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Choose from the list of questions below:

What is Triathlon?
What are the Race Distances?
Competition Status?
What do I Wear?
What do I think about before race day?

What is Triathlon?

Getting started in the world of triathlon can appear to be complicated. Triathlon has come a long way since its beginnings in 1974 when a group of friends began to train together. The group consisted of swimmers, cyclists and runners, and before long they were organizing competitions combining the three sports.

Triathlon is an exciting multi-discipline sport involving a continuous race over various distances in the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. A standard triathlon is made up of a swim, followed by a cycle ride, followed by a run.

Competitors race against the clock, which starts as they enter the swim and stops as they cross the finish line after the run.

For this reason, triathlon is often reported as having a ‘fourth discipline’ known as the transition.

The transition is the point in the race when competitors change from swimming to cycling, and from cycling to running.

What are the Race Distances?

Distances of individual events may vary from race to race, but there are some standard triathlon distances, quoted in terms of swim/bike/run:

Super sprint: 400m/10km/2.5km
Sprint distance : 750m/20km/5km
Standard distance: 1500m/40km/10km
Middle distance: 2.5km/80km/20k
Ironman distance: 3.8km/180km/42km

Competition Status?

The BTA classifies triathletes into two categories - elite, the professional triathletes who compete at an international level, and age group - triathletes who are non-professional triathletes. The age group system allows you to compete against other triathlete entrants of the same age (within a five year band) and sex. Triathlon and Duathlon World Championships give all triathletes the chance to enter - they have an age group category as well as an elite category.

Great Britain can enter 18 women and 18 men in each age group - that’s a total of nearly 300-plus competitors flying the British flag. This provides opportunity and incentive to athletes who have never considered competing at an international level.

What do I Wear?

You don’t need to spend bundles of cash on all the latest tri gear. A few of the basics are all you need to get started. It couldn’t be simpler...


Novice events tend to be pool-based although some may involve open-water swims. The type of event will affect what kit you need. A swimming hat lowers water resistance and saves you vital seconds in the water, so it definitely counts as a triathlon essential. You can pick them up for a couple of quid in any sports store and they’re worth it.

Goggles are a godsend when you’re swimming in a pack of enthusiastic triathletes. Being able to see what’s going on is the difference between getting stuck in the pack or making a breakaway lead. Freezing British open-water swims mean you can’t overlook wetsuits - they’re compulsory with water temperatures below 14°C. Summer is officially the tri season but a full-length wetsuit is advisable.

If you wear prescription glasses, the race organizer may arrange for you to put them on a table on poolside, or will allow a race official to pass them to you as you exit the swim. If possible, put a small sticker with your race number on the side of your glasses. Straps can also be purchased which will hold your glasses firmly in place while cycling and running. Many triathletes race in contact lenses, but it’s vital that you are confident that your goggles don’t leak! It is also a good idea to wear clear glasses on the bike to protect your eyes from grit, flies and other debris.

Top Tip
When changing kit in transition, be quick but don’t be too hasty. If you rush you can get into a mess and end up taking more time getting changed than is necessary. The best piece of advice about putting gear on is ‘less haste, more speed’, meaning don’t rush too much or you will get in a real mess and end up spending more time getting changed.

What do I think about before race day?

In pool based swims you will be in a lane with up to five other swimmers. Make an effort to give the best estimate you can of your swim time. If you don’t you will either spend a lot of time trying to pass or being passed by your fellow competitors.

Over taking is only allowed at the end of a lane. If the swimmer behind you taps your feet, stop at the end of the lane and let them pass.

There are usually lane counters who will indicate when you have two lengths left.
In pool swims lanes next to each other swim in opposite directions, one clock and one anti clock wise. It is worth practicing swimming and turning in both directions.

In open water swims consider which side you breathe to when deciding your position at the start. Also practice lifting your head every 8 to 12 strokes to sight the marker buoy you don’t want to swim any extra distance.

Nobody is excused from wearing a helmet, so you’ll never see a triathlete riding without a lid - not even an elite. Modern helmets are reasonably priced, simple to use and they give the best protection to your most important parts. One nasty tumble is all it takes.

You don’t need a purpose-made tri suit to compete in, but something close fitting and comfortable and - if you are taking part in an open-water swim - that can be worn under a wetsuit is ideal. A race vest and shorts will serve you just as well, but extra padding in the saddle area is desirable.

A bike has to count as an essential piece of triathlon equipment, but until you get to a more advanced level, you don’t have to worry about the quality of your bike. Drag your old one out of the shed, but be sure to give it a good service - punctures could almost certainly be the end of your race.

Cycling shoes are a luxury if you’re just starting out, but you definitely want shoes that are easy to get on and off during transitions. The advantage of cycling shoes is that they attach to the pedals giving you better cycling stability and power.

In transition you will not be allowed to take your bike from the rack until you have your helmet on and fastened. At the end of the cycle you must rack your bike before removing your helmet.

Make sure you have a number belt or vest top with your number attached. You don’t want to spend time pinning numbers onto your tri suit.

Carrying fluid is a good idea and the cycle is normally the best time to take on board fluid and nutrition depending on the length of the race.

Again, there is no real need for specialist running gear at first. Swim, run and bike kit can double up; just make sure that the outfit you choose to wear is comfortable, even when you’ve been cycling in it. Breathability is always an advantage.

Shoes are the most important part of your running equipment. If your feet are well supported and comfortable, it will make your run split seem a million times easier. Check it out with a running shoe expert before you buy, as individual running styles dictate your trainer requirements.

Think about investing in lace locks, these are elastic laces, which will save time in transition.

Also remember that it takes the mid sole of a running shoe 24 hours to fully recover after use. So don’t run in or wear your running shoes for 24 hours before your race. If you train on consecutive days having two pairs of running shoes to alternate is a good idea.

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