It didn't surprise me. Much.
After Angela's foray into the marathon, relay and sand run spheres it seemed almost a foregone conclusion she would try multisport. Since there are very few duathlons in this area, an event with which she had some familiarity, triathlon was the only (logical?) option.
She started to look closely into local events and ask the rhetorical "which event is best for me" question. This turned into another one of those moments where the ol' coach had an opportunity to chime in. I provided a brief list of links for events with characteristics I considered entry-level tri-geek friendly: participant fields with a cross-section of abilities, "safe" swim and bicycle courses, good volunteer support, and rule enforcement/education by USA Triathlon (USAT) officiating crews.
After this, she asked "got any triathlon training plans?"
The nice thing about triathlon is that a citizen athlete who is reasonably-healthy and self-aware can train toward a sprint event with little disruption to social life. Once the triathlon bug bites, however, they'll begin to bleed money at every turn. Having said that, I consider it to be the best way to implement a cross-training program into an athlete's lifestyle. I've explained many times in the past most of my recommendations come from research, trial and error. In my own case it usually leans more toward the side of error. My short list of training recommendations, in macro, follow:
1. Rules. Read, learn and follow the federation competition rules to the letter. Know what you can and cannot take into transition and onto the course. Train like there's an official watching you.
I've been a USAT Certified Official for four seasons now starting my fifth; I also recently completed the international governing body's technical official training course (certificates and $2.25 will get me a cup of coffee at the local Denny's). Empirical data supports an assertion I have often suspected; U.S. athletes are the least-knowledgeable when it comes to what can and cannot be done at an event. Friends of mine occasionally call or shoot me e-mails when they have a rules question, or when they see me at an event (before the horn blows); many take the time to explain to their new training and racing companions. Makes my job easier.
2. Transition. Get used to using the least amount of gear possible. The difference between new and experienced triathletes, when it comes to their set-up, is night and day. And when you watch an international race, or the Olympics, the athletes have ALMOST NOTHING in transition...but that's international rules. Nice thing about a nice, clean transition set-up is there's less stuff to pack in and take out, and less risk of stuff getting kicked around...especially at bigger races where space, while equal for everyone, is at a premium.
3. Swim. In the interest of public disclosure I am NOT a swim coach. I have a friend or two who are really good at technique and stuff. Unless you grew up swimming or near a body of water where swimming could be done when you felt like it (I grew up in a small town in the desert, enough said.) you're not going to make great gain in this discipline without sacrificing in the other two. That's what makes triathlon what I like to call "golf for the high-strung."
Swim at least two training sessions a week, and if you can do both in open water that much the better. I swam a lot of masters' workouts and got spoiled by lane lines, walls and clear vision; many race venues have none of these if your race is in open water. Use a pull buoy for pool workouts; this will teach you to swim using the arms more than the legs, and in the event you use a wetsuit it simulates the position you're going to assume.
Work up to at least the distance you'll have to swim at the race, but if you can swim more do as many yards/meters as you can. Rather than go to breaststroke - a really slow stroke which is almost more tiring than freestyle (also drops you down into the water) - in the event of panic, learn how to roll over onto your back and backstroke...it's more efficient than the breaststroke, slower than freestyle but your head is still out of the water.
4. Bike. Equipment is your life. Get a good helmet and make certain it fits your head like a snug hat. If the helmet sits on your head like a yarmulke it's going to be of no use should you go down. Buy one from a good bike shop and have the salesperson help you fit it before you leave. There should only have two finger tips of space between the jawline and the chin strap; if it looks like a hockey helmet strap it's - again - going to be of no use. Put it on BEFORE you touch anything on the bike and keep it on until the bike is sitting on the rack...during training sessions, at the race site, on the way home. Period. Learn how to change a flat tire. Learn how to ride on the drop bars; these are almost as comfortable than the hoods and almost as aerodynamic as a pair of clip-on aero bars. And if the conditions are windy you'll be more stable.
Ride twice a week; three times if you can. There's no substitute for real road riding; turbo-trainers and spin classes are good for time-constrained riding (more efficient, though...) but bike-handling skills are a must in this discipline. If you ride in a group learn to stay out of the draft of the bike in front of you (five-to-six bike lengths between you and the bike in front), don't ride side-by-side, and please don't wear music earphones. Basic rules of the road apply; ride on the right, pass on the left.
5. Run. Three times a week, for most runners this will be maintenance. One long run (easy pace), one tempo run (around 5K race pace, or "comfortably hard"), and one speed-training day. If you can run a little bit (up to a mile) after each bike session just to learn how UGLY that bike-to-run transition is going to be there will be fewer surprises come race day.
6. Weekend transition "bricks." These are not required but will teach the athlete to transition from one discipline to the next. Do the swim workout, followed immediately by the half-to-full duration bike ride. Or bike workout with the run. Or swim with the run. Let your conscience be your guide. The goal here is to learn how to efficiently transition from one discipline to the next - slow is smooth; smooth is fast.
There are an abundance of good books out on the market which can guide the athlete through the specifics of each discipline, but more often than not it's a matter of common sense placed into common practice. Go out and give it a "tri."