* More isn't always better. Overtraining is a common mistake novices make. "The first thing people think is that they're going to go hard every day, adding volume each day," says Sergio Borges, a San Diego-based triathlon coach. "But they become totally fatigued and overtrained. You have to out-train the competition, not by going harder, but by being smarter -- knowing when to go easy and when to go hard, and how to recover." It's essential to plan days off and light training days.
* Don't skip the weights. Weight training may be tedious, but without it athletes grow weaker and slower with age. Borges likes to concentrate on exercises for the lower body and core, the muscles triathletes use most. "For arms, you should be specific about what areas to target," he says, "such as the triceps and shoulders, which are used in swimming. And functional weight training is good, such as using a barbell for squats, since you're using your core to keep your balance. Any time you're working with free weights, you're using more than one muscle, and in the biomechanics of movement, you never isolate muscles."
* Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Most people come to triathlon with experience in one or two of the three events. "Try to figure out what you're strong and weak in," says Playa del Rey-based coach Robert Hockley. "If you're a good runner, put that into maintenance training mode, and work on skill development and endurance in swimming and cycling. Usually people who do incredibly well in triathlon are exceptional in one event and very good in the other two. They worked to make themselves a well-rounded athlete."
* Training shouldn't just be sport-specific. "In triathlon training," Hockley says, "you spend a great deal of time in a forward flexion position with rounded posture. If you only keep doing that, the muscles that hold you up straight will become weak and you'll be out of balance. Usually when there's an imbalance, you're more susceptible to injury. You should try to increase your flexibility and range of motion, and that includes doing things like yoga."
* When it comes to training, newbies should "pick [cycling] routes where you know you're not going to be dealing with tons of traffic," Hockley says. Beginners should also avoid crowded pools and tracks to work on technique and speed.
* Give it a rest. Training at maximum capacity shouldn't happen year-round. "You need to ebb and flow," triathlete Larry Davidson says. "Between races, I quit calling my workouts workouts. I call it exercise, and I incorporate a lot of wacky stuff, and total body training. I'll run and do some push-ups, then run again and do some crunches, weird stuff that mixes it up. I'll do a lot more group rides, when I can talk to people."
* Train in different weather conditions. Duplicate the weather conditions of a race so that your body can adjust, and be flexible on race day. "I was foolish with my sophomore efforts at the Ironman Austria in 2000," says Ian Murray of the Los Angeles Tri Club. "I set a swim pace that was incredibly fast, and same with the bike. It was hot that day, and I didn't listen to my body and I didn't stay aware of the climate. By the time I was five kilometers into my run, I knew I was in trouble. I was fatigued and sick to my stomach. I was walking about 50% to 60% of the marathon. I did finish, but I did it in a fashion that was really ugly."
* Remember -- it's only a triathlon. Even the most serious triathletes need a break once in a while. "Sometimes I stay out late," athlete Beverly Atkins says. "I know that instead of getting up at 6 a.m., I'm going to have to train after work. You have to have a life." Adds coach Paul Ruggiero: "Don't let training overwhelm your life. I remind people to keep it light -- when you're training, try to talk about movies rather than your cadence."
* Do training that's enjoyable, and commit to it. Not every session is going to be blissful, but workouts can be fun. Try trail running instead of the usual treadmill run. "Once you punch through those days when you feel like shutting off the alarm clock," says Hillary Biscay, a 29-year-old professional triathlete from Tucson, "it's easier to keep going. When the alarm clock goes off, I get up and train. End of story. If you can train yourself to do that, you'll be OK."
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Participation on the rise
Participation in triathlons has exploded in recent years. Many races, such as the Ford Ironman 70.3 California, the Vineman Ironman 70.3, and the Ford Ironman Arizona, have a maximum number of participants and have been filling up earlier and earlier.
Membership of USA Triathlon, which sanctions more than 2,000 triathlon events (members are usually athletes or coaches):
The Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, is considered the most prestigious triathlon event in the world. Most competitors enter by qualifying via other races, but a portion of the slots are available via lottery.
Number of starters in the Ford Ironman World Championship:
Number of applications for the Kona Ironman lottery, in which 200 are chosen:
Number of entrants for the Vineman Ironman 70.3 (formerly the Half Vineman) in Sonoma County:
1999: Race at beyond capacity
-- Jeannine Stein