So you wanna do a triathlon? Five things I wish I knew when I started

Triathlon season is now in full force with lots of races and training ramping up for those racing.

It’s pretty common for runners to get the tri itch. It’s a new challenge, and one that suits our bodies that love to move and minds that love a challenge!

Although I’m not participating in any triathlons this season, I dove into them head first back in 2010 with my husband (Calgary 70.3 and Ironman Arizona).


At the finish of our first triathlon

Here are some things I wish I knew beforehand.

  1. Triathlon is expensive. In running you need shoes and some sweat-wicking gear. In triathlon, you need equipment for two additional sports. For biking- think bike, helmet, and shoes. Add in some cycling clothing, gloves, and mechanical gear (spare tubes, pump, underseat bag). For swimming, all you really need is a swimsuit, goggles and cap. But unless you have somewhere to swim you need a membership to a pool or to pay drop in fees. Racing in open water? Maybe you’ll need to rent or buy a wetsuit.
    And this is the bare minimum. Yes, you can do it on a budget, but gear for three sports and entry fees add up.
  2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Maybe you’ve been a runner for a while, love cycling, or swam in high school, but triathlon will definitely take you out of your comfort zone.
    Between practicing three sports, riding your bike on the side of the highway with semi trucks zipping by, and swimming in open water, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Before our first open water swim!

Before our first open water swim!

  1. Ask questions. Starting something new can be intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask questions whether it’s from friends who participate in multi-sport, a coach or club you want to try out, or fellow bloggers. I know I learned a lot from reading triathlon magazines and blogs. I wish I had reached out to people I knew who raced for advice or tips.
  2. It doesn’t have to be your whole world. It’s easy to get wrapped up in triathlon, after all you have three sports, strength training, and sleep to monopolize your time.
    Unless you have huge dreams like qualifying for Kona or representing your country in shorter distance races, you can do it all and still enjoy life outside of sport.
    The first year we did triathlon, we were pretty strict with training. By the second Ironman we really loosened up, taking a week-long holiday during peak week and only running short and mountain biking once. I ended up besting my previous time on a tougher course.

Ironman Canada (Penticton) 2012

  1. You will fall in love with it. No matter what sport was your favourite, you’ll most likely fall in love with at least one of the others.
    Running is my first love, but now I dream of road biking the open highways and my trainer gets more use than my treadmill.

Although I’m happy to not have signed up for a tri this year, I will miss it! I still have a lot to learn about multisport. I still have a lot of room to grow, too.

I took this year off and quite honestly don’t know when my next triathlon season will be. However, I know when it comes, I’ll be hungry to train smarter and better my times.

I think I have a couple other ideas for ‘So you wanna do a triathlon’. If you are interested in getting your feet wet, let me know if you have any questions.

Triathletes- what do you wish you knew before you started?
Non-triathletes- do you ever get the itch to try it out?

47 responses to “So you wanna do a triathlon? Five things I wish I knew when I started

  1. My favorite tri advice is to practice the most what you hate the most. I was a runner and hated swimming…guess which one I did 6 times/week and which one I did 0-1 time/week? Utter disaster for my first race. I still want to do an ironman but it is knowing all those swim hours are on the horizon that makes me put it off.

    • Yes- that’s a great tip! You could definitely do it. I only swam once a week for 40 minutes on average. As it got closer to the race, I’d up my swim time but still only go once!

  2. I don’t think I will ever get the tri bug – I hate everything about swimming! (I just like to lay out at the beach!)
    However, I think I might like to do a biathlon (or duathlon – not really sure the difference).
    I like that you are going to do a series about this – I know it will be helpful for lots of people!!

  3. Great post Abby!! I wish I would have known the difference in time commitment for training. With running, you can just throw your shoes on and head out the door. With swimming there is drive time to and from the water. With cycling there is all of the prep work (airing up the tires, making sure the chain is in working order, making sure the brakes work, mapping out a safe route, etc.) before heading out the door for a ride. While there is a lot of additional planning involved with triathlon, it is definitely worth it 🙂

  4. I can’t believe that you have no tri training right now! What crazy things are you doing with all your free time? 🙂

  5. I would love to “tri” a triathlon someday!! I would probably do a half one or whatever the smaller one is that you only (ppshh only!?) have to run a half marathon. HA. Great pointers, and I can’t wait for you to get back into the racing. Enjoy your time away for a bit!

  6. Such great advice here. And I agree, it doesn’t have to be your whole world, but it’s hard not to get sucked in pretty hard! I would also add–you don’t need top-end equipment when you’re getting started. You go to a race and see all this crazy stuff and you want it, too. In the end, it’s the engine, not the machine!

  7. I’m doing my first two sprint tris this summer and have been somewhat training since January (Swim lessons, spin classes, indoor tris, etc.) I agree taking on 3 sports is overwhelming, but I remind myself that everyone was a beginner at some point. I just have to do the best I can.

  8. Love this, Abby! Triathlon was a natural transition for me after years of running and a background in competitive swimming. But I never knew how difficult that first open water swim would be! And the bike. Geez, you need to devote a lot of time to cycling if you want to excel in tri. And get ready for discomfort. Hours in the saddle is hard on the derriere!!

  9. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable” so true and something I am still working on. Love this- thanks again for all of your advice!!

  10. I’ve been wanting to try one, but haven’t yet. Your #1 is the main reason I haven’t done one yet. Whenever I’ve looked at registrations, they have the price, but then say I have to have a membership to US triathalon. Then I don’t follow through on that part.

  11. I have definitely gotten the itch to try it. 🙂 My first love is obviously running, but I love biking too. It’s the swim that holds me back. I’m not too keen on open water swimming and am downright afraid of putting myself in a situation where I might get kicked in the face while doing it. Triathletes are so inspiring and hardcore to me!

  12. I’ve looked at some of the sprint tri’s because I think it would be cool to compete. I enjoy running and have goals I want to meet so I don’t see tri becoming a go to for me. But I’m sure I’ll try one some day.

  13. Ok, so you wrote this post for me, right ? 😉 It is obvious to me 😉
    I read blogs of triathletes for a while. I love the idea of multisports and, it seems to me, it would be less competitive than running (I mean, in my mind, as, now, I have to move my goals up and up and up each time with running). I want to try new things. So, yeah, the idea of triathlon is growing in me, more and more each day. Or maybe it is just my 30 years old crisis ? Who knows ! 😉 Anyways, I am currently scanning the options around for swimming pools. Swimming is my main concern because I like swimming but I am bad at stroke… and, let me honest, it would look strange doing breaststroke on a triathlon (or I could start a trend…). I was thinking of taking lessons, at least at first, to learn exactly how to do it and know what I do wrong.
    Also, it is quite intimidating… I know everyone has to start somewhere, but, still, I think it is something which holds me back. Could you move to California and be my mentor ? 🙂 That would be so perfect.

    I have lots of questions : How did you start ? What was the most challenging part of starting for you ? How did you manage at your first race ? (the transitions for example) Do you think we really have to own a road bike for our first triathlon ? I have an hybrid and was thinking it could be enough just to start and if I like it I could buy a road bike…

    THANK YOU for this post 🙂

    • I love that you’re so excited about triathlon!! It can be intimidating, but everyone starts as a beginner!
      I wouldn’t worry too much about swimming if you already know how to swim and like to do it!
      I will try to answer your questions in another post.

  14. I love this list! I can honestly say, I agree with a lot of what you said here! Triathlons are SO expensive, especially as you get into the longer distance ones.Add in a coach and it’s even more $$… it just doesn’t stop, lol. I find it’s really hard to not let training run my life… Perhaps it will get better for me after my first full IM this year? It seems like you found a balance after doing some long distance races. Since my husband doesn’t race, he’s always commenting on how it’s taken over my life (but he knows it’s important to me)… and i”m not going to lie I hope to qualify for Kona one day! Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is KEY. Running is also my first love.. and now I love biking and swimming (all for different reasons). I also love seeing improvements in each of the three disciplines… it takes time and practice!

  15. Such a great and helpful post. And perfect timing as I am venturing into triathlon this year. I’ll take all the pointers I can get!

  16. Sophie @ life's philosophie

    I definitely have the itch to try it out. I have a secret plan that I will convince my bf to do a triathlon with me and trick him back into liking running… but I also think triathletes are the coolest and I want to try it out!

  17. runnerbydefault

    I did a sprint tri a few years ago. Every now and then, I consider challenging myself and think about signing up for another one but I never follow through. I put a lot of time in training for the first one and was blown away by the swim portion! The open water and the presence of all the other participants shook me up. I can’t imagine how you felt doing an Ironman. That’s so amazing to me!

    • I didn’t know you did a sprint!
      Ah- the open water with other people can be SO intimidating! It’s the scariest part to me, but once the race starts I’m fine. It’s just the initial fear!

  18. Wanna know the number one question I got post marathon? So whats next, a tri?! I was shocked but it definitely makes sense – that being said, I have never wanted to do one but I also said that about a marathon, we will see! You and Kelly always inspire me to do one!

    I can’t even imagine how expensive everything is. Not just buying everything but also maintenance and transportation to your race! Wowza.

  19. This is really the perfect list. it is expensive and time consuming! But I love it! Learning to multi-task is key when training for 3 sports! 🙂 I don’t think I really knew what to expect with doing a triathlon. I had started to run a couple years before I started doing tris. I was bored with running. When I started biking and swimming I loved those more! I just don’t feel like I am that great of a runner. I am slow and I have a serious mental block sometimes!
    I think also when you start doing tris you focus on the sport that you like the best but you should really focus on the sport that you don’t like. 🙂

  20. Great list!! Through my hubby I can see that many of these are true. I hate swimming and I’m REALLY bad at it, so I don’t think a tri is in my future!

  21. good post! i’ve only done a few triathlons, but my dad is really into them. you’re right about being comfortable with being uncomfortable–I don’t mind running in pretty much any environment, but I’m not at that point with swimming or biking. maybe someday!

  22. Triathlons are SO MUCH FUN!! And, yes they are expensive the first time around. After buying all the good all gear you’ll have it for future races!

  23. Great post! I also think it’s great to know that triathletes are so nice and always happy to answer your questions! I was intimidated to start but everyone treated me well!

  24. So true! Great post, Abby! I love the get comfortable with being uncomfortable… it was one of my mantras both last season and this season. It’s gotten me through a LOT of tough days. While I LOVE triathlon, I’m trying not to let it become my entire world, which is easier said than done! Giving it my all this season, shooting for a KQ, but leaving room for the most important things (my sis and niece at the top!) 🙂

  25. This is great!! I’m a runner turned triathlete-wannabe and have my first open water swim practice on Sunday. Will practice being uncomfortable!

  26. I’m a non-triathlete but I have been interested in trying one out. My husband’s cousins have tried to get me to do one, but I’m not into cycling at all (I don’t even have a bike!) and while I’m a capable swimmer, the thought of dedicating time to swimming isnt’ appealing. For now, I will stick to longer distance races and see what happens there.

    My husband, on the other hand, is doing his 2nd and 3rd triathlon this year. Cycling is his first love and he’s quite strong in all 3 disciplines, and likes the constant change of disciplines in training. I will be a sherpa wife for now and go to his races 🙂

  27. I LOVE this!! I’m still hopeful that one of these days I will make a triathlon happen. Though my knees aren’t cooperating. Adam and I are looking into getting bikes more for transportation around the city. But hopefully that will help me really learn how to bike… then it will be an easier transition to do a triathlon. GREAT tips! 🙂

  28. looooove this! great tips for anyone starting to TRI!

  29. Pingback: So you wanna do a triathlon? Part 2 – Getting started | Change of Pace

  30. Pingback: So you wanna do a triathlon? Choosing your first race | Change of Pace

  31. Once I’d run several marathons, my friends started asking me when I planned to do a triathlon. I just don’t think I could swim in the open water because I’m not that strong of a swimmer. I guess I’m not willing to be uncomfortable! Anyway, great advice all around!

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