If you haven’t taken the leap to sign up for your first triathlon, the sport has a huge amount going for it.
For one, it’s one of the friendliest sports I have taken part in, partly driven by the fact that you spend a LOT of time waiting around before races as they set up their transition pitch and are always happy to chat to whoever’s next to them! But also because we all recognise that it’s a tough sport so feel that anyone that’s willing to put the time and effort it deserves our respect and encouragement.
Secondly, it’s flexible. I came from a running background and started to cycle as a cross-training activity to alleviate overtraining injuries I was suffering. Unlike a marathon or century race, you are training 3 distinct muscle groups which reduce your training load and give you the chance to continue to train even if you have picked up an injury in one area.
This leads to another advantage which is time. Very few of the training sessions are more than an hour and can be less. An average swim session for a Sprint triathlon will probably be less than 30 minutes, so you get the chance to fit your training sessions around your life more than you can with some sports. You can easily complete the cycle leg based solely on cycling to work for example.
Finally, you are not competing with everyone. I firmly believe the only person you need to compete with is yourself and what other people do isn’t relevant, and Triathlon gives you the opportunity to do that.
Firstly, you compete in age groups, so you’re not racing against the 18-year-old next to you, but other people of similar age profiles and experiences which gives you a realistic expectation of what your level really is.
Secondly, triathlons are all different, so there is no real concept of a personal best, only a PB on that day in that race. A lake swim on a calm summer’s day is a completely different experience to a later September sea swim with an offshore breeze for example, and the cycles can range from flat to mountainous which massively impacts on your time both for the cycle and the run that follows.
Know why you are doing your first triathlon
Like most endurance sports, Triathlons have a huge mental component and when you’re half way through and wondering why you’re doing this, it’s nice to have an answer!! More to the point, your reasons for choosing your first triathlon will have a major bearing on your satisfaction. If you’re looking for a challenge, there’s little point in picking a try-a-tri race, as it may not leave you fulfilled.
If you’re just looking to take part and see what it’s all about, many of the larger races will run try-a-tri races with much shorter distances that let you dip your toe in without stretching yourself. And if it’s a group thing, then there are a number of relay options which let teams of 2 or three split the event with one doing the swim and handing over to a cyclist and then a runner.
These are often good team building events as well. Each year, several hundred Vodafone employees take part in the Dublin City triathlon relay as part of a wider corporate wellbeing initiative, and it creates a great atmosphere.
Obviously, if you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can go long, and aim for a full or half ironman, or pick a challenging terrain, with sea swims like the Alcatraz race or the range of mountain triathlons offering a much more challenging experience.
Practical considerations for your first triathlon
Any attempt at a first triathlon needs to be taken seriously so there are a few practical considerations to consider
How much time until the race
Depending on your existing level of fitness, most triathlon training plans will run from 12 to 16 weeks, so this needs to be taken into account
Remember that you need to get to the event with a bike, wetsuit and a whole host of other kit and probably 90 minutes before the race. How are you going to get there? how much time do you need? Do you need to stay over?
You can’t do a triathlon in isolation, so you need to factor in your other work and family commitments into your schedule. Depending on the race, this could be anything from 6-20 hours per week just for training.
Triathlon is not a cheap sport. The races are getting more expensive as they are logistically challenging and need significant support from the sanctioning body, plus you are likely to need to pay for a race licence, travel and obviously have access to a wetsuit and bike at the very least. And don’t forget the cost of training in the local pool.