Beginners, Podcast, Racing, Training

7 Big Mistakes Beginner Triathletes Make | EP#66

 October 12, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

7 Big Mistakes Beginner Triathletes Make | EP#66

These 7 mistakes that many beginner triathletes make can be the difference between a great race experience and fast fitness improvements versus a not-so-great experience and stagnation.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Doing too much too soon
  • The importance of consistency
  • Learning how to pace yourself
  • Learning proper form and technique
  • Prioritising training across the three disciplines
  • Training in the Grey Zone
  • Why you must have a race plan


1. Doing too much too soon

04:35 -

  • The danger in here is that you can easily get injured or burnt out.
  • Injuries are particularly common because your endurance will improve quickly such that you can train longer when you start out.
  • However, it takes longer for your tendons, ligaments, and bones to become stronger and more resilient to injury. Therefore, you need to take a very gradual approach to increase your training volume.
  • If you train too much then you could lose all the enjoyment that led you to train so much in the first place. You need to avoid this because it might lead you to quitting the sport altogether or becoming inconsistent in training.
  • Gradually build up and give yourself time to assess the amount of training that you can sustain for a long period of time while having fun.
  • For example, you could ask yourself if you can do the training you're currently doing for 45-48 weeks of the year. If the answer is no, maybe you should back off a little bit to get to a sustainable level.
  • Action step: work in 3 weeks cycles. This would mean that you can keep a higher training volume in the first 2 weeks doing for example 4 hours per week of training. Then you can reduce it in the 3rd week doing 2 hours only, so this week serves as your recovery week.
  • Then in each cycle, you can gradually increase those levels slightly by up to 10%. In the next cycle for example, instead of having 4 hours, you will have 4 hours 20 minutes during the first 2 weeks. Then on the 3rd week you can have 2 hours 10 minutes instead of the 2 hours.

2. Not being consistent

07:02 -

  • A lot of guests on this show say that a personal habit that helped them achieve success is consistency.
  • Many world class athletes have simple training programs but achieve a high level of success. It’s not the complexity of the program that determines how good you become but it is building consistency.
  • These athletes have years of building consistency and gradually increased the training stress and load that they can take on.
  • Prioritize consistency above all. Performances in one off workouts are of minimal relevance compared to consistency.
  • Sometimes it’s easy to get too bogged down in the details and not really seeing the big picture. Instead, focus on the big picture and not the small details.
  • Action step: if you followed action step 1, you should now know roughly how much you plan to train each week. Let’s say it’s 2 swims, 1 bike, 1 run, and 1 brick per week.
  • Learn more about the actual training structure for beginners in Beginner triathlon training with Gale Bernhardt | EP#54
  • So the action step is simply to always perform 100% of these workouts. Even if sometimes you don’t have enough time, then you might have to cut off a little bit of time on those workouts but always try to get something of the workout in.
  • This requires planning and time management. For more information on this topic, check out these episodes:
  • Strategies and Hacks for the Time-crunched Triathlete | EP#10​​​
  • Time management and balance with Amy Farrell | EP#37​​​
  • Balancing a Big Life with Big Performance – Matt Dixon | EP#60​​​

3. Not learning how to pace

10:52 -

  • Learning how to pace and knowing what effort you can sustain for how long based on your perceived exertion is perhaps the most important skill in triathlon.
  • It’s great to use things like GPS watches, heart rate monitors, power meters, etc. Nevertheless, you must still always learn to marry a certain reading on your device with how you feel in your body. You can’t just rely on devices because that is not a sustainable way to improve as a triathlete.
  • You need to learn how much effort you are putting out, how long could you hold it for, and get very much in tune with your body.
  • You can ask yourself if this effort is something that you could hold for a 750-meter swim, 20k bike, or a 5k run for example if you’re training for a sprint triathlon.
  • If you use devices, check your files after workouts to see if your pace dropped off, or it was steady, or if it progressively increased. The latter two, steady and progressively increasing, are great but a drop off in pace is something to avoid. It is better to start slower and finish faster.
  • Action step: do continuous workouts in all 3 disciplines that are like time trials. It could be going hard or all-out if you want. The important thing is to get several different time splits at equal distances and see how evenly you paced your effort.
  • For running and swimming, all you will need is a stopwatch. For example on the swim, you could do a 400 meter time trial and get splits every 100 meter and then compare each of them.
  • For the run, you can do 8 laps on the track (3200m) and get splits every lap. Then compare them to check how evenly you paced.
  • On the bike, if you can find 10km of flat road, get splits every 2.5km. This is the hardest as this might require a GPS watch but you could also measure it up with a car.

4. Not learning proper form and technique

13:34 -

  • This is especially true in swimming but also in running and to some extent in cycling.
  • There are technical elements in all 3 disciplines that you should learn sooner rather than later before ingraining bad habits.
  • Otherwise, poor technique might lead to overuse injuries and may prevent you from becoming faster once you get to a certain point no matter how fit you get.
  • Speed up the process of learning form and technique by seeking help. On the bike, it’s as easy as reaching out to a local cycling club and go out on group rides.
  • If you are complete beginner, you can always ask somebody to show you the ropes before or after those group rides.
  • The same with running, experienced runners or triathletes in your local club will be more than happy to help you. Ask for feedback as they look at you running.
  • One thing to be wary of is that running form is very individual. There are very few universal truths (including not over striding). If the people giving you feedback go into minute details that you feel might not necessarily be applicable to every single athlete then seek a second opinion.
  • For swimming for beginners, get one-on-one private coaching with an on-deck coach as you’re learning it. It’s such a technical sport and the investment will be worth it since you will improve quicker, which will also mean that you’ll enjoy swimming more.
  • Technique training is not the same as doing drills. It is becoming really aware and focused on what you’re doing in the present moment.
  • If you work on technique from the beginning you can then later keep improving and keep building layer upon layer of fitness on that solid base of technique. You won’t have those limitations on getting faster.
  • Action steps: improve awareness by being 100% present and focusing hard on what you’re doing. Get help from coaches and other people, especially in swimming. Ask people to look at your technique and give you feedback.

5. Training your best discipline the most and your weakest the least

18:31 -

  • It is common to see people coming into triathlon that come from a background in one of the sports.
  • Let’s use running for example. Since swimming and biking may be a bit foreign and you’re not really good at them, you end up putting off training these disciplines.
  • So runners turned triathletes may do 3 runs per week and just 1 swim and 1 bike per week because they’re good at and comfortable with running. What they should be doing really is have 2 swims, 2 bikes, and 1 run per week instead.
  • It’s easy to maintain a fitness level in one discipline on minimal training. There’s a lot of overlap between disciplines and maintaining is easier than building and improving fitness.
  • Your focus should be to improve your technical skills, comfort level, and fitness in those weaker disciplines.
  • Action step: make your weakest discipline(s) the one that you train the most with two caveats.
  • First, if all disciplines are equal, a fairly equal distribution in training volume is fine.
  • Second, if you’re a complete beginner, in some cases (and this is especially true if you’re overweight) it may be necessary to hold back on running even if it’s your weakest discipline for injury prevention reasons.

6. Training at the wrong intensities

20:16 -

  • It’s very easy to end up training in a grey zone of moderately hard all the time. This is the least effective way of training in terms of improving performance and fitness.
  • For complete beginners, you probably shouldn’t include any intensities at all in your training. Just gradually build up volume and distance. This will improve your aerobic endurance and make you more resilient to injury by strengthening tendons, bones, and ligaments.
  • If you’re not a complete beginner, then keep your easy sessions very easy and your hard sessions hard enough and not just at a moderate intensity. This is the best way to improve your endurance.
  • For a more specific example of what your training might look like, listen to Episode 54: Beginner triathlon training with Gale Bernhardt.
  • Action step: if you’re a complete beginner, no need to really think about this too much. Just go out there and enjoy it. For those who are ready to include some intensity, consciously slow down your easy sessions. It won’t derail fitness improvements.

7. Not having a race plan

22:27 -

  • If you haven’t given your race a thought and spent some time planning it out before the race, then you have a greater risk of not having a good experience and the worst is not finishing at all.
  • Have a race plan and write it down.

Your race plan should include:

Write down your race goal

  • For complete beginners, your goal might be to finish the race and have a good experience, which is a perfect goal.
  • If you’ve done a triathlon before, your goal might be to go faster than last time. But remember that courses vary a lot as do weather conditions and other things. So put some consideration for that.

Equipment checklist to check off when packing and preparing for the race

  • Include the equipment that you will definitely use like goggles, bike, bike and running shoes, and helmet.
  • Include the equipment that you may be using that should be brought as a back-up.
  • Also remember other things like warm clothes for before and after the race.

A detailed time schedule

  • When should you get up on race morning? When do you have breakfast? When do you leave? When do you need to be where? When do you warm-up? When do you put on your wetsuit?
  • You need to be very granular on this, because otherwise chances are you’ll have a really stressful morning. Simply because there’s a lot that goes into a triathlon race.
  • If you’re traveling, have your travel itinerary in the race plan as well.

Race execution

  • Pacing strategies come into play here. How should you feel at certain points in the race? How should you feel after T1 and after 5 minutes on the bike?
  • Try to do Transition 1 and Transition 2 or T1 and T2 in training several times. Visualize and think them through and know exactly what to do even if somebody woke you up in the middle of the night and had you recite your race plan.
  • Research the course. Are there hills that you need to slow down for or windy stretches?

Nutrition and fueling

  • What you will have for breakfast during race day and the time you will have it at should be practiced in training.
  • Fueling during the race. If you will be out for 2 hours in your first sprint for example or 3 hours for an Olympic, then you need to take on fueling.
  • Listen to Episode 41: Nutrition advice: Fuelled by Science with Ted Munson on how you can fuel your races.

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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