Cheat Sheet

Triathlon Training For Dummies

From Triathlon Training For Dummies by Deirdre Pitney, Donna Dourney

Training for a triathlon takes time and dedication no matter whether you're starting off with a sprint or preparing for an Iron Man event. In any type of triathlon, how you set up your transition area and making sure that you have everything you need for each event makes a difference to your race-day performance.

Your Day-Of Triathlon Checklist

The day of your triathlon has arrived! To make sure that you pack everything you need for all three aspects of the event, use the following checklist, which covers the necessities for swimming, biking, and running:

For the Swim: For the Run:
Sport bathing suit or tri suit Hat
Goggles Running shoes
Wetsuit (depending on water temperature and race rules) Socks, if desired
For the Bike: Other Things to Bring:
Bicycle Race number and race packet, if you picked it up before your event
Padded cycling shorts (if you're wearing a bathing suit and not a tri suit) Directions to the event
Shirt to wear for bike and run (if you're not wearing a tri suit) Body Glide or other lubricating product
Helmet Plastic bag for wet clothes after the race
Cycling shoes, if you'll be riding with clipless pedals Weather-appropriate clothes for after the race
Socks (optional) Comfortable after-race shoes
Sunglasses Sunscreen
Cycling gloves (optional depending on distance) Towels (one for your transition area and one for your body)
Water bottles filled with water or sport drink Photo identification (for check in) and USAT Membership card, if you're a member
Nutrition bars or gels Hair ties, if necessary
Race belt or a way to secure your race number onto your shirt or shorts Heart-rate monitor, if desired
Basic tools for your bike, including an extra tube and CO2 cartridge or hand pump Waterproof wristwatch, if desired

How to Set Up Your Triathlon Transition Area

Transitions are an important part of any triathlon, and how well you prepare for them and practice going from swimming to biking to running can help you cut minutes from your overall time. Follow these simple steps to set up an efficient transition area:

  1. Find your transition area by race number

    You may be assigned a spot or you may be free to choose an open spot.

  2. Rack your bike.

  3. Set up your bike with filled water bottles in the cages and a nutrition bar or gel pack taped to the handlebars.

  4. Pump your tires to the correct air pressure, if you haven't already.

  5. Lay down a towel next to your bike and set your cycling shoes at the bottom of the towel, closest to you, and your running shoes at the top of the towel.

    Open the shoes as wide as possible to make it easy to slide your feet in. Place your socks, if you'll be wearing them, on top of your cycling shoes.

  6. Set your helmet on the handlebars of your bike, with the chin strap open and pulled to the outsides of your helmet.

  7. Place your sunglasses with the arms straddling the saddle, in a way similar to how they go on your head, so they won't fall off if someone bumps your bike.

    You can also place them in your helmet so you can take them out first and put them on before you strap on your helmet.

  8. If you'll be wearing gloves, open the glove for your right hand and slide that onto the end of the handlebar on the right side of your bike; put the glove for your left hand on the left handlebar.

    Be sure the gloves are as far up on the handlebars as they can go so they won't fall off if your bike is bumped.

  9. Secure your race number to your race belt if you'll be using one, and place it across the top tube of your bike or on top of your cycling shoes.

    You can also use the safety pins in your race packet to pin your race number to the back of the shirt you'll wear while riding or running or ask someone to pin the number onto the back of your tri suit. Don't pin your number to your wetsuit.

  10. If you'll be pulling on a shirt after your swim, place it on your saddle or across your top tube.

  11. Go over your transition area visually.

    Imagine coming back to the stall after your swim. Lay your eyes or your hands on every piece of equipment you'll need in the order in which you'll use it. Do the same for when you return from cycling and need to get ready to run.

Triathlon Types and Distances

All triathlons are not created equal. Races are broken down into four basic distances, with courses and culture making each one a unique challenge. The following list shows approximate guidelines for the four distances — your triathlon might be slightly shorter or longer, but this is a good general guide:

  • Sprint: 0.5km to 0.75km swim (0.3 to 0.5 mile), 20km to 22km bike (12.4 to 13 miles), and 5km run (3.1 miles). Super sprints are slightly shorter races: 0.4km swim (0.25 mile), 10km bike (6.2 miles) and 2.5km run (1.5 miles). The sprint is the most popular distance in the sport. Beginning triathletes most often select sprint distances as their first events.

  • Olympic: 1.5km swim (0.9 mile), 40km bike (24.9 miles), and 10km run (6.2 miles). The official distance of the Olympic event, this event requires a good fitness base.

  • Half Iron: 1.9km swim (1.2 miles), 90km bike (55.9 miles), and 21km run (13 miles). Half Iron events are far more challenging than the shorter distances and sometimes are used as qualifiers for Ironman triathlons. Don't attempt a race at this distance until you've competed in sprint or Olympic events.

  • Ironman: 3.8km swim (2.4 miles), 180km bike (111.8 miles), and 42km run (26.2 miles — a marathon). Each of the legs alone in this event challenges even the experienced endurance athlete. Train for an Ironman distance only after you've had experience in shorter races and completed at least one Half Iron.

Triathlon Training Time Requirements

You can train for a super sprint or sprint triathlon in just 2 to 4 hours a week for 12 weeks. As the miles add up, so does your required training time. Use the following chart as a guideline to help you decide if you can make the necessary time commitment for the distance or if you have enough time to train for your event.

Distance Hours per Week Weeks to Event
Sprint/super sprint 2 to 4 12
Olympic 4 to 6 16
Half Iron 4 to 10 24
Ironman 5 to 15 30
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