So you want to do a triathlon?

The following information and training plan is something that I’ve used in the past when preparing for my first triathlon. I am, by no means, a professional or licensed trainer. Please make sure to consult your physician before starting any new workout routine or training plan, and, as always, listen to your body!

Congratulations! You’ve made the commitment to cross something major off your bucket list: a sprint triathlon! In the summer of 2010 I began training for my very first sprint triathlon race. Since then I have completed 2 triathlons and absolutely love this type of event! Crossing the finish line of a triathlon is a feeling like no other. It’s an amazing sense of strength and accomplishment!

pict0518So what is a sprint triathlon? A sprint distance triathlon is a beginner friendly endurance and distance event that is one of the shortest of all the triathlons. It involves three legs of three sports: swimming, biking and running (or walking). Distances for a sprint triathlon can range anywhere from a .25-.50 mile swim, 10-15 mile bike ride and a 5k (3.1 mile) run. In between each sport is a “transition time” where you will prepare for the next leg of the race. Most triathlons are always in the swim-bike-run order; making a stop in the transition in between each one. Transitions are relatively short, and we’ll talk about the best ways to maximize your time spent in this portion of your triathlon.

This is your FIRST triathlon. The goal is not to win. The goal is to finish! Before choosing an event, do your research! Try to find an event that is beginner friendly. Read message boards, turn to social media, read read read! As a beginner, it’s good to find a triathlon that doesn’t have a cut off time (meaning the course will stay open until the last athlete crosses the finish line). Expect to pay anywhere from $50-90 for a sprint triathlon race entry fee. Any more than that, keep looking; especially if there is travel involved. Since this is your first triathlon, you won’t need fancy equipment or years of experience. All you need is the motivation to get outside your workout comfort zone and tri!

Before we get started, let’s look at some basics items you’ll need for training:

  1. Good walking/running shoes. Head to your local running store (like Fit2Run or Feet First) and get a proper shoe fitting if you’ve never done that before. Also invest in good dri-wicking socks! Socks are important!
  2. Apparel. A supportive swim suit (be careful with tankinis as they like to ride up while you’re swimming). Something that is comfortable, as you’ll be biking and walking/running in the swimsuit as well. Comfortable shorts to throw over your swimsuit for the bike. They don’t need to be bike shorts, but if you have them, great! Comfortable dri wicking shirt or tank. You can also ride with just your swim suit top and shorts, however, if you’re self-conscious and want to throw a shirt over your swim suit, find something breathable and light colored.
  3. Swim goggles and a swim cap. You can get a starter set at your local Target, Wal-Mart or sports equipment store. Expect to spend around $12-18 for goggles and $5 for a swim cap. You can buy a rubber or silicon cap. EVEN if you have short hair, a swim cap is 100% necessary. Trust me; you don’t want hair in your eyes as you’re swimming and navigating!
  4. A bike. I did my first tri on a mountain bike from Wal-Mart. Ask your friends and family to see if anyone can loan you a bike to train on over the summer, or check out Craigslist or eBay for some deals. Until decide you love triathlons and want to continue with this sport, go with something simple for your first time! If you can find something “hybrid” (meaning a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike), that would be ideal as they’re lighter.
  5. A bike helmet. 100% necessary and not optional. You can pick one up at Wal-mart or Target for under $20.

Now let’s talk about Race Day:

Before the race- Most races start pretty early, so be prepared to set those alarm clocks to go off before sunrise! Make sure to eat breakfast (nothing new- stick with what you’ve eaten for training)!

Race mornings are SO much fun! There’s an excitement and energy in the air that is infectious! After you get checked in, you’ll get numbered. During the swim leg you’ll be numbered with a magic marker on your arms and legs so you can be identified. You’ll also be wearing an ankle strap to track your time throughout the race. You’ll have a number bib that will attach to your bike and then you’ll wear a regular paper race bib for the run portion that you can have already pinned to the shirt you plan on wearing for that portion. There’s also something called a race belt that you attach your bib to then wear around your waist in case you decide to ditch the shirt!

Once you’re all checked in you’ll head to the transition area with your supplies and bike. Every athlete has their own space and bike rack section in transition. Basically, within your space, you’ll hang your bike on a rack, and then place everything you’ll need for the biking and running leg of the race underneath it. You’ll want to organize your items in such a way that they’re easy to grab during both transition sections. Once you’re all organized, you’ll leave your shoes behind, take your goggles and swim cap and walk down to the shore waiting for your turn to start the swim portion. This is the most exciting part of any triathlon! The anticipation is a blast!

Swim- Repeat after me: The goal is to get out of the water. The goal is to get out of the water. The swim leg used to be the most difficult part of the triathlon for me. Mostly because I’m scared of deep water. However, once you get it in your mind that the goal is to get out of the water, you’re golden.

There are NO rules for how you must complete the swim portion. You can swim any style that’s comfortable for you (even a backstroke!). You just need to remember that the goal is to get out of the water and keep your eyes on the buoys to stay on the course. As you train, try out some different strokes until you find something you’re comfortable with.

During any triathlon there are lifeguards on kayaks and paddle boards positioned all around the swim course. It is perfectly OK to grab onto one of their boats and rest for a moment during the swim portion, however, keep in mind that a quarter mile swim (440 yards) will only take about 10 minutes at the most to complete, so before you know it, you’ll be running up the beach headed to transition!

Transition 1 (T1) – Once you get out of the water, you’ll take your cap and goggles off and head to your bike. You’ll put your helmet on first. You can get in trouble if you touch your bike without putting your helmet on, so it’s best to throw it on ASAP. Then you’ll get your socks, shoes and shorts on, have a snack if needed, and grab your bike off the rack. Always make sure to have a water bottle on your bike ready to go. You will be asked to walk your bike out of the transition area, so do not mount your bike until you’re outside the transition space!

Bike- Do not get discouraged if you’re being passed by other cyclists. This is YOUR race. Go at a pace that’s comfortable for you and stop to rest if needed!

Transition 2 (T2)- You will be asked to walk your bike into the transition area, so start slowing down as you approach it and be ready to dismount. You can come to a complete stop, and then get off the bike. Before you take off your helmet, hang your bike back on the rack. Once you’ve removed your helmet, throw on your shirt (or race belt), grab a snack, your water bottle and anything else you think you need for the next 3.1 miles (sunglasses, hat, etc.) There are no exiting rules for T2 so as soon as you’re ready, hit the road!

Run- In every race this portion is always called a “run”, however, once again, it is perfectly legal to walk the entire thing. Listen to your body and do what’s best for you. Just like a regular 5k, there will be water stops along the way so make sure you’re hydrating.

Finish line- This is it! The moment you’ve been waiting for! You hear the cheers and see the spectators waiting for you to cross the finish line of your first triathlon! Cherish the moment and take it all in. You are officially a triathlete! Once you cross the, you’ll most likely be pulled aside by a volunteer to remove your ankle bracelet. Make sure someone does this as some races will charge you if you walk off with their timing piece!

So when should you start training?

Typically anywhere from 9-12 weeks should be enough time to train for your first triathlon, considering you have some athletic ability (meaning you can walk at least a mile or two, know how to ride a bike and have some knowledge of swimming/treading water). There are tons of sprint triathlon training plans on the web so do a search and find one that you think you can fit into your schedule. Here is the one I have used in the past and plan on using this summer as a group of friends and I train for the upcoming IronGirl Sprint Triathlon in Clermont, FL. Remember to consult your physician prior to starting any workout or training plan!

As you’re going through a training plan, play close attention to nutrition. As you’re burning calories, you’ll want to make sure you’re fueling your body enough to compensate for this calorie burn. Stay away from high fat, high sugar, processed foods and focus on getting in that water! (Yes, even during your swims!).

If you have any other questions, please feel free to send me an email! I’d be happy to chat with you regarding this new goal you’ve set! You can reach me at or message me through my blog’s Facebook Page or on Twitter.

 Have you ever completed a triathlon? What advice would you give to beginners just starting on their journey?

-Steph 🙂

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