Of all the intense, all-consuming sports out there, few require as much discipline, stamina, and adaptability as the triathlon. But despite all of that, it’s also one of the most rewarding: only a chosen few can say that they’ve raced through open water, sprinted, and cycled all in one event!
If you’re looking into starting your triathlon career (or even more excitingly, if you just signed up for your first race), read on to learn what you can expect from your first triathlon and how to start getting yourself ready to race right now.
What to expect
First, the very basics: A triathlon is a three-part race that starts off with a swim, transitions to cycling, then finishes off with a run to the finish line.
Because the race has three different legs, your training will need to cover all three events. The earlier you can start your training, the better. For the best results, start training at least three months prior to your race, and practice each of the three disciplines several times per week. Don’t forget to incorporate rest days and resistance training days as well to keep your training well-rounded!
Between events, you’ll be grabbing stuff from your transition bag to move from different disciplines quickly, so you’ll also want to pack your bag in the most efficient way possible for quick transition times and practice these transitions as you get closer to race time.
There are a variety of triathlon events that you can choose to sign up for that have different distances and intensities. Choose one that most accurately lines up with your current fitness level. If this is your first triathlon event, you might want to start with a Sprint or a Super Sprint event.
- Sprints involve a 0.5-mile swim, 12.5-mile bike ride, and 3.1-mile run
- Super Sprints have a 0.3-mile swim, 6.2-mile bike ride, and 1.6-mile run
However, there are other longer, more intense options like Olympic and Ironman events that you can also sign up for if you feel prepared. Give yourself an honest evaluation of your athletic abilities and remember, you can always work up to these bigger events over time and with more experience.
Stuff you’ll need
Because there are so many different pieces of equipment you’ll need during your triathlon, you’re going to want a bag to carry it all around in. While you could use a regular gym bag, many triathletes find that a specialized triathlon bag allows them to stay organized and streamline the process in between events.
A triathlon kit is a specialized suit that was created specifically for triathlon events and can be worn comfortably during your swim, cycle, and run without changing. However, they’re not necessary, especially when you’re first starting out. Some people even do the entire race in their swimsuits! Play around with your gear to figure out what is most comfortable for you.
The race will generally provide you with a swim cap that has your participation number on it, but you might want to buy one yourself to practice swimming (and maybe to wear underneath your official cap if you’re going to be swimming in a cold body of water.
You’ll also need well-fitting goggles with a tight seal during your swim to help you see clearly and protect your eyes while underwater.
Your cycle is definitely the largest investment that you’ll make during your triathlon training. If this is your first race, or if you aren’t planning on doing triathlons on the regular, you don’t have to go with the most expensive and high-tech option right away. Remember, you can always upgrade down the line when you know more about what you want out of your equipment.
To optimize your pedaling efficiency, you may want to invest in specialty bike pedals and biking shoes.
Safety first! Make sure that your helmet fits well and offers full protection to ensure that you’re protecting yourself during the cycling portion of your race.
For the final run portion of the race, all you’ll really need is a good pair of supportive running shoes! Plan accordingly based on the location of your race: you may want trail shoes if you’re planning on participating in an event where you have to run on rough terrain.
Finally, you can’t forget the importance of hydration! Keep a reusable water bottle handy for rehydrating throughout your race.
Don’t let Cramps or Soreness hold you back
While your overall nutrition is critical, make sure you have HOTSHOT for Muscle Cramps in your kit. Cramps are especially prevalent amongst endurance athletes and nothing can stop you in your tracks mid-race like an excruciatingly painful cramp. Take one before the race to help prevent any cramping early on and have another in your kit in case a cramp creeps up on you. Also try HOTSHOT for Muscle Soreness in training and on race day. It will help you recover faster and feel less muscle pain the day after.
Other things you’ll probably want to pack:
- Body lubricant to prevent chafing
- Sunglasses for eye protection during your cycle and run
- Hat or visors for keeping the sun out of your face
Key things to keep in mind
Consider hiring a coach.
Triathlons are, in a word, daunting, especially if you’re brand new to the sport. If you want to give yourself the best chance at the competition, triathlon coaches are an invaluable tool for learning how to train and optimizing your speed for all three competitions.
Your diet is a huge component of your triathlon training, and you simply can’t operate at your best if you aren’t properly fueling and recovering. Make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet with ample amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to keep you operating at top speed and strength.
Don’t forget supplements either, both during your training and on race day. HOTSHOT can help prevent muscle cramps and/or muscle soreness so that you can finish out each race strong.
Don’t neglect your recovery.
Triathlon training can be incredibly taxing on the body, so don’t neglect the importance of rest and recovery days to give your muscles a chance to recover and grow. Incorporate active rest days into each week’s schedule, and add training days at lower intensities, to let your muscles recover from all the hard work they’re doing the rest of the time and to prevent burnout.
Spend a good amount of time practicing those transitions.
The multiple disciplines involved in triathlon make it unique, but the race aspect means that you’ll need to move from swim to run to cycling as seamlessly as you can. Get really familiar with all of your equipment and figure out how to pack them in the right order that allows for quick, efficient transitions in between events.
Follow a training schedule.
Remember, triathlons require a ton of training, and random unplanned workouts really won’t do if you want to be competitive. Make time in your schedule to dedicate to all three events (running, cycling, and swimming), and dedicate extra time to focusing on the events that you feel are your weakest to improve your time and endurance.
Join a triathlon club or group in your area.
The triathlon community is booming, which means that you should be able to find others in your area who are also interested in competing! Surround yourself with like-minded athletes, maybe some who are most experienced, so you can get first-person experience and bounce feedback off of each other.
Triathlons are daunting, taxing, and exhilarating all in one. Training all three disciplines -- and having the right equipment on hand -- can make race day go much more smoothly, even if it’s your very first event. Happy training!
Photo Credit: Photo by Gregorio Dorta Martin