Triathlon is the fastest growing participatory sport in the US and UK. The reason for this is that with numerous different lengths, this seemingly difficult race can be achieved by just about anyone with some dedication.
How difficult is it to complete a triathlon?
What kind of dedication depends on two things, the triathlon’s length and your goals. The shortest common length of the triathlon is called the sprint, which is comprised of an 800 meter swim, a 20 kilometer (12 mile) bike and a 5k (3.1 mile) run. A sprint is usually a good choice for a first triathlon. In the sprint distance, with proper training, you will be able to take your time and learn a bit about the sport, such as what to wear, how to eat and drink on course, and how to handle the transitions from one sport to the next in an expedient manner.
Sprint distance triathlons take fewer hours of training than their longer counterparts, and are therefore the race of choice for many people. There are also far more triathlons that have this distance available. No matter your fitness you will need to be able to do all three sports, which means you need to find time in your schedule to bike, swim and run. Most training programs call for doing each sport three times weekly, which means that most days you will be doing two workouts.
Another common length for a first triathlon is the olympic distance, which is roughly twice the length of the sprint. The olympic distance is also the distance of Xterra a form of off road triathlon which includes mountain biking and trail running often over rugged terrain.
All of the distances of triathlon from the sprint to the ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and marathon run) are challenging. And training for them can take anywhere from five hours a week up to twenty plus. The hours you put into training depends on your goals. All of the distances as well as Xterras have national and international championships associated with them. For your first race, however, a good goal is to finish.
(Click here for more info on triathlon distances)
It starts with a swim
Triathlons are comprised of four parts, swim, bike, run, and the transitions. Having a good handle on all four will help your first triathlon go smoothly. Swimming is often the weakest sport for beginners, and therefore care should be taken to choose a race with an appropriate swim length.
Many triathlons have pool swims. These are a good place to start if you are not a great swimmer. Lake swims can be challenging and often require a wetsuit. Lake swims also require you to be able to sight while in the water, whereas pool swims allow you to have an easier first leg of the triathlon.
No matter which kind of swim you do you will need to be familiar with the lake or pool. Some pools have high decks that require extra effort to get out of. Pool swims are usually seeded and you must know how to share a lane. It’s always a good idea to know how to do these things before race day.
Transitions, Equipment and Nutrition
Another thing that you need to know before your race day is how you will transition from sport to sport. Racking bikes, setting up transition areas, nutrition, all of these are best played out prior to race day with brick workouts that will help you know what your body will do when you ask it to go from bike to run, or how hard socks are to get on wet feet.
Lastly you will need equipment. Goggles, running shoes, tri shorts, and a bike will get you through your first triathlons. You don’t need to go out and buy a full carbon tri bike for your first triathlon, and many a triathlon career has been launched on a borrowed bike. Once you start looking at the longer distances, or championships, then you will find yourself investing in better equipment.
Training is also the time to investigate how to eat and drink during the bike and run. Race time is never the time to experiment with anything new. By the time you walk onto the pool deck for your first race, you should know how much fluid you will need, and what you can eat to get you through the hour plus of racing for a sprint distance. As the lengths increase, the need to fuel properly cannot be overstated.
Triathlon is a great and challenging sport. Training for and finishing a triathlon immediately puts you on a podium of amazing athletic prowess that no measly 5k can ever do, so go ahead, take the plunge and try out your first tri. It won’t be your last.