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How to get triathlon ready in Columbia, by a champion triathlete.

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Fiona Martin | Photo by Flemming Josephsen

Flemming Josephsen

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By: Fiona Martin, owner of FGM Internet Marketing and a competitive age group triathlete. Fiona loves taking a deep dive and developing digital marketing campaigns to take her clients to the next level. She’s also looking forward to representing Team USA at the 2019 ITU Olympic-distance Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Swim, bike and then run? A lot of people think the sport of triathlon is crazy – and that I’m crazy for doing it, but I’m here to tell you that anyone can do it.

I started out just like you. I was working full time, running a few miles here and there, and I’d watched the IRONMAN World Championships on TV a few times. I never thought I’d be someone taking part in the multisport lifestyle. Fast forward six years and I’ve qualified to represent Team USA at the 2019 ITU Standard Distance Triathlon World Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland.

So – how did I get started? I enjoyed playing soccer in high school, but I wasn’t a collegiate athlete. In my late 20s, I wanted to be more active, so I started running. However, I never really enjoying it, and I found myself getting injured every time I tried to increase my distance. Then, someone I knew said he was doing a local triathlon a few months later. I thought, “...maybe I should try this.”

I had three months to prepare for my first event – get the gear, train for the event and then actually do it.

I didn’t do very well in my first triathlon, but I was hooked (a common experience for newbie triathletes). The triathlon community is so incredibly supportive. It’s not unusual for the last person to finish to get more cheers than the winner.

I had found a sport that allowed for me to cross train (which entails fewer injuries and less monotony than trying to run a marathon).

I knew I could do better than I did at my first race.

Intrigued? There are fantastic local triathlons here in Columbia that you can take part in, and local resources to help hone your swim, bike + run game.


🏊For the swim, pick up a swim cap, goggles and swimsuit from any sporting goods store.

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Fiona Martin | Photo by Flemming Josephsen

🚴Cycling takes the most investment. Visit your local bike shop like Summit Cycles, Outspokin Bicycles or Cycle Center to inquire about purchasing your triathlon bike. They usually also carry used bikes for the budget-conscious. Most importantly, you’ll be able to try out a few different style + size bikes. Fit is so important, so don’t take a chance on a bike you’ve never ridden.

🏃Invest in a good pair of running shoes. If you’ve never bought running shoes before, I highly recommend hitting up a local running shop like Strictly Running or Fleet Feet. They’ll help you find a shoe that works for your feet and running style.


Consistency is key in triathlon training. You can find free training plans online at Time to Trias well as a whole host of information to get you started in the sport.

🏊To improve your swimming, look for a Masters Swim group at your local YMCA or pool. It’s much easier to get through a long swim set with other people and a knowledgeable coach.

🚴While they say you never forget how to ride a bike – if you haven’t ridden one in a while, it’s a good idea to work on your bike handling skills and do a few group rides before the race.

Check out the weekly rides held by local bike shops:

Summit Cycles | Wednesday nights

Outspokin’ Bicycles | Thirsty Thursdays

Tri City Cyclers | Tuesday + Thursday nights

Cycle Center | Friday night beer ride + Sunday mornings

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Fiona Martin | Photo by Flemming Josephsen

Flemming Josephsen

🏃Find a local running group to keep you accountable for those miles. I know that Columbia Running Club is a well-established group, but there are groups around every corner. Keep your eyes and ears open for groups that are convenient and interest you. (Editor’s note: Here are 5 free running clubs in the Midlands.)


Soda Citizens are blessed to have some fantastic races right on our doorstep. I earned my chops racing in the South Carolina Triathlon Series – a 12-race series that takes place between April and October every year. Columbia currently has three races that take place locally, but more triathlons are also held in the Upstate and on the coast.

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Fiona Martin | Photo by Flemming Josephsen


Tri the Midlands | April 2019

Tri the Midlands entails a 500-meter lake swim, 14-mile bike ride and 5K run in the Lake Carolina development in Northeast Columbia. This beginner-friendly sprint triathlon is also a favorite for spectators. This race used to be held in the heat of summer in June (woah), but the organizers got smart and switched it to April this year.

Lake Murray Triathlon | May 2019

Follow up Tri the Midlands with the Lake Murray Triathlon. Dreher Island State Park hosts this 750-meter swim, 16-mile bike ride, and 5K run. The bike course takes you through beautiful rural roads, and the run course through the park is my favorite. Definitely a race to add to your calendar.

The Dam Tri | October 2019

Wrapping up the South Carolina Triathlon Series (SCTS) season, The Dam Tri at the Lake Murray Dam is an athlete top-pick. Enjoy a wetsuit-legal 750-meter swim, two loops for the mostly-flat 21-mile bike ride and an out-and-back on the dam for the run. Series winners are determined at this race, so the competition is fierce.

...and if you’re enamored with the IRONMAN brand + distance:

IRONMAN Augusta 70.3 | September 2019

August holds an IRONMAN every year in September. This is a hugely popular event in the Southeast, drawing 3,000+ athletes annually. The downstream, 1.2-mile swim in the Savannah River will give you the fastest swim time of your life. The 56-mile bike ride travels throughout the countryside of G.A. + S.C. The spectator support during the 13.1-mile run in downtown Augusta can’t be beat.


In any athletic endeavor, what you put in your body is just as important as how you train. A race car takes racing fuel, and our race fuel is a diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Cleaning up your diet will help you feel better, think better and perform better.

Reach out to a local registered dietician (like Elite Nutrition and Performance) for tips on how to optimize your diet before a race. You can also consult with a sports RD like TriMarni Coaching and Nutrition, or buy her book Essential Sports Nutrition: A Guide to Optimal Performance for Every Active Person.

One of the most important aspects of training for any distance triathlon is to stay properly hydrated, especially in “Famously Hot” Columbia. Look for sports drinks with electrolytes.

Triathlons can’t help but be inspiring. You’ll find every age, shape, size, color + ability athlete at local + national events. Search “triathlon” on YouTube, and you’ll be bombarded with thousands of inspirational hype videos.

A must-watch is the IRONMAN World Championships from Kona, HI. This is the Super Bowl of the triathlon world. The race happens in mid-October, and NBC will broadcast an edited version (with athlete backstories) a few weeks later. Keep the tissues handy. The real feat is making it through that broadcast without crying.

–Fiona Martin

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