Training for a triathlon, whether it’s a sprint distance (.5-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) or a full IRONMAN (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.22-mile run), “doesn’t have to be daunting,” says Earl Walton, Global Director of Training for IRONMAN. With more than 20 years experience coaching elite athletes, Walton knows what it takes to get to the finish line, and how to have fun along the way. Here are his top tips.

Don't Get Hung Up on Skipping a Workout

Triathlon training is an exercise in time management. “Even I can be hard on myself when I miss a workout, but rest is an important part of training,” Walton explains. He tells his athletes to look at their workouts over the course of a month versus a week. “When you tell yourself I have to get in 12 bike rides in four weeks, it’s easier to be ok with skipping a day,” he says. “There’s not as much pressure to get it all done in a week. And realistically, the real impact comes over the course of six weeks, not one.”

Practice Your Transitions

You can bike and run as much as you want, but the real key is doing them back-to-back during workouts. “When you get off the bike and start running, you’re using a whole different energy system,” he says. “You’re going from a hunched-over position—where your hip flexors are crunched and compressed and the quads are tired from effort—to an upright position where you need the posterior chain—your hamstrings, glutes, and low back—ready to fire.” When you start running, your legs often feel heavy like bricks, hence the name ‘brick workout,’ which involves tacking on a run right after a hard bike ride. Practicing the transition prepares athletes mentally for the initial discomfort. 

Mix It Up

Endurance sports, by nature, are repetitive, but your workouts don’t have to be. “As a coach, I always want to challenge the way my athlete is interacting with an effort or environment,” he says. For example, he might have athletes swim with paddles one day and with closed fists and fins the next. Or he might have athletes ride 12 minutes on the bike then run eight minutes on a treadmill on and off, alternating the speed and incline of the treadmill. 

Take a Trip

Most people book their travel for race day and don’t think about traveling to train. Walton suggests picking one discipline and signing up for a multi-day camp. “I am a huge believer in getting away and immersing yourself in a sport,” he says. “I promise, after four days of riding a bike with a coach, group, or friend you come out a better cyclist.” He says swimming camps are particularly useful. “Having a coach take underwater video of you and work on little changes in stroke technique will translate to more confidence in the water and faster times,” he says.