Article by Belinda Mountain

Training for a triathlon? Maybe you’re a nervous first-timer who has no idea where to start, or perhaps you’re a seasoned competitor who’s looking to improve your performance? Either way, if you want to get faster, stronger or fitter at this demanding discipline, it’s always good to hear from a pro.

Natia van Heerden is a former gymnast with Springbok colours, who competed internationally from a young age. On retiring after her 11-year career she immediately started completing sprint duathlons and triathlons. At the young age of 17 she did her first Ultra Triathlon and fell in love with the sport. We spoke to her to get some training tips.

How to Train for a Triathlon
Natia at the Xterra awards


What does a typical week’s training for a triathlon look like for you?

I do all three disciplines four times per week, and one brick session off bike on the indoor-trainer (IDT), a run and another set on the IDT. A brick workout is when you stack two disciplines together during the same workout, one after the other, with very little rest or interruption between them.

I do two sessions a day for five days a week and single sessions on the weekends.

I have a full time job as a chef, so planning ahead is crucial. The sets vary from short one-hour high intensity track or hill climbs, to three to five-hour easy bike rides with a few intervals.

How long have you been preparing for the upcoming XTERRA race?

I focus on consistency throughout the year rather than training for 12 weeks prior to a race. I really believe that consistency is key. My training varies from long base miles in winter to shorter high intensity workouts pre-season.

What are you strongest at and what part do you find the most challenging?

Running is definitely my strength. I have 2 weimaraner dogs and they get so excited when I take them out on a long run – this definitely makes the hours on the road more enjoyable!

The bike leg of XTERRA is always challenging because of the mix of terrain. To race with the top girls you really need a lot of power in your legs and good bike-handling skills. At the moment I lack enough power, but we are working on it!

How to Train for a Triathlon


Are you following a specific diet?

No, I don’t believe in dieting but I do believe in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. It’s so important to put into your body what will fuel you for your next set. I limit my sugar intake but I don’t cut it out completely: I love homemade ice cream or a Lindt chocolate. Everything in moderation is what I believe in.

What top tips would you give women doing their first ever XTERRA event?
  1. Take it slowly – don’t expect to perform on your first race.
  2. It usually gets extremely hot during an XTERRA event. Make sure that you stay hydrated before and during the race. I start hydrating (with NUUN Active) four days prior to the race, to make sure I have enough electrolytes in my body.
  3. Start at the back if you are nervous about the swim. Take it easy, keep your breathing steady and just enjoy the atmosphere!
  4. Get onto your mountain bike and ride as many trails as possible, and also try to get at least four sessions of running in per week. The run course is usually very hot, technical and often underestimated.
  5. It gets stressful out there on the bike. People are going to charge up to you from behind, calling out ‘track’ or ‘move’. Stay calm and let them know that you’ll move as soon as there’s a gap.

What do you think?

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