Beginners Guide To Triathlon Racing?

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Beginners Guide To Triathlon Racing?

Beginners Guide To Triathlon Racing?

Let’s start with a simple question, what is a triathlon? A triathlon is a swim followed by a bike ride, completed by a run.  Simple.  Under the triathlon banner there are also the duathlon which is a run followed by a bike ride and polished off with a run.  Maybe an aquathon might interest you where your swim is followed by a run. Perhaps a quadrathon with it’s swim, kayak, bike run format could tickle your fancy.  Plus there are many variations on the theme.  Multi-disciplined racing offers a wide range of challenges and so much fun.

Why compete in a triathlon race?

Swimmers, cyclists and runners have all been tempted into triathlon because it gives an opportunity to try new sports, keep fit and because of the variety of training there is less risk of injury.  As an orienteer and fell runner I started triathlon for just these reasons. Like most who have come from one particular sport I was keen to learn new sports. For me competing against specialist swimmers and cyclists has been an eye opener. Learning how they train and race is fascinating. Luckily many of them are learning to run which evens things up.  We are now getting more people who are triathletes.  Triathlon is the only sport they have known.  Whatever your background or lack of it competing in a triathlon race will give you a goal for your training and will introduce you to great people from many different sporting backgrounds.

Triathlon race distances

Sprint Triathlons are short.  This is the place to start your race career the place to start.  There are pool based sprint triathlons and open water sprints.  We would advise beginners to try a pool based triathlon first.  Sprint distance triathlons are also a serious race distance.  At the sharp end of sprint races competitors are very fast and it is highly competitive.

Standard or Olympic Triathlons start with a 1500m swim, 42km bike and 10 km run to complete the course.  These are mainly open water swim events so you’ll need a wetsuit.

Long course triathlons include half distance (Ironman 70.3) and Full distance (Outlaw and full Ironman).  There are also other long distance races like Alpe D’Huez triathlon which crests several alpine climbs including the famous Alpe D’Huez climb.

Popular races sell out in minutes.  There are however many good value local races to enter.  Ask at your club for some recommendations.

Training for a triathlon race

You need to be fit enough to do the swim, bike ride and run back to back.  This means some training in each discipline.  The quantity of training will depend on your sporting background and the race you are aiming at.  You may need to spend more time on your weakest discipline.  

Many first time triathletes have difficulty switching from one race leg to the next.  This is why triathletes often do Brick training (Named after Coach Brick who invented this type of training). In these sessions you will ride your bike and immediately after go for a run.   These sessions really help your race.

Triathlon race equipment

There are rules to triathlon racing overseen by British Triathlon the governing body for our sport.  They cover the equipment you can use in a race.  Clothing must be worn at al times.  No nudity in the transition.  Which means you need a trisuit or similar.  You wear this under your wetsuit.  Unless it’s a pool swim when you would usually wear it for the swim.  Water temperature determines whether a wetsuit is required.  A wetsuit will always make you swim faster and is safer because it keeps you afloat.  Your bike can be a road, time trial or mountain bike.  New rules apply in some sprints.  A helmet certified and sound, fastened before you touch the bike, is compulsory.  On the run leg note you must have chest covering.  No running with your trisuit unzipped at the front.

Add to this a vast array of gadgets and gizmos designed to help you race.  Choose carefully.  Look at what long time experienced triathletes use as your guide.  Tip:  A number belt is very useful. 

See our other blogs for more detail and suggestions to make your triathlon racing fun.

Author:  Dave Bradley British Triathlon Level 3 Coach Director of coaching at