Triathlon. Does the thought of that word make you shake your head and think: “Are you joking? My bike has a basket on the front, I can’t put my head in the water and haven’t done breaststroke since I was a kid!”
You’ll be surprised that you can ride any type of bike at a triathlon (even if it didn’t cost £2,000) and that in some triathlons – up to the longest, known as Ironman – some swimmers do in fact prefer breaststroke.
Triathlons consist of a swim – either in a pool, lake or the sea – followed by a bike, and then they finish off with a run. If you haven’t done a triathlon before, the challenge can feel like you’re taking a leap out of your comfort zone, but starter tris can be as short as a 200m swim, 8K bike and 1K run. Give yourself the chance and you may find the experience is life-changing… running after a swim and a bike can make you feel powerful, and the whole body workout leaves you with a massive sense of achievement. “A triathlon takes you out of your comfort zone, into the realms of deep water (literally) and challenges your entire body and mind in all sorts of ways that just one discipline can’t,” says Lucy Fry, author of Run, Ride, Sink or Swim.
“It’s also really social as a sport and forces you to cross train, so you’ll be less likely to get injured (swimming is very low impact for example, and cycling more low impact than running). Yes, there’s the weight loss angle and it’s great for confidence building, but really it’s the variety and social aspect that are key.”
Intrigued? Here are our reasons why you should dip your toe (sorry!) in the water of triathlon…
Improve your running strength
“When you learn how to run after a 20 or 40K cycle ride, you really learn how to run,” adds Lucy. “Running with jelly legs is no mean feat, and if you’re already a runner you may even find yourself better off than some other triathletes who don’t have your experience.” During your first triathlon you may find the run section feels tough on your legs. But give them time and they get used to the feeling and speed soon returns. Running after a bike ride will only make your legs stronger.
Everyone loves a bargain
“I think people should give triathlon a go because it’s a three-for-one special!” says Katie Zaferes, the American triathlete who took third at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series World Championship. “You get to do three different sports, which means plenty of variety so there will always be a part of your race that went well and always something to work on to be better!” Having to work on three disciplines will keep you intellectually stimulated and hungry to find out how to improve each sport, as well as combine them all on race day to reach your finish line.
Face that fear
If you never mastered swimming as a child – which definitely isn’t something to be embarrassed about – training for triathlon gives you a second try at the sport. “Enter a triathlon and for many people you suddenly have the motivation and opportunity to learn to swim properly – and to swim in open water, too, which again can be transformational,” says Lucy.
Bucket list experience
“Triathlon can be a fantastic life experience that pushes your mind and body to new limits (if you let it),” says Lucy. A taster tri may lead to a sprint tri (usually a 400m swim, 20K bike, 5K run), which may lead to an Olympic distance tri (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) – and if you really get addicted, an Ironman! A massive 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile ride and then a marathon.
Make new connections
“Triathlon will offer you the chance to meet new people (or even perhaps explore a little sporting romance!) without lots of alcohol around, so if you’re on a health kick then it’s healthy and social too,” says Lucy.
Triathlon is a very inclusive sport for beginners all the way through to the elite level as, like in running, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. “Within triathlon you can meet a wide range of people due to the variety of different sports groups and types of races you can take part in,” adds British triathlete Lucy Charles-Barclay, who recently won Challenge Roth in Germany, running her first sub-three hour marathon in an Ironman.
Triathlon training helps you increase your general running fitness, while in the pool or on the bike, but without the impact of repeatedly hitting the pavements or paths. “There is great variety to the training, which is ideal to increase overall fitness and keep your motivation levels high, as there’s always something to improve on,” advises Lucy. “Triathlon increases leg strength from the bike and it will definitely improve your body’s ability to function well under pressure,” she adds. “If you’re not sure about triathlon, one great way to start is by being a part of a relay team and have a go at each of the three disciplines separately.”
“There is much more variety in training and racing within triathlon, so it’s always interesting and fun,” says Lucy Charles-Barclay. And as you get stronger in each discipline, you’ll get faster in the others. “Before triathlon I was a runner and my fastest half marathon time was 1 hour 25 minutes,” says Fenella Langridge. “Since training in all three sports and doing less running miles, I can now run a 1 hour 19 minutes half, and that’s after a 90K hard bike [ride].”
Improve your sense of humour
Lots more things can go wrong in triathlon – which can be infuriating at the time, but which you will laugh about later. “I did stupid things in front of other triathletes, like put my wetsuit on backwards,” says Lucy Fry. Triathlon has many elements and helps you to take yourself less seriously if all of them don’t go to plan.
“I’d say that if you can a ord the time and money, going on a triathlon camp is a great way to build con dence and really get immersed in triathlon, giving yourself enough time and space to learn more about the sport,” suggests Lucy Fry. “But also, just start really small with a super sprint tri, as there are always lots of beginners there. I know someone who did her first event in just a swimming costume and running shoes.”
“I believe the biggest difference between triathlon and maybe a single-event support is the community and atmosphere around each event. It’s electric,” says Fenella. “If you let it, triathlon can take you anywhere in the world and give you the chance to meet amazing people.”
“The support on the course was like nothing else I’ve experienced,” says Lucy Charles-Barclay about her Challenge Roth win. “Solarberg Hill is the famous climb and people are in the road screaming you on, like in the Tour de France. You can’t help but smile and have goosebumps all over as you go through them.”
Not forgetting the cake!
The social side of sport is important to us all, and with triathlon you can be a part of a cycling club, a swimming club and a running club if you want. “On the whole triathlon is similar in terms of atmosphere to running races, or a marathon, and it’s even better if you’re really into gadgets and gear as there is plenty more to geek out about. I can also really recommend the massive cakes at the top of Box Hill, a common cycling destination,” says Lucy Fry.
“Cycling training is basically a cake stop tour around the UK, so it’s definitely a great discipline to add into your training!” adds Lucy Charles-Barclay.
Still worried? Read Lucy Fry’s book. “There’s lots in there to inspire you and make you laugh (at me). The section in there about paratriathlete Jane Egan will put most people’s fears into perspective. I’d say watching any kind of para-sporting event is a good motivator, as is doing an event for charity.”
Upcoming popular beginner triathlons
Cheshire Fun Triathlon (pool)
Nantwich, 17 May 2020
Stratford Fun Triathlon (pool)
Stratford-Upon-Avon, 3 May 2020
Birmingham Fun Triathlon (lake)
Sutton Coldfield, 31 May 2020
Blenheim Palace Triathlon (lake)
Blenheim, Oxfordshire, 31 May 2020
Castle Triathlon Series
All over the UK, May-Sept 2020
Essential tri kit
Dry Robe Long Sleeve
From £110, dryrobe.com
Banish shivers and shakes and get changed in warmth and comfort with a Dry Robe. You can take them to your winter running races and they’ll transform those frosty cross-country meets, too.
Sundried Performance Tri Suit
Ideal for beginners or shorter distances, this is aerodynamic and slick. Made from premium technical fabrics it’s fast- drying and chlorine-resistant. A hypoallergenic chamois pad provides comfort and shock absorption. We love the style.
Build & Fitness Microfibre Towel
A towel that takes minimal kit-bag space, to lay on the ground in transition to dry your feet after your swim. Very absorbent, just one swipe and you’ll be ready for your bike
Sundried Legend Polarised Swimming Goggles
It’s important to protect your eye health when swimming; the polarised lenses on these block harmful UV rays and anti-fog technology ensures a clear view for the whole swim.
Compressport Triathlon Under Control Short
Compression fit to reduce fatigue and facilitate recovery and ample storage for at least six gels/bars. A V-shaped belt sits comfortably across your waist. Excellent thermoregulation and ventilation too.
Parcours Passista/Chrono wheelset
If money isn’t an issue, then investing in a pair of top-level wheels could make your race day. On average, female triathletes are lighter than their male counterparts, so they benefit from a shallower front wheel. Over 80 per cent of top female triathletes go for this setup, including pros Fenella Langridge and Grace Thek. We’re drooling.
Compressport Race Belt
Keeps your race number in place, so you can concentrate on getting to the finish. You have eight elastic loops for gels and it’s easily adjustable so it stays put.
361 Spire 3
This premium, high-mileage trainer, worn by pro triathlete Katie Zaferes, has a natural and balanced toe off and enhances ground contact for better acceleration. At the end of a tri you’ll be glad of the comfort of this supportive but flexible shoe.
Sundried Velo Jersey
Stay comfortable, dry and warm for mile after mile. The long length hem gives extra protection to your lower back. Impressively, Sundried uses 100 per cent recycled materials.
Canyon Roadlite 6.0
Entry-level triathlon bikes start at £500. Here you get all the basics, plus a light aluminium frame, carbon fork, Shimano MT200 disc brakes and Sora groupset, and high- quality wheels with grippy tyres.