury happens when weak thigh muscles and ligaments cannot withstand the pull force exerted on them.
Another ailment is iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome. Pain starts underneath the kneecap, radiating at 45 degrees. Those with tight ITB muscles or who have never done much running are prone to this condition. Consistent stretching to warm up the ITB muscle helps to avoid this problem.
“Physicalpreparation is the best way to guard against injuries,” says Dr. Winyou. “Training ensures athletes condition their muscles in the most beneficial manner to make them able to handle the task. When training causes aches and pains, that’s your body telling you your physical performance is ascending to a higher level. Gradually intensify training to the point where you almost sustain an injury. After pushing your body to its limit, it can repair itself and adapt to increasing stress. Sufficient rest combined with consistent training leads to steady improvement.” However, triathlon athletes must carefully monitor their bodies. “If you feel you’ve pushed too hard, stop immediately,” Dr. Winyou says. “Slow down. Triathlon requires endurancemore than speed.”
This elusive sport can seem like it’s better suited to super athletes, but there’s really no reason that normal people can’t also join those ranks and cross the finish line. The key is to train properly to ensure a sound body and mind to take on the challenge.