Antsy to Compete? Try These Early Season Tri Alternatives

You don’t have to wait to compete—there are some super-fun and highly beneficial races happening right now.

Photo: Wagner Araujo/

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If you’re like me, you love to race and are anxious to see the local lake temps rise knowing you’ll soon be diving into the triathlon racing season.

These alternative events offer a chance to boost your single-sport fitness (perhaps in one of your weaker disciplines) and the opportunity to learn valuable racing skills that will make you a faster triathlete this year!


Find a local 5K or 10K in the next month, and then commit to a little extra run-specific preparation. Continue your aerobic training, but add a weekly workout such as 3×1 mile at 5K pace (3 minutes walk/jog recovery between) to prime your anaerobic system and give you a better sense of pacing. On race day, act (and dress) like a runner and remember that you are sure to be faster without the accumulated fatigue of the swim/bike that customarily precedes the run, so really go for it!


While criteriums (also called “crits”) and road races are super training for triathletes, they do involve a bit more risk, specific bike-handling skills, and (very) close group riding experience. If that is a concern, search for a time trial or hill climb instead and feel confident that you’ll fit in just fine. (Note: Your tri bike will work great for any TT, but you may need a bike without any aerobars for a hill climb, especially if it is a mass-start event.)

In addition to easy-moderate riding, include a weekly session of 3×10 minutes at threshold (the effort you could sustain for one hour continuously when highly motivated). Take a five-minute easy spin between each hard effort.

While the first rule of any time-trial event is “don’t miss your start time,” a very close second is “don’t go out too fast.” For help with the second rule, rely on data gleaned from your most recent 3×10 workout to provide you an objective effort “ceiling” not to be exceeded in the first five minutes. Your average effort, HR or power for this distance (usually 40K or less) will then represent your very best of the early season given you should be saving nothing for the run.

Run-bike-run aka duathlon

Duathlons are a bit harder to find on a local events calendar but are well worth the drive if you can find one. Essentially a triathlon with a short run replacing the swim, du’s are the best way to kick off your multisport season and gain highly relevant fitness and race experience.

A great workout for getting your legs accustomed to that unique rubbery feeling of running before and after the bike is a short and fast run-bike-run-bike-run session. In a location where you can set up a nearby transition area, use a course that ideally makes all right turns. The run course should be 400–800 meters, and the bike course up to 1 mile. To get the best transitions practice, take a break after each run-bike-run and set up your gear again as you would before a race.

On race day, pace the first run as if it’s double the distance. Pace the bike like an Olympic-distance tri and be sure to fuel up for the second run. For the last 5K, be patient for the first few minutes as your legs adapt to running again. This will feel a little different than a triathlon as your legs have done more work at this point comparatively, but use a quick and light cadence, and soon enough your stride will open up and you’ll be ready to empty the tank on your way to the finish line.

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