START HERE: YOUR FIELD TEST
Serious tri geeks use lactate-threshold tests and power meters to set training zones. But to follow our guide, all you need is a heart-rate monitor. Here's what to do: 1. Pick a flat, three-to-five-mile running route. 2. Wear a heart-rate monitor and run as if you were racing. 3. Check the monitor at the end. Your average heart rate is roughly your "threshold pace," which you'll use to gauge effort. 4. Repeat this test before each training stage in the plan starting on the next page. Your pace should get faster while your average heart rate increases.
DON'T SWEAT THE SWIM
For most new triathletes, the swim is the most daunting task. But it'll probably make up less than 20 percent of your total race time. This means experienced competitive swimmers barely have to worry about training. For the rest of us, here's how to survive those 1,500 meters: 1. Start with a pro coach (you can find them through United States Masters Swimming; usms.org). Technique is everything. 2. Ignore people who say you should just stroke and save your legs for the bike and run. A consistent, stable kick is your base. 3. Learn to breathe on both sides (waves can come from anywhere), and breathe a lot. 4. If it feels easier, you're doing it right. 5. Being comfortable poolside means one less excuse to skip your workout, so ditch the banana hammock and go with the Tyr Poly Mesh Trainer shorts ($33; tyr.com).
TRIM YOUR TWEENERS
Want to cut ten minutes off your race? Plan and execute a smooth transition. 1. Study the transition area the day before the event. Know how to find your slot among the thousands. 2. Develop a simple organizational system. Some suggestions: helmet upside down on your handlebars (not clipped), sunglasses inside the helmet, shoes beneath the bike, and a small duffel for gear after it's used. 3. Practice going through the motions with your race gear until you can do it without thinking. 4. Chill. Spend the last moments of your swim and bike mentally preparing for the transition. Then calmly do it right.
FILL 'ER UP: YOUR PRE-RACE MEAL PLAN
1. Two days beforehand, carbo-load. Cereal, wheat bread, soy milk, and cooked vegetables are good. 2. The day before, eat dinner at 5 p.m. Again, lots of carbs. 3. The morning of the race, eat more than 150 grams of carbohydrates three hours before start time. 4. Thirty minutes before start time, eat a gel. 5. Down 24 ounces of a sports drink per hour during the bike and run. 6. After you finish, high-carbohydrate snacks and lots of water will jump-start the replenishment process. But beer tastes better.