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New to triathlon? Know your BTF from your OWS and MHR? Confused by all the terminology that is thrown about by those speedsters in lycra?

Fear not, we’ve all been there and for anyone just starting their triathlon journey then you might think the hard part is actually learning the tri lingo, let along the three disciplines.

With race season fast approaching we thought it would be a great time to pick up on the most common triathlon words and phrases that will have you sounding like a pro in no time.

Aero bars – no not the chocolate bar but a key bit of kit to help you save time on the bike by putting you in a more aerodynamic position. They’re basically extension bars that come with padded elbow rests and can be added yourself to a normal road bike or come complete as part of a specific triathlon TT bike.

Age Grouper – unless you’re a pro (professional) triathlete then you’re most likely to be classed as an “age grouper”, which we think still sounds pretty impressive. The age-group system allows you to race against other triathletes of the same age and gender, and possibly win your age group. These happen at all races from small local ones up to international ones.

Aquathlon – don’t like cycling then just swim and run instead. Start off with a swim, followed by a run to the finish.

Aquabike – don’t like running then just swim and cycle instead. Increasing in popularity, this two-discipline event starts with a pool or sea swim followed by the cycle to the finish. 

Bonking / Hitting the Wall – there’s no denying this is a horrible experience and tends to happen towards the end of a race when you have a sudden feeling of energy loss and fatigue that makes you feel like you can’t go on. In basic scientific terms it’s your body running out of glycogen in the muscles as it switches to burning fat stores for energy instead.

BPM – Beats per minute and is a measure of your heart rate.

BTF – British Triathlon Federation and is the national governing body for triathlon in Great Britain.

Brick Session – nothing to do with banging your head against a brick wall but rather a training session that combines two disciplines, most commonly cycling and running. The idea is to simulate a race experience and train your body to adapt to changing between sports quickly.

DNF – Did Not Finish. Hopefully you’ll never experience this but if you do then it’s not the end of the world. It could be due to injury, bike mechanical or any other reason. Don’t be deterred and use it as a learning experience.

DNS – Did Not Start. You’ve entered a race and your name is on the start list but you did not actually start the event.

Drafting – This most commonly occurs on the bike but can also be used to your advantage on the swim and run. It’s simply the act of tucking in behind someone so they do the majority of the work and you get an easier ride, which is most effective on the bike in windy conditions. Be sure to check if your event is a drafting or non-drafting one as breaking the rules can lead to a time penalty or DQ.

DQ – Disqualified. There shouldn’t be any reason why you see this beside your name on the results list. It could be for abusive language to officials, dangerous racing, persistent drafting on the bike, littering or any other multitude of offences. If you follow the event rules then a DQ shouldn’t be an issue.

Duathlon – don’t like swimming then this is the multi-sport for you. A run, bike, run event that keep your feet firmly on dry land. Very popular during the spring and autumn months to start and end your season.

Half IRONMAN / Middle Distance – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run.

IRONMAN / Full Distance – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. Traditionally there is a 17 hour cut-off to complete this distance.

IRONMAN – the brand name of a global series of triathlon events.

Kickboard – the one piece of swimming pool kit that everyone dreads. Grab it by your hands out front and let your legs do all the work to propel you forward. An essential bit of kit for all triathletes.

MHR – Maximum Heart Rate and as a rule of thumb this can loosely be calculated as the number 220 minus your age.

Mount line – marked by a race official, this is where you can officially mount your bike (not before) and also dismount (not after). Can also be a large box marked out by a good idea to check it out before the race starts so you’re familiar with it.

MTBMountain Bike. Some triathlons take place off-road and if you’re just starting off in triathlon then there’s no reason why you can’t use a mountain bike on a short event. Mountain biking is also great for building strength and improving handling skills during the winter months too.

Nutrition – the key fourth discipline and refers to the food and drink you consume during the race. You should always have some form of hydration in your drink bottles but actual nutrition depends entirely on the person, race distance and conditions. We could write an essay on this subject and go into details about gels and energy but we always come back to saying that you should consume what works best for you. Leave trying out new stuff to training or the goody bag at the end.

Olympic / Standard Distance – Called the Olympic distance because this is the distance elite triathletes race over at the Olympic Games. Comprising of a 1500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run, it’s a challenging distance but one which is the most popular for people to set a target on when first starting out.

OWS – Open Water Swim. This can be in the sea, lake, river, reservoir, lido. Basically anywhere that isn’t a swimming pool.

Pull Buoy – another valuable bit of swimming pool kit designed to create extra buoyancy for your hips so your body position is brought more in line so you’re more streamlined passing through the water. The pull buoy leaves you free to concentrate on your stroke and other aspects of your swimming.

Racking – where you leave your bike when you’re off on the swim or run. In big events you will be required to register and rack your bike over night while smaller ones are done just before your race starts. You’ll see rows of bikes here so it’s good practice to remember where you are and look for a landmark in line with your bike e.g. a tree or sign. We wouldn’t recommend trying to remember your neighbours bike as chances are it won’t be there when you come racing in.

RPE – Rate of Perceived Exertion. This is a basic way of evaluating how hard you are working and often used on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is feeling totally fresh while 10 is “I’m a triathlete, get me out of here!”

Sighting – used in OWS and refers to sighting the buoys/markers or a landmark to help keep you on the right direction and not heading out to sea the wrong way. A crucial practice for even the most seasoned swimmers as sea and weather conditions can easily take you off course and having you swim further than necessary. 

Super Sprint Distance – 400m swim, 10k bike, 2.5k run. The shortest triathlon distance but can vary depending on the event venue.

Sprint Distance – 750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run. The next step up from Super Sprint and a great starting distance for all triathletes to test themselves.

Split times – the times given to your swim, bike, run and transitions. You can then see where you went well and where there might be room for improvement. Great for comparing with your friends, especially if they beat you overall but you can boast a faster time in a certain discipline!

Swim Waves – in races with larger number of participants then you will be assigned a wave or staggered start time to begin your swim. This is most common for a pool-based swim but can also be used for OWS events. You will often be separated by gender and age but also by your predicted swim time.

T1 – the first transition where you’ll switch from swimming onto your bike. Always remember to out your helmet on before touching any part of your bike.

T2 – the second transition where you’ll rack your bike and head out on the run to the finish line.

Transition area – this is the large area where everyone racks their bikes and where you make the change from one sport to the next. Where your bike is racked should be kept tidy and organised as you want to spend as little time in here as possible (the clock’s still running). It’s well worth practicing your transitions so they become smooth and second-nature. It’s a great feeling breezing past someone who is wasting valuable time and energy messing about looking for stuff in transition.

Timing Chip – usually placed on your left ankle this magic bit of kit records all your split times for the three disciplines as well as transitions and your overall finish time. In some races it also allows your supporters to track your progress online.

Triathlete – completed a triathlon over any distance ? Congratulations and welcome to the club. You can now proudly call yourself a triathlete.

Tri Suit – what you wear for a triathlon is a completely personal choice. There’s no rules to say you must wear a tri suit for an event but there are lots of benefits, chiefly it saves time changing between kit for each discipline and also is cheaper in the long-run to have one item that does it all. The next question is whether to have a one-piece tri-suit, two-piece, short sleeve or long sleeve? Ultimately it should come down to what you’re most comfortable in but the race distance and conditions also play a part. All have their pros and cons and we’ll be doing a blog soon looking at each style.

TT / Triathlon Bike – a Time Trial or triathlon bike is specifically designed to have you racing in an aerodynamic position for the majority of the bike leg. These aren’t essential but favoured more by triathletes competing in middle or long distance triathlons to gain valuable time. Due to their generally more aggressive riding style and rider position then they require large training time to get comfortable with.

Turbo Trainer – a hugely valuable bit of winter kit to help keep your cycle training on track from the comfort of your home. Simply attach your bike via the rear wheel and apply the resistance. More advanced (smart) turbo trainer models allow you to monitor power, speed and cadence as well as allowing you to connect to training programmes such as ZWIFT so you can race against friends anywhere, any time.