Focus On: Triathlons

Good morning! I’m excited to start the day off with an amazing Focus On post, written by Steph. I’ve been wanting to do a post on triathlons for a while, since they’ve always intrigued me but sadly, I’m missing two out of the three components (can’t ride a bike or swim.. I’m more of a spinner and a float-on-a-raft or noodle girl). So, I enlisted the help of an experienced triathlete friend.

Enjoy! <3


Hi Fitnessista Readers! I’m Steph from 321delish, where I blog with my friend Chloe about our lives as triathletes who love to eat good food.


(That’s me on the left.)

When I saw Gina’s tweet asking for someone to do a Focus on post about triathlons, I perked right up! I love talking about tris, so I’ll share with you a few of the basics if you’re interested in getting into the sport.


1) Understand the distances

Triathlon is not one size fits all. There are several different distances when it comes to races, so choose a distance that you think is reasonable. You know your abilities and limitations best! These are the most common distances, but there is still variation within these categories.

Sprint: 750 meter swim/ 20K bike/ 5K run (~.5 mile swim/~12.4 mile bike/3.1 mile run)

Olympic/International: 1.5K swim/40K bike/ 10K run (~.9 mile swim/ 24.8 mile bike/6.2 mile run)

Half Ironman: 1.9K swim/90K bike/21.09K run (1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/ 13.1 mile run)

Ironman: 3.86K swim/180K bike/42.2K run (2.4 mile swim/ 112 mile bike/26.2 mile run)

2) Sign up for a race

I say this is the next thing to do because it gives you something to work towards. Putting a date on the calendar is that first kick to get you started. You’ll have a goal, and know that you need to be as ready as you can by that date.

I would recommend signing up for a sprint triathlon as your first race, but you know your body best. Need some help finding a race? Check out Chloe’s post on race-finding tools.

Overwhelmed by the number of races? Consider the following when picking your first race:

a) Cost– Triathlons are EXPENSIVE! I would suggest looking for local, small races. You won’t hurt your wallet too much and smaller races aren’t as intimidating.

b) Location– Where will you race? How long will it take to get there (and how much will it cost to get you and your bike there?) Will you need lodging? Again, I’m a fan of local races, or races in locations where I have a free place to crash, like close to mom and dad (Bonus: cheerleaders!)


If you’re up for it, make it a vacation that kicks off with a tri, and ends with you relaxing on the beach somewhere. There’s races all over the world, why not see them while getting in a great workout? (And then go back and explore, of course!)


(note: this picture was not taken after a tropical triathlon, it was a recent trip to Bermuda. But I was considering how awesome it would have been to race here!)

c) Course– If you aren’t a strong swimmer, consider doing a tri with a pool swim, instead of an open water swim for your first tri. If you excel at riding hills, find a race with a hilly course.

d) Date/Time of year– I can’t tell you how long it will take for you to train for a triathlon. It really depends on where you’re starting from athletically, and what distance your race will be. Then, you can backwards plan your training. Be aware that triathlons require a decent chunk of time to train, so plan around your life accordingly.

Also, think about when in the season you want to race- do you want a race in the spring, and train over the winter? Or do you want a late summer/fall race, and do the bulk of your training in the summer?

Whatever race you choose, just get one on the calendar. When you receive the “Thank you for registering” email, that’s when it becomes real.

3) If you’re already working out regularly-keep doing it! If you’re not, get started!

I personally don’t follow a training plan, but I did for my first tri, so I have a sense of how much running, biking and swimming I should be doing when I have a race coming up. I did my first tri with Team In Training, which provided me with coaching, a training plan, and of course training buddies! I highly recommend joining some kind of swimming, biking, running, or tri team if you thrive on training with others. Or, use the power of social media to find #triathletes in your area. They are great motivators.


(Training with Victoria and Chloe)

And they don’t judge when you devour a ton of ice cream after a long workout:

ice cream 2

(ice cream with Erin, Emily and Lauren)

If you’re going to go solo, do a little research and find a training plan. Here are some sites where you can download one:

Beginner Triathlete
Tri Newbies

4) Make sure you have the basic gear

You DON’T need to go out and spend a ridiculous amount of money on the lightest bike out there or the latest wetsuit design. All that stuff is expensive, and not necessary for beginners. Heck, its not even necessary for dedicated age-groupers. Just get the basics, and if you really get into triathlons (or win the lottery), you can get some of the fancy schmancy stuff that the pros use.

For me, here are the bare necessities:


Swim suit (train in this, but I don’t recommend it for your race)
Cap (they usually provide you with one at the race site, but you’ll need one to train in if you’ve got long hair)
Wet suit (Only if you plan on racing in cold water)


Bike shorts (Again, for training, not for the race)


Running sneakers
Workout clothes

Triathlon Specific gear:

I recommend getting tri shorts and a tri top. Not necessary for your first race, but you’ll be WAY more comfortable and have faster transitions than if you race in your swimsuit and shorts.

4) Go have fun!

It’s your first race! Grab some early risers to come cheer you on. Enjoy participating in a competition with others who have dedicated just as many hours as you have. Feel that sense of accomplishment for doing something challenging, and persevere to the end! It will feel amazing to cross that finish line!


Have you competed in a triathlon before? Is it something you would consider?

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  1. Kara on October 26, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I love the “idea” of a tri, but I hate bikes so much, haha. I guess if I want to work out for 9 hours, I’ll just have to run the whole time.

    This was a very comprehensive post!

    • Fitnessista on October 26, 2011 at 10:50 am

      yes- steph did an amazing job!

  2. Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie on October 26, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Wow awesome reading about this! Steph way to rock it out! My best friend does half ironmans and it is crazy seeing how intense it is, but she says the accomplishment she feels from it is like no other!

  3. Alyssa @ Don't Look Down on October 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

    This is a great post Steph!
    I know you mentioned this briefly but I recommend looking for a race where the water is warm so you don’t have to rent a wetsuit. They can be very expensive to buy or to rent and since triathlons are usually pretty expensive anyways, this is a good way to cut cost. I’ve done 3 and not used a wetsuit for any!
    Local races are also great because usually there are a lot more beginners and first-timers. The first time can be a little nerve-racking! People are usually super friendly so don’t be afraid to ask advice/questions!
    Triathlons are great!

  4. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat on October 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Great post Steph! I’ve only competed in 1 tri in my life so far (and that’s when I was like 8 years old – it was a kids sprint tri lol!) but I’d say I’m more of a runner than cyclist or swimmer. Nevertheless, you’ve definitely piqued my interest and motivation with this post!

  5. Victoria (District Chocoholic) on October 26, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Also key: finding training partners with the same swimsuit as you. Duh.

  6. Allison on October 26, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I loved this post! so crazy because i actually signed up for my very first Triathlon August 2012!! so nervous and excited at the same time. I’m starting my training now, and will also be running a couple 10K races before the big Tri race. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but it sure motivates me to keep moving.

  7. Gen on October 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Great post!!! I’m pretty interested in doing tris one day……

  8. Ashley on October 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Thanks Steph for a really good post!
    I did my first triathlon (as a relay…I did 2/3 of it, and if you aren’t sure whether you can make it doing all 3 disciplines, finding friends to share it with is perfectly allowed at many races!) this summer and it was really awesome. I only wished I was a stronger swimmer so I could have done it all, but that just gives me something to work toward over the winter at the gym pool! I recommend at least trying one to anyone who does at least 1 of the sports for sure.

  9. Hillary on October 26, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I want to do a tri so bad, but unfortunately I have the same problems as Gina: I don’t bike (other than at Spin class), and the last time I was a competitive swimmer was at the age of 10. Maybe one day, though!

  10. Jennifer Cook on October 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I just completed my first tri last month (also with Team in Training0 and I am hooked! Loved this post- thought it was a great overview. I love racing and plan on doing many more triathlons in the future.

  11. Ali @ Around the VeggieTable on October 26, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Great post Steph! It’s funny too because I was scrolling, and when I got to the ice cream picture I was like heyyyy I know her! Erin and I went to college together 🙂 Smalllll world!

  12. Felicia on October 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I’ve done 2 sprint triathlons and they were so much fun!

  13. Jen on October 26, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I did my first three triathlons (all sprint) this year, and it is SO much fun! I *loved* this post! Reading about the experiences of seasoned triathletes is so inspirational. The only thing I’d add to this is the importance of brick workouts…they’re so, so helpful in preparing you from transitioning from one event to the other (especially running on legs that have been cycling for a while).

  14. Jen Correa @ Mom's Gotta Run on October 26, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I am too much of a scatter brain. I just run. Anything more would confuse me. 🙂 I’m a blonde at heart.

  15. Katie @ Peace Love & Oats on October 26, 2011 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been dying to try a tri, but living off student loans right now means I have zero money! I’m hoping to do a sprint next year near home so I can use a family bike. Thanks for the great information!

  16. Kristie on October 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Love this post! I did my first sprint tri this past summer and LOVED it. My brain is always running all over the place so the ability to go from one activity to the next was nice and distracting :). Thanks for the links too Steph – I hope to use them to help me train for my first half ironman next summer!

  17. Krystina (Organically Me) on October 26, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I don’t think I could ever do (nor would I want to do) a triathlon. I’m not very athletic, very fast, and I’m extremely uncoordinated. If a tri included light jogging, yoga, and baking, then that I could do. 😛

  18. Molly @ the F-spot on October 26, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Great overview for someone interested in getting into the sport. I’ve worked my way up to signing up for my Ironman Canada 2012 (GULP!!!)

    One thing that helped me tremendously was WATCHING a triathlon before competing. I was not sure how the whole transition thing worked the first time, so it helped to spectate near the transition area to see how different people set up their personal space and made the transition. There is a bit of a science to having the right stuff in the right place for a fast transition.

    I agree with Jen on the importance of brick workouts. One thing that several friends who are new to tri have told me is that their legs were not prepared to run after being on the bike. Acclimating to that change is pretty critical, especially in long races.

    Finally, don’t forget to figure out a nutrition plan and train with it for a successful race day. The right food and hydration are very often the difference between a PR and a bonk.

  19. Courtney on October 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I did a tri last summer but I don’t think I’d do it again. I had never run or competed in any kind of race and chose the tri as my first. That was probably my biggest mistake. The bike and run were fine but I almost quit running into the water in the beginning. I was so miserable and felt so underprepared getting ready for the swim. I looked behind me and saw all of my friends and my boyfriend cheering me on and I knew I couldn’t quit. That gave me the kick in the butt I needed to suck it up and go for it. I’m so proud of myself for completing it but I don’t think I’d do another. To fulfill my competitive spirit now I run. Much easier and there’s no risk of getting swam over and drowning 🙂

  20. Lauren on October 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    This was an amazing post — even though I don’t see myself doing a triathlon in the near future, it is always encouraging to see other people who are dedicated (really dedicated!) to fitness. I would love to hear more about incorporating swimming into an exercise routine. I am an average swimmer but the thought of laps for exercise causes me such stress!

    Also, Gilt is having a pretty good sale on Physique 57 today for all you who like a little barre work in your life. 🙂

  21. Laura on October 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Awesome post! I plan on doing my first sprint tri next summer. Just need to remember how to swim 🙂

  22. jen f. on October 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    i’ve always wanted to run a triathlon and was pretty close to being in shape enough to do so…then i got pregnant 🙂 two years later and maybe i should try getting back to the old me and doing one!
    Smoking Crayolas Blogspot

  23. Becky @ Fit Chick on the Fly on October 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Great post Steph! I’d love to do a Tri one day. One step at a time though…I just finished my first 1/2 marathon!

  24. Brigid on October 26, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    This is definitely one of the best “focus on” posts I’ve seen. Great job, Steph! I’ve been interested in a sprint tri for a while now, and you’ve totally inspired me. I’m running my first 5K in December, which is definitely the part that scares me the most, so if I can do that, I have faith I can do the other two events. I checked out the Beginner Triathlete site and printed out a plan starting after the 5K. Thanks for the inspiration!

  25. Destini on October 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    WOW that is so awesome!! Loved this post. Triathlons are quite the triumph. My cuz just did Ironman Canada in BC this past August. I was sooo proud of him. He lives in San Diego so the beautiful weather helps being able to train all year round.

    Wonderful post 🙂

  26. chelsea on October 26, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Great post about doing a triathlon! I love having the what you need/what you can use points which is probably the most nerve wracking for me. As well as the fact I have a mountain (Trek) bike instead of a “tri” racing bike. I want to do one so bad but those two things make me nervous/scared. I love the fact that with running I can just get up and go lol.

  27. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga on October 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve done one tri, years ago. It was fun! It was at a time in my life where I had more time to train and devote to tri preparation, and it’s fun to think back about it.

    Thanks for sharing your fab tips.

  28. Sonia (the Mexigarian) on October 26, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I truly do want to do a tri next year. Maybe two if I survive the first. Thanks for a great post! Any tips on how to cycle train when you’re not allowed on the roads?

    • Molly @ the F-spot on October 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      You can get a piece of equipment for your bike called a trainer that allows you to spin freely on a “hamster wheel” for your bike. That way, you are basically training on your own bike (rather than a Spinning bike at the gym), which is more true-to-life.

      They can be pricey, so check Craigslist or eBay for used ones. Good luck! 🙂

  29. Courtney @ The Petite AthlEAT on October 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    This is such a great post! Thank you for sharing! I have always wanted to try a triathlon. I even bought a roadbike that I’ve never ridden!!

  30. Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin on October 26, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for this informative post!

    Now that I’ve added swimming to my workout routine, I’ve definitely started considering doing a tri. My area actually has something called a “Try-a-Tri” every summer where the distances are all reduced, so it’s a great way to test it out. I think I’m going to sign up for this next summer! And then if all goes well, maybe a sprint tri by the end of the summer? 😀

  31. Erin on October 28, 2011 at 12:08 am

    Tris are awesome!! I fell in love with them when I was recovering from a running injury and tried to keep myself busy with swimming and biking. I added running back in little by little, signed up for my first sprint and now I’m hooked. 🙂

    • Marty M on October 31, 2011 at 11:28 am

      That’s the only downside of triathlons: They’re completely addictive. It’s not just the swimming, biking, and running. What you learn about time management and mind management is incredibly valuable/rewarding even when you’re nowhere near the course or the gym.

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