The place to learn about triathlon.

5 Must Read Books

By Tom Demerly.

Books for Triathletes

“Become a Student of the Sport.” –Mike Walden, Wolverine Sports Club, USA Cycling Hall of Fame Member.

There is no better piece of coaching advice in multisport: “Become a student of the sport”. Understanding the fundamentals of one sport is daunting enough. Learning the intricacies of three sports while trying to seamlessly meld them together is a much larger curriculum. In 1984 when this writer started the sport of triathlon there were no books that provided insights on how to train for triathlon. Today a search on the key words “triathlon training” returns 357 results on and 1,890,000 results on Now the problem is deciding where to start.

New and intermediate triathletes generally come to the sport from either a recreational running background, a collegiate swim background or straight off the couch after years of inactivity. With those three demographics in mind we’ve picked the five most important “must reads” for every triathlete- even elite level athletes. The concepts and ideas in these books, while sometimes arguable, are cornerstone knowledge. They are basics and fundamentals every athlete needs to understand to participate in worthwhile discussions about their training. Perhaps more importantly, the more you know about our sport the less intimidating and more enjoyable it becomes.

“Open Water Swimming: A Complete Guide for Distance Swimmers and Triathletes”

“Open Water Swimming: A Complete Guide for Distance Swimmers”  By Penny Lee Dean.

Swimming is the greatest source of anxiety for triathletes. It makes sense: Stop running and you’re walking, stop pedaling and you’re coasting, stop swimming and you may be sinking if you aren’t familiar with the open water environment.

Penny Lee Dean’s book addresses the open water environment specifically. It isn’t just stroke technique (although that is covered) and drills. Dean discusses every aspect of racing in the open water environment from mass swim starts to learning to swim straight and navigate a swim course. Dean also addresses the common open water fears that involve fish, weeds, currents and a lack of familiarity with the marine environment for fresh water and the open ocean.

Open water specific stroke techniques provide a perspective not seen in other pool-specific swim books. These insights, combined with integrated navigational techniques into swimming and learning how to swim in a pack (something pool swimmers never do) make this a valuable reference.

While some of the information in this 1998 title appears dated such as photos of older wetsuits, etc, the techniques, strategies and tactics are still current and technically correct. The book is a quick read and makes a ready reference. In only 200 pages this is the most succinct and comprehensive treatment of the critical topic of swimming in open water.

Serious Training for Endurance Athletes

“Serious Training for Endurance Athletes” By Rob Sleamaker and Ray Browning.
This ground breaking book is arguably the first systematic approach to endurance aerobic training for the everyman. Published in 1996 the information has remained as a cornerstone of endurance exercise physiology. This book teaches you to speak the language of an endurance athlete. If you are thinking of hiring a coach this book will empower you to communicate with your coach in a meaningful way.

Sleamaker and Browning use the acronym “S.E.R.I.O.U.S.” to break aerobic training down into specific disciplines or “zones”  for a systematic approach to developing a training schedule. While coaches and athletes will always debate the best program “Serious” provides the basic knowledge necessary to evaluate any training program.

Training plans specific to each triathlon distance are included in the book but the primary value of this title is to familiarize yourself with basic endurance exercise physiology, the principle of specificity in training and the use of heart monitors- something you should understand especially in the power meter age.

Sleamaker and Browning’s book will make you a better equipped, more informed athlete with an understanding of the basics and fine points of endurance aerobic training.

The Triathletes Guide to Mental Training

“The Triathletes Guide to Mental Training”  By Jim Taylor, Ph.D. & Terri Schneider.
There is no greater opportunity for improvement with less effort than with mental preparation. This is also the most ignored facet of endurance sports preparation among new athletes. Schneider and Taylor’s 260 page primer visit the topics of visualization and positive mental imagery, pre race anxiety, relaxation and other techniques common I elite athletes but usually new to the rank n’ file age grouper.

Of particular interest is the section of dealing with pain and discomfort and learning to distinguish between the two. This understanding helps us know when to “push through” and when to back off to avoid injury and overtraining.

“Guide to Mental Training” also examines the mystery of athlete motives, healthy and potentially unhealthy, and helps us understand our involvement in endurance sports.

Terri Schneider is one of my favorite endurance athletes and one of the lesser known names for some reason. She is both an elite level triathlete and adventure racer and owns a Master’s in sports psychology. Her experience coupled with the clinical perspective of Jim Taylor combine to make this the best concise perspective on this fascinating and under-treated topic.

Especially for athletes who feel intimidated, suffer from pre-race anxiety or open water swim fear and struggle with motivation this book will provide a valuable set of insights.

Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

“Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes” By Monique Ryan.

Diet books come and go but Monique Ryan’s title “Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes” is both a primer and a reference for a greatly maligned topic.

As an athlete, nutrition is often an afterthought and Ryan’s book acknowledges the logistical challenges surrounding meal planning specific to the busy endurance athlete. The meal plan appendix alone is a valuable resource for grab and go knowledge of what to eat, and what to avoid.
The section of weight loss makes the book a double resource for athletes who need to lose a few pounds.

Ryan also explains caloric requirements for different levels of exertion and proposes different meal plans for total calorie content. The meal plans are realistic and easy to adopt in the real world. A chapter on supplements decodes the fact from the fancy and helps athletes decide what they need and what they don’t.

This is another volume that athletes will read and refer back to as a valuable resource and a way to make lasting change not only on your performance but in your health.


Zinn & The Art of Triathlon Bikes

“Zinn & The Art of Triathlon Bikes” By Lennard Zinn.

Triathletes will spend hours obsessing about every gram on their bike and research wind tunnel tests ad nauseam but when it comes to finding their bottom bracket cups or keeping their bike clean they are in need of some assistance.

Technical Editor, frame builder and engineer Lennard Zinn decodes the secret language of bicycle technology and discusses the must-do maintenance routines that every triathlete should know. As a columnist for Velo-News and Inside Triathlon Zinn understands what triathletes need to know and covers these bike specific topics in “Zinn & The Art”.

Chapters include bike nomenclature so you will know what that thing in the back that rattles is, triathlon specific bike fit, basic preventative maintenance, traveling with your bike and reassembling the thing when you get to your “A” race.

Zinn’s book will arm the prospective triathlon bike shopper with enough knowledge to know what the salesman is talking about and if they know what they are talking about…

One obstacle Zinn faced when he began the “Art of Triathlon Bikes” reference was the frantic changes in technology common to tri bikes and technology. He manages to weave between the developments while staying current enough so that this books remains relevant.
Another book that will serve as text and reference it belongs on every triathlete’s book shelf, hopefully with greasy fingerprints on it after a few uses.