Getting started in triathlon
Whether it was a New Year's resolution or simply a decision to progress into the wonderful world of multi-sport or endurance events, here are tips for first-time triathletes. We have all been there, and been faced with an intimidating amount of information and possibly not knowing where best to start! It is easier than you might think.
Here are some tips that might help, followed by some links to articles that are worth reading. Don't be afraid to ask questions! The person who scoffs at your question or snubs your enquiry probably doesn't know the answer himself / herself, but trust me, there are plenty that do and who are more than willing to help you get started on your journey!
1. Getting started
1.1 Sign up for your first race but go short before going long.
By committing to a firm date in the calendar, the goal becomes more real, and you are more inclined to commit to getting started and all the training.
As attractive as it might be to say you are an Ironman, it's not typically where you should get started, but it is where you can end up! Try out a sprint or olympic distance and see if it is something that holds your interest. There is a large investment in time and money to be made. You will sacrifice time with family and friends, weekend parties and eating whatever you want... but it is worth it if you're committed.
1.2 Which race should I choose?
Don't complicate things for yourself with your first race - select an event that gives you enough time to train, suits your ability and level and is also close to home. It reduces the complications of travel with all your gear and reduces the stress and hassle. Find a suitable event by checking our active event listing on our site.
1.3 Do I need a coach and must I join a club?
If you're training for success, then consider hiring a coach or at least getting a training plan. They are knowledgeable, can give you advice and guidance and also manage your training regime. Clubs and training groups are an invaluable resource to tap into as well.
“If you want to succeed at something, you need to surround yourself with successful people.” Triathlon is no different. Surrounding yourself with successful people in the sport will allow you to learn from them, will drive you towards better results and will keep you motivated.
See our tab on coaching and clubs.
4. What gear do I need?
While it may be tempting for a beginner triathlete to look at other, more seasoned, athletes and think you should get the same gear or supplements, or follow the same training plans, you ultimately need to find what works for you and stick with it. Your success and confidence will come from being prepared and sticking to your training plan, and not from having the latest gear.
4.1 Do I need a westuit?
If you do not own a wetsuit or are an inexperienced open water swimmer, consider renting a wetsuit from us. Some events don't even require a wetsuit. But make sure you buy a good pair of goggles and a costume made for lap swimming (not sunbathing!) and you're set for the swim leg of the event. If you are buying a wetsuit, do some research and buy one that suits your budget and your swimming ability.
Trying to change your clothing when wet can be frustrating, especially when you're in a hurry. A triathlon suit streamlines that so consider it as a basic essential item, but remember it's not about fashion but all about function.
4.1 Your bike is fine.
There are few restrictions as to the type of bike you can use in an event so use your road or even your mountain bike, or even borrow a bike, but make sure it is a good fit for you and is in good working order. Have your bike serviced before the event - all your training and sacrifices could be for nothing if you have a mechanical that could have been prevented by doing some preventative maintenance beforehand.
Learn how to change a punctured or damaged tire, before race day. Don't be afraid to ask a friend, family member, fellow club member or your local bike shop to show you.
Remember - no helmet - no ride! The same applies to all triathlon events, so make sure you have a helmet that fits and has no signs of damage.
4.3 You will need running shoes.
You will need a good pair of running shoes that fit you and suit your running style (neutral, pronation, supination, arch support etc). Your local triathlon or running store should be able to help you select the best pair to suit your needs and your budget.
5. Some training tips
5.1 How much training is enough?
Many aspiring triathletes think think they need to put in 20 - 30 hours per week, but that is not true (unless you want to podium at an Ironman event!). You can be ready for a sprint distance race on less than five hours per week of training. Find a training plan that meets your time constraints and race needs and then stick to your goals.
Focus on your weaknesses - whilst it is easy to gravitate naturally to one particular part that you're comfortable or naturally stronger in, your strength in one area won't fix your weakness in another, so it's important to train hard in the parts you don't like as much.
5.2 Rest days are important
Don't let your enthusiasm for your new sport keep you at it 7 days a week. Plan your rest in between to give your body a chance to recover from all the training you are doing. Do enough training to complete the event and have fun at the same time.
5.3 Practice brick sessions
A "brick," in triathlete-speak, means doing two of the disciplines back to back, (just like you'll do them in the race) and the most important brick to master is to bike then run. The muscle changeover can be hard so you have to practice it. Simply complete a 10 minute run after your bike training to get the muscles used to the changeover. It is not necessary to run the full / a long distance when doing a brick.
5.4 Transition time counts too.
You may be surprised how long it can take to change from swimming to cycling and from cycling to running (known as transitions, "T1" and "T2"). It all counts towards your overall race time. Make sure you practice smooth transitions.
6. Other tips
Training for a triathlon is hard work and your body needs extra fuel to manage with the extra load your placing on it. Do your homework and seek out some advice on the best plan for you but the key is to keep it simple.
6.2 Consciously do the first half of the race slower.
Don't start too fast - it is a common mistake... Estimate how much time you think it will take you to do the entire event and then plan to do the first half of that total time at a slower pace than you think you're capable of doing. Once you reach the half-way point, you can pick up the pace and finish strong. This is called negative-split effort.
6.3 An inexpensive piece of "trick" equipment.
Elastic shoe laces or lock-laces is a great piece of "trick" equipment, since they allow you to slip your feet into your running shoes and eliminate the need to tie your shoes, thereby saving you time in transition, and avoiding your shoe laces coming loose during your run.
For your first race, try to keep things simple. Set your goal and go out there and get it done. Once you get hooked on the sport, you can look into ways to get faster or go longer.
List of kit to get you started:
- Triathlon shorts
- Goggles and swim cap
- Running shoes
- Nutrition / hydration (including water bottles)
- Other accessories:
- Towel (for transition)
- Socks (not compulsory but will help avoid blisters!)
- Tools / tire repair
- Anti chafing / lube
What you can add to the list:
- Triathlon bike / clip-on aero bars
- Bike shoes (with cleats)
- Other accessories:
- Heart rate monitor / fitness tracker / GPS
- Race number belt
- Lock laces / speed laces
- Transition bag
- Swim accessories for training (kickboard, pull buoy, paddles)
Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us with any questions you might have about starting out or what you might need to consider to improve your performance. The are no stupid questions, only stupid answers! We are here to help you achieve your goals.