As the triathlon season cranks up, you’ll find a triathlon distance to suit you. Races are happening all over the country with different courses to appeal to different runners. Triathlons can include on and off-road running and cycling, and swimming in pools, lakes and rough seas! You can also focus on longer distances or opt for shorter, speedier events like sprint triathlons.
If you’re looking to take on your first or your best triathlon yet this year, read on for our tips.
How long are the triathlon distances?
Triathlons vary in length from Super Sprint all the way up to Iron distance.
Super Sprint Triathlon distance
- swim 400m
- Bike 10km
- Run 2.5km
Sprint Triathlon distance
- Swim 750m
- Bike 20km
- run 5km
Olympic Distance Triathlon (Also called Standard distance)
- Swim 1.5km
- Bike 40km
- run 10km
Half Iron or 70.3
- Swim 1.9km
- Bike 90km
- Run 21km (half marathon distance)
(You’ll see this distance called a 70.3 as that’s the total combined distance of the three disciplines in miles.)
Iron Distance or 140.6
- Swim 3.8km
- Bike 180km
- Run 42km (marathon distance)
Pool or open water swim triathlon?
Many runners competing in a triathlon for the first time are put of by the fear of swimming in open water (lakes, rivers or the sea). The good news is that you don’t have to. There are Super Sprint or Sprint triathlons such as the Crystal Palace Triathlon that involve a pool swim as opposed to wild swimming. So you can still compete in a triathlon and build confidence before taking on an open water event.
Triathlon races that involve pool swims also allow triathletes to start racing earlier in the season when the water outdoors is still a little on the cold side.
Do I need a wetsuit for a triathlon?
If your triathlon involves a pool swim, you won’t need a wetsuit and you can either swim in a swimming costume then put some shorts on over the top when you get out or swim in a ‘trisuit’ which is designed to be work throughout the race.
Whether you need a wetsuit for an open water swim will depend on the water temperature and the triathlon distance you’re racing. Generally is the water temperature is below 14C, a wetsuit is mandatory. If the water temperature rises above 22C, wetsuits will be banned. Anywhere in between and it’s up to you.
What is triathlon transition?
As well as swimming, cycling and running, you’ll also be competing at the fourth triathlon discipline: getting changed. ‘Transition’ is the part of the race when you switch from one activity to the next. You’ll cross a timing mat when you finish the swim which will stop the clock on your swim leg but start the timer on your T1 (or first transition).
The time taken in each transition counts towards your overall race time, so many athletes will spend time during training practicing their transitions. The goal is to get ready for the next leg as quickly as possible but without forgetting anything. At the very least it’s worth practicing getting out of your wetsuit as this can take some time.
It’s also important how you set up your kit in transition. You’ll be disqualified if you don’t wear a bike helmet so make sure you put this somewhere you won’t forget it. Putting it on your bike seat or handle bars is a good option.
Training for a triathlon
What your triathlon training looks like will depend on how confident you are at each of the different disciplines. The weaker you are at one of the elements, the more time you should dedicate to it.
For those coming from a running background, you’ll now need to add swimming and cycling into your week. This might mean cutting back on your runs a little to make time in your schedule. Don’t panic about losing fitness – the cycling and swimming is great cross training and will more than make up for the reduced running. Studies show that cycling can even improve your running.
Adding a spin session to your week is a great way to train for the bike leg, but try to add a longer steady bike ride into your week too.
Working on your swimming technique can make a huge difference to your speed and confidence in the water, so whatever your level of swimming it’s worth looking into lessons.
If you can keep up some of your usual strength training, that’s an added bonus that will benefit your running, swimming and cycling.
Joining a triathlon club is a great way to get help and encouragement for your training as well as finding new training buddies. British Triathlon has a search tool you can use to find a triathlon club near you.
Know the rules of your triathlon distance
It’s easy for first-timers to fall foul of the rules of triathlon so get to know the basics like the helmet rule. Helmets must be clipped before the bike is touched, and remain done up until the bike is racked after the cycle stage. So get to know the basics.
Triathlons take a hard line on littering so you’ll need to keep any gel wrappers etc on you. Certain items are banned during the race – this includes mobile phones and personal video recording devices.