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Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals, 2nd. ed.

Author: Jonas S
Category: Sports Performance
Audience: Consumer
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton
  Year Published: 1999
List Price: $15.95® Rating: Poor

Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals is an overview of competing in triathlons from one runner's perspective.

Recommended for:  This book is intended for newcomers to the sport of triathlon. NOTE: This book is no longer in print.


Steven Jonas, MD, is, as indicated by the degree following his name, a physician. But, he also holds a masters degree in public health. His "day job" is professor of preventive medicine at SUNY Stony Brook. He has completed over 100 races and has published other books on exercise, training, fitness, and health topics.


Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals is organized as follows:

  • Chapter 1:  Introduction
  • Chapter 2:  The Road to Sag Harbor
  • Chapter 3:  Choosing a Triathlon
  • Chapter 4:  Run, Bike, and Swim: Technique
  • Chapter 5:  The Basic Principles of Triathlon Training for Ordinary Mortals
  • Chapter 6:  Starting From Scratch: The Basic Aerobic Fitness Program
  • Chapter 7:  The Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals Training Program
  • Chapter 8:  Equipment
  • Chapter 9:  The Triathlon Training Table: Nutrition for Ordinary Mortals
  • Chapter 10:  The Race
  • Chapter 11:  What's Next?
  • Chapter 12:  Triathlon Revisited: Doing the Duathlon and Going Long
  • Epilogue:  After 16 Years in the Sport


This book does contain some really useful information for the beginning triathlete, however, wading through the author's painfully detailed accounts of his own personal race experiences makes for tedious reading. In my opinion, chapters 1-5 (the first 100 pages or so) could be condensed down to about 10 pages. Certainly, in the first 50-60 pages, the author is not so much telling the reader about how to complete a triathlon as he is telling us about his triathlons. It's boring reading and essentially extraneous material.

The essence of this book, I feel, is in the training regimens that are outlined very clearly in chapters 6 and 7. The author recommends a 52-wk training program: Phase I is 13 weeks of nothing more than walking and running. Phase II (26 weeks) incorporates all 3 elements of the triathlon....if the athlete chooses to do so. While the author is attempting to offer the reader a "generic" training plan, I think phase II should be a little more specific since the intended audience is the novice triathlete. In both of these phases, the strategy is based on increasing the duration (not the distance) of each training week. This is a good strategy.

Phase III (chapter 7), offers several versions of event-specific training plans. For example, there is a plan that emphasizes cycling and another that emphasizes running. There is also a "balanced" program, but no plan that emphasizes swimming. (Perhaps this is because the author himself is a poor swimmer?) Considering how much other detail the author has put into this book, to omit a swimming-oriented training plan from a triathlon resource doesn't make sense.

Chapter 8 covers equipment and reminded me why I shouldn't review books that are more than 5 years old: the information in this chapter is simply out-of-date. It doesn't even have any web sites for the companies and products that are mentioned.

Chapter 9 is devoted to nutrition and is written by Virginia Aronson, RD, MS. The first half of this chapter, though good information, is just general nutrition and should have been omitted. The second half of the chapter is more sports nutrition-focused, but it too is dated and not very helpful. For example, there is almost no discussion of sports drinks (instead, Aronson states that "cold water" is the best choice....). Newer topics such as energy bars and gels, protein-containing sports drinks, and the importance of sodium intake during endurance exercise are not covered.

I could overlook that since these products and principles evolved after this book was published, but, when she claims on p. 202 that "...ingestion of simple carbohydrates just prior to athletic activity does not aid performance..." and discourages the use of honey as a carbohydrate source, I decided that this chapter, like the one on equipment, was just not current enough to be applicable.

In chapter 10, Jonas returns to the "exerpts from my running diary" approach in the first half. Not only is this extraneous material, his writing style of recounting his experiences in minute detail makes for excruciating reading.

Chapter 12 contains some additional training regimens for longer races and this is good material. But, in the Epilogue, Jonas again resumes telling us about every detail of his running career. The book concludes with diagrams on stretches from the widely known Stretching by Bob Anderson.


Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals contains about 100-125 pages of useful information crammed into 318 pages. It's tedious reading. This is unfortunate because (a) there is some good info in this book, and (b) Jonas has really become a student of endurance training and racing. Also, since the author is a physician, it's odd that he omitted some sports medicine topics that would have been helpful (ie., stress fractures, dehydration, hyponatremia, the use of pain meds by runners, etc.).

I don't know who is to blame for how Triathloning For Ordinary Mortals turned out: the author or his editor. It certainly deviated from what the title suggests. If they decide to do a 3rd edition, they need to omit 95% of the personal details from the author, or, change the name of the book to "My First 100 Endurance Races".

If you like reading about the accounts of a novice runner-turned-seasoned-triathlete, then this book is for you. But, if you want a better book on training for a triathlon, my recommendation would be Be Iron Fit by Don Fink (Lyons Press, 2004). Be Iron Fit is excellent, though it is not intended for the beginner.

Copyright ©2006 AthleteInMe, LLC. All rights reserved.

Reviewed by: Stan Reents, PharmD 10/1/2020 1:12:32 PM

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