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Introduction to Triathlon

Triathlon is an endurance event consisting of swimming, cycling and running back-to-back-to-back. Your race time consists of your time of the total time from start-to-finish, including the time required in between each 'leg' to change your clothes and shoes. The first swim/bike/run triathlons were organized by members of the San Diego Track Club and held in San Diego's Mission Bay in 1974. The triathlons were held on summer evenings and were intended as fun breaks in the normal grind of training for running races. The first Ironman distance triathlon was held in Hawaii in 1978. Today, there are four common triathlon distances: Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman.

Type Swim Bike Run
Sprint 750 m (.5 mi) 20 km (12.4 mi) 5 km (3.1 mi)
Olympic 1.5 km (0.9 mi) 40 km (24.8 mi) 10 km (6.2 mi)
Half-Ironman 1.9 km (1.2 mi) 90 km (56 mi) 21.1 km (13.1 mi)
Ironman 3.8 km (2.4 mi) 180 km (112 mi) 42.2 km (26.2 mi)

Most triathlons require participants to register beforehand, and attend a pre-race briefing. Athletes are generally provided with a race number, colored swim cap, and if the race is timed, an electronic timing chip. Typically, athletes are provided a rack to put their bike on the day before or the morning of the race. For most races, competitors have their race number marked on their arm, and their age marked on their calf during the morning of the race. Racers are generally categorized into different categories and age groups, which determines your start time.


As you may have guessed, triathlon gear consists of all the gear you need to swim, bike and run, plus some other stuff. Most triathletes wear special 'triathlon shorts' that are similar to bike shorts, but have a thinner padding that doesn't absorb water so that they can be worn during the swim. Most triathlons allow swimmers to wear a wetsuit, which keeps your body warm in cold water and provides buoyancy, which makes you swim faster. Special triathlon wetsuits are designed specifically for swimming and transitions. Most triathletes rub body glide, a waxy substance, on their neck to avoid chafing caused by the wetsuit rubbing against you while you swim. You may also want to put body glide, or Vaseline on your legs and arms to make it easier to remove your wetsuit after the swim.

For the bike portion of the race, in addition to your bike, shoes, helmet and shirt or singlet, you may want to use a pair of aero-bars, which attach to your bike to help make you more aerodynamic when you ride. Special triathlon bikes are optimized for aerodynamics and use a special geometry to spare muscle groups needed for the run, though most athletes ride on standard road bikes.

For the run, you'll need a good pair of running shoes and perhaps a visor if it's sunny out. You'll most likely wear your singlet or whatever shirt you wore on the bike. You may want to wear a race belt so you don't have to pin your race number to your shirt. Some racers also wear a belt where you can store water bottles and or gels, though most races have staffed aid stations every few miles along the run.


Signing up for a triathlon is a great way to motivate yourself to get in shape. Triathlon requires rigourous training, though it's much more manageable than most people realize. The cross-training required for triathlon gives your body a great overall workout. Triathletes tend to be fairly communal, so training for triathlon can be a great way to meet new people and there are a number of training clubs and groups in most major communities. There's no feeling quite like setting a challenging goal for yourself, spending months training for it, and experiencing the glory of crossing that finish line.