Monday, March 22, 2010

Beginners' Guide: Synthesis

Beginners' articles, for the most part, come in one of two flavors (no, not chocolate and vanilla): either they tell you the same information as every other beginners' article, or they try to share new tips, most of which don't really apply to beginners. Now neither one is necessarily bad, mind you. In fact, the former is highly useful, and the latter can be useful (eventually).

The problem, I think, is that the people with the information--those of us who have been there, those of us who have done that, those of us who have learned all the things beginners need to know--have forgotten what it's like to be the greenhorn. You remember how in middle school, you just knew that your teachers (and parents and lunch ladies and principles and every other person over the age of 20) had no idea what you were going through? Well, same thing. You get to a certain point in your training, and you forget the kinds of struggles that newbies have. You forget that sense of dread and fear on race day, the confusion of the transition area, the fear that everyone else knows what to do except you.

Point is, those of us who have been there and done that are only so helpful. Sure, we try to answer your questions on blogs and message boards, at pools and in cycling classes. But in the end, you have to be able to bring this information together for yourself. You have to be able to synthesize.

Example? This article offers great tips for beginners. Sign up for a race, get a bike, have someone watch your stroke. Check. Those are all good things. But the article doesn't really break down for you how you're supposed to go from (hypothetically) the Couch to 5k plan you just completed to getting through your first triathlon.

This article isn't going to solve that problem for you, either. Why? Because there's plenty of information out there that already does that. The tips I want to give you are how to start building a mental picture of what it'll take to get you to the finish line your first time around. And here they are:
  1. Read voraciously. Seriously. There are so many websites. There are so many books. There are so many blogs. If all else fails, pull up Google and do a search for what you want to know (i.e. "Do people ever die in the swim?"). Read articles. Check out books and magazines from the library. Borrow books from friends. Ask for recommendations. Follow triathletes on Twitter. Just start putting information into your brain.
  2. Talk to everyone. Okay, probably not everyone has a bunch of athlete friends around. I know some of you are preparing for your first race in isolation. But you have this big, wide, online, global community at your fingertips. Take advantage of it. Ask questions on message boards. Ask questions on Twitter. Ask questions on blogs. You may have noticed that triathletes are a pretty evangelistic bunch. We want you to be part of our sport. So we're happy to answer your questions.
  3. Read between the lines. Now for the tricky part. Some of the articles are wrong. Some of the books are out-of-date. Some of the people don't know what they're talking about. So use your common sense, and always get a second opinion. If you read in a book from 1995 that heart rate monitoring is the hottest, most important new advance in endurance sports training, you might just look around for some new info (i.e. something written in the past 5 years or so). Again, there's so much raw information available, you shouldn't ever trust a single resource (yeah, even me).
And just in case you don't know where to start looking, here are some links to useful resources:
Beginner Triathlete
Triathlete Magazine (InsideTri)
Trihardist's Beginners' Guide


  1. Do you disagree with heart rate monitoring in endurance training? Any specific articles you would point to?

  2. No, I don't disagree with heart rate monitoring. It's a great tool. But it's not the end-all, be-all of fitness data. You can train just as well without that data as you can with it. But I have at least one book from the late '90s that is absolutely gaga for heart rate monitoring. You'd be hard-pressed to find a recently-published fitness book that made such a big deal about heart rate monitoring now. I just use it as an example to show that what we know about the body is still so limited, and information on the web (and in books too!) can sometimes be out of date and not necessarily as accurate as we might think. Which doesn't mean it's useless; but if you want the best information, it's important always to put that kind of information in context.

  3. i am having trouble finding a training plan (i have decided i going to piecemeal a few together)
    i am new to tri's but not new to running and biking and i have been swimming in a pool for months and took swim lessons so i am a little bit above a beginner....seems like there are only couch to sprints or the plans just jump too much