7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Triathlon


May 7, 2012   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

TriathlonTriathlons can be intimidating.

The mere mention of one conjures up images of genetically perfect athletes speeding through race segments so fast that they’re blurry. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a genetic freak in order to be able to run your first triathlon. A sprint distance triathlon is typically only a 400-600m swim, a 12.4 mile bike and a 5k run and is one of the fastest growing sports in North America.

If you decide to race a triathlon, you can run your first sprint distance triathlon in about 3 months of training and as it turns out, triathlons aren’t as intimidating as they sound.

After dozens of triathlons and a half ironman, here are 7 things I wish I knew about triathlon when I started:

    • You Don’t Need A Wetsuit For Your First Race

      You don’t need a wetsuit for your first race. Not only is it an expensive piece of equipment that can take a while to get use to swimming in, a lot of times they’re not even allowed! If the water temperature is above 84 degrees Fahrenheit you won’t be allowed to wear the wetsuit and compete for awards. If you don’t have a wetsuit, don’t worry that much about it – lots of people race without one. Once you run one or two races and have them under your belt, you can look at renting or even buying a wetsuit – but it’s not a “must-have” for your first race.


  • When You’re In The Water Just Relax

    Everyone is always nervous about the swim. When you’re in the water, waiting for the race gun to go off, it can be really, really tempting to get pumped up, overstressed spend all your energy thinking about the race. The swim is consistently the most feared leg for new triathletes without a swim background.

    It’s okay. Relax. Stay loose and don’t go too hard right out of the gate. If you have a lot of people around you kicking and splashing, breathe and go at your own pace – one that’s quick, but (more importantly) sustainable. It’s way too common for people to freeze up and panic during the swim. If you ever feel rushed, panicked or tired, simply stop, tread water, hold on to a buoy or a boat if you have to and take deep breaths until you calm down. 

  • Keep Your Nutrition Simple

    Nutrition for triathlon can get really complicated, really fast – if you let it. However, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Simply eating well will cut out half the complexity of a nutrition regimen. Eliminating processed foods and choosing to eat real food and choosing water instead of sodas, and alcohol will help get your body get used to digesting real nutrients and utilizing your energy resources efficiently. It sounds really simple and it is. In fact, if you do this, you don’t have to worry about carbo-loading or any other nutrition hacks for your first sprint distance triathlon. 

  • Follow A Training Program

    A triathlon training program is immensely helpful to helping you get started doing your first race. Besides actually getting you physically ready for a race, a training program lays out a road map to show you where to start your training and how to finish based on your training level. It’s much easier to focus on a 30 minute workout you have to do today than it is to think about the triathlon you have to run in just 90 days. Not only does a training plan make things less intimidating but it also guides you from your current fitness level across the fitness line.

  • Practice Brick Workouts

    If you’ve practiced swim, bike and run workouts and think that’s all there is to a triathlon, you’d be wrong. You’ll want to practice brick workouts before your first race.

    Brick workouts are when you practice two disciplines back to back. The most common brick is the bike and the run. you’ll do your bike workout and then get off, change shoes if you need to, and do your run

    The first time you’ll do this, your legs will feel like lead. That’s why they’re called brick workouts. After practicing this a couple times through, your legs will start to get the hang of it and your mind will get used to the fact that the first quarter or half mile of running is just going to be tough.

  • Your Bike Doesn’t Matter Until It Matters

    You really don’t need a nice bike to get started racing. Too many new triathletes go out and buy a $5,000 bike, do one race with it and then let it collect dust in the garage. You can get a bike for $150 off Craigslist or borrow one to get started. It really doesn’t matter what type of bike you start out, with one exception. Don’t use a mountain bike. You might not realize it now, but a mountain bike is significantly slower and harder to pedal than a road bike. The frame of the bike is less comfortable for long distances, the overall bike is much heavier and the wheel is much smaller and wider, which means you go less distance every time you pedal and each of those pedal strokes harder. If you’re like me, you might not full grasp the difference of this until you race your first triathlon on a mountain bike. Never again. Beg, borrow or steal a road bike if you can. 

  • Start Now

    Triathlon season is coming up. You’ll see the bulk of triathlons happening from May to late September. If you can exercise for just 15 minutes right now, you can train to do a triathlon in about 3 months. If you start now, you’ll be ready for early summer races and (if you enjoy your first triathlon), you’ll have a couple of months to do your second as well. 

The absolute hardest part of doing a triathlon is the act of deciding that you’re going to do it. Make that decision and everything else is just the legwork to make it happen.

On the fence, why not sign up for a triathlon today and run your first triathlon in 3 months.

Written on 5/7/2012 by Joel Runyon. Joel writes about triathlons and other impossible things at the Blog of Impossible Things and Impossible HQ. He recently released Impossible TRI: a triathlon guide for running your first triathlon in 3 months. Photo Credit: photovandal

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