New to Triathlon or Duathlon (A beginners guide)

What does Triathlon & Duathlon Involve?

New to Triathlon or Duathlon? First, congratulations – after your first multisport event, we know you’ll be hooked! Second, for old hands and first time multisport beginners alike, preparation is key – this section will help triathlon newcomers like you get ready for your first multisport challenge.

What Exactly Does Triathlon Involve?

A standard triathlon event involves a continuous timed race over various distances combining the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. Triathlon events occur in that order – a swim, followed by a cycle ride, followed by a run.

Between swim and cycle event, and between cycle event and run, you have the “transition”, triathlon’s “fourth discipline”. A good transition routine shaves minutes off your time so practice in advance!  The first transition between swim and bike is known as “T1” and the final transition between cycle and run is known as “T2”.

Other multisport events are Duathlon (Run/Bike/Run) and typically take place during the Triathlon low season of Spring and Autumn. Similar to open water Triathlon events these are normally mass start (wave size dependent) events. Aquathlon (Swim/Run) events also take place throughout the season.

Triathlon Race Distances

Standard triathlon distances from super sprint to Ironman Triathlons – choose your distance for your first triathlon race.

Triathlon event distances vary, and some races offer different distances for experienced and novice triathletes. There are, however, some standard triathlon distances that should help you judge your fitness levels for your first triathlon race (and future Triathlons too!). Distances are displayed as swim/bike/run:

  • Super sprint triathlon: 400m/10km/2.5km
  • Sprint distance triathlon: 750m/20km/5km
  • Standard distance triathlon: 1500m/40km/10km
  • Middle distance triathlon: 2.5km/80km/20k
  • Long distance triathlon: 4km/120km/30km
  • Ironman distance triathlon: 3.8km/180km/42km

Novice triathletes come in many shapes, sizes, and fitness levels. You may have embarked upon your triathlon challenge as part of a change of direction in your life, you may have migrated to your first time triathlon from another high endurance sport, or a beginner’s triathlon may simply be the next step for you. Whatever your reasons, you are ultimately the best judge of whether a sprint triathlon, Olympic middle distance or a long distance triathlon will suit you best (warning:- ironman distance triathlons are for extremely fit and experienced athletes).

What Triathlon Equipment Do I Really Need?

The truth about what swimming, cycling and running equipment you really need for your first triathlon event.

Beginning your first Triathlon needn’t mean equipping yourself with an array of expensive triathlon gear – the truth is you DON’T need highly specialised Triathlon kit to get started, just a few basic pieces of equipment:

The Swim Leg:

Novice triathlon events often begin with pool-based swims, although confident swimmers experienced in open water can of course choose to start with open water swim events.
Your choice of pool based triathlon or openwater triathlon affects what swimming kit you will need.

  • Goggles are essential for both pool based and open water triathlon. Goggles protect your eyes, improve visibility and help you keep your swimming line – which improves your time.
  • A Swim Cap keeps your hair out of your way, keeps goggle straps in place and reduces water resistance. You can buy a cheap swimming cap in any sports store. PMA Racing will provide swimming hats at all of our events.
  • Tri-Suits are all-in-one outfits designed for triathlon. A tri-suit’s main advantage is a reduction in your transition time as you won’t have to change clothes. Its main disadvantage is it’s inconvenient for toilet breaks! Tri-suits aren’t essential, especially for triathlon beginners, but you’ll need something close-fitting and comfortable, such as a singlet and cycle shorts. If you’re competing in an open water swim, it’s a good idea to choose clothing that can be worn under your wetsuit.

The Bike Leg:

  • A Bike, needless to say, is essential for your triathlon challenge cycle event. More advanced competitors often ride triathlon-specific bikes, but at entry level this is entirely unnecessary – any bike will do so long as it’s well serviced with good tyres and inner air tubes, a well-oiled chain and good operational brakes and gears.
  • A Bicycle Repair Kit is also essential. Make sure everything you need is in there and is in good condition. And make sure you’re well practiced at using it – a long repair can add hugely to your time and be very demoralising!
  • A Helmet is mandatory, even for elites. New bike helmets are comfortable, reasonably priced, simple to use, and may save your life.
  • Padding: Whether you opt for a tri-suit or singlet and shorts, you should think about extra padding in the saddle area – cycle events can be long!
  • Cycling shoes, which attach to the pedals to improve stability and power, are unnecessary for novice triathletes. It’s FAR more important simply to wear shoes that are easy to get on and off during transitions. Toggle shoelaces are great for this.

The Run:

The final leg of your first triathlon will be the run – which can be a difficult adjustment after the leg-draining speed of the bike leg. In terms of triathlon gear though, this is where you’ll need the least equipment.

  • Clothing: There’s no need for specialised running gear at beginner triathlete level. If you choose your gear well, swimming, cycling and running clothing can double up. Clothing that’s comfortable, light, non-chafing, and preferably breathable, is all you need.
  • Running Shoes that are well-fitting, comfortable and support your foot shape are your single most important bit of running gear. Your particular foot type and running gait dictate what kind of running shoe you need so consult a running shoe expert before buying. Again, shoes with toggle/elastic laces may shave seconds off your time (and even minutes in colder weather) and some triathletes find their feet tend to swell over the course of the triathlon race. If this is the case for you, you may want to consider trying running shoes half a size too large.
  • Socks are probably only necessary for longer runs, when you’ll want to do everything you can to protect and cushion your feet from damage. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Bikes and wetsuits, as the most expensive items, can generally be hired if you don’t have them; but most first time triathlon competitors find the running, swimming and cycling equipment they have been using for triathlon training and preparation is perfectly adequate for novice triathlon events.

Other than the above, if you have enthusiasm and fitness, then you have everything you need!

Preparation Tips for your First Triathlon

Triathlon Tips for novice Triathletes – Get ready for Triathlon event day!

Triathlon events require determination, endurance, PMA, fitness, and the ability to pace yourself.

It may seem obvious but the earlier you begin your Triathlon training preparations, the better. Conditions can vary hugely on race day so the fitter you are and the higher your endurance, the better your body will be able to adjust to any changes and challenges your first Triathlon throws at it.

  • Time Management: Allow yourself plenty of time to register, rack your bike, review the course and listen to the race briefing and you will be more relaxed going into the race. As a rule of thumb arrive at registration a minimum of 1 hour before your race start.
  • Food: Watch your diet in the run up to the race. A high protein, low carb diet for the 24 hours before your triathlon should optimise performance. Don’t eat a fatty breakfast. Leave 2-3 hours between your pre-race meal and the Triathlon start.
  • Having water and nutrition items already on your bike will cut your transition time.

On the big day, remember you will not be the only first time Triathlon beginner there, and every one of the competitors was new to triathlon once! Get prepared, get fit, and enjoy the day!

UK Triathlon Clubs & Volunteering at PMA Race Events

 Get involved in the Triathlon community – Find a triathlon club or volunteer at one of the PMA Racing events.

Joining a UK Triathlon Club

There are hundreds of triathlon clubs up and down the UK – search the British Triathlon Club database to find one near you. Triathlon clubs often welcome all levels of experience and ability, from beginner triathletes to elite competitors, and many have their own triathlon coach as well as opportunities to train with other triathlon competitors.

Triathlon club membership also means you can enter club competitions and can bring all sorts of other benefits and discounts.

Local Clubs

Derby Triathlon Club –

Belper TenTwenty Tri Club

Meynell Valley Hunters