Gosh, I remember the day like it was yesterday. Sitting on the couch in 2011, I watched a gentleman in Kona at the Ironman World Championships on the TV really struggling on the run. He was hunched over, barely moving, but nonetheless, still shuffling forward. I thought to myself, “that’s my kind of people!” I had already run a few marathons at that point and was ready for the next challenge. Bought a road bike, splashed around in the pool and within a few months, I did my first triathlon.
Now a few years and many triathlons later, I love getting others, especially women, involved in this addicting sport that I love. So, if you are considering it or are just curious, here are my tips on how to get started in this awesome sport.
Get in the water
It seems accurate to state that most triathletes don’t have a swimming background. If you are one of the lucky ones that do have a swimming background, you are steps ahead of most newbies to triathlon. If you don’t have a swimming background, don’t let this be the reason why you won’t consider a triathlon! There are supportive groups out there that can help you learn and learn properly from the beginning. I highly advise joining a master swim program that welcomes beginners. This will help you enjoy going to the pool to see your new swim friends and also have someone on the pool deck watching you and occasionally giving you tips. This is a much more effective use of your time versus getting the courage to go to the pool yourself without anyone to give you guidance. You want to learn proper motor skills from the beginning, not going to the pool yourself and then having to re-learn to swim due to having learned bad form! Yes, not everyone wants to win a triathlon or even be competitive, but swimming properly will help prevent injuries and prevent frustration! Check out www.usms.org to find a master swim program near you.
If master swimming is not an option in your area, go online and find a swim coach. A couple private lessons a month will be a very cost-effective way to make sure you are doing the right drills and workouts to help improve/learn your swim form. Also, you will need to find a gym or pool to become a member of. For the sake of efficiency, I recommend the pool that is nearest to where you live. An hour session can easily turn into a two hour session if you are driving for 30 minutes in the car and then swimming an hour and then 30 minutes back home….plus shower time! Also, consider joining a gym that is part of a larger chain. If you travel for work, typically it is easier to get access to a pool that belongs to your same chain.
You will need to swim in the open water before your race. In many conversations I have with new swimmers/triathletes, they are scared to try open water swim, more than anything. There are some local sprint triathlons that could be in the pool, but as you progress in the sport, you will need to be ready to do one in the open water. The best way to do this is to find some friends that will swim, sup or kayak alongside you while you swim. I have done many open water swims parallel to shore lines at the crack of dawn in the unpopulated areas of the lake. Another great way to find open water swim friends is to message people on Facebook triathlon boards to see where they swim. For certain times of the year, a wetsuit will be required. The best way to find a wetsuit is to go to a store that sells them and try them on. Or …. Even better …. If you live in an area that hosts big races, they typically have race expos and you can go to the expo and shop the wetsuit vendors and try on suits right there. And sometimes they give a race sale. Typically, I advise to wear a wetsuit when the water temperatures are 72 or less, but each person is different. The wetsuit legal temperature for most races is 76 degrees or below, so for most climates, you can wear a wetsuit year-round. Unless you live in Texas where we almost never use wetsuits…
As far as gear beyond wetsuits, the gear required is typically a swim suit for training that is meant for swimming in (one or two pieces) and a pair of goggles. A lot of people ask what goggles are the best. The thing is, what works for me does not work for everyone else! I personally have tried on goggles from every company out there and rotate between two pairs in open water and two pairs in the pool. The key is to find a pair that do not irritate your eye sockets or give you headaches all while being able to see clearly in the conditions. For a sunny swim, there are tinted goggles, for morning sessions you have clear goggles and then there are everything in-between.
It’s all about the bike
Well, not really. But a properly fitted bike makes a world of a difference when it comes to enjoying your bike rides. Do you need a brand-new TT bike that costs thousands of dollars to do a triathlon? NO! But, you do need to know what size you are before you buy a bike. The least stressful way would be to go to your local bike shop and talk to them about getting a bike. For a basic road bike at most shops, you will be spending at least $400. But with this, you will have the peace of mind that you are buying the correct size for you. Again, this is another place where joining a Facebook triathlon group to ask where people in your area like to go will help you. This shop can offer you a fit and offer recommendations for other gear you need to actually ride your bike, such as a helmet, bike shoes, pedals, bike/tri shorts and bike/tri jersey. Some shops actually have package deals to get all of these items and save on all of the items. You don’t need a road bike, however, to do a triathlon. If you happen to already own a mountain bike, there is nothing wrong with testing out the sport on a mountain bike! I see at least one at every local race, even some at Ironman’s!
What about used bikes? Well, you can find sometimes a great deal on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace, but unless you know what you are looking for, you put yourself at risk for buying a bike the wrong size or being ripped off. You can do a lot of research on the internet to find the best sized frame recommended for you as well as the blue book value of your bike. However, there are so many components and factors that go into building a bike that if you don’t know much about bikes and you are considering a used bike, please find a friend who knows a bit about cycling come with you when you check it out.
My bike isn’t that comfortable… I remember my first 30-mile ride on my road bike. I had slowly worked my way up to 20 miles and then one day decided to try out the full length of the bike trail by my house. And I was so miserable at mile 20 that I thought I would never be able to do a long bike ride. Thankfully I had friends to help me realize my issue. I was riding on a saddle that was not a proper fit for my body framework. Soon after buying a split nose saddle and adjusting the handlebars with a bike fit later, I was knocking off heaps of time and rolling much faster. If something feels off while you are riding, do not ever feel like you just need to muscle through it and accept it as normal. Have someone look at your fit.
What about running?
Running requires perhaps the easiest of gear. But a pair of running shoes versus just gym shoes will get you a long way! Your best bet is to go to a store that sells running shoes or specializes in running. You can find proper running attire and try on multiple pairs of running shoes all at the suggestions of the staff. Fleet Feet is a great chain for this and I am definitely a fan of supporting your local running stores. With the local running stores, you also have a chance of finding runs they do from the shop or local races that might be worth checking out.
But what do I wear to do 3 different sports?
For a lot of the local sprint triathlons, there are not changing rooms. So, you cannot plan on swimming in swim suit, biking in a bike kit and running in your running shorts. That is why they make tri kits. There are a few different options out there but they are basically tight shorts made of light weight fabric with little to no padding in the chamois. The top can be with short sleeves or as a tank top and some even are one piece. For women, some require a separate sports bra and some have bras built in. What is most important is that it is lightweight and not bulky in any area (properly stretched). It is also very important to wear your gear on a few practice sessions before the big race. I can remember in my second tri buying a one piece tri suit, not practicing in it and then doing the entire run with a very painful wedgie….don’t be like me!
Join a tri club
In 2008, I moved to one of the largest cities in USA and didn’t know anyone. Now I know tons of people, and I did this all through getting into triathlons. I joined my first tri club as part of a group half ironman training and then that lead to me joining another group and then another and then another (okay, I guess I am social?) and before you know it, I am surrounded by friends that I can relate with on so many levels. How do you find a tri club to join? Well, first, beginners are allowed at most! Personally, I like to check out their website and Facebook page. If I see anyone that I know on the Facebook page, I reach out to them and ask questions about the group. What is important to you? Do you want a group that you can go ride with and then drink a beer? Do you want a group that wants to specifically help beginners? Do you want a group that wants to challenge you to be the fastest/best triathlete you can be? Yep, there is a tri club for that.
Do I need to get a coach?
Ah, the million-dollar question. Actually, some of you may be like “wait, there are triathlon coaches?” I am going to do a separate blog post in the very near future on this topic, but yes, I would encourage you to get a tri coach. You wouldn’t start a new job without some training first, right? So why would you plan on starting a new hobby that you will invest all of this time and money in just to not fully train to your potential? Yes, of course, it is another expense to your hobby, but you are helping prevent burnout, stress, injuries, have a cheerleader/discipliner in your corner and so much more with a tri coach.
So why should I actually do a triathlon???
Obviously, there is a bit of planning involved in a triathlon, but don’t let that discourage you! There are so many reasons to love doing triathlons. Yes, it could potentially burn a hole in your pocket, but it will also leave a mark on your heart. I got into triathlon to find something that would fuel my need for a challenge. And my crazy competitive drive. Do you like to push your limits and have people cheer for you and be consistently amazed by your accomplishments, even if you aren’t? Do you want to lose 5 pounds, but hate dieting? Do you want to meet new people and need a hobby? Google why you should do triathlons and you will see many reasons why, but for each of us, the answers will be different.
So, do you want to try triathlons? Let me know if I can help you in the journey towards your first triathlon or if you have any questions! firstname.lastname@example.org