So you want to get into triathlons, eh?
I say, HELL YES.
Lots of you have asked:
How do I get started?
How did you learn about all of this?
What gear do I need?
How do I start training?
WELL, let’s get started then, shall we??
Step 1: Understand that triathlons can have some upfront costs.
There is a fair amount of gear that you’ll have to have, and it’s not always cheap. Sucks, I know. When I was doing my first tri, I worked at a nonprofit and I was FLOORED by how quickly everything adds up. Know that (a) this stuff lasts for a really long time, (b) you can always upgrade later, so don’t feel pressure to get all the best stuff early on, and (c) you don’t have to get it all at once. In fact, you can borrow things from friends if you want! I’ve accumulated my stuff over three years. Later in this post, I’ll outline what you NEED to have vs NICE to have.
Step 2: Sign up for a triathlon.
What!! But wait. I just asked about how to get started. I’m not tryna actually sign up for one yet?!
But I promise, once you put money down on the line and have a set date… things get real. And it gets the ball rolling!
So visit TriFind.com and find one near you!
Here are the types of triathlons:
Sprint Triathlon: Swim 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers), Bike 15 miles (24 kilometers) and Run 3.1 miles (5 kilometers).
Olympic Triathlon: Swim 0.93 miles (1.5 kilometers), Bike 24.8 miles (40 kilometers) and Run 6.2 miles (10 kilometers).
Half Ironman (70.3): Swim 1.2 miles (1.93 kilometers), Bike 56 miles (90 kilometers) and Run 13.1 miles (21 kilometers).
Ironman (140.6): Swim 2.4 miles (3.9-kilometer), Bike 112 miles (180-kilometer) and Run 26.2 miles (42.2-kilometer).
I’ll admit, I was a crazy person and my first triathlon was a full ironman (140.6). I… do not recommend this route unless you’re equally as masochistic as I am haha. Most people start with a sprint or olympic distance triathlon!
Regardless of the distance, make sure you sign up for one where you’ll have plenty of time to train. Depending on the distance, aim for between 8-10 weeks for shorter races, 12-16 for mid-distance races, and 16-20 weeks for super endurance races (i.e. the Ironman). Also, each course is different, so be sure to scope things out beforehand. If you’re not a strong swimmer, maybe don’t choose a race with an ocean open water. If you’re a runner, don’t choose a race with a brutally hard bike course. Etc, etc.
Step 3: Start to get your gear (and keep getting it).
Here’s the magic rule: Work with what you have. Upgrade when you want to.
NEED To Haves:
Cap & Goggles
If you don’t want to splurge on tri tank, shorts, or a trisuit, honestly don’t. Just wear your normal workout clothes!
Don’t worry, I signed up for my first tri (also a full Ironman lol) without owning a bike. Don’t feel like you need to buy a brand new fancy bike. Any hybrid or mountain bike in your garage will be perfect, or you can borrow a friend! Local shops can also rent bikes to you for the day/weekend.
Now that I’m a couple years into the sport, I’ve made a bigger investment in my bike. My current bike is a Specialized Amira Expert. I got it at a local bike shop in San Francisco, Velocipede Cycles.
My very first bike I owned was a Trek Lexa. I got it from a local Trek store. Going into bike shops and talking to employees was a great way for me to learn more about bikes, what kind of bike would fit my needs, and to try them out. I’d go home and think about it, and then buy it if it felt right.
Water bottle + water bottle cages on the bike
Especially as you get into longer distances, you gotta make sure you hydrate while riding! You can find both pretty easily at any bike shop for $15—30.
Patch kit & bike seat pack
This is important for you to have, in case you get a flat tire! During a race, you’re expected to be able to fix your own flat tires. For more complicated mechanical failures, some races will also have mechanics available. Store your patch kit in a bike seat pack!
MUST HAVE, NON NEGOTIABLE. Most companies will have an inexpensive option between $30-40.
Nice To Haves:
Triathlon shorts + tank/shirt OR Trisuit
Triathlon clothes are designed to work well for all three sports. It dries quickly out of the water, the butt pad is comfy for the bike ride but thin enough to run in, and there’s some compression. My fave tri shorts are from Zoot and 2XU, fave tank is 2XU. I haven’t tried wearing a trisuit yet, but maybe next year!
Wetsuits can cost an insane amount ($1000, CRAZY). Don’t bother with those. I have an Xterra one that I got during a sale for $80. Feel free to also borrow OR you can also RENT a wetsuit for the weekend.
Not NECESSARY but it is SOOO convenient for when you go from bike > run. Instead of using safety pins to pin your bib onto your shirt or trisuit, you can just use this belt to keep your bib. It just snaps around your waist! Also it’s only $10ish, win win!
New road bike
If you don’t want to borrow a bike or use your mountain bike, get a road bike. Road bikes are great for your first couple of years in triathlons as you get used to body positioning, handling, and riding. Plus they are versatile enough to use as commuting bikes! Expect to spend around $500-800 for a starter road bike, new. If you’re looking to get something you can grow into… budget for more than $1000.
These are bars you can add to your road bike to help get your body positioning into a more aerodynamic position… without having to buy a Time Trial bike. These can vary in price as well, but they do allow you to get lower and avoid wind drag.
Cycling shoes directly clip into your pedals and allow you to both push down AND pull up on the pedal stroke. This makes you faster and more efficient with each pedal.
Having a watch to help you monitor your speed and heart rate on the swim, bike, and run will help you better practice racing. I have a Garmin 645 — I’ll do a write up review of this guy soon!
Sometimes, I’ll store extra snacks in a snack pack (if I can’t fit everything into my jersey pockets), or on race day, so that it’s more easily accessible.
When you’re ready to SPLURGE:
NOTE: I haven’t gotten to anything on this list yet :P Maybe some day…
Triathlon /Time Trial bike
YOU READY TO GO FOR IT?? A triathlon-specific or time trial (TT) bike has specific handlebars that places your body into the most aerodynamic position possible. This bike is not cheap, and it’s not versatile. Expect to spend over $2,000, but it’s a worthwhile investment if you know you’ll be in the sport for a long time.
If you want more speed, get better wheels. I can’t stress enough how big an impact wheels can make on a bike. You can also rent faster wheels for race day! I’ve rented wheels for a race once and it’s a way cheaper option than buying those puppies yourself.
Again, anything to make yourself as aerodynamic as possible on the bike leg. This will make a bigger distance once you start increasing the race distance.
GPS bike computer
If you’re looking to really monitor how you’re doing on those bike legs, invest in a bike computer. It’ll capture your pace, heart rate, power, elevation, efforts, training status, segments, etc and you can analyze it afterwards.
Step 4: Make a plan and set your goals
I usually grab a free plan from Beginner Triathlete and modify it to fit my schedule and interests. For example, I swam competitively for 12 years, so I don’t always need to swim that much during training. I find that 1x a week is sufficient enough. So I swap out other swim sessions with circuits, weights, or yoga.
Other ways you can make a plan:
Find a triathlon coach (although to be real, this will cost $$)
Join a triathlon group (some are free, some are $$)
Join a masters swim club, running club, or cycling group
Other places you can find resources:
Friends who have done triathlons before
Local cycling, running, or triathlon shops
Go volunteer at a local triathlon! Watch how they set up transition zones.
Read stuff online or get a book!
Step 5: Get to training!
Get on Strava (it’s like a Facebook for athletes). You can find local routes, other athletes, and other people training for your race! It’s also a great tool to use to track how you’re progressing over time when you start to repeat routes.
Part of training is hitting all the workouts, but don’t forget the other equally important parts: Recovery and Nutrition.
Don’t be afraid to take rest days or skip sessions if you feel like your body needs it. I aim for 1-2 rest days every week. On these days, I try to also sleep in, I minimize walking or doing a ton of errands, and I really try to stretch/rehab. Additionally, every 4 weeks I make sure to reduce the load of training. This gives me time to rest from large weeks physically, and refresh myself mentally!
It’s important to understand that fueling your body properly during training is very different than what you might be used to. Your body needs a lot more carbs for fuel and a lot more protein to rebuild. Make sure that you’re not trying to cut calories or lose weight — that will come at a direct cost of your ability to build strength, endurance, and speed!
Newer athletes just need to eat a healthy diet, consistently. Nothing fancy!
And during your workouts, here are some general tips:
Try to eat a little something before workouts. This can be a full breakfast or a bite of a banana — whatever your stomach can handle. But it’s important to make sure you’re not starting on an empty tank.
You only need to fuel during workouts that are ~75 minutes or longer.
You’ll need to practice how to fuel your body, including: what you’re fueling with, how often, and how to eat while still moving!
Make sure you’re replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, while also providing fuel (in the form of carbs). For shorter races, you could probably stick to just sports drinks (I like Nuun) or energy gels. For longer races, you’ll need to supplement with bars, chews, etc. For example, when I’m riding my bike on a long ride, I usually eat Perfect Bars every 45 min and an energy waffle every hour.
Post workout: be sure to eat carbs (replenish energy stores) with protein (to repair your muscles). For folks newer to training — your metabolism is going to be a bit crazy while you’re adjusting. So eating something within 30-60 min of your workout will help prevent some cravings and overeating later on in the day!
Personally, I’m constantly trying to do better on both of these fronts. So I can’t say I have the answer yet! But practicing your race day nutrition while your training is important, as well as making sure you’re refueling and fueling your body with all the proper nutrients!
Step 6: Race day!!
REI has a great resource for all the things you’ll need to do the day before and day of your race. For half and full ironmans, they’ll also have Athlete briefing sessions where they’ll go over important information before the race!
Here are my top tips for race day:
Make sure you get a GOOD breakfast — and leave plenty of time for you to go to the bathroom once you get to the race. There will probably be porta-potties, but EVERYONE will be in line. So plan for that time.
Transition times count too! This is the time as you transition from swim > bike, bike > run. Usually, you’ll place your bike on a rack where your bib number is. Bring a towel and lay it on the ground, under your bike. On the towel, you’ll lay out all the stuff you’ll need for the other legs once you’re done with the swim: bike gear, run gear, snacks, etc. You’ll also use the towel to dry your feet before you put on socks/shoes for the bike!
Expect something to go wrong. Whether it’s missing gear or getting a cramp or whatever it is — something will probably go wrong. Take a deep breath and roll with the punches!
Plan to do the first half of the race slower. You don’t want to gas everything on the swim/bike, and crumble on the run. Also, when you first start the run, it’ll be tempting to go fast. Your legs are warmed up and you’re on the last leg! Make sure you don’t go all out (unless it’s a sprint and you know you got a lot of gas in the tank). Start steady, settle into a pace, build that pace, and finish strong!
HAVE FUN. Honestly, you’ve made it this far and now it’s just time to have fun and race!
Anyhoo, I think that covers most of the basics. Let me know if you have any questions!