Strategic practice and the right equipment are essential parts of a good training regimen. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Realistically, not everyone who trains for a triathlon expects to win it, or even finish high in the competition.

While many enjoy the competitive aspect, a good share of athletes in triathlons are there for fitness, fellowship and fun.

Spectrum Health orthopedic surgeon Bryan Kamps, MD, has been running for 15 to 20 years, and he aims to run in at least one triathlon each year. 

“Most people run in a triathlon not to come in first, necessarily, but to stay fit and improve or surpass personal goals,” Dr. Kamps, 62, said.

There are several types of triathlons.

The shorter one, a sprint triathlon, is Dr. Kamps’ preferred race. It’s usually about 700 to 800 meters swimming or 15 laps in an Olympic-sized pool, an 18- to 20-mile bike ride and a 5K run.

The longest and most difficult race is the Ironman, which usually involves a 2-mile swim, a 100-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

Dr. Kamps offers some tips for those who want to train properly for any triathlon.

Have a schedule

Use a checklist and mark the box when you finish the activity. “You’re accomplishing something and want to be consistent in your exercise,” Dr. Kamps said. A number of online apps can help you maintain consistency, including the Training Peaks app and the Strava app.

Build a plan—and stick to it

Figure out where you’re at and decide where you want to be in three months—and then determine how you’re going to get there. Follow the plan carefully.

Practice in a swimming pool

Most people know how to ride a bike and how to run, but they may not be used to triathlon swimming if they’re just starting out, Dr. Kamps said. Find a pool and practice in it.

If you can, find some safe, open water for swimming practice. It can be difficult to navigate in open water, so it’s important to practice.

Practice riding a bike

It doesn’t matter what kind of bike you initially get for training. At first, get any kind of bike and see if you like riding it. Use the bike in a sprint triathlon. If you find you really enjoy riding, you can always upgrade to a better bike.

Dr. Kamps said he started out with an old road bike and got a nicer one when he decided to continue participating in triathlons.

Get the right running shoes

Make sure you have quality, comfortable shoes.

Start slow

Start each phase of the triathlon slowly. For the biking and running portions, start with a slower pace and then increase once you feel comfortable. For the swimming part, which is usually first, get into the water and get used to the temperature before the race begins. Swim out a bit and come back.

Stay hydrated

Obviously you can’t drink water when you’re swimming. So try to drink a lot of water before the triathlon starts, and then remain hydrated while riding the bike.  

Practice with others

Find people who enjoy running and biking and practice with them. Practicing with others is more fun—and you can get a lot of good tips. As Dr. Kamps points out light-heartedly: “It’s more fun to suffer with others.”

Work out regularly

It’s important to be consistent with workouts, Dr. Kamps said. “If you don’t have enough time to do a full workout, do a shorter one,” he said. “Do something. Don’t skip the entire workout.”

Practice bike dismounts

During workouts, make sure you practice getting on and off the bike comfortably so that you can smoothly get into the running portion of the race.

“After a bike ride getting off the bike and transitioning to running can feel very awkward for the first few minutes of running,” he said. “So after a bike workout, it’s a good idea to practice getting off the bike and right away running for 10 to 15 minutes to get used to that transition.”

A little extra practice ahead of time will go a long way on race day.