How to be a better triathlete: Tips from champ Paula Newby-Fraser

Paula Newby-Fraser, widely known as "the Queen of Kona," has won eight Ironman World Championships.

Story highlights

  • Paula Newby-Fraser has won 21 Ironman Triathlon titles, 8 world championships
  • Consistency in workouts is more important than gadgets and technology, she says
  • Newby-Fraser: A support network will keep you going through tough training days
Paula Newby-Fraser, widely known as "the Queen of Kona," has won 21 Ironman Triathlon titles and eight Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii -- more than any other athlete, male or female, in the 36-year history of the event.
Newby-Faser now serves as a coach, mentoring Super Bowl champion Hines Ward during his journey to Kona in 2013. She is working with Olympian Apolo Ohno for his trip to the 2014 Ironman World Championship.
CNN asked her to offer some tips to the Fit Nation triathletes, who are tackling the Nautica Malibu Triathlon next week.
CNN: What are your top tips for newbies?
Paula Newby-Fraser: The first triathlon can be a pretty daunting task because there are three disciplines to master. Here's what I suggest:
Set up a training program that is grounded in the realities of your daily life. An overambitious plan can undermine mental and physical progress. Set up a plan that focuses on becoming efficient and comfortable at the distances that you want to cover in each discipline.
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Integrate a support network of family, training partners and tri clubs to keep your program on track.
Don't overthink the equipment part too soon. Getting in consistent swim, bike and run workouts is more important than gadgets and technology.
Being a competent swimmer is one of the most critical steps in building confidence, especially since it's the first leg of a triathlon. Swimming is the most "challenging" discipline to learn as a newbie and also very important from a safety perspective.
When you do get into an event, always stay in the moment and do exactly what you have done in training. Nothing much different happens in a race than happens in all those workouts you have logged, except that you have a lot of like-minded people around to cheer you on.
CNN: Explain the physical and mental training it takes to be a professional endurance athlete.
Newby-Fraser: Being a professional athlete is much like being at the top of your game in anything. The commitment becomes part of the fabric of your identity. It is a fundamental aspect of daily life and how you interact with the world.
Each and every day is an assessment of your body and the training that needs to be done and all that goes with it: recovery, diet, lifestyle choices, and symbiotically, your mind has to embrace and adapt to that.
As with anything, there are great days that have filled me with such joy and confidence, and there are the days that are a brutal struggle. Being conscious of this ongoing engagement and partnership between mind and body is perhaps the greatest key to successful training as an endurance athlete.
CNN: How do you know if you are ready to tackle your first triathlon?
Newby-Fraser: From personal experience, I feel that the only way to find out is to get out there and do it!
Even when armed with the mental knowledge and physical process of consistently executing a training program, only lining up and participating in an event will answer that question. So go do it!
CNN: What was your first triathlon?
Newby-Fraser: My first triathlon was an Olympic distance event held in South Africa. Even coming from a swimming background, it was still nerve-wracking to see the distance laid out before me in the lake.
My greatest anxiety came from doing an event that was going to last over two hours. Despite all the years of being an athlete growing up, I was nervous about putting it all together for the first time.
The event was successful despite "blowing up" on the run. The emotion and excitement of the start gun had me going out way too hard, and my legs were dead by the time I got to the run.
It was a tough but rewarding experience to cross the finish line after how my legs felt when I got off the bike. I could not believe how tired they were and wondered how I was ever going to be able to "run" six miles.
Overcoming this mental hurdle marked the start of a great journey athletically and personally.
CNN: How have your feelings about competing changed through the years? Does the "Queen of Kona" get race-day jitters?
Newby-Fraser: Years of experience have taught me how to keep perspective about competing. I fully understand that doing events is a celebration of hard work. Knowing that not every day can be my best has made my experience less emotional.
There are still a few butterflies at the start of an event, because who doesn't want to have a "good" day versus a struggle? I still get moments of anxiousness about not wanting to struggle through.
Then I remind myself that even if I do, I know how to handle it.