How to Participate in a Triathlon

Participating in a triathlon can be both an exciting and daunting task. To both sides—the ones who think it’s too hard, and the ones who think it’ll be a piece of cake—it takes a lot of preparation, but it’s definitely doable.

Finding a Race

There are 5 lengths of triathlons:

1. Ironman

2. Half-Ironman

3. Olympic

4. Sprint

5. And the very rare Half-Sprint

If you’re new to both triathlons and its components (swimming, biking, running) starting with the shortest distance is best. To find a race, you can visit, a website that features athletic events all over the country. You can search by type of event and location, so that you can find something local. It’s fairly easy to find a sprint triathlon in your area on Half-sprints are trickier. On each event page, you can find the distances for each leg of the race. The distances for sprint triathlons vary, but you can generally find one with distances similar to these: 750 meter swim, 9-12 mile bike, and 5k run.

Also on the event page, lists the date and time, fees and restrictions, and has a link to the event’s official page.


A lot goes into the gear of a triathlon. There are no places between legs to change your clothes, and proper equipment will shorten your race time. Since some races have time limits on completion, anything that will make you faster is important.

The best clothing for a triathlon is a trisuit (think breathable wet suit)—which dries quickly, making it functional during the whole race. Because the beginning of the bike leg isn’t right next to the end of the swim leg, it’s necessary to run between the two. The options for this are to have shoes waiting for you when you get out of the water, or to wear shoes that you can swim and run in. Also, get a pair of goggles with a panoramic view and an anti-fog treatment.

The biking leg of the race requires the most equipment, the first of which is a road bike. A road bike is a lightweight bicycle—made of aluminum or carbon—with thin, low-tread tires. A bike like this will go significantly faster than, say, a mountain bike.

Various things that need to be added to a road bike for triathlon use include a helmet, aerobars and a customized seat. The helmet is obvious. Pick one with aerodynamic qualities. Aerobars are basically elbow pads that extend toward you from the handle bars. They allow you to rest your arms as you lean forward, making your more aerodynamic—which makes you faster. Finally, the seat should be comfortable to you. You’ll be sitting on it for several miles.


Before you start training for a triathlon (even a sprint) you should be running, biking and swimming regularly. Specific training for a sprint triathlon comes in at about 13 weeks before the race. An online search can lead you to several free training guides, like tri-newbies online. Good ones will give you more than just a calendar with distance listed for each day.

For the running training, another good approach is the RUN-WALK-RUN method by Jack Galloway. Using an interval timer, this method allows you to rest before you get tired, making you run faster and a longer distance than if you ran the whole way.

Race Day

On race day, make sure that you arrive on time, well-hydrated and well-rested. This is the fun part. You’ve trained for months, and invested in the proper equipment. Now it’s time to put it to use, and accomplish your goal. Remember that, although you probably won’t win, your first race is an accomplishment in itself. Good job!