How To Prepare For Your First Triathlon

Much is discussed in this realm of the Internet regarding the best way to go about approaching fitness.  Let’s face it, it is a core principle of who you are as a man.  It needs to be a part of every successful man’s life, and there is no getting around this as far as I’m concerned.  Much of the emphasis is on weight training and bulking up.  While I would not pose any argument that is the way to get to get girls, there are also other forms of exercise that can easily become part of your mission, or at least an attractive hobby.  It takes dedication, passion, and the willingness to take a lot of hurt.

I’m speaking of a triathlon.


I tentatively tend to run this as a three part series.  The first one will cover the first baby steps into the sport, the second will cover race training, and the final one will cover an actual race.

If you don’t know what triathlon is, it’s an endurance sport that combines three endurance sports into one long race.  Swim, bike, run.  This is typically the order, save for a few reverse races that pop up on the calendar.  It is not a duathlon, it is not a bike race, it is a triathlon.  The distances of these races varies greatly, from the beginning sprint distance (roughly a 400-800 meter swim, 12 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run) to the elusive Ironman races (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and then a marathon, 26.2 miles).

Obviously, training for an Ironman cannot be taken lightly.  For the average person, an Ironman day consists of probably about 25,000 calories and numerous stops on the side of the course at the porta-pottys.

Triathlon is a great sport for anyone to get in and try once.  Don’t start with the Ironman.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to invest tons of money into the sport right off the bat.  Get into a local sprint triathlon for about $50 with a friend or two, and see if you enjoy the sport.  If you decide to undertake this journey, here is some very beginner-friendly advice to get you off the couch, and into the water, on a bike. or out running.

Things people say you need (you don’t)

$2,000 super duper aerodynamic carbon fiber triathlon bike

It’s simply not necessary.  Assuming you are doing a sprint distance, even a professional biker would only squeeze a few extra seconds out of a high-end bike.  I strongly encourage getting a bike with gears though, and preferably a road bike with skinny tires as opposed to a mountain bike.  However, a mountain bike is sufficient.  A fixie lacking brakes, or a 55-pound beach cruiser, is not.

Nice.  Not necessary.

Expensive nutrition or recovery drinks

You don’t need the gel shots that are pure sugar.  Eat a granola bar instead, or drink a soda.  You don’t need the $50 “recovery mix” from the latest nutrition vendor.  Drink a class of chocolate milk.

A team or club

Any good club worth their salt welcomes all triathletes of all skill levels on their weekly group swims, rides or runs.  Go and join in, see if you like the people.  Avoid membership dues or fancy club kits until you know you like racing.


This one may vary depending on where you live.  I’m fortunate enough to live in Southern California, which means I can get by without a wetsuit for much of the year.  For longer races a wetsuit is a necessity for buoyancy, but for short races you can do without one.  Also, keep in mind that if you want to race with a wetsuit, that means you need to *practice* with the wetsuit on.  Shoulder/arm movement is greatly restricted by wetsuits.  More than likely, the majority of swim training will be done in a heated pool where a wetsuit isn’t going to be much fun (keep in mind chlorine also can have negative effects depending on the type of wetsuit).

Things people don’t mention (they should)

A good pair of swim goggles

This is NOT an area to cheap out on.  Spend at least $20.  Try them out in the store.  Press them against your face, they should stick onto your eyes with good suction.  If they fall off immediately, do not buy them.  If you know the races you are competing in are going to be open-water versus pool swims, I would recommend trying some goggles designed more for that.

There are few things less fun in the world than having ocean water fill your eyes for 1,500 meters of swimming.

Running shoes

Can’t stress this one enough, do NOT go the cheap route on your running shoes.  I’m a strong advocate of minimalist running, but you need to work into it.  Make sure you have a good pair of running shoes that don’t leave your feet aching afterwards.  Gradually make the transition to lighter, more minimalistic shoes.

Personally, I train in Nike Frees and race in Zoot TTs.


A helmet

Obvious.  Don’t be stupid.

The girls…

…are not that cute.  Don’t get me wrong, there will be some, but if you’re better off doing yoga or spin class if you want to pick up chicks.  The ones who are cute are likely not that into the sport.  The girls who are really into the sport age horribly.  All the hours of feet pounding the pavement, and hours in the sun make female triathletes look years older than they actually are.  One of my teammates last year qualified for the Ironman world championships in Hawaii.  When I first met her, I thought she was 26.

She was 21.

The below is the exception, not the norm.

Exception.  Not the norm.

Keep up your weight-lifting regimen

…but stop lifting heavy.  Higher reps, lighter weights are your friends.  Try to organize your training in a smart way; and you’ll need to figure out your recovery times individually.  If you lift upper body on Monday but then your swim workout is greatly impacted Tuesday, it will hurt you in the long run.

You need a full day to recover

Once a week.  On this day, know that if you can sit, it’s better than standing.  If you can lie, it’s better than sitting.  If you can sleep, it’s better than being awake.

You will likely be skinny-fat

Endurance sports are not for those who want to look great.  If that’s your cup of tea, stick to lifting.  Personally, all the hours in the sun make me crave sugar, carbs, and other junk food.  I generally satisfy these cravings, but I believe that’s a firm reason why I’m usually not as lean during the season.  I tend to have a more ripped/lean look in the offseason.

Know that you are going to be stronger in one discipline.  Accept that.

If you have been running for five years but have never done a flip turn in your life, that’s okay.  Accept that swimming is going to be a struggle at first.  This does not mean you give up run training for swimming.  You need to be a stone-cold killer in at least one discipline, this will help your confidence in training and on race day immensely.

More importantly than anything, and while it make sound cliche: have fun.  Make it your mission to finish an Ironman.  Use it as a way to get in shape.  Use it to make a new social group.

See you at the starting line.

Read Next: The Case For Minimalist Running

24 thoughts on “How To Prepare For Your First Triathlon”

  1. “a mountain bike is sufficient. A fixie lacking brakes, or a 55-pound beach cruiser, is not.”
    If you’re on a mountain bike I’ll kick your ass on a 30 lb Walmart cruiser fitted with 700c, brakeless fixed wheel. At shorter distances I’ve done it to people on tri bikes.
    Not that it matters, by the time we got out of the water I’d be about a season behind.

    1. I kind of doubt that. A decent mid-range mountain bike will weigh less than your Walmart cruiser. Have better frame geometry, and fit. I just don’t see it.
      Of course I don’t see using a mountain bike for Tri racing either. A lower end basic roadie isn’t that hard to get. Though I have blown by roadies on my 29er.

      1. “I kind of doubt that.”
        From which I can deduce . . . I would have the element of surprise on my side.
        “mountain bike will weigh less than your Walmart cruiser.”
        So long as we exclude places like Lake Placid I don’t really care about the weight. It isn’t a significant factor.
        “I just don’t see it.”
        Graeme Obree became the first man to break 30 mph for 25 miles on the road. He did it on what amounted to a hybrid with decent tires on.
        I’m a specialist. I pay for that by being crap in the swim and run. I wouldn’t call myself a triathlete.
        I’m no Graeme Obree either, but let me change the cruiser seat for a B17 and the touring bars for Soma Lauterwassers (shedding a bit of weight in the process) and I’ll acquit myself well.
        In any case, the whole point of this isn’t to forward the idea that I’m some sort of cycling superman, but to support the premise that you don’t need a top tri bike to compete, and if you’re starting from scratch you can do better than a mountain bike for less money.
        When you find yourself coming out of the water in contention for a podium finish, that’s the time to worry about a “hot” bike. Until then, train, learn and, ya know, have fun.

        1. Giant did introduce that new ‘Everyroad’ bike. But the thing to keep in mind is most non-bikers think that they can stop at the big box stores and get something for under $500. Not worth it, shell out the bucks to get something a lot better for not much more money.

        2. Nashbar Nekkid. Your choice of bull/cow horns. One speed, but two brakes. 338 bucks delivered. Less if you have the good sense to use a 20% off/Black Friday coupon.
          You’d pay nearly that much for the Formula/Alex wheels alone most places.
          You can get better for less than the big box stuff if you know where to look and think a bit outside the, well, big box.

  2. A triathalon isn’t something you just jump into. If you don’t already bike, swim, or ride on a regular basis, this just isn’t for you. I find that most new entries are runners who work into the other two sports (like I was, thirty years and a hundred pounds ago). My suggestion is to compete (that is, participate in an event) in each activity a couple of times before you put it all together in a triathalon. A good starting triathalon is a 10K run, a mile or so swim, and a 40 mile ride. Actually that is a pretty fun combo; if you’re reasonably fit you’re actually competing instead of just trying to survive to the finish. The big shock for most will be the swim – a mile or two in open water is nothing like the lap pool and since triathalons start with the swim it is pretty crowded. If (like me) swimming is your weak spot practice open-water swimming before competing. You don’t need fancy equipment; I still ride a thirty-year-old twelve-speed and it does just fine. Good running shoes (if you’re a runner you already have these), a reliable bike with a comfortable seat and a couple of water bottle clips (I like half-water, half-Gatorade in mine), and swim goggles is all you need to get started. If you’re a competitive runner, though, you’ll be shocked at how poorly you run after pedaling a bike for a couple of hours. Take it easy the first mile and then crank it up!

    1. Most people completely underestimate the war that goes on in the water.
      Not only is it nice and calm like a lap pool, but there are these crazy things called waves and a zillion other people fighting for positioning under them.

  3. lol, I used to pull triathletes out of the water like rats when I would guard these clusterfucks
    most were great runners, solid bikers, could barely swim
    impressive drive and focus to accomplish… absolutely nothing at all
    a nice walk and reasonable diet is much easier on the constitution
    don’t forget the vaseline or monistat anti-chafing gel mr. bloodynipples
    not hating the playas, just the game

  4. For my first two sprint triathlons I was on a mountain bike with non-clipless pedals and I was getting passed right and left. The next year I bought a carbon road bike and my overall times improved by almost 10 minutes on the same courses. I suggest getting a good alloy or carbon road bike in the $1000-$2000 range then ride the heck out of it. It should last you for years.
    The swim portion does beat up a lot of amateur triathletes. There is nothing you can do but get in the pool or the ocean and start putting in the miles. I was up to 10km a week in the pool this past summer and it made a difference in my races. I was able to get out of the pool mid-pack without being exhausted and jump on the bike and go.
    The author is correct that you likely won’t lose as much weight as you expect. Most people wouldn’t describe me as overweight, but they wouldn’t say that I’m skinny either. I have to eat a lot to have sufficient energy for training and it keeps me from losing much weight. Still, I feel really fit and confident. Finishing a triathlon with a competitive time is an awesome feeling.

  5. “The girls who are really into the sport age horribly.”
    Two words: Free Radicals. It isn’t just the exposure that makes endurance athletes look leathery and awful. Oxidative stress is a big contributor.

  6. Triathlons and their “competitors” are beta as hell. Masculine men play real sports, not being interested in ‘competing’ to see who’s the best at exercising. And the Ironman moniker is total BS. As a life-long weightlifter, I resemble what an Ironman should look like. Not those sickly weak looking SWPL guys and their effeminate frames that I see make up the overwhelming majority of triathlon participants. But it gets even more gay when these guys finish a ‘race’ and put one those annoying narcissistic 140.6 stickers on their rear windshields. I can only imagine how desperate women must get to escape a group of these nancy boys attempting to masquerade themselves as athletes having one of their endless circle jerk talk sessions about what bike to use, supplements to take, etc. Gay! Between this article and the equally stupid one about building muscle mass the other day, this blog needs to vet its contributors better.

    1. An acquaintance of mine from Australia who was a long-time Aussie rules football and rugby player is getting into triathlons because his shoulders can’t take the contact anymore. You can’t blanket generalize about people. It depends on the individual.

    2. Look, I even put stars around the part you missed.
      “You will likely be skinny-fat
      *****Endurance sports are not for those who want to look great.**** If that’s
      your cup of tea, stick to lifting. Personally, all the hours in the
      sun make me crave sugar, carbs, and other junk food. I generally
      satisfy these cravings, but I believe that’s a firm reason why I’m
      usually not as lean during the season. I tend to have a more
      ripped/lean look in the offseason.”

Comments are closed.