Looking for an exciting new fitness challenge? Try triathlon!

16 February 2010

The multisport triathlon is an increasingly popular choice for people of all ages and ability levels seeking an adventurous, fun and challenging way to keep fit. Personal trainer Lucy Wyndham-Read explains how to get started.

Triathlon combines the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running. With three different levels - Sprint, Olympic and Ironman - it is accessible to newcomers to the sport, as well as those seeking maximum endurance and challenge.

Once perceived as a gruelling sport suitable only for elite athletes, this 'lifestyle multisport' has grown rapidly in popularity in recent years and now has mass participation in the UK, says the president of the British Triathlon Federation, Dr Sarah Springman OBE.


There are around 350 Federation-affiliated triathlon clubs in Great Britain, catering for all levels of ability and experience, and competitions are held regularly throughout the year.

Some of the major UK charities also run triathlons aimed at a wide range of ability levels, as well as less-demanding, two-sport 'duathlons', such as Marie Curie Cancer Care's TriLive Duathlon.

Getting started with triathlon
Those looking at doing their first triathlon are recommended to begin at the Sprint level, where distances for each component sector are shorter.

The distances involved in each level are as follows:

  • Sprint: a 750m swim, followed by a 20km bike ride, then a 5km run.
  • Olympic (or Standard): a 1,500m swim, followed by a 40km bike ride, then a 10km run.
  • Ironman: a gruelling combination of a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km bike ride and finishing with 42km run.

To get started, first you need a bike, though it doesn't have to be a fancy one. What is essential, however, is that you buy a helmet and always wear this when you cycle.

Secondly, you need well-cushioned trainers and, if you'll be out training in the dark, full reflective clothing.

Training for your first event

If you're new to triathlon, give yourself a good six to eight weeks' training in advance of an event.

Aim for three to four training sessions a week, covering all three disciplines - running, cycling and swimming. Assess which is your weakest discipline, and spend a little more training time on this activity.

For a complete beginner, in your first week start with a 20-minute swim one day, a 20-minute bike ride two days later, rest for one day, then aim to do a 20-minute run.

Over a four-week period, aim to increase each activity by five minutes, so by week four you are comfortably completing 35 minutes for each of the three activities.

You are now ready to start training on your transitions - a major part of triathlon. Transitions are how quickly you can get your wetsuit off and be on your bike, then how quickly you can change your cycling shorts to your running shorts.

When training at weekends, it's a good idea to work on a bike ride via a pit stop at home, so you can time how quickly you can 'transition' from cycling to running.

In the following weeks, again up your training time by five minutes a week in each of the three disciplines.

By week eight, if your training has gone to plan, you'll be ready for your first triathlon!

Health and fitness benefits

Partaking in this fun event is an excellent way of training all the muscles in your body and challenging yourself in different styles of training.

Swimming helps to sculpt your upper body; cycling helps to tone your lower body; and running helps improves your endurance, speed and development of long lean muscles.

The combined fitness and health benefits are enormous, including improving your lung capacity and cardiovascular system, as well as overall tone.

You work on improving all the major components of fitness - endurance, speed, muscular strength, flexibility, balance and co-ordination - so it's a great choice of sport to leave you feeling super-fit!

Further information:

To find a British Triathlon Federation-affiliated club in your area, go to www.britishtriathlon.org/clubs/index.php

Charities that organise triathlons and related events include:

Cancer Research - running.cancerresearchuk.org/events

Help the Aged - www.helptheaged.org.uk/en-gb/HowYouCanHelp/Events/Running

Marie Cure Cancer Care - www.mariecurie.org.uk/events/triathlon/other-triathlons.htm

Parkinson's Disease Society - www.parkinsons.org.uk/support-us/events/adventurous-sports/triathlons.aspx