Triathlon 101

The sport of triathlon has seen tremendous growth in the last decade, as evidenced by the increasing number of everyday athletes choosing to compete in multisport events. Triathlon allows for more interesting, varied training regimens and less overall stress on the joints and muscles.

While athletes have historically competed in all three sports individually, or as part of a relay, clubs and teams are becoming increasingly popular as a way for athletes to develop their skills in an unintimidating, supportive environment: “Training and racing alone can be very lonely. Our coached group workouts are not only instructional, but provide a great social atmosphere,” says Empire Triathlon Club Coach and Co-Founder, Alison Cooper, who has been competing in triathlons for 10 years. The Empire Tri Club based out of NYC, for example, caters to total beginners as well as more advanced athletes.

While the thought of having to train for and compete in not one but three different sports in one race can be somewhat intimidating to many of us, it doesn’t have to be. Alison Cooper and Jess McDonald, Co-Founders of the Empire Tri Club, help us understand the different types of triathlons and offer up some advice as to how to choose the race that is best for you.

There are 4 major distances of triathlon: Sprint, Olympic (sometimes referred to as International or Standard Distance), Half Ironman (Long Course), and Full Ironman. A 5th distance, known as a Super Sprint, is becoming increasingly popular on the racing circuit and it is slightly shorter than a traditional Sprint distance. Believe it or not, there is actually a Double Ironman for the ultra hard core.

The common denominator, however, is that all triathlons consist of a swim, bike and run portion of the race, and always in that order. The breakdown of distances is roughly as follows, and your finishing time will always include the “transition” period in between each component:

Super Sprint: ¼ mile swim, 6-8 mile bike, 1-2 mile run
Sprint: ½ mile swim, 15-mile bike, 3-mile run
Olympic or International Distance: .93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run
Half Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a marathon or 26.2 mile run

Swimming is often the biggest deterrent for people wanting to try a multi-sport event. But not to worry, if you don’t swim, duathlons (run, bike, run) can be a great option! In either case, the best way to get involved in triathlons or duathlons is to join a club. That way you get the training and instruction you need and the social element of meeting like-minded individuals at your ability level. It’s the best of both worlds and can turn a grueling or intimidating training regimen into a fun, fitness activity with friends!

Once you decide what distance is right for you, it’s important to consider some other factors that will help you determine which race to choose. Course conditions (including hills, temperature and elevation) will have a major influence on your race. When selecting a race, consider the differences in course conditions. When and where you do most of your training is another important factor. Here we explain a few of the things to look for when choosing your race.

Terrain: Hilly vs. Flat course
Generally speaking, you will be faster on a flatter course. A flat course will also be less demanding, especially for someone who’s just looking to finish the race. If you live in an area where there are many hills, remember you may have to travel if you want to race a flatter course.

On the flip side, when you ride a hilly course, the downhills actually give you a chance to relax and take a break from pedaling. When you ride a flat course however, you won’t have as much opportunity to coast, so your effort is more constant. Hills often break up the course making it a bit more interesting and scenic.

Warmer vs. Cooler Temperatures:
How well do you handle the heat? If you don’t like hot temperatures, then don’t plan to race in Miami in July. If you don’t like the cold, it’s best to select a race later in the summer so the bulk of your training doesn’t fall in the coldest months of the year.

Look up the average temperature for the time of year in the location you wish to race so you have an idea of what to expect. Also, find out what the race conditions have been in recent years, and talk to people who have been there to get first hand feedback.

Climate & Altitude:
Triathlons are booming all over the world. It’s a great way to travel and explore new areas. But keep in mind, it will take your body a few days to acclimate to changes in climate, altitude, and temperature. If you’re racing in a warm climate, your body may not be used to the sun, so make sure to stay hydrated, wear sunscreen and bring protective gear like sunglasses and a hat! If you see salt residue on your body or clothes, it’s a sign that you’re losing sweat, and need to replenish salt and electrolytes.

The air quality is different from sea level to altitude, so you may experience shortness of breath if you train in NY but race in Boulder, Co. You may have to adjust your expectations and race plan, to account for differences in conditions.

Different Bodies of Water:
The triathlon swim is always the first leg of the race. However, where you swim will differ from race to race, and so will the conditions. Find out if your race starts out in a pool, lake, ocean, bay or other body of water.

Also discover if the swim is in a salt water or fresh water venue (salt water will make you more buoyant). Is there a current or will the water be still? Are waves a factor such as in open water or a bay swim? If you are new to triathlon, and swimming is not your strength, we recommend choosing a race with a more gentle swim portion.

If you have an opportunity, swim the course (or similar course conditions) before race day. Also find out if your swim starts in the water, or on land. In some races, you may enter the water off a boat or pier. Bottom line, know the course so there are no surprises on race day!


Article Featured in the Rofami Inc. Health & Wellness Newsletter, May 2011

Rofami Inc. is a website dedicated to helping people get fit, stay fit, and lead a healthy lifestyle. Rofami offers products & services for home, travel and corporate wellness. They publish a monthly health and wellness newsletter with articles for men and women of all ages and fitness levels. Rofami Inc. hosts health & wellness workshops along with special charitable events to promote the the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and create awareness of non-profit organizations.

You Can Be a Triathlete, Women’s Health Magazine

Tackling a triathlon can be daunting, even for fitness buffs, but this training plan for swimming, biking, and running a sprint-length race, you’ll earn bragging rights (not to mention a lean, hot body) in just 12 weeks

by Rachel Sturtz

Triathlons used to be the domain of elite athletes. Not anymore. More than 1 million people stepped up to a triathlon starting line last year—37 percent of them women, according to USA Triathlon. “Triathlons have taken over the reins from marathons as the new personal challenge,” says Barrie Shepley, Canada’s former Olympic and National Triathlon Team coach.

It’s no mystery why: The swim-bike-run combo combats workout boredom and practically guarantees weight loss. Plus, the popular sprint distance (half-mile swim, 12-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run) eliminates intimidation. Just be forewarned: The feeling of accomplishment coupled with body-sculpting effects can be addictive!

Why Tri?
Watch any triathlon and you’ll see lean legs, flat abs, and sculpted arms whizzing by—all thanks to the one-two punch of endurance and resistance exercise. “Conditioning your body to plug away at three back-to-back disciplines builds muscle endurance,” says Lesley Mettler, a triathlon coach in Seattle.

“The resistance comes from pushing yourself through water, which is thicker than air, and cycling up hills or into wind. Triathlon training is very balanced—it’s whole-body training.”

And it shows. When you focus exclusively on one sport, you often end up strong in some areas and soft in others. Triathletes get body benefits from all three sports and are lean and fit from head to toe, says exercise physiologist Shannon Grady, owner of Go! Athletics. Plus, the constant cardio can result in serious weight loss.

But all that cardiovascular action is good for more than just dropping a few pounds: A recent study in Radiology found that triathletes have larger, healthier hearts and a 17 percent lower heart rate (fewer beats means your ticker is so strong it doesn’t have to work as hard) than other athletes.

Your joints, tendons, and muscles will thank you too. “Overuse injuries like tendinitis and stress fractures often result from weakness elsewhere in the body,” explains Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and an eight-time Ironman finisher. “Because of the amount of cross-training, triathletes build stronger muscles around all of their joints, which reduces their injury risk,” he says. “Think of it as building scaffolding around a building.”

A stronger body and better health starts with this step-by-stroke-by-pedal plan.

Click here to read the rest of the article in Women’s Health magazine.