Triathlon is one of today’s most challenging endurance sports, but it’s not something to be intimidated by, especially if you’re a beginner. Triathlon is an endurance sport that can do wonders to your physical fitness and mindset.
Try the adventure and challenge triathlon offers with our beginner’s guide.
What is Triathlon?
Triathlon is a hybrid endurance sport. It consists of swimming, cycling, and running. But sport variations for triathlon races don’t stop there. To cater to athletes of different skill levels, ages, and preferences, triathlon also comes with various distances that you should be able to conquer if you want to move forward. Triathlon tests perseverance and endurance to the extreme.
Who Oversees Triathlon?
The International Triathlon Union (ITU), known since 2019 as World Triathlon, is the biggest world governing body for triathlon and other multisports. The ITU was founded in April 1989 and continued to oversee triathlons over a range of distances since that year. It set up the World Cup Series in 1991.
Is Triathlon Safe?
Although triathlon is an extreme endurance sport that demands a lot, it is generally safe for those who can take care of their bodies—physically and mentally—before, during, and after a triathlon. Like any other sport, triathlon also has its own risks linked to accidents, illnesses, and injuries. As such, it is the athlete’s responsibility to be in his best form before competing through training and proper nutrition.
According to research published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some of the most common medical conditions participants may encounter during a triathlon may include muscle cramping, heat stroke, musculoskeletal injuries, hypertension, bacterial infection, gastrointestinal diseases, immunosuppression, nervous system and psychological exhaustion, and hemolysis.
“The rate of occurrence of such events and the severity of their potentially negative outcomes is a function of the methods used by both the race organizers and the competitors to prevent or respond to the conditions imposed by the race,” confirmed the research.
Why Triathlon Start With Swimming?
A triathlon always follows the same order: swim, bike, and run, regardless of the triathlon distance. Only the length of each activity will change, as explained in our breakdown of different triathlon distances.
Safety, as mentioned before, is paramount in triathlon. As such, swimming should intentionally come first because it’s the most physically demanding challenge among the tree. Braving the water first will prevent injuries and accidents like muscle cramping, fatigue, and drowning for the duration of the event.
Where Does Triathlon Originated?
As a combination of three different sports, triathlon can trace its roots back to multi-event races in France during the 1920s. But the actual discipline originated in the early 1970s with the San Diego Track Club in Southern California. During that time, triathlon was designed to function as a substitute for hard track training.
Don Shanahan and Jack Johnstone, the pioneers of triathlon, officially introduce the said endurance sports to the world on September 25, 1974, and it was sponsored by the San Diego Track Club. The first triathlon followed a 500-m swim, 10-km run, and 8-km cycle.
Where Is Triathlon Most Popular?
France is technically the birthplace of triathlon, but Southern California brought the sports to greater heights and paved the way for international recognition. Today, triathlon is popular in countries like the USA, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany.
In terms of international success, Great Britain is the most successful nation at the time of writing. The country holds three gold, three silver, and two bronze medals in the Olympics.
When Did Triathlon Enter the Olympics?
Triathlon is a relatively new sport in the Olympics. In 1989, it was awarded Olympic status and for the first time ever, received the opportunity to join an Olympic international event. The triathlon made its debut in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in Australia.
A total of 48 women and 52 men competed in separate triathlons, categorized as men’s and women’s individual events. The Olympics, in partnership with the ITU, made use of the standard 1.5 km (0.93 mi) swim, 40 km (25 mi) cycle, and a 10 km (6.2 mi) run format.
What Are The Different Triathlon Distances?
Triathlon distances are defined by distance, time, and activities involved. Short triathlon distances can take approximately an hour to complete—or even less, depending on the capabilities of the participants and the obstacles in the way. Long-distance triathlons, meanwhile, can take 17 to 24 hours—a whole day full of challenges.
Here are the different types of triathlon distances offered by local, national, and international organizations:
Super Sprint TriathlonSuper Sprint triathlon, often called mini-triathlon, is for entry-level athletes or first-time triathletes. The standard distribution of length for Super Sprint triathlon is 400-500 meters for swim, 10 kilometers for bike, and 2.5 kilometers for run. That makes a total of 12.9 to 13 kilometers. Super Sprint triathlon lasts between 45 minutes to an hour.
Sprint TriathlonA Sprint triathlon is another good option for amateur triathletes, but it’s still a decent race that you can add to your accomplishments and experience since it can already give you a full triathlon experience with a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike, and 5-kilometer run for 1 to 2 hours. If you race competitively, Sprint can look like a standard triathlon.
Standard / Olympic TriathlonStandard or Olympic Distance triathlon should be an amateur’s first real triathlon race. It consists of a 1.5-kilometer run, 40-kilometer bike, and 10-kilometer run—a total of 51.5 kilometers. In a nutshell, it’s a short and intense triathlon perfect for competitive amateurs and professionals. A Standard or Olympic triathlon can last between 1 hour and 45 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the participant’s skill level.
World / ITU Long-Course TriathlonThe world or ITU long-course triathlon has a total of 102 kilometers, broken down into a 2-km swim, 80-km bike, and 20-km run. These events covering the 102-kilometer distances are hosted annually and internationally by the World Triathlon (not to be confused by the World Triathlon Corporation of the Ironman).
Ironman 70.3 / Half Ironman Triathlon
Ironman 70.3, Half Ironman, or middle-distance triathlon is your introduction to elite triathlon races. This option is a massive step-up from the standard distance triathlon and a decent challenge to take on if you really want to be a professional triathlete. It’s a primer for the ultimate triathlon race.
Ironman 70.3 and other variations of Ironman triathlons are exclusively hosted by the World Triathlon Corporation and the IRONMAN Foundation, an organization that hosts multi-sports events and supports athletic communities across the globe. The ‘70.3’ in each Half Ironman triathlon event refers to the total distance required to be completed by the participants. Each Ironman 70.3 consists of various races totaling 70.3 miles or approximately 113 kilometers: 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run.
Ironman TriathlonThe original Ironman triathlon remains today the most grueling and demanding one-day triathlon race in the world. It is a race over a 2.4-mile (3.8 kilometers) swim, 112-mile (180 kilometers) bike, and 26.2-mile (42.2 kilometers) run. The Ironman event became a tradition and a competitive event after the success of the first Ironman on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 1978. It started as a bet between swimmers, cyclists, and runners.
What is the Essential Gear for Triathlon?
Triathlon is composed of three sports disciplines, so it’s a gear-heavy sport. But for starters, you need to focus on the essentials, such as swim goggles, a bike, helmet, wetsuit or trisuit, and running shoes. A complete triathlon apparel starting from the basics can help you get started.
If you wish to improve your full performance, particularly in areas affecting time management, the transition process, and race plan, here are other equally important gear you can invest in.
- Race belt
- Sports watch
- Swimming cap (usually provided by the race organization)
- Flip Flops
- Ear plugs
- Small towel
- Pair of socks
- Cycling shoes
- Spare tire
- Portable pump
- Running shoes
- Running hat or visor
- Water bottle
Which Triathlon Bike To Buy
Triathlon bikes have lots of upgraded features you will not find in a standard bike. A triathlon bike has the appropriate frame geometry and efficient aerodynamics for rigorous training and demanding races. A triathlon bike aims to give riders the most comfortable experience and the best performance for long-distance and heavy riding.
For the structure, triathlon bikes’ seat tubes are mostly steeper than road bikes’ to lessen tension. Most road bikes have a 72-degree seat tube angle, while triathlon bikes have seat angles exceeding 78 degrees. This offers riders a comfortable position in long-distance riding.
To know which triathlon bike to buy, consider these features that are not available in a standard bike, and the following factors: your budget, fit and size, frame material, brand, groupset, personal comfort, and external accessories and tools.
What to Eat For Triathlon
Triathletes have more demanding nutritional requirements as the endurance sport burns a lot of calories. The main nutrients that should be part of a triathlon diet are carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and fluids.
Carb loading should be a priority since it’s the body’s main source of energy. The best sources are potatoes, pasta, brown rice, and oats. Protein intake is also important for recovery, and the best sources are eggs, meat, whey protein, and yogurt. Fats, particularly healthy or saturated fats, meanwhile, should never be absent from a triathlete’s diet since it’s an additional source of energy. Some of the healthiest sources of fats are nuts, fatty fish, seeds, olive oil, soybean, and corn.
For vitamins and fluids, you need healthy food sources with high water and electrolytes content and less sugar. Get vitamins from citrus fruits, leafy vegetables, berries, and milk. Your fluids, of course, should include water and energy drinks with less sugar.
How to Train for Triathlon
Triathlon is the ultimate endurance challenge, but beginners shouldn’t be intimidated by it. It, of course, requires rigorous training. But with a sound body and mind, your perseverance and determination can lead you to a better triathlon performance and possibly a successful sports career in the field.
Before you undergo triathlon training, choose your race first as the distance and requirements will determine the type of training you need—mini triathlon training or a full training for the Ironman. Afterward, craft a plan with rigorous training and enough recovery period.