What Is A Triathlon? Complete Triathlon Guide

Triathlons are becoming more popular every summer. People are using them as a goal to focus on their fitness routine. 

It is no wonder, really, as a triathlon improves many aspects of your fitness, but what is a triathlon?

If you are new to the triathlon world, you are in the right place.

What Is A Triathlon? And What Events Are In A Triathlon?

A triathlon is a multisport event that consists of three sports. Races start with a swim, and then once the competitors are out of the water, they cycle before finishing with a run.

How Does A Triathlon Work?

What is the triathlon order of events? Triathlons have a mass start in the water and are non-stop until the triathletes run across the finish line.

Between each discipline, the competitors enter a transition area. The first transition is known as T1 and is where the competitors leave the water and get ready to start their bike ride.

There are several techniques to make the transition as smooth, and as fast as possible, so the racers lose the minimum amount of time.

At T2, the competitor’s transition from the bike to the run, is normally more manageable, as they have usually dried out by this point.

An amateur triathlon has different age groups, gender categories, and distances. But everyone will race together. However, if it is a large event with many people, there will be staggered starts.

What Is A Sprint Triathlon?

A standard Sprint triathlon consists of a 750m swim, a 20 km bike ride, and a 5km run. These events are considered entry-level and are ideal for those who want to give triathlons a go or want something to focus on to start their fitness journey.

You will find that organizers will modify the distances of some sprint triathlons. This is to take the local terrain and road conditions into account, making the race accessible and safer for novice triathletes.

Some events include Super Sprint Triathlons, which are shorter. They have a 500m swim, a 10km ride, and a 2.5km run.

What Is An Olympic Triathlon?

An Olympic Triathlon is twice the length of a sprint. If you enter one of these events, you need to be prepared to swim 1,5km, ride 40km, and run 10km.

The Olympic triathlon distance is significantly more challenging than a sprint event. However, if you already have a good fitness base, an Olympic triathlon is an excellent goal to have.

What Is A 70.3 Triathlon?

A 70.3 is also known as a Half-Ironman and is an incredible challenge due to its distance. The figure of 70.3 indicates the total length of the event.

The distance is broken down into a 1.9 km swim, a 90km ride, and a 21.09 km run or a half marathon. Therefore, it is apparent that you need to put in the training time to ensure you have the strength and stamina to finish.

A Half-Ironman is considered to be reasonably approachable for people who already have triathlon experience and fitness. Especially when you compare it to a full Ironman, which requires an exceptional level of commitment to training.

Most Ironman events only have the 70.3 events listed. Even the ones that include full Ironman competitions see more people entering the 70.3 events.

What Is An Ironman Triathlon?

Many consider a full Ironman the pinnacle of multisport events, especially if you manage to get to the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

An Ironman is broken down into a 3.8km swim, a 180 km bike ride, and a full marathon run of 42.195km.

However, there is a more extended version called the Ultraman. This event takes place in Kona and is limited to 40 competitors. The extended distances see racers doing a 10km open ocean swim, a 421 km bike ride, and an ultra-marathon of 515km. The whole race takes 3 days and is as gruelling as it sounds.

How To Be a Triathlete?

Before you make the commitment there are a few questions you need to ask yourself:


  • Am I healthy?

A triathlon is a real test of your health as well as fitness, so you need to be in a good place to start with. 

Get checked at your local GP and eliminate any issues which may hold you back before you get started. 

If you have any old niggles or repeating injuries, wait until you are fully recovered before starting out on a new challenge, it may be frustrating, but it will be worth it in the end.


  • What kind of level of fitness do I have? Can I run, swim and cycle?

If you can’t run a 5k, you’ll struggle, however, if you can swim, run a 5k and ride a bike, you should be able to train for a sprint triathlon. 

An Ironman, the 140.6-mile event with 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running however, is more than nearly all first-time triathletes should attempt on their first race and is one of the toughest challenges on the planet. 

Begin with a shorter sprint-distance event (400 to 500 yards of swimming, 11 to 15 miles of cycling and around 3.1 miles of running) or an Olympic-distance event (0.9 miles of swimming, 24.8 miles of cycling and 6.2 miles of running).


  • Can I afford the kit?

Triathlons need a little more kit than just a swimsuit and trainers. 

You’ll need a bike, bike shorts, a flat kit bag (which will be a godsend if you get a puncture), a helmet, goggles, a race belt (essential for clipping your race number on so you can be easily tracked), a wetsuit, sunglasses, running shoes, a triathlon suit, water bottle, running hat, a transition towel (to lay your stuff out on so you can spot it’s yours) and wetsuit lubrication to avoid any hickey-like marks forming on your neck and to ease the suit on and off (which is a skill in itself). 

You might have some of these items already, but the chances are you won’t have a spare tri-suit knocking about in your wardrobe. 

Don’t panic though, you don’t have to buy all of this and you can always hire or borrow a kit.


  • Do you have the time?

Training for a triathlon takes time, even a sprint distance requires a solid 12 weeks of good training and dedication to successfully complete the challenge. 

If this is a particularly busy time in your life, it may be hard to allow the time to train effectively. 

Training will become like a second job and practising running, swimming and cycling can eat into your time. 

Training affects the rest of your lifestyle too, and again this takes time. 

Staying hydrated, eating right, stretching, and getting plenty of sleep all to make big demands on your time.


  • What distances will you choose?

For most, a sprint triathlon distance is the perfect starting race, consisting of a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run. 

However, if you’ve already got a marathon under your belt and are looking for the next challenge, you may be better off considering a full-distance triathlon. 

The standard distance is a 1500m swim, a 40km ride and a 10km run. A middle-distance triathlon is a 2.5km swim, 80km ride and 20km run. 

The long-distance triathlon is a 4km swim, 120km ride and 30km run. The toughest challenge of them all, only for the brave, is the Ironman, which is a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and a 42km run, so the swim, cycle and then a marathon.


  • When will you train?

You’re going to need to fit your training programme into your regime and that may not be easy with work and other commitments. 5am starts will become oh too familiar. 

Early morning training is also great as a parent, as your kids are asleep so you won’t miss anything and your partner can take care of them if they wake up, all before work. 

Don’t just say when you’re going to train either, write it down and make a schedule, that way you’re more likely to remain on plan when life gets in the way, don’t let curveballs interfere with your training.


  • How will you train?

It is recommended you implement a training plan from day one, enabling you to plan in advance the goal for each session. 

For most people this will compromise training 5-6 times a week, with most athletes averaging around 10 hours of training per week, the majority being spent on the bike. 

The swim is often the hardest part of training and so a lot of people will focus on their swimming, starting in a pool and working their way to an open swim. 

For beginners, it may be worth investing in some swimming lessons to brush up on technique and ensure you are as strong (and safe) as possible when you hit the water on race day.


  • When will you race?

Always have an end date. Rather than ‘I want to do a triathlon this year’, find the event you want to do and sign up. 

Once you’ve done that you’re committed to a deadline which will give you the extra incentive to stick with your plan. 

You can then also start researching the event itself and even go and check out some of the routes to give you more of an idea of what you’re working towards. 


  • Why am I doing this?

You have to ask yourself why. Being honest with yourself as to why you want to do something is a huge part of the journey to achieving your goal. 

Is it to prove you can? To challenge yourself? Or did your brother complete a triathlon last year and you just won’t let him beat you at anything? 

Whether it be to raise money for charity, improve health or because you’re super competitive, knowing what’s driving you towards the finish line is part of what’s going to get you there when your body starts telling you it’s ready to stop.

How Do I Train For A Triathlon? 

No matter how long or short your triathlon is, you need to train for it. So here are some training tips that will help you prepare for your first event.

1. Start Early

If you plan to compete in your first sprint triathlon, you need to start training at least 12 weeks before the event. If you are already pretty fit, you may get away with giving yourself about 8 weeks.

However, if you are just starting your fitness journey, it would be wise to start 16 weeks before your race.

2. Work Out A Schedule

There is a lot to fit in, as you need to train for three different sports. You need to do at least two sessions for each activity every week.

You should also plan for a double session, where you do a bike and run back-to-back, once a week. 

If your event is in open water, you need to do an open-water swim each week to get used to the experience.

To ensure you can reach race distance, you need to start off small and gradually increase the distances. Don’t go crazy though, keep your distance increases below 10%.

Your aim is to be able to go at least 10% further than the race distance in each activity.

3. Build Strength

You must add strength training to your workout schedule. Your gym sessions should include exercises that build your primary muscles used for swimming, riding and running.

You should never neglect your core, as it acts as a platform to push your pedals and keeps you stable while running and swimming. 

It is also good to work on your flexibility, so yoga and Pilates are great cross-training activities.

4. Don’t Forget To Rest

All this exercise sounds like a lot to fit in, but it is possible with good time management. However, you also need to factor in recovery time, as your body needs rest to become stronger.

Wrapping it Up

The best thing to do is to enter a triathlon and get training. 

Just make sure you have enough time to train and get everything you need.


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