Doing your First Triathlon

You might already be "training" or you might need to find a goal to kick start your training but either way, entering a race will provide you with a very specific goal. Not only do goals help us with motivation, but with triathlons, your training program will be based around the distances that you'll need to cover on race day.

Making the Decision

For me, I had no idea that I would ever become a triathlete, but I was already "training" my body with regular running, and the occasional ride and swim, when one day I was asked to run in a team marathon triathlon to replace an injured friend. Three days later and the event was on, so I had no time to think about what I was getting into. I will never forget the feeling of crossing my first finish line (since childhood sports carnivals). There were wild cheers of support and fanfare - and people were screaming out MY NAME!! That was the moment I felt the thrill of racing and was hooked by the euphoria of the finish... There was no doubt I was addicted by my first taste of triathlon and the urge to do all stages and really deserve the accolades was so intense that by the very next day I had entered the very next triathlon occurring in my local area. Just by chance it was a women's triathlon the following weekend and I haven't looked back since!

My story may not be typical for how others find themselves entering the sport of triathlon. In fact, for many people the start point may be well before the training even begins.

If you're considering doing your first triathlon because you want to get fitter, then be realistic and give yourself some time to do some goal setting, and build a training routine that incorporates swimming, cycling, running on a weekly basis. Having a race as your goal will provide the incentive to stay committed to the training, and if you choose a local race, chances are that you can find a buddy who will enter it with you or you can join a local training group or tri-club.

Don't be discouraged if you have a weakness in one or more of the tri-disciplines. Few triathletes are naturally competent at all 3 sports. But do consider your strengths and weakeness when choosing your first race. There are such a range of races distances to choose from that you can pretty much find one to best fit your ability right now and then you can gradually increase your endurance over months or even years, using the races as your milestones to improvement. See our article Triathlon Race Distances for more details.

If you have a significant weakness, you may even consider forming a relay team for your first triathlon and you can do say the run portion of the race and find two friends to do the bike and swim legs.

Whichever way you go about it, pick a race and focus on the goal. Visualise yourself doing the race, and especially how you'll feel crossing the finish line. Keep that dream in your mind throughout your training and believe in yourself. Before you know it you'll have achieved your first triathlon.


TriathlonOz produces a massive event calendar featuring triathlons of all distances along with duathlons, aquathons and other multisport races throughout Australia. See EVENTS.

What equipment do you need?

To do a triathlon you really only need yourself and a bike right? Ok, so you do need a bit more gear, but you don't have to rush out and buy loads of new stuff if you're new to triathlon just start with the basics:

What to Wear

The ideal gear to wear in a triathlon is a one-piece lycra outfit called a "tri-suit". These are suitable for both men and women and are designed to be worn for the entire race duration thus minimising transition time. The top half of the tri-suit usually has good chest and shoulder coverage with no sleeves and for women this means a regular sports bra can be comfortably worn underneath. A small padding in the crotch area gives just enough comfort when on the bike, without excess bulk or water absorbtion (from the swim) to interfere with running, which is the problem when wearing regular bike niks. Alternatively, you can wear a two-piece tri-suit, however this can expose skin and therefore become a sunburn hazzard. A well designed tri-suit will have a pocket (usually in the rear panel) to hold a sports gels, which are normally taken on the run.

Swim Gear

At most races you will be provided with a swim cap as part of your race kit. If you are given one you must wear it for safety and identification. Caps are usually colour-coded to distinguish your start group (wave start). Of course, you will also need a pair of goggles. Wetsuits are always optional, however all races will provide guidelines as to if they are allowed or not on the day. The wetsuit ruling is determined by the race director in accordance with the Triathlon Australia Wetsuit Determination policy. (See our article - Triathlon Wetsuits, for more information).

Bike Gear

For any triathlon you will need a bike. What bike you choose to ride is up to you and you will see all sorts on the day. Helmets are mandatory and must be approved to Australian standards. Helmets are usually checked at bike check-in and you'll usually be asked to wear it so they can check that buckles are correctly adjusted and the fit is firm. You may choose to wear your running shoes on the bike, or if your bike is fitted with clip-on pedals then you will have special bike shoes with clets that you will need to put on after the swim before you take your bike out of transition. Socks are optional. Sunglasses are a good idea to reduce the effects of glare but also give some protection from debris that can flick up from wheels of passing riders.

Run Gear

If you are using clip-on pedals on your bike then you'll need to also have a pair of running shoes and socks to change into at the T2 transition. Forget shoe laces and get a pair of elastic laces especially for race day to ensure you can quickly slip your foot into the shoes. (Never train in elastic laces, as they do not provide adquate support. Save them for race day only). Socks are optional. A visor or cap is highly recommended to give you some protection from the sun and keep any stray hair out of your face. Sunnies are optional.

Sports Nutrition

Your choice of bars/gels, electrolyte sports drink and water. See our Nutrition topic for more indepth articles on sports nutrition.

Transition Area

This is where you rack your bike and layout your gear and is arguably the most tactical part of doing a triathlon. Because the time to transitation between the stages is counted in your overall result, this is where some basic organisation can either gain or lose you some valuable race time. It is advisable to do everything you can to make the transition effective so consider using a distinctive coloured towel to layout your shoes, helmet etc so that when you come in from the swim to find your bike you have some visual aid to quickly locate your spot. Of course, you also stand on your towel to dry off your feet after the swim before putting on your shoes. Most events will not allow bags to be left in the transition area and you have a specific time limit before the race in which to set out your gear then vacate. A separate bag compound is usually provided for competitors.

Race Number

As part of your race kit you'll be provided with a race number and pins. You can pin the race number to your trisuit or you can purchase a race belt that has toggles to hold the race number through eyelets - if you are intending to race frequently these are a must-have. It is not mandatory to wear the race number during the swim, so triathletes often layout their race belt in their bike helmet, or on the bars of their bike in such a way that it won't blow away in the wind (!) before they get into T1. The race belt is elastic and can be quickly stepped into and pulled up to the waist.


For more useful information, see our article Triathlon Race Day Checklist

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Created: March 2011
Revised: August 2011
Latest Feedback: November 2012


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