What is Triathlon?
Modern triathlon was conceived back in 1974 in the USA, where a group of friends from the different disciplines of swimming, cycling and running started to train together and became competitive as to who was the fittest. Soon they began organising events combining the three disciplines, and since then it has taken off, becoming the UK's fastest growing sport.
Variety and inclusiveness are key to the appeal of triathlon. Firstly you get a mixture of environments, perhaps a lake or pool swim, followed by a cycle through the countryside, followed by an off-road run. This mixture of disciplines also keeps training interesting and varied, and requires a combination of endurance, skill, speed and intense workouts. It can require some careful planning to get the balance right, but it is both invigorating and motivating, and the mixture of training sessions reduces the risk of injury. Secondly it is a sport that encourages postively encourages novices and participants of all ages, and there are numerous races that you can enter even as a complete beginner. Many races are run in age groups, meaning that you compete directly against athletes of the same age and sex.
What do I need to get started?
Some people may have observed elite races or talked to experienced triathletes and be put off by the sheer amount and complexity of the kit required - but don't be! If you decide that you enjoy triathlon, racing and want to invest in some more specialised kit, then you can do this gradually i.e. there are very few basics you need to get started, and these are listed below:
Swimsuit/trunks - (ideally close fitting rather than boxer shorts)
Goggles (if required) - as most people will aim to swim front crawl
Towel - for drying off before putting any cycle or run clothing on
Swim hat - (mandatory when swimming in open water so you can be seen easily). Many race organisers will provide you with a swim hat which you must wear for identification. It will also keep longer hair out of your eyes!
Bike which is ROADWORTHY i.e. in good working order with functioning brakes and pumped-up tyres. Whilst the majority of triathletes use "road" bikes, it is perfectly acceptable to use a mountain bike if you are just starting out. You may want to have a water bottle attached to your bike
Helmet - you will not be allowed to race without one
T-shirt (and shorts if desired) to wear on the bike section of a race (generally race rules require that your top half is covered and a race number fixed to it if you do not have a separate number belt - see below)
Running shoes - these can be worn with or without socks if you want to save time when racing, but remember to train without socks too, as you may end up with blisters if your feet are not used to it!
As you progress in your triathlon racing, you may also find the following relatively inexpensive items useful:
Trisuit - all-in-one suit with a padded short that you can swim, run and bike in without having to take off or add any layers!
Race belt - this is elastic, quick to put on and enables you to easily attach your number, it also means that you can spin it round to your back for the bike and to your front for the run
Elastic laces - these will enable you to get your trainers on and fastened quickly and are available from any good triathlon retailer. You may also find that sprinkling talcum powder into your trainers makes getting them on easier.
What are the distances?
400m swim, 10km cycle, 2.5km run.
Thes are the shortest distance, and are generally only available in selected locations, as the Sprint distance is seen as having more "all-round" appeal to a greater variey of competitors
750m swim (400m if a pool sprint), 20km cycle, 5km run.
These events are now the most common events, and provide a readily achievable goal for a beginner to aim for. Each race lasts less than 90 minutes and typical training time can be as little as 5 hours a week. Beginner races generally always take place in a pool and it is a good idea to gain your confidence here before progressing to open water
1500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run.
As the name implies this is the distance raced at the Olympics. It is best suited for newcomers with good endurance in one of the triathlon sports, or someone who has completed some sprint distance events previously. Races take two to three hours to complete, and typically you need to train for 6 to 12 hours a week.
Middle Distance/Half-Iron Man/70.3
1900m swim, 80km cycle, 13.1mile run.
A good endurance event for strong cyclists and runners, as the swim is proportionately less compared with the Olympic distance. Races generally take 5-7 hours, and you could expect to be training for 8-15 hours per week
Long Distance/Iron Man
2.4mile swim, 112m cycle, 26.2mile run.
The ultimate endurance challenge! This should only be attempted by very experienced triathletes, with significant time to invest in training. Often there are also half distance ironman events staged, which can be used as a stepping stone to the big one
Other Related Events
Generally take place in the autumn and early spring when the weather is too cold for swimming.
Take place in season, great fun events for all the family to take part (often shorts distances involved).