When it comes to triathlons, a lot more consideration goes into planning everything from your training regime, to choosing the right kit for race day. As a multi-sport event, you have to be thinking of not only one discipline, but three: swim, bike, run. So, how exactly do you do that?
If you’re just getting started in the sport, there are probably a lot of questions swirling in your mind. Questions like, how do you possibly swim with padded cycling shorts? Or, should you be wearing socks while racing?
Do not fret. We are here to help with some beginner’s tips to guide your transition into the amazing and addictive world of triathlons.
How to choose the right triathlon distance
Like all races, you have a say in just how much you want to push on race day. Triathlons range in distances from super short sprints meant to help wet your appetite, to the Ironman long-distance race that has become a status symbol for mega-athletes. Knowing which distance you are ready to start with will impact how you train.
300m swim - 10km bike - 2.5km (varies)
Sometimes also called the ‘Tri It’ distance, super sprints are great for ultra-beginners looking to get a taste of triathlons. Often the swim portion will be held in an indoor swimming pool to make it more accessible for those not used to open-water swimming.
750m swim - 20km bike - 5km run
Fun and quick, this is also the most common triathlon distance as you can easily manage a training program around work schedules and life.
1.5km swim - 40km bike - 10km run
Also known as the ‘standard’ distance because it is the international standard adopted by the Olympic Games since 2000. This category starts to get a little more technical when it comes to your training and race day regime.
Half Ironman (and up)
1.9km swim - 90km bike - 21km run
Now we’re talking about elite athletes when we get into Ironman and ultra-triathlon distance racing. Not for the faint of heart, these distances require absolute dedication. But if you get there, you will find Ironman racing almost its own world, separate from typical tri races. The Ironman has taken on a sort of cult and status symbol for uber athletes to tick off their bucket lists.
How to train for a triathlon
Now that you have chosen the distance you’d like to compete in, you have to start thinking about your training program. Here are some super helpful tips to get you going:
- Focus on your weakness: The beauty of triathlons is that it involves not one, but three sports. For most athletes, this usually pushes us beyond our comfort zone. Rare is the athlete that is excellent in all three disciplines. The trick is to know where you struggle and work on improving your confidence and strength in that particular sport. Swimming, for instance, is one a lot of beginners struggle with. Especially since most triathlons have a completion cut-off time for the swim portion.
- Do brick workouts: This means combining your training with a few sports at the same time so that you can get used to switching from one to another. Transitions are a tricky feeling to get used to as they can be jolting to both your muscles and breath. Just wait till you go from cycling to running and feel your legs wobble like jello.
- Practice transitions only: Take some time closer to race day to finesse your transitions. Any time lost here counts. Things like the layout of your shoes, race belt, helmet, and so on can help shave important seconds, or even minutes off your total race time.
- Incorporate fuelling: Depending on the distance you race, you might need to fuel as you go to replenish energy quickly. Mastering this is a bit of an art form as it is so deeply unique to each and every person. For that reason, it’s key that you start incorporating fuel and hydration into your training sessions so you know what works or doesn’t for your body.
How to choose the right gear for triathlons
There are some pieces of gear that go without saying in triathlons: goggles for the swim, a helmet, bike, and solid pair of running shoes. No need to get too fussy on the kind of bike if you’re just starting out and not worried about your time. People race on all kinds of bikes, even mountain!
But beyond the basics, there are still a lot of questions that first timers have about triathlon gear. Here are some of the most common ones:
Triathletes wear one kit for the whole race. Even the swim. This helps with transitions so you don’t have to keep switching outfits. But, whether you are swimming in a pool or open water, you may have to invest in an extra piece of gear. Open water swimmers use either a swim skin or a wetsuit as an added layer over their race kit. If you are swimming in colder water, then a wetsuit is usually a must. Swim skins on the other hand are a smaller, thinner and non-buoyant outfit usually worn in warmer waters. Like wetsuits, they help enhance speed in the water by reducing friction.
Choosing the right race kit is a huge consideration. You’ll want an outfit that can transition from swimming to biking to running. That’s asking a lot out of your gear. Luckily, there are triathlon suits designed specifically for this. These kits come either as two pieces, or one. Most triathletes race in a one-piece like our Samsara Performance Tri Suit. Why? Because it is compressive, has all the pockets you’ll need for storing fuel, and incorporates a lighter padding in the shorts so that you don’t get diaper bum after your swim.
The race bib is only necessary to wear for the bike and run portion of a triathlon. So, you’ll need to think ahead of how you’ll get your race bib on your jersey without wasting any precious time. Some racers will pre-pin their bib to their jersey if they are wearing two piece kits and putting on a jersey after the swim. Nowadays though, most triathletes wear what are called race belts. These are compact belts you can slip on after the swim, with your bib already attached to it, and if needed, extra gels for fuel.
If you’ve ever watched the pros race triathlons, you’ll likely have noticed that they aren’t wearing any socks, especially for shorter distances. That’s because for these uber triathletes, the time it takes to put on socks is a waste and better spent winning. For most racers though, socks are perfectly normal and common in triathlons. In that case, cycling socks are your go-to for better protection and to help decrease drag.
Parting words of advice
Whatever distance or tri kit you end up choosing, the key is to see this as the beginning of an exciting new journey. Triathlons are completely unlike any cycling race. Even the psychological profile of a triathlete has been found to be completely different from that of a cyclist. Whereas the latter is often racing in a team sport, one riddled with plenty of crashes too, triathletes are deeply individual racers and have strict boundaries on draft-legal zones when cycling. All that to say, triathlons are a race made between you, your limits, and the finish line.
So, before you head off to race in your first triathlon, get to know the sport. Get to love it. Because you will become addicted.
See a Sprint Triathlon in action 👇