How to train for something you’ve never done before

My company is doing a triathlon.

It’s optional, but pretty much everyone, of course, has trepidation about doing the race, which is why I offered up the relay option (teams of 3, with each person doing one leg of the race). The main point, yes, is just to get people moving, but I was really hoping to get more people to commit to doing the complete sprint distance race. It’s a great thing to train for because it requires commitment and discipline, and is by no means easy, but it’s a sight easier than doing a marathon, for example—and people train for those all the time. But, like I said, happy that people are getting out and doing something.

My absolute favorite thing that’s come out of trying to “gently encourage”—OK, coerce—my coworkers is the handful of people who said, “You know what? I’m going to get out of my comfort zone and do something I’ve never done before. I don’t know if I’m going to like it, but I’m going to try it anyway.”

Stuff like that really gets me going. And having done such a thing myself not too long ago with swimming, I know what it takes to get yourself to a point to finish the race (I don’t profess to be good at swimming, but I can swim a mile in open water and not be last!).

Me in my first triathlon. I had no idea what I was doing, but I finished and now I'm hooked!

Me in my first triathlon. I had no idea what I was doing, but I finished and now I’m hooked!

So how do you train for something you’ve never done before? The answer is simple: start with what you can do, and work from there.

You always need a baseline. Are you planning to run a race? Just see how long you can run, then go from there. New to swimming? Challenge yourself to see how many laps you can swim before you really need to take a break. After you do, for the rest of the workout, combine walking/running (or break up your swimming) until you hit your workout distance.

Which brings me to my next point: going into a training session with a goal distance in mind is very effective—and I suggest, at least while you’re still working up to it, that that distance is the race distance. The goal is to be able to finish your event (hopefully without stopping), so that’s a great starting point! If you surprise yourself and are able to run all 3.1 or 6.2 miles without stopping a month before you thought you could, use that extra time to get faster.

That being said, if you find yourself running out of time, don’t panic. If you’re running a 10k and you can run 5 miles, on race day the adrenaline will take over—and, of course, your competitive fire!—and you’ll be able to complete it.

Last bit of advice: having a plan really helps. If you know what your workout of the day will be, it’s much easier to convince yourself to get out and get it done. You don’t have to spend extra time and energy coming up with a plan—especially if you’re not feeling working out in the first place. The most important thing to remember is: be consistent. Get out as much as you can (and make an effort here!) to train. You know what they say: practice makes perfect!

So I’d encourage everyone reading to not just get moving, but to get out of your comfort zone and try something you didn’t know was possible. You might surprise yourself.

Do you have some great couch-to-whatever training tips?

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