Three's the magic number.
Triathletes are tough, they put in hours of blood, sweat and tears. Their bodies are thrown into considerable pain for long durations as well as psychological stress on a daily basis, but ask most triathletes and they’ll tell you “it’s worth it”. Completing a triathlon is something to be incredibly proud of.
Triathletes are tougher than you
According to a new study published in the journal Pain, triathletes experience less pain than other exercisers, which is what leads to their seemingly superhuman endurance.
Professor Ruth Defrin, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, said: "In our study triathletes rated pain lower in intensity, tolerated it longer and inhibited it better than individuals in a control group.
"We think both physiological and psychological factors underlie these differences and help explain how triathletes are able to perform at such a high level."
The study included 19 triathletes, all of whom had competed in at least two triathlons per year and 17 “casual exercisers”. The study involved a series of pain tests, including applying a heating device to one arm, whilst submerging the other in a cold-water bath and participants were then asked to record their attitude towards the pain. All the participants recognised pain, but the triathletes perceived it as less intense and were able to withstand it longer. In the attitude questionnaires, the triathletes reported fearing and worrying less about pain, which may help explain their higher tolerances.
The researchers explain detecting pain is a relatively straightforward sensory experience whereas evaluating and being willing and able to endure it involves attitude, motivation and life experience.
Another explanation for triathletes' lower pain ratings, higher pain tolerance and better pain regulation is they have taught their bodies to respond powerfully to painful stimuli through their intense training.
Want to be a Triathlete?
Believe you can and you're halfway there, well according to that study anyway!
If you can answer these questions, you can complete a triathlon
Before you make the commitment there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
Am I healthy?
A triathlon is a real test on your health as well as fitness, so you need to be in a good place to start with. Get checked at your local GP and eliminate any issues which may hold you back before you get started. If you have any old niggles or repeating injuries wait until you are fully recovered before starting out on a new challenge, it may be frustrating, but it will be worth it in the end.
What kind of level of fitness do I have? Can I run, swim and cycle?
If you can’t run a 5k, you’ll struggle, however if you can swim, run a 5k and ride a bike, you should be able to train for a sprint triathlon. An Ironman, the 140.6 mile event with 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running however, is more than nearly all first-time triathletes should attempt on their first race and is one of the toughest challenges on the planet. Begin with a shorter sprint-distance event (400 to 500 yards of swimming, 11 to 15 miles of cycling and around 3.1 miles of running) or an Olympic-distance event (0.9 miles of swimming, 24.8 miles of cycling and 6.2 miles of running).
Can I afford the kit?
Triathlons need a little more kit than just a swimsuit and trainers. You’ll need a bike, bike shorts, a flat kit bag (which will be a godsend if you get a puncture), a helmet, goggles, a race belt (essential for clipping your race number on so you can be easily tracked), a wetsuit, sunglasses, running shoes, a tri suit, water bottle, running hat, a transition towel (to lay your stuff out on so you can spot it’s yours) and wetsuit lubrication to avoid any hickey-like marks forming on your neck and to ease the suit on and off (which is a skill in itself). You might have some of these items already, but the chances are you won’t have a spare tri suit knocking about in your wardrobe.
Do you have the time?
Training for a triathlon takes time, even a sprint distance requires a solid 12 weeks of good training and dedication to successfully complete the challenge. If this is a particularly busy time in your life, it may be hard to allow the time to train effectively. Training will become like a second job and practising running, swimming and cycling can eat into your time. Training effects the rest of your lifestyle too, and again this takes time. Staying hydrated, eating right, stretching, and getting plenty of sleep all make big demands on your time.
What distances will you choose?
For most, a sprint triathlon distance is the perfect starting race, compromising of a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run. However, if you’ve already got a marathon under your belt and are looking for the next challenge, you may be better off considering a full distance triathlon. The standard distance is 1500m swim, 40km ride and a 10km run. A middle distance triathlon is 2.5km swim, 80km ride and 20km run. The long distance triathlon is 4km swim, 120km ride and 30km run. The toughest challenge of them all, only for the brave is the Ironman, which is 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and a 42km run, so the swim, cycle and then a marathon!
When will you train?
You’re going to need to fit your training programme into your regime and that may not be easy with work and other commitments. 5am starts will become oh too familiar. Early morning training is also great as a parent, as your kids are asleep so you won’t miss anything and your partner can take care of them if they wake up, all before work. Don’t just say when either, write it down and make a schedule, that way you’re more likely to remain on plan when life gets in the way, don’t let curveballs interfere with your training.
Will you join a club / train alone?
When you complete a triathlon, you won’t be wearing headphones, so don’t get too dependant on running or cycling with music, as in most competitions they’re banned for safety reasons. Joining a club allows you to meet people who share your same passion, to build friendships and become part of a team, fueled by motivating each other. Meeting up for training and paying for a membership can also increase your commitment and ensure you complete the necessary training. Triathlon club memberships also often receive discounts in local triathlon clubs, which can help when first purchasing the kit, giving you a trusted place to go. However if you are a self motivated trainer, save money in membership fee’s and get used to training alone. Come race day, whether you train as part of a club or as an individual, it’s every man for himself and it’s unrealistic to try to run with buddies or a partner.
How will you train?
It is recommended you implement a training plan from day one, enabling you to plan in advance the goal for each session. For most people this will compromise of training 5-6 times a week, with most athletes averaging around 10 hours of training per week, the majority being spent on the bike. The swim is often the hardest part of training and so a lot of people will focus on their swimming, starting in a pool and working their way to an open swim. For beginners it may be worth investing in some swimming lessons to brush up on technique and ensure you are as strong (and safe) as possible when you hit the water on race day.
When will you race?
Always have an end date. Rather than ‘I want to do a triathlon this year’, find the event you want to do and sign up. Once you’ve done that you’re committed with a deadline which will give you the extra incentive to stick with your plan. You can then also start researching the event itself and even go and check out some of the route to give you more of an idea on what you’re working towards. For example if you know your course is particularly hilly, it will give you plenty of time to add some hills into your cycles to develop strength in that area ready for race day.
Why am I doing this?
You have to ask yourself why. Being honest with yourself as to why you want to do something is a huge part of the journey to achieving your goal. Is it to prove you can? To challenge yourself? Or did your brother complete a triathlon last year and you just won’t let him beat you at anything. Whether it be to raise money for charity, improve health or because you’re super competitive, knowing what’s driving you towards the finish line is part of what’s going to get you there when your body starts telling you it’s ready to stop.
If you’re happy with your answers to all those questions, why not give it a Tri?
It won’t be easy, but you already know that. Sundried ethical activewear is trialled and tested by leading triathletes, read our section Training and Motivation to be inspired by their stories and find training advice from Team GB athletes.