Triathlon 101

Interested in trying a triathlon, but not quite sure where to start? This article will outline the training basics as well as the equipment needed to comfortably complete your first triathlon.

Your first step is to choose an event—and a sprint is the ideal race distance. The three legs of a sprint triathlon can range from a 200-yard or meter to ½-mile swim, a 10- to 20-mile bike and a 2- to 3.1-mile run. The swim can take place in either a pool or open water (lake, ocean or river). Most early-season sprints take place in a pool; and these races are best for the first-timer, as a pool is much less intimidating than open water. To pick out your first race, go (comprehensive race listing) or check with the local multisport club in your area.

For your first event, you should not have to buy much additional equipment. Your current bike (mountain or road) is sufficient. Be sure that it is in good working condition and, if not ridden a while, take it to a bike shop for a tune-up. While there, ask them to make sure that your bike “fits” properly. Also, it is a good idea to have a water bottle and cage and a spare tire kit (and know how to use that). A proper fitting helmet is an absolute must for training (never head out the door without it) and racing (required), and padded cycling shorts make for more comfortable training rides.

A swimsuit (one-piece for women; and compression or tri-shorts for men) and proper fitting goggles are important for swim training. You can find these items at a sporting goods store or triathlon specialty shop. Proper fitting running shoes will make your runs more enjoyable and help prevent blisters and other injuries. If you do not have running shoes or your current shoes are not in good condition, go to a specialty-running store that has knowledgeable sales associates.

Your training routine will depend on your current level of activity and available time. If you are in good health and have been exercising regularly, you should be able to prepare for the sprint in 4-6 weeks. If you are “couch potato,” you should first get medical clearance and plan on preparing 6-10 weeks.

On average, most participants will spend about 20 percent of the total race duration swimming, about 50 percent cycling, and about 30 percent running. Your training volume should attempt to match these percentages. Depending upon your current fitness level and your available time, you should train each discipline (swim, bike, run) a minimum of 2 times per week. As your level of fitness improves, or if you have more time, you can increase your frequency to 3-4 times per week.

Your main goal for your first triathlon is to finish and your training intensity should focus on aerobic fitness, not speed. During all of your workouts emphasize proper technique while building endurance. Your training intensity should be kept low, a “conversational pace.”

So now is the time to choose an event (Ridgewood Try a Tri for Hospice on May 18th is a perfect first-time event), make a plan or join a training group (’ N Running Tri Training Groups) and be on your way to becoming a triathlete!

Karen Buxton is Level-III USA Triathlon certified coach with over 25 years of coaching experience and author of The Triathlete's Guide to Off-Season Training.  Coach Buxton works and trains in Greensboro, North Carolina and can be reached at  Find out more about Coach Buxton

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