Time to considering going multi-sport and trying your first triathlon?
If you’re thinking about entering your first triathlon, here are just some of things you need to consider and prepare before taking part in your first race.
Pick an Event
There are different types of event that you can take part in;
Super Sprint – 400m swim, 10km bike ride and a 2.5km run
Sprint – 750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run
Standard (Olympic) distance – 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run
70.3/middle/Half-Ironman distance – 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run
Full/long/Ironman distance – 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42km run
If you’ve only been running relatively short distances (less than 5k), or cycling 10k then perhaps the best place for you to start is the Super Sprint, however you may be more prepared if you’ve been running fast marathons and cycling regularly.
Part of the appeal of triathlons is that you are only as good as your weakest event, it pulls people in from all of the disciplines. It obviously pays to be confident that none of the events are next to impossible for you to do and practice is the only way to achieve this. The training will quickly highlight your weakest event, for the most part swimming tends to be the weak link.
The other factor in choosing an event should be whether or not you are capable of swimming in open water. It can be an issue for some. Your mind conjures up the Jaws theme, you feel something brush against your leg, all out panic sets in, the rescue boat fishes you out, you return to shore feeling stupid, hiding under your towel. Or, you do a sprint tri where the swim is based in a pool!
It’s up to you, but if you decide to enter a Tri with an open water swim then make sure you test your mettle in a lake first!
This brings us onto our first bit of kit, the wetsuit and whether or not you will need one.
The following is taken directly from British Triathlon’s rules;
“The use of wetsuits is forbidden or mandatory if the following combinations of distance and water temperature are attained:
Swim length Forbidden Above Mandatory Below
Up to 1500m 22°C 14°C
1501-3000m 23°C 15°C
3001-4000m 24°C 16°C
At temperatures below 11°C it is recommended that open water swimming does not take place.”
“The above temperatures are based on water temperatures alone and assume that the wind chill factor is negligible. If wind chill is significant, swim distances may be reduced at higher temperatures. At the following temperatures, the maximum swim distances are:
Temperature Maximum Distance Permissible
It is recommended that wetsuits are worn by all novices and Age-Groupers up to 22°C.”
It’s pretty self explanatory but it’s worth checking with the venue ahead of the event what the current water temperature is.
If you’re not sticking to pool swims then there’s the choice of wetsuit to be made.
Triathlon wetsuits range in price anywhere from £100 to £600 and are supplied by companies such as Zone 3, Zoot, Orca and Huub. The quality of the neoprene used in the suits, the flexibility and handy features (such as ‘easy-off cuffs’) tend to improve as the price increases.
Despite all of the features though, by far the most important aspect of the suit is that the wetsuit fits you well. We strongly recommend you ask to try on a suit and make sure there is a member of staff available who knows what to look for when checking the fit. The arm cuffs of the suit should start about one to two inches above where the hand hinges at the wrist while the leg cuffs should start about an inch or two above the ankle bone.
It’s important to then take the slack out of the arms and legs by starting near the cuff, pull the suit up the arm, move up an inch, pull again, move up an inch, pull again etc etc until all of the slack has moved up into the shoulder and torso area. This will ensure that there is as much material available as possible for zipping up the suit. The back of the suit shouldn’t be loose at all, it should follow the contours of your back closely.
The main point to remember is that when the suit is wet it will feel better, the neoprene slides over the skin in high motion areas such as the shoulders, making mobility easier. A glide product such as Body Glide or Zone 3’s Natural Glide, can be used in high friction areas to try to prevent wetsuit rash, both available in-store at Advance Performance. We offer wetsuit fitting in-store year-round, but also organise brand wetsuit testing events at various venues, with the full brand range and sizes and the opportunity for the wetsuit to be tested in the water.
Secondly, a trisuit allows you to wear a single garment that you don’t have to change for the swim, bike or run which is worn underneath the wetsuit. An alternative is a vest and tri-short combination, which some people prefer, but others don’t like as some vests can ride up a little.
The trisuits are either short sleeved or vest-cut on top and are about mid-thigh in length. They are available in either non-compressive or compressive materials but they should be made out of breathable, moisture wicking fabrics to keep you feeling comfortable. The trisuits contain a thin chamois (that’s designed not to hold water) to protect your private parts on the bike, but don’t expect the same amount of padding as a dedicated cycling short provides. Trisuits are also available in-store at Advance Peformance.
Thirdly, there’s the bike and peripherals. If it’s your first triathlon but you don’t own a road bike and initially don’t want to buy one, then we would recommend hiring one, go to your local bike shop and have a chat with them.
More and more swim, bike or run shops are hiring equipment out for triathletes who haven’t committed to buying their own kit. They will also chat to you about the shoes you will require and the helmet that you will need. If you’re committing one hundred percent to triathlons then again, talk to your local bike shop about tri-specific bikes.
Once you have decided which bike to purchase then your next priority should be to have a bike fitting. The bike fitting ensures the geometry of the bike and it’s adjustable parts are correct for you so that you feel comfortable and produce your maximum amount of power while cycling.
Those are the must-have pieces of equipment but other bits to consider include lock laces, tri-belts, socks, water bottles, carbohydrate based drinks and recovery food.
This article won’t look at the specifics of a training plan as there are entire books on that subject, but needless to say you have to be proficient at swimming, riding a bike and running in order to take part in a triathlon.
It sounds obvious, but many beginners head into their first triathlon weak in one of the events, most commonly the swim, although it is different for everyone. If you’re not happy in an event get some coaching.
Advance Performance work closely with Mary Hardwick at ensuring that anyone who is struggling with an aspect of triathlon can get professional advice and training from coaches who have a proven track record of getting results.
Inspire2Tri have an endless pool which really is the equivalent of a swimming treadmill (the pool also does have treadmills), underwater cameras and coaching software that enable them to examine your swimming technique and adjust it it to make it more efficient. There is a studio where they regularly hold various classes and are geographically linked to several public paths making it a great venue to start your run or ride from. Also on site are two chartered physiotherapists, a rehabilitation specialist, and gait analysis facilities just in case you pick up a niggle, ache or pain along the way.
Strength and Conditioning can help to build some resilience for the training and also improve all aspects of your running, swimming and cycling. A good program should include foam rolling, stretching, core strength work, joint stability work, strength endurance and maximal strength work. I just so happen to be a strength and conditioning coach and would be more than happy to talk to you about how strength and conditioning can benefit your triathlon training and competition!
To book a free chat and functional movement screen just click here
The general rule of thumb, even for a sprint event is don’t go into it under-cooked. Be realistic with where you are in terms of fitness for all three events and base your decision of when to compete on your self-assessment.
You may cycle and run very effectively, and are happy with your fitness levels, but if you haven’t been swimming since you left school then potentially, your swim will take a lot out of you, the cycle and run will then be so much harder.
Have a chat with someone who has completed a triathlon, you can’t beat first-hand advice from someone who has been there and done it. Advance Performance sponsors a Run & Tri Group on Facebook where you can go to ask questions of other runners and triathletes.
You can read about the experiences of our Zone3 and Advance Performance sponsored Local Heroes, Kate and Andrews, in the guest blogs on this website.
There are loads of tips available for the change-over section between events, for example, did you know that a lot of serious triathletes use a thin rubber band to tie the heel of their cycling shoe to their frame? It’s so that their shoes are in the correct position to get their feet into faster, when they begin to pedal it simply snaps the rubber band and off they go!
Ways to carry energy gels, anti-friction creams, sunglasses, hats, and laces are all subjects that get discussed by triathletes so chatting to a seasoned competitor about them is a smart choice.
However, don’t stress too much if you’re not making some of the choices that other competitors are, remember that you are an individual and have to make choices that are comfortable for you. Also, remember that your second triathlon will probably be a smoother affair than your first, we learn from our mistakes.
Experience is a massive boon in triathlons, the multidisciplinary nature plus the changeovers means there is always room for improvement.
Alistair Brownlee famously suffered a 15 second penalty in the 2012 olympics, this was for leaving his cycling helmet outside of the box the competitors were given to keep their belongings in at the end of the cycling stage. If it can happen to the world’s best then it’s proof that we can learn from each race we compete in.
Try not to forget why you’re entering the event in the first place, to have fun.
It may be the biggest challenge of your sporting life to date but the atmosphere and camaraderie around the course is second to none, after all, you’re all out of the same boat together!
Enjoy your triathlon and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.
Blog by – Matt Jeffery