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The Triathlete Blueprint Newsletter #62-Triathlon: Dangerous Sport Or Source of Well-Being?

Read time: 5min.

By Coach Yan Busset

In the recent past, there has been some sad news relating to casualties reported in triathlon. Probably more than in the past due to the growth of our sport. Am I at risk if I start triathlon? Does zero risk exist? What are the pros and cons health-wise of training and racing for triathlon? If you ask me, I think zero risk is out of this world. Do I think the benefits of starting triathlon overcome the potential risks? For sure. We don't do it because it's easy; we do it because it's hard, it’s a challenge. But we should not do it to alter our health or take uncalculated risks. If you can’t bring the risk to zero, there are ways to minimize these.

The Risks:

Swimming: Open water swimming, a struggle for many, is where most of the casualties have recently happened. Unpredictable water conditions, more rarely race safety issues, more frequently lack of experience in open water swimming, health condition history, and inadequate preparation can increase these risks. Accidents can occur when athletes overestimate their ability or skip a pre-race medical check-up.

Cycling: Cycling also presents significant dangers, including falls and road accidents. Interactions with traffic increase the risk of road rage. Poor bike handling skills can also cause accidents, especially among beginner age groupers who develop speed but lack sufficient experience on their machine.

Running: Running risks include injuries from repetitive impact, such as stress fractures, tendinitis, and sprains. Poor preparation, too high volume, or running technique errors can exacerbate these issues.

Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia: Training and racing in high heat for an extensive time can lead to hyponatremia or other electrolyte imbalances. To mitigate this risk, it is important to not only drink water but also take electrolytes to maintain a proper balance.

Overtraining: Overtraining is a common risk for triathletes. Excessive or too intense training can lead to exhaustion, chronic injuries, and severe health problems. The key is to respect rest and recovery periods and follow a training plan suited to one's abilities.

Preparation and Precautions: Most triathlon accidents result from inadequate preparation. Proper preparation includes a medical check-up, familiarization with equipment, and appropriate technical training. Learning bike handling and regularly practicing in race conditions are essential to minimize risks.

The Benefits:

Holistic Sport: Triathlon is a comprehensive sport. The variety works different parts of the body and improves overall fitness and mental resiliency . It also diversifies training, reducing the risk of injuries from repetitive movements of a solo discipline.

Distance and Frequency: Let’s face it: racing a full-distance triathlon is very taxing for the body, but once or twice a season is okay. The increase in fitness from the training leading to it and the lifestyle hacks you need to do to be competitive regardless of your level are way better than not doing it.

Health Booster: Despite the potential risks, triathlon offers enormous health benefits: cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, and mobility. Zone 2 training and moderate-intensity exercises are particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health and stress management.

Comparison with Sedentary Lifestyle: Triathletes, especially those of a certain age, generally show better health outcomes compared to sedentary individuals. Triathlons encourage an active and healthy lifestyle, reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Personal Experience: During my triathlon career and all the races, I certainly experienced my share of falls, bike crashes, and injuries. However, I realized that the most significant health issues I faced came during a period when I stopped training regularly. I had a wake-up call when I developed health problems, including an autoimmune disease, which I believe were caused by a more unhealthy and stressful lifestyle. Returning to regular training helped me overcome these issues. In my experience, and from coaching hundreds of athletes, triathlon has brought far more positive benefits and improved health outcomes than any negative effects.

Practical Tips to Minimize Risks:

Polarized Training: Adopt a polarized training approach, combining low and high-intensity sessions, to avoid overtraining and maximize physiological benefits.

Strength Training: Include strength and conditioning sessions in your training program to prevent injuries and enhance overall performance.

Regular Health Check-ups: Conduct regular health check-ups, including blood tests, to detect any deficiencies or health issues before they become critical.

Fitness Testing: Perform regular tests to ensure you are training at the correct intensities and adjust your program accordingly.

Healthy Lifestyle: A good athlete starts with a healthy lifestyle. Ensure you get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, and take care of your overall health. Triathlon is not a quick fix for unhealthy habits; it should complement a foundation of healthy living.

Indoor Training: If you live in a high-traffic area, consider doing some of your bike interval sessions on an indoor trainer. But you can’t do everything on a trainer, or your bike handling skills will be poor. Another way to escape the traffic is to switch some of your bike volume to gravel, car-free roads.

Progressive Training Load: Adopt a progressive training approach, gradually increasing the training load to prevent overtraining and promote continuous improvement without injury risk.

Feedback Loop: Get your training program supervised by an external point of view, such as a coach. This will bring some objectivity to decision-making in the process and aim for a sustainable and healthy training load.

Realistic Race Selection: Choose race distances that match your abilities and avoid overestimating your capabilities. Being realistic about your level of fitness and experience will help prevent injuries and ensure a more enjoyable and safe racing experience.

Conclusion: Is triathlon risk-free? Nope. But the health benefits are undeniable. With proper preparation, rigorous training, and appropriate precautions, the dangers can be minimized. Do you want to spend your life on the sofa, slowly being killed by a sedentary lifestyle, or do you want to live your life to the fullest, embracing challenges like triathlon? Despite the risks, triathlon is an extremely rewarding adventure. It is clear that the benefits of a triathlete lifestyle far outweigh the potential risks, and this discipline allows for a longer and healthier life.


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