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Triathlon: a beginner's guide to getting started

So you wanna do a triathlon? Here's how to get started in triathlon, plan a program, train hard, prepare well, and make it through your first triathlon event.....

triathlon introductionLegend has it that the modern day sport of triathlon was started in an argument over a few beers amongst three friends who were contesting their claims to be the best athlete in the group. There was a swimmer, a cycler, and a runner (sounds like the start to a good joke) so they devised an event where all three sports were combined to find out who amongst them was the truly the best!

Regardless of it's real beginnings, the first formal triathlon events were held in the early 1970's, and triathlon as a sport has come a long way to now be a worldwide phenonemon and an Olympic sport that captures the imagination of spectators and athletes alike. You only have to see the thousands of people that compete each year in the BRW Corporate Triathlon event in Sydney to realise it's a great sport that attracts and caters for all abilities. It's also a great way to get fit and keep your training varied and challenging.

So what's a triathlon all about?

Triathlon events are a combination of swimming, cycling and running. There are "sprint" events that may take under 60 minutes to complete, right through to the Ironman events where you're lucky to be finished in less than 12 gruelling hours!

Standard triathlon distances: Enticer: swim 250m, cycle 10km, run 2.5km. Sprint: swim 500m, cycle 10km, run 5km. Olympic: swim 1.5km, cycle 40km, run 10km. Half Ironman: swim 1.9km, cycle 90km, run 21.1km. Ironman: swim 3.8km, cycle 180km, run 42.2km.

The triathlon season typically runs from November to April each year, with a wide variety of events held by Triathlon NSW, Triathlon Australia, and local triathlon clubs. Closest to Manly there is the Warringah Triathlon Club who have triathlons, training sessions, and social events starting soon. Check out their website here.

So how do you get started in triathlon?

It's always good to have a goal about what you want to do, so we suggest deciding on an triathlon event to race in before you start planning your training program. The good news is there are lots of events that don't require huge training loads, marathon cycles to Wollongong, or 5am swimming sessions at the local pool! If you have a good level of fitness you'll be able to complete a sprint triathlon event with a bit of training and proper preparation.

Check out our events calendar to see what is coming up for the triathlon season. The Bartercard events run by Elite Global Events is a great sprint series in Darling Harbour, and also see the Triathlon NSW sprint series (dates yet to be released). The ever popular BRW Corporate triathlon in the Domain is a great one too, but wont be on until April.

Once you've got a triathlon event in mind, you need to decide whether you want to simply survive the distance, or go for a fast time. The first goal of survival and completion will be appropriate for someone new to the sport or if you think the required distances will be challenging for you. If you're happy with the distances and will be able to "survive" then you can move on to aiming for a fast time.

triathlon training swimThe Swim

The swim is often the hardest part of the triathlon because the majority of people come from a running or cycling background and find the technical aspects of swimming well quite a challenge. The good news is that the swim is the shortest leg of a triathlon so if you can stay afloat for 15-20mins you'll do alright! With our first goal of "survival" you should aim to be able to swim twice the required race distance at a steady pace in training. So for a sprint series event of 400m swim you should be able to complete 800m or more in a training session. Once you've done this, then move onto going faster over the required distance.

Technique is the most important aspect of swimming - you might be a fit person on land but if you flap and flounder around in the pool you'll find it very tough! A swim coach or class is a good start for some technical tips, and be sure to check out our swimming tips article for some pointers to start with. For training venues try the Manly Pool, the sea pool at Queenscliff, or a swim from Shelley Beach to either the Bower or Manly.

Gear: goggles, swim suit, head cap (often supplied at a race), kickboard and flippers are optional for training.

triathlon training cycle bikeThe Cycle

Cycling comes fairly naturally to most of us and requires almost no technical learning so be proficient. It pays to ride with higher revs in a 'spinning style' than slogging it out on harder gears - remember, you'll need some leg strength left for the run section of the race!

Your survival aim on the bike should be to complete twice the required race distance at a steady pace in a training session, then move onto speed work, hills, and getting faster. Always wear a helmet and try to pick a training course that has minimal traffic and intersections. A good spot is North Head - just get used to the annoying speed bumps! Make sure you drink plenty of water while training on the bike, because we often dont realise how much we sweat because it tends to dry out on a bike.

Gear: a bike (funnily enough), helmet, cycling shoes for race bikes, and bike pants for longer events. If you have a race or road bike then great, but a mountain bike is also fine. Race bikes start from around $1000 brand new, obviously cheaper second hand, and the advantage lies in having a much lighter bike with better gear ratios for racing at speed. You can rev up your mountain bike with some "race tyres" (cost around $30 each).

running triathlonThe Run

Running is often the stronger leg of a triathlon for most people but because it comes last in the triathlon race it can be a lot tougher than you expect. Sure, a 3km run might normally be no problem but after the swim and cycle your legs are like jelly and it can become a hard slog to finish off the race.

Your survival aim should be to run twice the required race distance at a steady pace, then move onto getting faster with interval and fartlek training, as well as some "brick" sessions off the bike. Watch your technique and running style doesnt suffer from the fatigue you are feeling, so keep the core tight, arms held lightly by the side, and the hips moving evenly. Anywhere is good for a running training but you might want to consider some hills if the race you are doing has some in it!

Gear: shoes, socks, sunglasses and a hat for hot days. Make sure you have a decent pair of running shoes that should be updated every 6-9 months depending on your training load. Elastic laces are a good way of getting your shoes on fast and speeding up your transition time.

triathlon training transitionThe Transition aka "the fourth event"

The transition from swim to cycle and from cycle to run are often called the "fourth event" of a triathlon. You can gain or lose a lot of time changing clothes, adjusting shoes, drying off after the swim etc in the transition pits, so it pays to think about this before the race starts. The best way to minimise transition time is to have everything laid out before you start, practise putting on clothing and gear when wet or tired, and do some trial transitions in training. If you need any drink or food during the race the transition is the best time to re-fuel.

To find out more about our triathlon beginners guide, beginning triathlon, triathlon training, or a triathlon training program contact us!


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