A triathlon consists of three disciplines completed in succession on the same day, including swimming, biking, and running. To someone who has never thought of attempting one before, this can seem like a rather daunting challenge. However, you don’t need to be made of steel to become a triathlete. It may be more achievable than you thought.

No doubt a newcomer to the sport will have many questions, so here’s a look at how you get started with the fun and rewarding challenge of the triathlon. 

Aim to complete a sprint triathlon first

A sprint triathlon is a popular event for first timers. It does not take above average levels of fitness to take part.  A sprint race consists of swimming 750 metres, which is about half a mile, followed by a bike ride of 12.4 miles, and finishing with a run of 3.1 miles. 

This is a great way for a new triathlete to get a taste of the sport without over facing themselves. It is recommended to start training for a sprint triathlon about three to five months before the event. 

The first stage to prepare for is the swimming event

How you go about this will obviously depend on your current swimming level and overall level of physical fitness. If the event takes place outdoors, you will need to have the right cold water swim gear. This includes a well-fitting wetsuit or swimsuit, a swim cap, and anti-fog goggles. In colder weather, you may also want to wear thermal swim boots and gloves.

There are usually no rules as to what stroke you can use when swimming. If you have a particular style that you find easiest, it may be best to go with this. Otherwise, you could consider having a few lessons to brush up on your technique. 

A few simple adjustments to your swimming position can often make a huge difference to your speed and efficiency in the water, and you may even discover that you prefer a different stroke to your current favourite. Even looking up a few tips on head position and breathing online can be useful.

Aim to swim two or three times a week when you are training, and make sure that you can swim for at least 20 minutes without stopping, because this is what will be required in a sprint race.

Preparing for the bike event

The cycling stage will require between 30-60 minutes of continuous cycling, so you will need to work your way up to this if it is not currently within your scope. A roadworthy racing bike is of course essential, and you’ll need a to wear a helmet to be able to compete in a race. 

The bike should be properly adjusted to your height, as if the seat and handlebars are not at the right level for you, it will soon become uncomfortable over a long distance. As with swimming, it will be well worth brushing up on some techniques to optimise your speed and performance, especially if you have never cycled competitively before. 

It is helpful to find out the race route in advance so that you can train for similar terrain—for example, if it is hilly and winding, seek out these areas to ride in during your training sessions. If the route is through busy urban areas, make sure that you are comfortable riding in traffic. 

The running stage

For a sprint triathlon, you’ll need the stamina to be able to run for just over three miles, after the testing swimming and cycling stages. It’s important to have a pair of well-fitting running shoes that provide enough support and cushioning for your feet. 

You will probably need to train for at least two or three times a week, for sessions of 20 or 30 minutes. Running is a high impact sport and it’s important adopt the correct technique to reduce the risk of injuries or aches and pains. Again, there’s plenty of advice to be found online about posture, pacing, and breathing. 

General training tips

One of the most important points to bear in mind when training for a triathlon is to pace yourself, so that you are pushing your fitness boundaries, but not overdoing it. Do not train every day. At least two rest days are needed each week to allow your body to rest and recover. Training on tired muscles can increase your risk of injury. 

Tommy Reed