Triathlon is an inherently solo sport—you’re on your own for most of your workouts (especially those tedious basement trainer sessions), and you race by yourself. “Triathlon’s not a team sport, so it’s really hard to get that benefit [of camaraderie],” says Jenn Giles, a USAT-certified coach, board-certified sports dietitian and owner of Connecticut-based Active Nutrition.
While triathlon racing is an individual pursuit, you can get some of those team benefits of motivation, guidance from fellow triathletes and mutual support, says Giles, who coaches teams through the charity Save the Children’s endurance program. Through Team Save, athletes are guaranteed entries into races, given training plans and matching team kits and can train together virtually, sharing their workouts and questions over social media. Going the team route may not be for every type of athlete, so Giles shares her insights into the team training dynamics so you can determine if it’s a right fit for you.
Training with a team might be for you …
… If you need some extra motivation. Training solo (successfully) requires a whole lot of initiative and focus. “When training for an endurance event, there are a lot of highs and lows,” she says. However, if you hear your teammate Joe just did his interval workout at a 8-minute-per-mile pace, perhaps that can give you a little boost, as your competitive drive kicks in. “If you’re hearing other people are doing the same thing you are, it can just take you to the next level, instead of just going out every day by yourself and plodding along at your same old pace or your same old workouts,” she says. “You’re getting input from other people that can really push you to be better.”
… If you’re looking for more purpose to your racing. Both first-time and veteran triathletes can benefit from fundraising efforts for a cause. “When you do enough of these races over 10, 20 years, it’s kind of selfish in a way—all the time away from your family and your friends and your job to do a thing really for yourself,” Giles says. “But if you’re doing it for yourself and someone else, it creates a lot of meaning for these racers as well.”
… If you’re in a training rut. It can be easy to trudge through workouts, using the same free training plan you found online—not getting worse, but also not improving. But you’ll never reach your goals that way. However, many teams provide expert guidance in exchange for the fundraising, so you can take advantage of having access to experts such as Giles, who’s an exercise physiologist in addition to being a sports nutritionist and endurance coach. “Even for some experienced triathletes, if they’re looking to get a better time, to get faster, to qualify for nationals or go to Kona or anything like that, getting a training plan and a nutritionist to help you with your goal is really huge,” she says.
… If you’re preparing for your first race. “The beginner athlete really, really benefits a lot from [a team] because there’s so much information that they need,” says Giles. Necessary gear, which wetsuit to buy, how to change a tire, how to transition, the best goggles for race day and how to sight in open water are all questions newbies have when they’re just starting out—and ones they can ask on the team’s Facebook page. “It’s great having other people feeding them information—the coach and other athletes—because everyone’s experiences are different,” Giles says. Also communicated via social media are things like which bike company other athletes are using to ship to the race, fundraising ideas, and fueling tips from the coach—all information that can help out athletes of any experience level.
… If you really want to get into that one race, and it’s sold out. Charities such as Save the Children and The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training partner with some of the highest-profile races in a sport—ones that can sell out within minutes of registration opening. If you miss your window for registration, a fundraising team can provide your ticket in—free entry in exchange for fundraising. “So not only can you race, but now you can feel good about the fact that you’re fundraising for a cause bigger than yourself,” Giles says. A win-win, right?
Training with a team might not be for you …
… If you are laser focused on a specific time goal. If you’re out there on your own, you can really do your own thing: choose your coach(es), train at your own pace, and set up your own schedule so that you can meet your individual goals. “If you’re training with somebody who’s, say, slower than you, you may hang back and run slower because it’s more social, and then you’re not really pushing yourself,” Giles says. “Whereas if you went out on your own, you could really push yourself.” If you’re doing fine unaccompanied and are hyper-focused on a goal, then the solo route may offer fewer distractions.
… If you’re anti-social media. For the Facebook-phobic, it would be difficult to connect with your team if you don’t have a social media account. “For us, social media is everything,” Giles says—a team spread all over the world means virtual is the only way to go. However, keep in mind that “social media allows us to tap into it when we need it, and then if you’re too busy or you don’t need it or you want to take a break, you just don’t log on,” Giles says. “So you have control over as much or as little as you want.”
Whether you opt to train with a team or go it alone, be sure to continually remind yourself of your “why.” Triathlon is a demanding sport, and remembering your unique reasons for taking on the multisport challenge—the awesome charity you’re supporting, new fitness, or just the thrill of setting a big goal—will help you keep your head in the game.