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How Do I Get Started?

By Allie Burdick

Allie Burdick

How Do I Get Started?

By Allie Burdick

At first blush triathlon can seem overwhelming. There are essentially three different disciplines you must practice — swimming, cycling and running — each with its own set of gear, lingo and challenges. However, as any seasoned triathlete will tell you, training and racing for each sport and then bringing them all together is the beauty of the model.

Our step-by-step guide to triathlon training and racing includes everything you need to know from resources to coaching and essential gear. Use it as the first step in transitioning from intimidation to excitement as you begin your adventure in triathlon!

Key Resources Essential Gear Benefits of a Coach Race Selection Race Day Checklist

Key Resources

There are endless resources available for every aspect of triathlon, from beginner workouts to selecting the perfect race and even how to find anything from a pool to a coach.

A perfect place to start is at usatriathlon.org where you can find event calendars that cover the entirety of the United States and beyond, guides to finding a coach, a club and online forums where you can ask questions and get answers from experienced triathletes.

Want to get started with some beginner workouts? Get training tips for your skill level and a personalized training plan here.

Obviously you will want to map and track those workouts and sites like TrainingPeaks, MapMyRun and RunKeeper are just what you’re looking for. If you’re interested in proper pacing for a desired time result, we have you covered with Active’s running pace calculator.

Need to find a place to swim and perhaps some other triathletes to swim with? Check out USMS and start doing laps in no time.

You will also quickly learn a very important element in training success is dressing appropriately for the weather. A useful tool can be found online at Runner’s World in their “What To Wear” section. Simply input a few details about the weather and receive advice on a complete outfit to keep you running happy in any conditions.

If you’re looking for some ear candy on your run or indoor bike (safety first!), try these triathlon podcasts:

Swim
Tower 26: Hosts Gerry and Jim cover a variety of topics and conveniently categorize them into tiers of accomplished, capable and newbie swimmers. Each podcast has a workout broken down into how and why you should be doing it. Their motto “be race ready” is adhered to with each lesson and can broaden your swim capabilities no matter your current level.

Bike
CycloSoul: Combining advice and free cycling workouts you can listen and even be guided through the workout of your choice.

Run
RunnersConnect Run To The Top Podcast: This is my go-to podcast for running that covers a variety of topics and includes interviews from elites and mortals alike. The information is always current, informative and immediately applicable.

Triathlon
Triathlete Training: Host Eric Schwartz offers advice from his 20-plus years as a top athlete and coach and discusses everything from nutrition and hydration to weight loss, fueling and IRONMAN racing. And when you’re happily recovering from all your hard work or have to endure an indoor training ride, get motivated with these books:

How Bad Do You Want It | by Matt Fitzgerald
Forget Netflix, the narratives Fitzgerald lays out will have your full attention and anxiously awaiting the outcome. From several stories of grueling stages of Tour de France races or the epic battle of any number of elites, winning races no one thought they could (including themselves), to hanging on each word of an unlikely Olympic rowing team and soul crushing IRONMAN champions, you will be on the edge of your saddle and ready to attack your workout with renewed energy.

The Triathlete’s Training Bible | by Joe Friel
Now in its fourth edition, the title pretty much says it all. Everything you need to know, and some things you may not, about triathlon is covered in Friel’s bible. From nutrition to recovery to training and racing and everything in between, you may want to read this cover to cover and reference it often.

Essential Gear

A word of caution here — it is very easy to get carried away with non-essential gear when you’re talking about training and racing for three different sports. Keep in mind that experience will guide you through the extras you may need over time so the following list provides only the essential items needed to begin to train and race triathlon:

Swim

  • Swimsuit
  • Goggles
  • Swim cap
  • Wetsuit (may be optional if you live in a warmer climate or have a pool swim)

Bike

  • Bike, whatever you already have will do (road, tri or mountain bike), but you may want to take it to your local bike shop to make sure it’s tight, lubed up and ready for a race!
  • Helmet
  • Bike shorts
  • Bike shirt — not essential but cuts down on wind resistance and has pockets for fuel, phones and car keys
  • Flat kit bag secured to your bike, with an extra tube, a pump and tire levers
  • Sunglasses
  • Bike shoes with appropriate clips
  • Gloves for grip and/or cold weather

Run

  • Quality running shoes
  • Athletic socks to avoid blisters
  • Sweat wicking clothing
  • Sports bra for women
  • Hat or visor
  • Looking for more than the essentials? Check out our swim, bike and run gear guides.

Rentals
Since triathlon is a rather demanding sport to try out, consider renting a bike and essential bike gear from your local bike shop or even borrowing one from a friend who has a similar height and build. Bikes and the equipment needed to ride them can get expensive quickly so it’s great to try it out to find the right fit.

Benefits of a Coach

Hire an expert to help you navigate the initial confusion of triathlon. Coaches can provide so much more than training plans and are an excellent way to help settle you into the sport, have all your questions answered and avoid injury. The USA Triathlon Find A Coach tool allows athletes to search for USA Triathlon Certified Coaches based on location, specialty, level or discipline. Of the many benefits of having a coach, here are three of the basics:

  • Analyze your swim stroke and find the missing pieces to help you become a more efficient swimmer and thrive in open water.
  • Help you achieve running breakthroughs off the bike through revised training to generate physical adaptations that can be leveraged on race day.
  • Help you generate added power on the bike without compromising the run.

Race Selection

This is the fun part! Depending where you live, there are many triathlon races and distances to choose from. Take time to think about what matters to you most — distance from your home, price, open water or pool swim, terrain — and make a selection based on your specific preferences. Check out the USA Triathlon Sanctioned Event Calendar to get started.

Race Day Checklist

Possibly longer than any grocery list is the race day checklist! There are literally hundreds on the internet, varying by location, distance and experience. And, because there are so many lists for race day, we’re taking it a step further and giving you a guide for the entire week leading up to race day (race routines by Alan Ley).

One Week Prior to the Event (Do this a week before the race, not the day before)

  • Any time you can spend on the actual race course is good.
    • Can you swim at the same time the race starts to check the sun, waves and water conditions?
  • Get your bike checked.
    • Replace worn tires and old tubes. There’s nothing worse than training for a year and having a flat tire or mechanical failure during the race. If it looks bad, replace it.
  • Swim with a swim cap.
    • If your goggle strap is worn or old, get new goggles. With the race morning excitement many athletes break their goggle straps right before the race start.
    • Take two pairs of goggles to the race.
  • Prepare your race clothing.
    • Zippers work? Suit torn or stretched? Loose suits = slow swim times!
    • Shoe strings or elastic laces OK?
    • Visor or hat necessary?
    • Take comfortable clothes for after the race and a drink and snack.
  • Visualize the race and how good you will feel. Go over the race events in as much detail as possible — race morning, equipment, self-motivational talk. Rehearse race day words and mantras: smooth, light, relax, breathe, dance, push, I love this stuff, drive on, dig deeper, faster, form, I will do this, your speed is only limited by your mind!

Two Days Before the Race

  • Sleep well. This is the most important night to sleep.
  • Adults usually use this as a rest day with very little working out.
  • Eat the foods that you normally do. There is no need to eat more than normal because you are training less, so the normal amount of food is about right.
  • Revisit the race course, especially the finish line and the last section of the bike and run course.
  • Repeat: Visualize the race and how good you will feel. Go over the race events in as much detail as possible — race morning, equipment, self-motivational talk. Rehearse race day words and mantras: smooth, light, relax, breathe, dance, push, I love this stuff, drive on, dig deeper, faster, form, I will do this, your speed is only limited by your mind!

Day Before the Race

  • Don't overeat.
  • Complete a short equipment check — bike, shoes, goggles, helmet and warm-up clothes.
  • Pack a bag with your race essentials: race/trisuit, water bottle, gel or bar, race shoes, goggles, race numbers and towel. Pack another bag with extra safety pins, tape, magic marker, water bottle, warm-up clothes, snack, drink and clothes for after the race.
  • Pump up your bike tires in the evening and then don't touch them until after the race.
  • Note: It is always better to be over rested than over trained!
  • Put all your equipment in the car tonight to be ready to go in the morning.
  • Repeat: Visualize the race and how good you will feel. Go over the race events in as much detail as possible — race morning, equipment, self-motivational talk. Rehearse race day words and mantras: smooth, light, relax, breathe, dance, push, I love this stuff, drive on, dig deeper, faster, form, I will do this, your speed is only limited by your mind!
  • Go to bed at a reasonable time and think: YOU the TRIATHLETE are a very special person. Tomorrow is filled with possibilities and you will make your preparation and training pay off. There are NO limits on race day, only possibilities!

Race Day

  • Eat breakfast like you normally do. Nothing new. Be sure to eat at least 90 minutes before your race starts.
  • Try to go to the bathroom early.
  • Dress warm. Race mornings always seem cooler than normal.
  • Arrive at the race site early and stay focused.
  • Don't adjust your bike or put air in the tires. This should have been done last night.
  • Check in, bodymark and chip.
  • Place numbers on bike and helmet.
  • Set up transition area. Shoes, towel, helmet, sunglasses, socks and race number.
    • The less the better in the transition area.
    • Use a bright colored towel to mark your spot.
    • Put your bike in the right gear for the start.
    • Right pedal level and forward.
    • Final bike check: brakes, tires.
    • Front wheel out.
    • Helmet, race number and shoes positioned.
  • Place your timing chip on your left ankle.
  • Walk/jog from the swim exit to your bike. Look at the markings and remember your way.
  • Familiarize yourself with the swim to bike, the bike in and the run out.
    • Pay attention to these details. Minutes can be saved in the transition area.
  • Stay focused. Stick to yourself and your race plan.
  • Don't let anyone take your energy away!
  • Warm up for the swim. Swim about 5 minutes and complete three hard 20-second efforts so you are breathing hard. If the water is too cold or you can't get in and swim then use stretch cords or get your body moving for about 5 minutes, especially your arms.
  • Now all that's left to do is give your best effort today!

About the Author

Allie Burdick

Allie Burdick is a freelance writer, competitor and twin mom. Her work has appeared in Runner’s World, Women’s Running and ESPNW. On her blog, VITA Train for Life, she chronicles her successes and failures as a triathlete to motivate and inspire others.