How to Become a Triathlete & Race Your 1st Sprint Triathlon

No longer reserved for only elite athletes, triathlons have become a mainstream test of endurance. Whether you’re a weekend warrior out for a new challenge, or you’re just starting a fitness journey and want a race to work towards, sprint triathlon training is for you.

The Benefits of Triathlon Training

There are many different triathlon distances. Sprint triathlons fall on the shorter end of the spectrum. Most sprint events start with a 0.25 to 0.5-mile swim, followed by a 10 to 15-mile bike, and then a 5K (3.1 miles) run.

A sprint triathlon is a challenge that anyone can complete, as long as they are motivated and committed.

Many benefits come along with sprint triathlon training.

  • Excellent cross-training: In triathlon you naturally incorporate cross-traininBeginner Triathlon: Your Complete Guide to Your First Race – Triathleteg as you prepare for all three disciplines, resulting in more well-rounded, full-body strength.
  • Weight management: If losing weight is a goal for you, triathlon training will help you meet the recommended weekly exercise goals for weight loss. Swimming, biking, and running all scorch calories to help you drop pounds.
  • Longevity and heart health: Engaging in moderate-intensity exercise regularly improves heart health and increases lifespan.
  • Personal challenge: Imagine the immense pride you’ll feel crossing that finish line and all the bragging rights that come with it.

How do I become a triathlete?

For those who are out of shape and feeling intimidated by the journey necessary to become a triathlete, there is one must-have psychological tool to become a triathlete.

It’s called “segmenting, ” a key technique recommended by human performance expert Dr Eric Potterat, PhD, former Force Psychologist for the U.S. Navy SEALs and current advisor to the 2020 MLB world champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

“If you’re thrust into a seemingly overwhelming, stressful situation, the best thing you can do is just manage one step at a time and focus on what’s controllable,” Dr Potterat said.

If your goal is to go from being an overweight couch potato to a fit, healthy triathlete, break the goal down into small, manageable tasks and take them on one step at a time.

A great rule of thumb to use with whatever endurance exercise you undertake is to make the level of difficulty feel like a 7/10; just hard enough to feel challenging but not so difficult that you’re smashed or don’t want to do it again.

How much time do I need to train for a sprint triathlon?

In triathlon training, the bare minimum is four workouts per week.

This would consist of the following:

  • One long bike ride
  • One long run
  • One swim
  • One strength training session

This roughly equates to four hours of training per week. Consistently performing four hours a week of triathlon training.

If your goal is to finish a triathlon — then weaving four hours per week into your schedule will get you to where you want to go.

If you have a performance goal in mind beyond simply finishing, logging close to 7 hours per week will enable you to finish a triathlon feeling strong.

For longer races like half-Ironman and Ironman, training to compete — or both — the time demands begin to go upward beyond ten hours as well as the number of weeks you’ll need to train in preparation.

Program Components

There are three underlying characteristics of successful training routines:


Aerobic fitness improvements come with repeated, consistent training. Swim, bike, and run most days of the week, for at least 8-12 weeks, and you’ll most likely cross the finish line of your race successfully. A structured training program will certainly maximize your preparation and speed, but consistency is the most important component.


Recovery is two-fold in a training plan. First, every week, build in at least one rest day. Second, on a big-picture level, scale back training with a lighter volume week every 3-6 weeks. Your body becomes stronger and more adaptable this way.

Mental Fitness

Why is it that some people can train successfully, yet underperform on race day? For a large majority, it’s due to poor mental fitness. The saying “you are what you think most of the time” applies here. If you are struggling with intrinsic motivation and arriving at your first race feeling like you’re going to fail, you just may do so.

Prep Your Mental Game

Find ways to maximize motivation, set realistic and positive expectations, and control the aspects of training and racing that are within your power.

Essential Gear

Triathlon can be an expensive sport, but it doesn’t have to be. There are only a few pieces of gear that are absolutely essential for a race.

Gear for the swim includes:

  • Bathing suit (+ shorts/shirt), or a triathlon suit
  • Swimming goggles

A triathlon suit is made specifically for the sport and includes a little padding to make cycling more comfortable. You can wear a triathlon suit for the entire race. They are very convenient but can be a bit pricey for your first race.

There’s nothing wrong with wearing a bathing suit if you’d prefer not to shell out money for gear just yet. Women can wear a swimsuit with a sports bra underneath for comfort, and throw on a pair of shorts in transition before the bike/run.

Men can wear spandex-style bathing suit shorts and can add shorts over the suit along with a shirt in T1.

Some race rules prohibit exposed torsos during the bike and run. Read over the race rules to understand what additional gear you’ll need in transition if you’re wearing a bathing suit.

Wetsuits create buoyancy, which can be welcome for those less comfortable with the swim. They also keep you warm; a major benefit in chilly early-season races. For these reasons, a wetsuit can be a nice piece of gear to have for your first sprint triathlon.

Gear for the bike and run includes:

  • Bike (any kind)
  • Helmet
  • Shoes

You can complete a triathlon on any type of bike. You’ll be faster and expend less effort on a road bike that’s meant for cycling quickly on the streets. 

If you’ve been cycling for a while, you probably have a pair of cycling shoes that you use to clip into your bike pedals. If that’s the case, you’d use those shoes for the bike portion and switch to sneakers for the run. If you don’t have clip-in shoes, you can do the bike and run in the same pair of sneakers.

What kind of events are beginner-friendly triathlons? 

Traditionally, a sprint triathlon is what’s advised as a first event for those new to multisport. But there are other beginner-friendly triathlons, often called a Try-A-Tri, that may be a better fit in consideration of your background and goals. The approximate distances are 750-800m Swim (1/2 mile swim) / 20km Bike (12.5-mile bike) / 5km Run (3.1-mile run).  This triathlon distance is experiencing the greatest growth most likely because it’s a manageable distance for the general population and will keep you in great shape without consuming your entire life. I prefer the title “Short-Distance Triathlon” since this event is so popular amongst recreational triathletes and the general population and as one of our clients said so perfectly “I don’t know why they call it a Sprint Triathlon because there will be no sprinting going on in my race!”

For beginners, we suggest seeking out a Try-a-Tri event as your first foray into the sport. 

The World Triathlon Corporation (owner of the Ironman brand), studied the optimal path into the sport for newcomers. They found that for the most part, those who entered a full-Ironman for their first event tended to leave the sport behind after a less than enjoyable experience.

But those who work their way up the ladder from a Try-a-Try or sprint to an Olympic distance and so on to an Ironman — picking up myriad skills along the way — have a more satisfying experience and are more likely to stay in the sport longer.

This makes sense when you consider that the longer the triathlon the more variables we are confronted with. As you progress up to long-distance triathlon the number of variables — associated with gear, nutrition, body regulation, and fatigue — increases by a factor of two or three. 

A newcomer to the sport who starts off small and gradually builds up fitness, knowledge, and advanced skills will be more prepared for the many challenges that long-distance triathlon inevitably brings.

How do I find a triathlon that’s a good fit for me?

The best place to start is a local triathlon association or club, located in your city, your state, or your province.  If you’re near a store that caters to triathletes, they can also be an excellent source of information. If you can’t find a triathlon-specific store, be sure to check running shoe stores and bike shops.

Reach out to the organization, club, or store and ask if they can point you toward any local events that are a good match for beginners. In particular, sprint-distance races without too much wind or too many hills, or a rough-water swim.

Can I get away without swimming in a pool before my first triathlon?

Not swimming in a pool before your first triathlon is far from ideal. This is particularly true if you don’t have a solid swimming background. The best way to build the skill and confidence you need for a triathlon swim is by swimming.

Can I train on a stationary bike?

Yes. In fact, as you train for your first triathlon, you can use a stationary bike for nearly all your bike training.

It is important to do at least a small portion of your training on a bike. You want to make sure you’re comfortable — that your bike fits you well — and that you feel safe while riding on the road. 

You also want to have confidence that you can get on and off the bike.

Is it OK to use a mountain bike?

It’s OK to use a mountain bike in a sprint triathlon. In fact, it’s not an uncommon site. You may even see mountain bikes in Olympic-distance triathlons. 

You’ll sacrifice speed, but if your goal is simply to finish and enjoy the day, there’s no reason you can’t use a mountain bike.

What about strength training?

Training with weights has historically been taboo for endurance athletes, especially in the distance running and cycling worlds.

Studies show that strength training boosts efficiency in long-distance swimming, biking, and running. Better efficiency translates into this: being able to hold a faster pace with the same level of effort.

Resistance training helps your body to become stronger in a way that your body and your core muscle groups are not leaking energy as you move. Rather, your body channels more energy into forward movement.

How do I prepare for an open-water swim?

Your first step in preparing for open-water swimming is to buy a wetsuit.

Why is a wetsuit crucial for beginners heading to a triathlon with an open-water swim? 

To ease the stress — stress that, unchecked, can make for a miserable experience. A wetsuit will help you de-stress the most nerve-wracking aspect of triathlon: the disorientation and cold of open water swimming in a river, lake, or ocean. 

A wetsuit provides buoyancy. Should you freak out during the swim, the wetsuit will help you float. You can just lie on your back and catch your breath. Once you calm down, you can continue with the race.

A triathlon wetsuit also provides warmth. Warmth is also important to feel confident in open water. Being cold when you’re feeling fear can result in a shaking response. A wetsuit can help you keep this in check.

Besides using a wetsuit, it’s essential to practice open-water swimming. Ideally, you’ll do this in a controlled environment where you can see the shore and touch the bottom.

How do you train for triathlon transitions?

5 Tips to smoother transitions in Triathlon - ScienceTraining

One of the most valuable skills you can develop in your preparation for your first triathlon is your ability to transition from swimming to biking and biking to running.

A key target of training your swim-to-bike transition is teaching your body to handle the shift from exercising in a horizontal position (swimming) to an upright position (biking). 

You want your physiology to reroute the blood flow quickly. This will allow you to avoid a massive heart rate spike when you get out of the water — a heart rate spike that demands over 10 minutes of biking before you cool down and stabilize.

A similar crossover takes place in transitioning from riding a bike to running on the road. 

To practice the swim-to-bike transition, there’s no need to set your fancy bike up on a pool deck and splash it with chlorinated water. 

Rather, do this: perform a swim where you intermittently pull yourself on deck, put on your running shoes, and jog or run in place for 10 to 15 seconds. 

This will train your body to make the blood flow changeover smoother.

To prep your bike-to-run transition for a sprint triathlon, work in about six practice sessions. Put in some riding, then change over to your running shoes and run.

If your race is longer (and you’re on the bike longer), like an Olympic distance triathlon, shoot for about 12 to 15 bike-to-run practice sessions. For a half-Ironman, make that 20 to 30. For a full Ironman, well, the more you can do the better.


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