Getting Started in Triathlon

Getting Started In Triathlon-Where Do I Start? What Do I Need?

Before we address how to get started in triathlon and cover the gear we need, let’s discuss the different distances in the sport of triathlon.

As a general rule of thumb, the swim is about 1/5 of the race, the bike is 50% of the race and the run is 30% of the race distance.

The race most people start with is the Sprint Distance Triathlon. This encompasses approximately a 400 to 800 meter swim, a 10 to 13 mile bike and a 3.1 mile run.  The next distance up is the Olympic or International Distance. This race covers approximately a .95 mile swim, a 26 mile bike and a 6.2 mile run. Now, we are going to look at “Long Course” Triathlon. This usually requires an athlete to be somewhat experienced in the sport, train a bit more and make a bigger commitment. The Half-Iron Distance requires an athlete to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles. Finally, we get to the gem in the crown, the longest of ALL the triathlons, the Full-Iron Distance race. Obviously, this will require the biggest and most long term commitment of all of the distances. Training can last a full year just to get to race day! This is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a full 26.2 mile marathon! (And, YES, all in ONE day! In fact, you have to finish in less than 17 hours!).

Being a triathlete requires you to have the ability to be able to laugh at yourself and have fun with the sport. We ALL started out as first timers and we ALL have “funny” stories to tell about our experience as a beginner. Ask around. You will get quite a few laughs listening to those newbie stories from your fellow triathletes!

“Well, it was pouring that day...I was in a hurry to load the car...I wore flip flops because I had my running shoes in my tri bag...all set. We get there and I'm setting up my transition stuff and discovered that I had packed two left shoes.  Panic!!  I asked the race director to make an announcement to see if anyone had an extra pair.  Nope...just laughs and giggles.  I went up and down every rack asking everyone individually.  One extremely nice big guy lent me his size 12 shoes.  It was like running in fluffy slippers.”

One of the first steps to getting started is to PICK A RACE! Then you will have a concrete goal and a date to achieve that goal.  If you are unfamiliar with the local races in your area, ask around! Find your local tri club and attend a meeting. Most tri clubs are very welcoming, even if you haven’t even completed your first triathlon. In this club, you can find out about your local races and meet new friends who have similar goals. They can also inform you of the races in your area. If you feel uncomfortable attending a meeting or don’t have a local triathlon club, the website TriFind.com lists most triathlons by month and location on their website.

Once you have chosen your race, it is time to start training! How long should you train for? The amount of weeks to train, based on a first timer training for a sprint distance will be determined by your current fitness level.  If you haven’t been training at all, plan on 10 to 12 weeks to prepare yourself for your first race. If you have been running, cycling or swimming in some form, you can plan on 8 to 10 weeks.  The most successful athletes have someone to be accountable to in regards to their training. It is helpful to find a coach, a training group or a training partner to make this journey with and have accountability to.

The swim is the most anxiety ridden component for most athletes.  This discipline requires more precise technique over biking and running. It is a wise idea to invest a bit of your triathlon budget in a few lessons with a swim coach. This will pay big dividends later, not only in your technique but in your comfort level in the water as well! 

SWIM GEAR:  swim cap, goggles, pull buoy, hand paddles, fins, kickboard and possibly a wetsuit

"I finished a sprint tri and was so amazed at my run split on the 2 loop run course!  Well, turns out it was a THREE loop run course.  I finished "first"...everyone was cheering....um...yeah....."

Cycling will be the biggest initial investment for most triathletes.  I always recommend athletes start off by looking for an entry level bike or even a good used bike. Once you are confident that you love the sport and are going to stick with it, you can upgrade.  It is also very important to make sure the bike you purchase is the right size for you and your local bike shop can help you determine what size you need. After you have purchased that bike, you will also want to find a reputable bike fitter to “fit it to you.” When riding your bike, you want to ensure you are in a safe area and always focused and aware of the traffic around you. If you are riding before sunrise or after sunset, be safe by having a headlamp on your bike and flashing lights in the back.

BIKE GEAR: bike, helmet, sunglasses, tire repair kit, bottle cages, bottles, pedals, shoes, tire pump

"On my first triathlon, I rode the entire time with my helmet on backwards!"

The final leg of your race will be the run. If you come to triathlon with little to no running experience, be sure to hit up your local running store to find a good pair of running shoes. Some athletes may land a little on the inside or outside of their foot and will need a “stability shoe” to correct this. For those runners who pretty much land evenly, they will need a “neutral shoe.”  Being fit with a proper shoe for your foot strike will be the first step in preventing running injuries.  Now, running off of the bike is NOT the same as running on fresh legs. It takes some getting used to.  It is a very good idea to practice this in training! A LOT! Running immediately after each bike ride, even if only 10 to 15 minutes will really help your legs learn what to expect on race day.

"It was my first Half Iron distance race. I had just finished my bike ride when I realized I had forgotten to put my running shoes in transition. I ran the race with no shoes and got some very big blisters!"

RUN GEAR: shoes, socks, visor or cap, dry wicking running clothes or thin wicking layers for colder weather running.

OTHER TRIATHLON GEAR: A pair of triathlon shorts and a triathlon top will be helpful for training and racing. It is also nice to have some type of watch, such as a Garmin, to track your swim, bike and runs!

Triathlon is a really fun and rewarding way to get in shape and learn how to lead a healthy life style, while meeting like-minded friends. Look for the next installment of this series entitled, “But, I Can’t Swim! What Do I Do?”



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