Everything You Need To Know About Starting Triathlon

Whether you’re looking to compete in your first triathlon or simply want to learn more about the sport, this guide has everything you need to get started. We’ll cover essential gear, nutrition basics, mental preparation, and tips for finding a coach, so you can approach your first race with confidence.

It seems like a massive undertaking, not only must one develop fitness and skill in swimming, biking and running, but there is also a lot of gear and equipment that goes along with it.

There are some fundamental steps that you should take if you want to train for a triathlon. This will help you not only on race day but also throughout your life as a multisport athlete.

Know the purpose behind your training

The simple exercise here is to answer the question – what’s my purpose in training for a triathlon?  Some of the most common stories are:

  • “I already train for swimming, cycling, and/or running. I love the idea of diversifying my training for a triathlon.”
  • “I am overweight and multisport training gives me an outlet to stay active and burn calories.”
  • “I identify as a triathlete. It’s who I am and I can’t imagine a life without training.”
  • “Doing a triathlon sounds badass! I am not very fit but I would love to complete an event this summer.”
  • “I’m a decent runner and cyclist. Despite my lack of experience swimming, I think it would be fun to get into triathlon.”
  • “Making time for triathlon training helps me develop confidence and balance in other aspects of my life.
  • “I am a proficient triathlete and I want to maximize my competitive potential.”

The following steps are the true fundamentals of triathlon training, regardless of where you are with your purpose.

Assess your fitness level and define your goals

The next step, after coming to terms with why you want to do a triathlon, is to assess your fitness level. This assessment can be a formal aerobic capacity or VO2 max test but doesn’t have to be.

You can figure out where you need to improve as a swimmer, cyclist, and runner by evaluating where you currently stand. This will help you form goals and a training plan for a triathlon.

There are many “couch to Sprint” triathlon training programs that range from 12 weeks to 20 weeks for people who are out of shape. In this case, the main goal may be just finishing the event.

If you’re an experienced athlete, you might want to achieve a certain time or age group finish. Or maybe your goal is just to finish strong and have fun.

Before you can create an effective training plan, you need to first assess your current fitness level and what your goals are. Defining realistic goals will help you stay motivated and accountable throughout your training.

Pinpoint your A-race(s) and plan your season

The type of events you pursue will be determined by your fitness level.

The Sprint distance is the shortest of the most common triathlon distances, except for some events that have a Super Sprint option.

What is a Sprint Distance Triathlon? Formally, a sprint distance triathlon consists of a 750m swim, a 20k bike, and a 5k run. If you look around your local scene you will find that many races will advertise varying race length distances for a “sprint” triathlon

Sprint distance triathlons are the best distance for most beginners. This distance is also most commonly found at local triathlon events, which are perfect for those just entering the sport.

Some local events will also have Olympic triathlon options, which are double the distance of the Sprint. This substantial leap requires significantly greater fitness, as even the fastest athletes come in around 2 hours or less for Olympic distance triathlons.

Olympic Distance Triathlons are also known as Standard Distance Triathlons and comprise: a 1500m swim, a 40km bike and a 10km run

A very good day on the course would have the beginner triathlete hitting all three of the splits above. Adding in around five minutes for both transitions, that would total about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes for a sprint or about 2 hours 35 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes for an Olympic-distance race.


It’s a big enough undertaking that you want to make sure you give yourself the best chance to excel by working with a coach well-versed in the demands of the sport Iron-distance triathlon events, such as 70.3 and Ironman, are much bigger undertakings than other races. The commitment to training, financial investment, and sacrifice of time make Iron-distance training a lifestyle. You want to make sure you give yourself the best chance to excel by working with a coach well-versed in the demands of the sport.

Develop a triathlon training plan

The most common underlying training objectives that are universal to most athletes include:

  • Structuring a training plan so that you’re in peak physical condition for your A-race. This often means organizing between 12 to 20 weeks of training that lead up to your big day, including a taper period the week before the event.
  • Knowing your training capacity concerning your lifestyle and physical condition. Busy athletes might only have 6-8 hours to dedicate to training. Additionally, some athletes may need to incorporate more rest days to avoid over-training or injury.
  • Dedicating workouts to focus on disciplines in which you’re the weakest. For beginners, this is likely the swim portion of the triathlon. It may be beneficial to plan up to 3-4 pool sessions per week to improve freestyle technique and build confidence in the water.

There are a few different lengths of triathlon training plans available, the most common being 12, 16, and 20 weeks. There are also shorter 8-week plans and longer 24-week (or 6-month) plans.

Understanding the fundamentals of periodization

Friel believes that “the key to successful training is to vary the intensity and duration of training throughout the year.” Periodization is an important concept in many training programs. According to Joe Friel, a former professional triathlete and author of the book The Triathlete’s Training Bible, it is key to successful training. Friel believes that varying the intensity and duration of training throughout the year is important.

Joe’s principles of periodization state that the frequency, intensity, and volume of your training should gradually increase as you get closer to your A-race, to ensure that you are in peak physical condition for the event, especially for age-group athletes Joe believes that you can only be at your peak fitness a couple times each year. This is why it’s usually recommended that you only choose a couple A-races, especially for athletes that are a bit older.

If you want to understand the framework your triathlon training plan is based on, learning the fundamentals of periodization is a good place to start.

What is periodization training?

Periodization training is the deliberate manipulation of training variables to optimize performance for competition, prevent overtraining, and progress performance.

Variable adjustments in duration, load, or volume are planned out over a specific period to achieve these objectives.

For athletes, the goal is to mix up load variables (training intensity or volume) at different times of the year to allow the athlete to peak at certain times. These peak times usually coincide with competitions.

Periodization has been applied to resistance and strength activities like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, as well as endurance-associated activities like running and cycling.

3 phases of periodization training

There are typically three phases used in a periodization training cycle: long-term (macrocycle), medium-term (mesocycle), and short-term (microcycles).


These are the big-picture planning cycles. They typically span a longer period, such as a year, before a competition. However, they can span longer periods, such as 4 years, for athletes competing in the Olympic games.


These tend to be 4–6 week cycles within the macrocycle. For example, they typically involve 3 weeks of progressive-intensity training followed by a week of lower-intensity training.


These are short-duration cycles within the mesocycle. They tend to last a week. They can vary in intensity on the different training days of the week.

The beginner triathlon training gear you’ll need

Although triathlon racing and training require a lot of gear, it does not have to be expensive, especially when you are just beginning.

You most likely won’t know what gear is best for you until you have a season or two of triathlon training and racing experience. Start with cheaper, second-hand items and then upgrade as your ability and experience increase. Seek out your local triathlon club, you’ll meet great like-minded people who will be at various levels in competing and probably have the gear to sell.

For the swim


The race kit you will be wearing for the entirety of the swim, bike, and run is designed especially for triathlon. It is made of a material that will quickly dry after the swim, has a built-in chamois for comfort during the bike ride, but is not too thick to feel like you’re wearing a nappy during the run.

Choose a snug-fitting item that will stretch when wet and has ample rear pockets to hold energy gels and any other race-essential items.

pay attention to any uncomfortable seams that may cause painful chafing during a race. If you’re planning on competing anywhere other than the tropics, you’ll need a triathlon-specific wetsuit (you can find our picks for men and women), which is designed for swimming mobility and buoyancy.

It’s a good idea to try on a swimsuit before you buy it, by taking a test swim. This way you can make sure it feels comfortable in the water since it will feel tighter on dry land. The only other thing you need for swimming is a pair of goggles that fit well on your face. Test the seal before you buy them.

For the bike

How to train for a sprint triathlonAerodynamics is not as important for beginner triathletes as comfort and fitness when choosing a bike. Enjoyment of the ride is more likely if the bike is comfortable and fits well.

To find the ideal bike frame size and model for you, start with Retül’s Frame Finder technology. Then, search for the bike second-hand. Make sure to always wear a helmet and other required safety gear when riding, especially during a race.

Retül’s new Frame Finder software is designed to remove the guesswork from the equation. What it is and how it works. Currently, baseline bike fit data is generally collected traditionally – with a tape measure and a piece of paper or spreadsheet.

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Wearing sunglasses is important to protect your eyes from flying insects and road debris. If you want to make small upgrades to your bike, the next steps might be a new saddle, which can fine-tune the comfort level of nearly any steed, or bike shoes and cleats with corresponding pedals, which will connect you further to your bike and give you the benefit of the upward portion of the pedal stroke.

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For the run

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To participate in a triathlon, the only additional equipment you need is running shoes. You can use the same shoes you would for any 10K race. A race belt to hold your number is a simple, inexpensive upgrade that will keep your clothing from being damaged by safety pins.

Good to know

A triathlon-specific bike or clip-on aero bars are not necessary when you first start, but you will come to appreciate them over time. Set your bike up on a stationary trainer so you can practice getting comfortable in the aero position and clipping in and out of your pedals. This will help you avoid tipping over.

Beginner triathlon training recovery rules

You wouldn’t just go and do a swim session, then a bike session and then a run. You would have a plan that would integrate all three sports and have a certain amount of recovery built in,” notes world-renowned coach Joe Friel. Recovery is just as important as swimming, biking, and running when it comes to training for a triathlon. “I see recovery as part of your training program. You wouldn’t just go do a swim session, then a bike session, and then a run. You would have a plan that would incorporate all three sports and have a certain amount of recovery built in,” world-renowned coach Joe Friel points out.

The mental game

Having a positive attitude right from the start is the key to success in endurance sports. It doesn’t matter what the end result is, if you have a positive attitude you will be successful.

Although it may not always go according to plan, it is important to remember that each race is a learning opportunity. The journey of training and racing is really all about the daily personal challenges and milestones, the people you meet, and the lessons you learn along the way.

Not only does this benefit your health, but it can also help you perform better in races.

Racing and training

You shouldn’t only race on the water when doing a triathlon! It is essential to eat and hydrate properly to maintain quality training and to ensure you have enough energy on race day, Magdalena Boulet advised. Boulet is the vice president of innovation, research, and development at GU Energy Labs and an Olympic marathoner. “For training sessions that are longer than 60 minutes, you should consume 200-300 calories per hour to deliver energy and delay bonking,” Boulet said. “You can also reduce mental fatigue and decrease muscle damage by adding branched chain amino acids.”

Boulet recommends taking one or two 100-calorie gels per hour with water, as well as consuming a 21-ounce bottle of sports drink to maintain ideal hydration status, to enhance performance by increasing focus and decreasing perceived effort during exercise.

If you want to improve your performance, you need to focus on recovery within 30 minutes of completing a training session or race. According to Boulet, this means consuming a recovery drink with a quality protein source and carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores.

On race day, you’ll be able to choose whether to use nutrition products that are supplied on the course, or to carry your own with you in water bottles or a bento box on the bike, and in a hydration belt, handheld bottle, or the pockets of your tri kit on the run.

A more liquid fuel source will be easier to digest while running. Energy chews are an alternative for people who do not like the texture of energy gel.

At the end of the day, sports nutrition comes down to what your body can digest, what works with your chemistry, and what you actually like. It’s important to experiment during training to find what works best for you. As Boulet said, “One recipe does not fit all.”


Kim Schwabenbauer, a registered dietitian, argues that a 24/7 commitment to proper nutrition is necessary to support an athletic lifestyle.

According to Schwabenbauer, if you want your body to perform at its best, you need to make sure it’s properly hydrated and nourished. To do this, she advises focusing on minimally processed foods when grocery shopping, and simple cooking methods that preserve nutrients. She also recommends paying attention to your food and fluid intake during the day and consuming a mix of carbohydrates and protein after workouts that last an hour or more.

Sleep and sleep well

Sleep is imperative for both recovery and athletic performance. Many endurance athletes need around 9 hours of sleep every night, with some athletes taking naps as well.

Sleep is an essential element of training for a triathlon that should never be overlooked. Not getting enough sleep can lead to poorer training sessions and less endurance, plus it can increase the risk of overtraining and getting injured.

There are a few ways to measure sleep, like using the Whoop strap or Fitbit, but many athletes already know how well they’ve slept. Creating good sleep and recovery habits is mostly a matter of being disciplined with time management and paying attention to how your body feels.



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