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How To Take On Your First Triathlon

We often hear of people setting fitness goals as they endeavour on a challenge but often do so without any plan at all, which is bound to fail before they’ve even began. One of those targets for many people is to compete in a triathlon, but without a strategic plan and serious dedication you won’t get very far through the process, let alone cross the finishing line.

That’s where we’ve come to help! For those of you willing to push yourself to your limits and take part in a triathlon, we’ve put together the beginner’s guide on how to get started in the perfect way and ensure you tick the milestone of finishing a triathlon off your bucket list!

What Exactly is a Triathlon?

Before we get into the finer details on how to go about your training regime, it’s important to define just what you’ll be working towards.

Triathlons are multi-sport events that comprise three disciplines – swim, bike, and run, which come in varying distances that you can check out below:

Try-a-Tri – can be varying distances but generally around 250m swim, 10km bike, and 2.5km run.

Sprint Triathlon – 750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run.

Standard or Olympic distance – 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run.

Half-Ironman or 70.3 distance – 1900m swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run.

Ironman – 3800m swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run.

There is also duathlons – usually run-bike-run and aquathons – run-swim-run – events which are excellent starting points for beginners looking to dip their toe into the multi-sport world.

Our Top Tips to Getting Started!

1. Start with shorter races:

Pick an event that is 4-6months away to allow you adequate time to train for it!

2. Join a training group:

Triathlon clubs are well renowned for welcoming new members into their club and helping integrate them into the triathlon community.

Most clubs will have set training sessions suitable to all abilities and are an excellent source of information.

3. Create a training plan:

Make a plan that includes swimming, cycling, and running workouts.  You’re training for three separate disciplines, so try to fit in at least two workouts of each discipline per week.


Start off with distances that you are comfortable doing. To progress – increase the distance but lower the repetitions. So, instead of doing your usual routine of 6x50m swims, try 3x100m swims. You’re swimming the same amount but doing it more effectively. Try to work your way up from each milestone. If you’re able to complete 400m straight without stopping, attempt a 500m swim, and so on. Your body will adapt to what you throw at it, assuming you allow yourself ample time to rest and recover! 

The old saying of slow and steady is a staple in the triathlon dictionary!

As you get more comfortable and progress your swimming distance to 400 – 500m, try to get some practice with your wetsuit on – this will have a very different feel to regular swimming – the increased buoyancy of the wetsuit sits you higher in the water and can take a little getting used to. Also, the shoulders tend to be slightly more restricted so they may tire earlier.

Once you’re comfortable with your wetsuit – it’s time to move outdoors and practice in open water. Try to replicate your race venue – be that in a lake, river or sea – they all are slightly different. Choose your location carefully and remember never to swim alone!



The run in a triathlon is slightly different to a normal 5km – remember you’ve already been swimming for approx. 20mins, cycling for 40-60minuts and now getting off the bike to start running.

The advice here is very similar to the swim and bike, start off easy and slowly, and gradually build on your weekly distance by no more than 10% each week. Run-walk strategies are very effective for beginners – run a certain distance then walk the same and replicate this. As you progress, increase the distance run and/or reduce the distance walked.

Build “brick” workouts into your training – where you run a short distance straight after your bike training – e.g. do a 40min bike ride, then change into your runners and go for a 1-2km run to replicate what happens on race day.

This brings us to the “4th discipline” of triathlons – transitions. There are two transitions in triathlons – T1 – where you change from your wetsuit into your cycle gear and T2 – where you change from cycling to running. Practice these also to get familiar with getting out of your wetsuit or putting shoes on wet feet!

A weekly training schedule might look something like the below

112min-SwimOff20min -Swim12min -Run40min -BikeOff20min -Run2h 8m
NotesShort SwimOffLong SwimShort RunLong BikeOffLong Run 
Short Bike
The durations do not have to be continuous – eg your 20min run on Sunday could be 2min run, 2min walk x 5

Gear up:

Make sure you have the basic equipment necessary for the race such as:


Wetsuit and goggles – a good wetsuit that fits properly is essential when racing here in Ireland as all races are wetsuit compulsory.


Bike and helmet – a road bike / “racer” is perfect to get started.  A mountain bike or hybrid will also do but won’t be as efficient as a road bike and you’ll work harder over the same distance.


A good pair of runners are so important – you’ll be spending a good bit of time in them! If you’re new to running, then we’d highly recommend going to your local sports store or run-specific shop and getting advice on the best pair for you.

Don’t forget to practice with your gear!

As with most hobbies, there is an enormous amount of kit that you can avail of in triathlons. To begin with, the basics will be absolutely fine – when (not if!!) you get addicted to multisport events – then you can start to add more gear to your wardrobe or shed!

We hope that you’ve found this quick guide useful on getting you up and running (swimming and cycling!) on your triathlon journey. Coupling it with hard work and persistence are the best way to ensure you start your training on the front foot. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the experience! Good luck with your training and race!

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