5 Things We Learned About Triathlon Training in 2020

With less focus on the race calendar we were able to glean some valuable lessons that we'll take into 2021 and beyond.

Photo: Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

In a year with (mostly) no triathlons, we’ve all had to adjust the focus of what gets us out the door and keeps us motivated. Without the carrot of an age-group win, PR, or world championship qualification, we’ve all had to re-examine what it means to be a triathlete. For us, as editors of a magazine about triathlon and as triathletes ourselves, we’ve also had to get creative about finding ways to keep our readers (and ourselves) moving towards our goals. After nearly a year of thinking about the sport in a new way, we’ve identified a few core lessons that we’ll carry with us as we (hopefully) return to racing.

1. DIY Challenges Can Be Epic Too

You do not have to hit the register button on an event website to do epic things. Endurance athletes accomplished some amazing feats in 2020. We did everything from Everesting on a treadmill for 15 hours straight to chasing local KOMs to finishing an entire iron-distance race in the confines of our backyards.

Six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott gave us this advice back on March 17 and it seems like most of us took it to heart: “Don’t let the season waste away. Remember that the gratification comes from the day-to-day quest to be ready—so do it.”

2. Changes in Routine Affect Everything

Yes, the pandemic has directly impacted our ability to compete in events, but the complete change in routine for many of us had as big an effect, even if it was more more indirect, on our lives. Shifting to a more home-based lifestyle had us sitting more, spending more time on the trainer, barely swimming, and maybe even running a bit too much. A lot of us experienced new crops of injuries based on these drastic changes in routine. 

The pandemic also brought on unprecedented levels of worry for many. Whether it was overcoming the COVID-19 virus itself, seeing a loved one get sick, working as a front-line worker in a hospital, dealing with changes in the workplace, or simply grieving the cancellation of so many plans, the stress that came with the year impacted every angle of ours lives—including our training.

3. Maybe We’ll Love Swimming More?

Learning to love the swim is, uh, the hardest part of triathlon for so many of us. We love to bike and run, and we love to race, so we figure out how to log the yards so we’re prepared enough to get through the first leg on race day. This year, depending on where you live, you likely went weeks or months without access to a pool. As a result, we learned a lot about stretch cord exercises, backyard pool tethers, and even open-water swimming. It’s safe to say we’re all starting to appreciate the privilege of staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool now. (Though spending more time in the open water is probably something we should all carry into the future too.)

4. We’re Going to Be Rusty When We Finally Get to Race

We’ve written very few articles this year about race-specific topics because the reality is few of us really wanted to or needed to focus on that this year. Things like brick workouts, transition practice, sighting, pacing strategy, the aero position, and race fueling have been (rightfully) put on the back-burner. But watching the sport’s top athletes compete at this month’s PTO Championships showcased the value of those race-based skills and practice. Even the pros were a little rusty in certain areas, so imagine how we’ll feel after months (or years?) away from competing.

5. Remember Your “Why”

Yes, it feels a little cheesy but a year with no racing has showcased the importance of starting with your “why” when it comes to triathlon training. If your why is solely centered around performance-based success in the sport and its impact on your identity, you probably had a tough year.

Maintaining the ability to self-reflect and work on the mental muscle came up over and over again this year. Sports psychologists continuously reinforced the importance of maintaining strong relationships, keeping the right mindset, and staying present in the moment.

So while it’s been a taxing year mentally and emotionally, we’re ready to tackle 2021 (and hopefully racing!) with some new lessons, skills, and gratitude for the ability to swim, bike, run, and race.

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.