Welcome to the first installment of a 5 part Beginners Series.
Before you can decide if you want to do a Triathlon, you need to know what a Triathlon is. Dictionary.com defines Triathlon as “an athletic contest comprising three consecutive events, usually swimming, bicycling, and distance running”. While that is the definition of a Triathlon, I think there is more to the sport than just that. There are many other aspects of Triathlon that make it a unique and exciting sport.
Even though you are racing with other Triathletes, it is an “individual” sport. In other words, during the race, you can’t receive any outside help. The only people you can accept help from during the race are the official volunteers. No pacers on the run, no drafting on the bike, and no items can be passed to you from family, friends or coach. The longer the Triathlon is, the more important your preparation becomes. Pre-planning is key because once the race starts you are on your own.
Because Triathlon is such an individual sport I think it can create less pressure to compete. Sure, there are many athletes that race to compete, including myself. But there are just as many athletes that race just to complete. I’ve found that the longer the race is, the more that is true. There is something very rewarding about getting outside your comfort zone and trying something new. Great satisfaction can be had by signing up, training for, and completing a Triathlon.
For many athletes new to Triathlon, it is a true challenge to train for 3 different sports. It’s what makes Triathlon so unique and also what makes it so fun. Many athletes find themselves cross-training due to injury, rehab, or a need to change things up. So they find themselves biking or swimming or running in addition to their “main” sport. Then the next logical step is to put it all together and do a Triathlon. Another great thing about Triathlon is that there are different ways to be competitive. You can be great in one discipline and just ok in the others or just good in all 3. Whether you want to be competitive or not, the over-all stress on the body is less than training for just 1 discipline. Your training workload gets spread out over 3 different sports and overuse injuries tend to be fewer.
Another unique thing about Triathlon is the importance of nutrition, especially in the Half-Iron and Iron distance Triathlons. According to Running USA the average Male Marathon finishing time in 2015 was 4:20:13 while the average Half-Iron distance triathlon finish time is around 6:00:00 and Full Iron is around 12:35:00. Doing any type of physical activity for 6 hours or more requires careful nutrition planning. Long course triathlons bring nutrition challenges that need to be experimented with, trained with, and properly executed on race day.
Just like most single sport races, there are various distances in Triathlon races. Most common distances for Triathlon are: Sprint Distance (750 yrd swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run), Olympic or International Distance (1500 yrd swim, 28 mile bike, 10k run), Half-Iron Distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), and Iron Distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). Each distance provides its own challenges and rewards. Besides distances, other differences can be Open Water Swim or Pool Swim, Mountain Bike or Road Bike, Trail Run or Road Run, draft legal or non-draft legal. With so many options it’s easy to find a Triathlon that excites you.
But wait… there’s more. More options? Yes, more options. Do you want to experience Triathlon but you can only do one or 2 of the disciplines? No problem. Create a Team and sign up for a Relay. That’s right, you can be a member of a team and just do the discipline that you’re best at. This is a great way to learn about Triathlons without having to do all 3 sports. Many races offer other choices like Duathlon (run-bike-run), Aquathon (swim-run), and Aquabike (swim-bike). With so many options available it’s easy to see why Multisports and Triathlons have grown in popularity in recent years.
So now you have an idea of what the sport of Triathlon is all about. Interested? Stay tuned for the next installment, “Picking Your First Triathlon”, post 2 of this 5-part series.