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Summer is a great time to get outside and shake the cobwebs off your fitness routine. First step: Set your sights on a truly inspiring goal — something you can get your head and heart around, and maybe even brag about a little.

Like, how about a sprint-distance triathlon?

Now before you get all “I can’t do that!” take a moment to consider what you have to gain by giving it a try.

The beauty of a goal like this is that it gives you focus, purpose and a real way to gauge your progress. It gives you a strong sense of sustainable momentum, and if you’ve never done this kind of event before, it also gives you a shot at a whole new identity: triathlete.

There are very few statements in the fitness world that command as much instant respect as “I’m a triathlete.” And for good reason: It means not only that you’ve mastered swimming, biking and running, but also that you’ve developed the passion and discipline required to squeeze in at least a moderate amount of training in all three sports.

The best part is, you really can do it. The distances of a sprint triathlon (.5-mile swim, 12-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) allow you to become an esteemed member of the triathlon club with less than two hours of racing effort (Olympic- and Ironman-length races can be four or even eight times longer.)

We’ve gathered advice from triathlon coach Wes Hobson, an elite-level veteran of more than 200 triathlons, from sprint distance to Ironman-length, who provides you with a solid, totally achievable training plan.

It will require about five hours a week of training, but you are probably already doing some of that training now. The rest represents a learning opportunity and a chance to challenge yourself in a positive, productive way.

So, yes, you can do this. You want to do this. Scan the plan, schedule your workouts, then get started.

The Program

Download a PDF of Hobson’s easy-to-follow schedule, which progresses at a smart (injury-preventing) rate.

To train for a triathlon, you must be (or become) proficient at swimming, biking and running. Also, before beginning the plan below, it’s best to have been exercising regularly (three or four hours a week) for at least three months prior. “This training plan has plenty of workouts that go further than you will on race day — you don’t want to train short,” Hobson says. The extra margin will give you an energy reserve you can call on during the race.

Don’t worry if you’re starting out in something less than the best shape of your life, though: When you cross the finish line, you will undoubtedly find yourself in much better shape than when you began.

The Effort Meter

Here’s how to gauge your own exertion and maintain appropriate levels of effort during your training: Subtract your age from 220 to get your estimated maximum heart rate (or get a V02-max assessment at your gym for a more accurate result).

  • Effort level 1 is easy, 45–65 percent of your max.
  • Effort level 5 is moderate, 65–75 percent of your max, when you can converse in sentences.
  • Effort level 7 is challenging, 75–85 percent of your max; you can talk in phrases.
  • Effort level 9 is tough, 85–95 percent of your max; you might manage a one-word answer.

The Price of Competition

If you do get hooked on the sport, be prepared: A good bike costs around $1,000, a wetsuit $120 and running shoes around $80. You’ll probably want a waterproof heart-rate monitor — about $100. And you’ll benefit from a book or two to help with the logistical aspects of the sport, such as setting up your transition area. Try Swim Bike Run by Wes Hobson, Clark Campbell and Mike Vickers, or Triathlons for Women by Sally Edwards.

Tri It Inside

If you don’t feel ready to take on the variables of an outdoor triathlon (unpredictable weather, crowded transition areas, open-water swimming), take your triathlon indoors. While the exact format depends on each race director, indoor triathlons eliminate the jostling and jockeying for position that are intimidating for many beginners: You swim in a pool, bike on a stationary machine and run on a treadmill. Indoor tris can be a good stepping stone for outdoor ventures.

This article originally appeared as “The I-Can-Do-It Plan” in the June 2010 issue of Experience Life.

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