The Beginner Triathlon FAQs

Beginner guide for your 1st Triathlon.

Before I attempted a triathlon, I thought it was just an elite athletic event for those that did Olympic-level competitions. I had so many questions about the sport, and felt like I would not be athletic enough to do one. When my interest began growing in it, I was a regular gym-goer and aspiring fitness instructor. I usually only did cardio and lifted weights, and maybe added yoga into the mix. I started running, even though I used to hate running.

After finding out more about triathlon, I found the courage to try a tri. I learned along the way that triathletes are real people, and some of them have turned out to be in my biggest circle of friends!

My very first tri was the best scenario imaginable. I did a females-only event with my friend just over 7 years ago. The best part, is we could pick our own distances.  After doing the 100-yard open water swim, we could do a 2-, 4-, or 6-mile bike, followed by a .5-, 1-, or 1.5-mile run.  The swim was a bit intimidating, as I’d never done an open-water swim before. The bike was fun, and the run was definitely not as bad as I thought it would be. I was hooked.

UNO Women's Tri

Now that I’ve been doing triathlons for 7 years, and training for my first full Ironman, I get a lot of questions. I love these questions, because I used to ask them!

What is a triathlon?

A triathlon is race that begins with a swim (either in a pool or open water), followed by a bike ride, and completed with a run.

How far do you go in a triathlon?     That depends on the distance of the race.

  • Sprint triathlon is  anywhere from 400-750 meters of swimming, 12-15 miles of biking, and a 5K run.
  • Olympic distance is 1500 meters, 40K bike (or 25 miles), followed by a 10K run.
  • Half-Iron distance (also referred to as a 70.3)  is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run.
  • Ironman distance (made common by the Ironman brand) is 140.6 miles total: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

The best part of many beginner-oriented races, they offer even shorter distances than a sprint for people that are new (and usually intimidated) by the sport. I would highly recommend those to get started if you are apprehensive.

What if I don’t know how to swim very well?

Your best bet is to plan ahead and learn to swim. Find an instructor or take lessons, and use a lap-pool to practice.  So many local gyms offer affordable options for memberships, drop-in sessions, lessons, and/or masters swim programs as well. If you put the time and effort into learning and practicing, you can start off doing a shorter distance triathlon. There are many adults that have learned to swim, and succeeded greatly in the sport!  Regardless of how long you plan to do triathlons, learning how to swim is a valuable tool beyond competition.

I don’t have a bike, do I have to go buy a fancy one?

No. In fact, I did my first beginner-level triathlon on a rented bike.  Most local bike shops offer bike rentals  for very reasonable prices. I rented a Trek road bike for $40 for a day and a half. Some people borrow one from a friend, or ride the mountain bike that’s been collecting dust in their garage. I’ve seen it all out there, and if it works, use it!

Don’t purchase a bike if you don’t plan to ride it beyond one race. Once I knew I wanted to continue triathlons, I purchased my friend’s well-loved bike for a fraction of the cost of a new bike. It served me very well for my first several races. I purchased a barely-used newer bike when I wanted to upgrade a few years later. I didn’t purchase a brand new bike until I committed to Ironman and made the jump to a full triathlon bike.

Don’t you have to be in perfect shape to do a triathlon?

No. Triathletes come in all shapes and sizes!  There’s no cookie-cutter ideal. As long as you train, you can do it!  I do find that I eat healthier when I’m training, because I feel better when I’m well-fueled. I have always struggled with body image, but triathlon is one thing that has given me a ton of confidence and has helped me manage my weight.

Can I really do it?

If you set your heart and mind to it. If this Mom can do it, YES you can too!

What questions do you have? If you have a question you’d like answered in my next FAQ segment, please comment on this post or send me an email. I’d love to include it!