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Beginner’s Corner: Starting Where You Are

"Beginner's Corner" is a new monthly column from coach Lucy Smith aimed at helping beginner triathletes as they jump into the sport.

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“Beginner’s Corner” is a new monthly column from Lifesport coach Lucy Smith aimed at helping beginner triathletes as they jump into the sport. Look for a new edition on the first Monday of each month at

Welcome to my first beginners column of 2014. I hope to get each month started with some inspiration, advice or coaching pointers that will increase your knowledge and your enjoyment of this fantastic sport. I have been involved in triathlon since 1993 and still remember what it was like to be a beginner. Coming from a background of pure running, triathlon was a sport full of new equipment and skills and required triple the organization of simply going for a run from the back door of my house. Triathlon also presented challenges that I simply did not want to pass up: the challenge of learning how to swim in open water in a straight line and without fear, the challenge of learning how to ride a bike well and the challenge of putting three disciplines successfully together in training and racing.

As a coach, I love to see enthusiasm amongst new athletes, of all ages, both recreational and elite. When I start working with new athletes, I sense this enthusiasm in their voices as they receive their first training schedules and complete their first workouts. They are proud of themselves for getting out there, are intoxicated by the sense of goals and possibility that they have placed in front of themselves. The first few times we talk about training and racing I wish I could capture their spirit and energy in a bottle. I remind them often of the feelings that they have now; I ask them to remind themselves about this passion during hard training weeks or times when things are not going so smoothly. There is a reason you are here, I want to say. It’s in that bottle!

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One thing that I have learned over the years as a coach and as an athlete is that there is simply no better feeling than meeting a challenge. The combination of hard work, commitment and sheer determination is an unbeatable one for motivation, self esteem and personal success. In our current world of instant gratification and streamlined everything, there is still no substitute for hard work, and the subsequent feeling of satisfaction that comes from completing a training session or a race.

In the months to come I plan to cover many details and information about novice specific aspects of triathlon, things that will shed some light on training and racing, make your path easier and illustrate the small steps you take in order to reach your goals for the year. From approaching training sessions with enthusiasm to figuring out what some of the new technology really does for you, my goal is make things easier and give you a hand in your first years in the sport.

First things first! I believe that the foundation of any process has to start with attitude and mindset. A big part of doing well in anything revolves around planning for success and seeing yourself be successful at your goals, and during the training along the way. Great athletes of all abilities plan for success constantly, and eating well, getting enough sleep and taking care of themselves becomes second nature after several years of training. Visualizing success and being able to see yourself happy and doing well is also a learned habit.

As you head into your year, I encourage you to take note of your emotional training state. Pay attention to your sessions and allow yourself to learn and adapt to positive habits. During training, be alert and mindful to what is going through your brain and what things you are telling yourself. We have a culture of ‘not good enough’ (not fast enough, pretty enough, rich enough, etc) and it should be no surprise that many people tell themselves they are not deserving of success while outwardly attempting to appear successful. Performing workouts under this rapid fire negativity is not conducive to either productivity or enthusiasm. Forget about the self created stories or made up opinions of others and listen to yourself, be your own best critic and give yourself permission to be courageous enough to succeed. The failures will inevitably present themselves, but no great mission was ever accomplished without a few backward steps.

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For the next few weeks take the time to tune into your mind and start to create the emotional environment that will allow you to train with peace and positivity into the year. Give yourself permission to succeed, to be ‘good enough’ today and take control of your path. Be tuned into feelings of calmness and confidence and build on those, and notice when the opposite—stress, anxiety and self doubt—creep in.

When the word ‘can’t’ creeps into your brain, tack on a helpful ‘yet’ and you’ll see that it sets you up for a challenge that you can accomplish. ‘I can’t descend hills’ becomes ‘I haven’t learned how to descend yet, but I will this year.’ This personal mission statement leads you to creating opportunities to learn this skill: sign up for a bike camp, find some better riders to show you how, hire a coach to teach you, or simply practice more.  What you are doing, is practicing the positive mental state that you want to use on race day. It is proven sport psychology that mentally preparing for success increases the chances of it becoming a reality in the moments that it counts.

Training is a path in itself, not just a step towards racing. Training lets us take control of our lives in the direction that we wish it to go. Training allows us to do quality work on a daily basis, connect with the true health and strength of our bodies and best of all, lets us build positive habits and routines that support our overall lifestyle.

LifeSport coach Lucy Smith is the author of First Triathlon: Your Perfect Plan for Success and has helped and inspired hundreds of triathletes and runners through her coaching and motivational speaking. Lucy has been competing for over 25 years, is a 19-time Canadian Champion in running and multisport, a two-time silver medalist at World Duathlon Championships and recently was second at the 2013 Xterra Trail Running World Championships.

Looking for a triathlon to sign up for this year? Check out our partner, the TriRock Series. Their seven events feature a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.

More triathlon advice for beginners.