A triathlon is a multisport race with three continuous and sequential endurance races. Triathletes are known for having some of the best physiques in the fitness world. That is because cross-training shapes the body in complementary ways: running develops long, lean muscles; cycling builds strength and tones your lower body; and swimming increases your flexibility and sculpts your upper body.
Triathlons have come a long way since the first swim/bike/run race was completed in San Diego, CA in 1974. This guide is catered towards beginners and those interested in the sport; we will give you all the basic information you need to know when preparing for your first triathlon!
Triathlons feature a wide range of distances.
Sprint (16 miles): Great option for anyone new to the sport. Distances can vary, but typically the swim portion is about 0.5 miles (750m), the bike is 12.4 miles (20km) and the run is 3.1 miles (5km).
Olympic (51.5km): First introduced during the 2000 Summer Games held in Sydney, Australia, this race features a 0.93 mile (1.5km) swim, a 24.8 mile (40km) bike, and a 6.2 mile (10km) run.
Half Ironman (70.3 miles): For veterans who are looking to challenge their endurance, but are not ready or able to put forth the time commitment for a full Ironman, the Half Ironman is a perfect. Race venues can make these longer races very challenging, but the distance is always the same: swim 1.2 miles (1.9km), bike 56 miles (90km), and run 13.1 miles (21.09km).
Ironman (140.6 miles): Although Ironman competitions take place all over the world, the one event most people think of is the annual World Championships held in Kona, Hawaii. This race consists of a 2.4 mile (3.8km) swim, 112 mile (180km) bike, and a 26.2 (42.2km) run.
Triathlon Training Plan
Consistent training weeks for the appropriate distances are listed below.
A train guide for each will be linked as they get posted
- Sprint: 8-12 weeks
- Olympic: 8-20 weeks
- Half Ironman: 12-20 weeks (12 is the bare minimum)
- Ironman: 1 year for beginners
Triathlon Training Tips
Your first race is all about comfort and experimenting with what works for you. Typically, a first-time triathlete will wear a swimsuit for the swim with a sports bra or supportive swimsuit top underneath, and then pull cycling shorts on during T1 (first transition).
Tip: Applying baby powder to your bike shorts before the race will help you slide into them smoothly as well as eliminate painful chafing that may occur.
The second transition (T2) can consist of replacing your cycling shorts with running shorts. Anything that is comfortable and keeps you covered in transition works well.
Once you start racing consistently, a typical race ‘kit’ would include a singlet (tri top) and triathlon shorts, or a one-piece tri suit. Triathlon racing attire is designed for speed, flexibility and comfort in all three disciplines. Many tri suits and singlets have a pouch or compartment for gels or any other fuel you may need to carry with you along the course.
Regardless of your fitness level, the swim portion of the race is always the most physically demanding. Looking at swim technique alone, this portion has a higher learning curve than the other two legs of the race. It’s important to feel comfortable in the water, and practice with proper technique. It is highly recommended to find a coach or a team to learn how to move through the water efficiently and how to coordinate your breathing with each stroke. Poor technique will cause you to waste excess energy and you’ll move into bike/run portion tired.
Three different types are Latex, Silicone, and Lycra.
- Silicone is the most expensive between the three. It is also the most popular for olympic competitors.
- Latex is thinner than silicone and cheaper making it more likely to rip.
- Lycra is a smooth porous fabric so water will permeate it.
- A Silicone cap is highly recommended.
Three categories are Leisurly/Open water, Training/ Competition, Swedish style goggles.
- Leisurely/Open water goggles are the most comfortable choice and is popular among beginner swimmers and intermediate triathletes. Typically designed with a large flat lens that is fitted into the socket of the frame. The frame is usually larger with the nose piece connected to it as one unit. The large size makes them more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time and in rougher open waters. This also makes them more prone to accidental removal or impact at the beginning of an aggressive race.
- Training/Competition goggle have transparent sides along with lenses that are rounder and larger than full frame goggles. These are smaller on the face and have an adjustable nose bridge. Good quality versions of these goggles can handle rough waters and can be comfortable for long periods of time. These are used by swimmers that spend a long time swim training.
- Swedish style googles are commonly known as competitive style goggles with a lack of a soft sealing gasket. The lens and frame are all one single hard plastic piece that rests directly on the skin. These are the smallest googles that rests on the face and come in one size. The visibility in them in unparalleled amongst all the other types and are long lasting. Highly trained open water marathon swimmers will use these exclusively. In open water races any stray kicks can cause damage to the face with the hard plastic shell. The nose piece is adjustable with a piece of string. This is a minimalist style that is by far the most affordable.
Choosing a Lense Color
- Clear lenses are best suited for winter swimming, whether pool or open water or overcast days when light levels are low, and also for night-time open water swimming.
- Amber, yellow and blue lenses are preferred for improved visibility in pools (which colour is dependent on a number of factors like the type of lights used, the person’s own vision, even the amount of copper sulphate in the water)
- Blue lenses are often chosen to maximise open water underwater visibility.
- Mirrored and dark lenses are chosen either for a perceived psychological advantage in competition, or to reduce glare in open water swimming.
- Coloured lenses may be chosen either for personal preference, or where the actual colour chosen is important to reduce vision stress.
Do you need one? Depends on the swimming conditions and how serious of a competitor you are. If you are looking to be competitive there are triathlon specific wet suits but we can get into all those details in another post. If you’re relatively new to triathlons you might not need to invest in a wet suit just yet. Overall, when the water is cold and you want to be competitive, the answer is a resounding yes. But novice swimmers in open-water conditions may struggle with a wetsuit, potentially causing more problems than they solve. For those who have a high body position, the wetsuit can potentially put them too high in the water, making it difficult to get propulsion.
Note: Not all wet suits are suited for triathlons, some are better for diving etc changing the buoyancy and sealing.
Get comfortable with your bike seat and practice shifting gears smoothly when you encounter hills. Familiarize yourself with road rules, starting, stopping, drinking water and eating as you ride. Never wear head phones when you ride, this is dangerous and not aloud during races.
Choosing the right bike is a whole topic unto itself. You don’t need an expensive light bike to participate in your first triathlon but later down the road if you decide to become more competitive then the smallest tweaks can make the biggest differences in your time. At the very least it should be fitted to your size.
Helmet & Hydration
Helmet is a must. If your helmet has sustained an impact, it is considered used and you need a new one. Consider having a water bottle cage attached to your bike to hold your water bottle. You can also carry a water bottle in the back pocket of a cycling jersey.
Tool Bag & Tools
Really nice to have if your budget allows it. It’s important to know how to change out your gear for emergencies. Plus if you have a flat on race day you can change it yourself instead of waiting for a volunteer to come by.
At this point you only need comfortable clothes and a pair of running shoes. Things to practice are your cadence and stride. When you decide to be more competitive, practicing the right turn over for the appropriate running distance will make a big difference later on. Till then, as a beginner, it is more important to practice transitioning from one leg of the race to the next.
This blog post is a recap of key points from multiple sources listed below & personal experience: