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Getting started in Triathlon

Decided you’re going to do a triathlon? Good on you! Training for a triathlon is a great way to get or stay fit, however before you put on your trunks, pump up your tyres and lace up your shoes there are a few things you need to consider first.


What is a triathlon?

A triathlon is a 3-part race that incorporates 3 different sporting disciplines. Triathletes compete for the fastest overall time, the fastest time in each discipline and the fastest transition time between disciplines.


What does a triathlon consist of?

A standard ‘Olympic’ triathlon consists of:

A swim of 1.5km (0.9 miles)

A cycle of 40km (24.8 miles)

A run of 10km (6.2 miles)


The distance for triathlons are the same for men and women and in most triathlons men and women race against each other. Many believe that triathlon is actually leading world sports on equality.


What order is a triathlon?

The first race of a triathlon is swimming, the second is cycling and the third and final race is running.


Why does it go in this order?


Triathlons are structured in this order for safety and to ensure smooth transitions between disciplines. For example, the final stage of the triathlon is the most dangerous because the participants are going to be really testing their endurance at that point.


If the final stage of a triathlon was swimming, an exhausted athlete would be in much more danger than if they were running. When they are running they can stop and rest if their exhaustion reaches dangerous levels or if they cramp up, however, if they are swimming in open water they can't really stop and rest because they will be fighting the current, if in the ocean, and keeping themselves afloat.


What is a sprint triathlon?

A sprint triathlon is a shorter distance triathlon and is a great way for beginners to try their first triathlon. A sprint triathlon consists of 500 metres of swimming, 15 miles of cycling, and 3 miles of running. It allows experienced triathletes to keep up a faster pace and to help with training for a full triathlon.

Who invented triathlon?

The invention of the triathlon can’t be attributed to any one person, however, many consider events held in early twentieth-century France to be the beginning of triathlon with many sporting events consisting of three sporting disciplines such as running, cycling and canoeing.


The first modern swim/bike/run triathlon was held in California in 1974, organised by Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan. The first-ever Olympic triathlon was in the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Simon Whitfield of Canada won the men's triathlon and Brigitte McMahon of Switzerland won the women's triathlon.


What does triathlon mean?

The word triathlon comes from the standard naming format for multi-sport races, using the prefix greek number for the number of events, trias (three), and suffix of athlos the Greek word for competition. Other events that follow the same name format include pentathlon, heptathlon, and decathlon.  


How should a beginner start training for a triathlon?

One of the main factors you need to consider when beginning training for a triathlon is time. Training for a triathlon is not a small commitment, you should give yourself around 3 months to make sure you are in shape to reduce the likelihood of picking up an injury during your first triathlon.


You then need to decide if you have a few hours a week to spare on training, you may want to consider shorter workouts on weekdays and longer workouts on the weekend. You should start by doing small distance swims twice a week, small distance runs twice a week and small distance rides twice a week with one day of rest between each. Each week you should slowly increase the distance or intensity of your workouts. After following this regime for a few months, you should be ready to sign up for your first triathlon.


Another factor to consider is your diet, a good diet will help you make more progress with your training and boost your energy. You should make sure you are eating 3 meals a day along with a couple of healthy snacks, drink lots of water, reduce sugary food, cut-out fast food, increase your protein and fibre intake, and gradually reduce your overall calorie intake.

How to do a triathlon

To sign up for a triathlon you should find out when events are happening near you. Websites such as British Triathlon and UK Triathlon are a good place to look for events, however, it might also be worth looking out for local running and triathlon clubs and gyms to see if they are holding any triathlon events.  


What to wear for a triathlon

If you are looking for the easiest option, go with a trisuit, or a triathlon singlet and triathlon shorts. With this option you can wear them for the entire race. You can add a wetsuit for the swim if required and take it off before moving on to the cycling section of the race (moving between stages is often referred to as the ‘transition’ phase).


For beginners who may not be ready to invest in a trisuit straight away; an alternative is to wear triathlon shorts for the swim. After removing your wetsuit from the swim section men can go shirtless and women put on a running shirt over a swim top. This way you only need to purchase the triathlon shorts, because you will likely already have a running shirt and/or swimsuit top.


Another option to consider is our purpose built Triathlon packages. These feature everything you need to get started in triathlon. There are a number of options to choose from whether its Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze - we’ll have something to match your level of enthusiasm and budget.


Triathlon suit


Triathlon suits have a reputation for being expensive, however, with options such as the 2XU Active Trisuit at only £85, it’s hard to argue that a trisuit isn’t worth the investment. Especially when you consider that you can wear a trisuit from the start to the finish of a triathlon so you only have to buy one, rather than buying running gear, cycling gear and swimming gear. Having a trisuit means you don’t have to waste time changing during transitions, unless you require a wetsuit for the swim.


If you’re looking for a trisuit that will help you reach peak performance, the 2XU Comp Full Zip Sleeved Trisuit is a great option. Completely redesigned for 2019 in accordance with 2XU’s latest RMIT University research, the Compression Full Zip Sleeved Trisuit promises superior ventilation and power.  


Trisuits are designed specifically for triathlons, so if you’re a beginner or just looking to save your money, you may want to look at getting gear that can also be used as workout clothing.


Triathlon shorts


Triathlon shorts look similar to cycling shorts, however, they are quicker to dry. Just keep in mind that triathlon shorts are not meant to be worn in swimming pools as this will damage them over time, however, they can double up as cycling shorts. They can be used as running shorts, but for regular running training you may want to use a regular pair of running shorts.


A good quality pair of shorts deliver the advanced support required to conquer the rigours of a triathlon.


Triathlon top


Triathlon tops, AKA triathlon singlets, are great because they are also comfortable for running and cycling outside of a triathlon too, so can also be used as workout gear. Although, you can just go for a regular running t-shirt for the cycle and run, and men can go shirtless for the swim and women can go with a swimsuit top.


The 2XU Active tri singlet features 50-denier SBR SKIN LITE fabrication for muscle support and durability, as well as SENSOR MESH X which provides optimal air flow and breathability.


Triathlon wetsuit


A wetsuit should be worn to keep you warm in the water if water temperatures are between 50 to 78 degrees and give you more buoyancy.


The 2XU P:1 Propel wetsuit is an all-round wetsuit that would be ideal for use as a triathlon wetsuit as it delivers many of the key technical benefits of the elite tier of the 2XU range. The inclusion of the rollbar, floating zip, SCS coating and 39 cell buoyancy panelling make the P:1 Propel a top-value wetsuit that will deliver the power needed to surpass the competition.


Triathlon shoes


Triathlon shoes are a whole debate on their own, check out our article on running shoes for triathlon to learn more about what shoes to go with.


Gear and accessories


You will also need swimming goggles, a transition bag, a race belt and a cycle helmet. Last but certainly not least, you will need a triathlon bike.


Our GURU FIT SYSTEMenables cyclists of all ages and experience levels to find the perfect bike and riding position to match their personal preferences, helping you find the perfect triathlon bike.

How to prepare for a triathlon

After all your hard work training for months to build up the fitness required to complete your first triathlon, you don’t want to ruin it by not getting enough sleep or tiring yourself out with an intense workout the day before.


Elite athletes will usually aim for 9-10 hours of sleep as it is an important recovery tool that can enhance performance. However, it is best to wake up early on race day and eat a few hours before your start time, just make sure you eat easily digestible food. It’s also best to stop drinking 2 hours before the race.


You should perform some quick warm-ups before starting the race, these can include a 10-minute swim and a 10-minute run, completed around 30 minutes before the start of the race.


Where can I buy triathlon gear?

TRI UK is your triathlon expert and can not only provide all the gear and clothing you need for your triathlon but can also provide expert advice and guidance to help you find the right triathlon gear for your budget. We do this with help from our GURU FIT SYSTEM, swim test pool, Mizuno Running Solution, and years of experience with triathlon gear.


Bio of Author:

Joe Whitnall

Assistant Yeovil Store Manager & Race Team Manager

(More bio details to follow)