Book Review – Train to Tri: Your First Triathlon

Looking to complete your first triathlon? Want to inspire and motivate your children, grandchildren, parents, friends, or co-workers?

If so, Train To Tri: Your First Triathlon by Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout is for you.  This 246-page guide provides the essential information needed to prepare for your first triathlon.Cover of "Train to Tri - Your First Triathlon"

Authors: Linda Cleveland and Kris Swarthout, both USA Triathlon Level 2 coaches with lots of experience competing in triathlon and coaching triathletes.

Publisher: Human Kinetics

Who is this book for?

Train To Tri is written primarily for those considering or already committed to completing their first sprint or standard (formerly called Olympic) distance triathlon.

Even though it is aimed at first-timers, it is not just for those doing their first triathlon.  While I have completed over 40 sprint triathlons, I found several useful training tipsI have already put some of them to use.

What does the book cover?

The book opens with a 24-question Triathlon Readiness Assessment.  Results of the self-assessment help the future triathlete identify with one of three categories – bronze, silver, or gold – and select the training plan included later in the book.  This initial section also provides guidelines for choosing the specific race for your first triathlon.

I like the basic strategy of the first triathlon training plan laid out by the authors – to focus most of the training effort on your weakest leg.

You should focus the most time and effort on [your third strongest sport] to develop strength and endurance as well as improve technique. (page 9)


Once you decide to do a triathlon, you will quickly learn about the incredible amount of clothing and equipment (called ‘gear’ in the triathlon world) surrounding the sport.  Since not all the gear is necessary for your first triathlon, the authors distinguish between the ‘necessary’ and the ‘nice to have’ or ‘you can wait and decide after your first race’ gear.

Your Triathlon Support Group

Training with a group can provide the extra motivation needed to push through a training program and reap the rewards of completing your first triathlon.  A group can also help you to improve your technique more quickly.

In this chapter, the authors suggest ways to create a support network for your training in swimming, biking, and running that includes various clubs and your family, friends, and co-workers.

You may have various support group options.  For example, if you live in a retirement community, such as The Villages, Florida, you have a built-in support group in The Villages Triathlon Club.  Members train and race together with encouragement galore.

If you are working in an area without a triathlon training club in the area, you can create your own support group through a local fitness center, community pool, bike shop, and running store.  This provides flexibility to follow your specific training plan while enlisting the support of instructors and others with experience from which you can benefit.


The chapter on swimming covers the basic elements of an efficient stroke with illustrations for a proper freestyle technique.  I appreciated the suggestion for traveling and swimming, especially the advice for making use of the typical small hotel pool.

Interestingly, many triathletes find swimming to be their weakest sport.  If you are in that group, get comfortable being in the water and with swimming with other people as you will experience on race day.  Whether swimming in a pool or in open water, you will inevitably come close to, if not in contact with, other swimmers.  Staying calm is the key to finishing the swim.

If the race you choose includes an open water swim, you will want to practice swimming in open water to become familiar with ‘sighting’.   For safety reasons, I recommend adding the ISHOF Safe Swimmer (see also below) to your list of gear.


Most of us know how to ride a bicycle.  However, many have never ridden in a large group at speeds associated with a triathlon.

Therefore, the focus of this chapter is safety.  According to the authors, safety in biking begins with a review of the various components of the bicycle to make sure that they are each in good working order.   They also describe the most important cycling skills and suggestions on how to hone these, both individually and in group rides.

When riding on the road in traffic, you need to follow the rules of the road as if you were driving a car. (page 78)


We all know how to run. Right?  Well, not necessarily in a way that is the most efficient or that minimizes the possibility for injuries.  About half of this chapter is dedicated to proper cadence (steps per minute) and body form.  The rest of the chapter introduces training with a heart rate monitor and training involving the three-run types included in the weekly training plans.

If you take one thing from this chapter, remember to progress slowly (the ‘10% per week’ rule) to minimize the likelihood of injury.  Unfortunately, we need to be reminded of this every so often.

Strength and Flexibility

Building strength and increasing flexibility are two keys to increasing your performance in triathlon.   For many of us who spend a lot of time sitting during their workday, lack of flexibility can be the major root cause of injury.   The authors show that a relatively small amount of time spent in strength training and stretching can lead to better performance and fewer injuries.  Plus, these are another way to ‘mix it up’ and keep the training interesting and fresh.

Nutrition and Rest

If we all know how to run, most of us are even better at fueling (aka eating).  The challenge is to eat properly.  It becomes even more complicated when we are exercising, burning more calories, trying to build muscle, and recovering from the stress of training.

Triathlon training can be a great way to shed pounds and improve your health.   Eating the right foods in the right amount and at the right time is the focus of this chapter.  The authors are clear: “Although your daily caloric burn will certainly increase based on your training volume, you don’t have a license to hit the buffet for every meal”.

The chapter begins by showing us how to calculate two important numbers related to exercise – resting metabolic rate (RMR) and caloric burn rate.  The authors discuss how to eat (or ‘fuel’ as they define it) throughout the day. This includes eating before, during, and after workouts.  Sample menus for triathlon training days help to illustrate the principles of proper fueling.

The chapter concludes with a discussion about the importance of rest within a process known as periodization.  The authors even provide a simple test to help us determine when our body is telling us to take a day of rest.

If you do not get adequate rest, the muscles will fatigue and eventually fail, resulting in injury. (page 139)

Training plans

It’s now time to put the information from the previous chapters together and begin to train for your first triathlon.   Sample 8-week training plans are provided for bronze-, silver-, and gold-level athletes for both sprint and standard distance triathlons.    I appreciate that the authors show readers how to tailor the plans to meet their particular strengths and weaknesses and their individual schedules.

Preparing to race

I love this section.  Here, the authors take the new triathlete down the ‘home stretch’ to completing their first race.

Filled with practical advice, the authors walk us through the two weeks leading up to the race.  With greater detail for race day, you can feel the thrill that begins upon waking and includes crossing the finish line and heading to the refreshment area for a cold drink and banana.

Why get this book?

Train To Tri is pragmatic and focused.  It includes essential information for each of the sports of triathlon.  The authors season the information with the nuances of practicing them within a triathlon.

You can trust the USAT-certified coaches with this ‘no-nonsense’ guide.

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This post was originally published on January 21, 2018.  It was updated on September 20, 2019.

15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons

Triathlon is a sport for all ages. In any triathlon, you will find seniors regularly competing alongside those the ages of their children and, in my case, older grandchildren. Sometimes, seniors even compete alongside their children.

An important benefit of triathlon for seniors comes from the training. Preparing for a triathlon is a great way to develop and maintain whole-body fitness, no matter your age. The three sports of a typical triathlon–swimming, biking, and running–each engage different parts of the body. Plus, cross-training involving other activities to build strength and endurance can not only be part of your triathlon training but help you age gracefully. Training for any marathon is a lot for some people, but the reward of completing the race would hopefully be worth it.

“There is no sport where being strong does not help our performance.”

Yet another benefit of triathlon for seniors comes from its social aspects. There is an active triathlon community across the world. As a triathlete, you will find others with whom you can compare notes about training and racing and the other non-triathlon part of our lives. Some studies suggest that the social benefits of triathlon are greater than the physical ones.

Are You Convinced That Triathlon Is For Seniors?

If you have not yet decided to do a triathlon, check out the 15 reasons I have found. I am sure that more than a few will help change your mind.

1. Triathlon gives a focus for several different types of exercise – swim, bike, run and related types such as rowing, kayaking, weight lifting, strength training, and stair climbing, to name a few. Complementing these are core exercises, weightlifting, yoga, and stretching. If you tend to become bored doing the same type of routine day after day, triathlon training is perfect for you.

2. Many races double as fundraisers for some very worthy causes. For example, my fourth triathlon, the TDD Triathlon in Douglas, Massachusetts doubled as a memorial race for triplets Tyrus, Dante, and Daniel Vescio who died the same day as their birth. The race raised funds for the UMass Memorial Newborn Intensive Care Unit in Worcester, Massachusetts, to help other babies get the chance to live long, healthy lives.

logo for the TDD triathlon and fundraiser
The TDD Triathlon in Douglas, Massachusetts was a fundraiser for newborn babies.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

3. You meet inspiring men and women over age 50. Check out the stories of some of these at Our Stories.

An Excuse for New Triathlon Gear

4. Race T-shirts and other swag, typically, a bag of nutrition samples, coupons, and other useful items are provided to race participants. Every race in which I have participated has included a t-shirt or other clothing item. Most are made of high quality, performance (wicking) material. And, there are some creative designers of finisher medals and age group awards – see “5 Unique Triathlon Medals” for my favorite race medals.

5. It provides a credible excuse to buy new clothes, a new bike, or the latest GPS watch, all in the name of helping you become a more fit, competitive triathlete. The list of clothing and equipment (referred to as ‘triathlon gear’) you can justify, at least to yourself, is nearly endless. Anything from custom fit shirts, that you can get from places like StringKing, ( to trainers and shorts, are just some of the many clothing items you can get your hands on for events like this. If you’re going to take part in a triathlon, you may as well look good while doing it, right?

GPS watch and new running shoes
GPS watch and running shoes.

Personal Benefits of Triathlon for Seniors

6. Completing a triathlon can give you a sense of accomplishment. And, if you need it, you earn ‘bragging rights’ with your family and friends.

7. Triathlons keep you humble. Men and women older than me have turned in faster times in triathlons. I have also learned from them the secrets to their success and when and how to apply these. For example, the race day nutrition regimen that I now follow came at the recommendation of Mr. James Chapman following the Rocky Gap Park Triathlon in Maryland.

8. For those who have immersed themselves in a career up to retirement, triathlon can be a healthy and fulfilling hobby. Are you, your spouse, or your kids worried about what you are going to do in retirement? Worry no more!

Compete With or Against Family and Friends

9. Triathlon sets an excellent example for children and grandchildren who either are not active or believe that you are ‘over the hill’. Two of my grandchildren and two of my three children have completed triathlons with me. And we have more planned. What a great bonding experience. What a thrill when I beat them in a race.

10. Triathlon is a co-ed sport, so you can take part with your spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends.

family celebration at the 2014  Maple Grove Triathlon
Post-triathlon celebration with family at the 2014 Maple Grove Triathlon in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

11. Since many races include team events, you can organize and take part as a team and enjoy the benefits of all the other reasons. You can ask friends to participate in a race. Imagine a team of three (one person for each leg of the triathlon) involving friends and/or family.

12. Depending upon your seriousness about the sport and your ability, there are various race distances and types to challenge to push you to a level you had never achieved. For example, I did my first half marathon at age 62, something I would never have imagined even in my 50s.

Seeing the World Through Triathlon

13. Triathlon can take you to parts of the USA and other countries that are not typical tourist locations or areas you would have otherwise visited. For example, I am quite certain that I would have never visited Sweet Home, Oregon had it not been the venue of a triathlon. And if I did not visit Sweet Home, I would not have learned that it is the source of most of the golf course grass seed in the USA.

14. During the winter months in areas where lakes are frozen and running paths are icy (and dangerous), you can justify travel to destinations for proper training in open water swimming and outdoor running.

winter training location for senior who compete in triathlon
Hawaii is one of my favorite training get-aways.

15. It gives you the opportunity to compete in the Senior Games held in each of the states of the USA and, if you qualify, in the National Senior Games. Senior games also take place in Canada and Mexico.

Do You Have Other Reasons?

Have you found other reasons for those in our age group who should train for and compete in triathlon? Share these in the Comments below.

I originally published this post on February 25, 2016. It was last updated on October 7, 2022.


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