If you’re just looking at getting into sport, I already know you’re thinking “WHAT?!?!” But seriously, triathlon has grown sooooo much in the last few years and it’s truly a sport for everyone. Think about it – when you were a kid, weren’t you begging your parents to take you down to the beach or to the local waterpark, or running around playing tag, or hanging out with your friends on your bikes? Well now you get to do all three!
Triathlon sounds super-scary because it involves three sports, but the vast majority of events are aimed at beginners. There are even some events which are solely for beginners, like the Wimbledon Womble triathlon which you can’t enter if you’ve done more than one triathlon previously (plus you get a hug from a Womble at the end, a chocolate brownie and a medal shaped like a Womble on skates; what’s not to make you want to do it?!). In addition, the bigger events like the London Triathlon (the biggest triathlon in the world in terms of numbers of competitors) generally attract about 60% total newbies to triathlon, partly because there are so many charity places. It’s genuinely one of the most friendly sports … albeit a little addictive!
who’s it for?
Everyone! If you’re a beginner, then the swim is usually the bit people worry about most, but there are loads of different options to make it less scary: first, you can do a pool-based triathlon where you can touch the bottom at all times; secondly, you can wear a wetsuit (indeed you are mostly required to do so) which acts as a giant floatation device; thirdly, you can do a sprint or super-sprint which has a really short swim. All triathlons must be fully marshalled to comply with BTF/ITF rules, and you should be allowed to do breaststroke if that’s better for you.
Of course if you’re a seasoned runner, cyclist or swimmer looking for a new challenge then triathlon is naturally for you too! Very few people come into it with a background in all three sports, which makes it all the more interesting if you’re looking for a true challenge. There are some very competitive races available, in particular, the qualifying races for the European and/or World Triathlon Championships. Look out for those on the BTF website if you’re already an accomplished athlete and want a seriously challenging race.
do i need fancy kit?
Well, you will need a bike, otherwise it’s a little hard to do the bike leg! However literally any bike will do; I have seen people doing both London Hyde Park and the London Triathlon on Boris Bikes; I’ve also seen people turn up with full offroading bikes with surly tyres. Obviously some people get involved with the full carbon fibre kit but half the time these are the ones who make up the classic “All the gear and no idea” mob, so don’t be intimidated if you’re racking next to one of the fancy schmancy looking bikes.
The other thing that you’ll most likely need to do an open water event is a wetsuit and this really has to be a swimming/triathlon wetsuit because a surf wetsuit won’t let you move through the water. However these can be rented for the day or for week (if you want to practice in it, which I’d recommend) if you don’t fancy shelling out for one to keep.
The only other thing that can come in handy is a trisuit; a one or two piece lycra job that you can wear for all three legs of the event. You can get a really cheap version and it’s worth it because it saves trying to mess around changing underneath a towel between disciplines (no nudity is allowed in triathlon … whether this is a shame or not is a matter for you!).
good to know
If you want to find a race to do, obviously google is the best place to start. Most triathlons are fairly well promoted on google and you are likely also to find blogs which will tell you what the event is like. Another good place is your regulating body – here in the UK it’s the British Triathlon Federation and their website has details of all regulated races.
Once you’ve chosen your triathlon and signed up, definitely read the event information in advance! Sometimes if you’re really lucky this is on a YouTube video so that you can actually see what the swim, bike and run courses look like. Most often however it’s an electronic booklet which sets out all the details. If you can, it’s a good idea to check out the course, especially the bike and swim courses,,in advance so you’re familiar with them, but that’s not always possible and it’s not a big deal; they’ll always be well-sign-posted and/or marshalled out on the course.
Most events are super, super, super friendly. If you’re nervous, get there early and collar a marshal; most have done events before and are fully aware of how you’re feeling. You will always have to register at a triathlon anyway, so feel free to ask ANY questions from the marshals there. Don’t be worried about sounding stupid, they’ll have heard all the questions a million times!
As I mentioned above, most of the people wandering about in lycra with specialist kit, carbon fibre bikes and worryingly aerodynamic bike hats (aka sperm hats) belong to the “all the kit and still shit” clan; seriously, don’t be intimidated by their impressive array of goodies. Triathletes will seriously buy anything – anything – that’s put in front of them; it doesn’t make them any better than you on your trusty mountain bike. Having said that, after a race or two you’ll find yourself eying up all kinds of kit … it’s just what happens, it’s more addictive than the flu!
So you think you’re just going to do one race for the bragging rights right? But … sometimes you get the bug (okay, most people get the bug! Plus you want that fancy carbon fibre bike now …). You can keep on training and doing events solo, or you can get involved in a squad or tri club. There are loads out there catering for all abilities and ambitions, and it’s an amazing way to meet some of the best friends you’ll ever make. My tri-squaddies are amazing! If you don’t have a local club or you just don’t fancy group training, you can also download loads of plans online – http://www.trainingpeaks.com has loads of different options. Triathlon is one of the few sports that has international championships for true amateurs, as it has continental and worldwide age-group championships every year in which you can represent your country. Therefore, the sky is truly the limit!
The other nice thing about tri is that there are so many different options within the sport; if speed is your thing then you can train for sprint distance and blast it out, but if endurance is more your cup of tea then there’s half-iron and iron distances to play with. Anything is possible! In addition, if you decide you really hate the swim then there’s duathlon (run/bike/run); similarly, if cycling’s not your thing then aquathlon (swim/bike) might be perfect for you. There’s always an event that’s right for you!
check it out
My tri-squaddies and I from Serpentine have had an amazing time over the last few years. We’ve been all over the country – I’ve done tris as far afield as the gorgeous Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire down to the slightly less glamorous (although incredibly friendly) Andover in Hampshire. I also attended a couple of triathlon camps in Greece with RnR TriCamps which was absolutely AMAZING and led to both more good times and yet more fabulous friends.
Leave a comment below and let me know whether you’ve done a triathlon or you’re thinking about doing one and, if so, which one!