Triathlon for Beginners

If you’re just getting started in triathlon, you may want to refer to some of these resources.

We’ve compiled a series of topics based on common questions around getting started in triathlon, multisport, and Ironman races.

Intro To Triathlon

First things first. If you are a total newbie to this awesome sport, it may be worth watching this short video for a  quick introduction to triathlon.

YouTube player

Triathlon Order: Swim, Bike, Run

Another first-timer question that is asked so much is about the order of the swim, bike, and run (hint: that’s the order). But check out the link below to see why they are in that order.

Triathlon Order – Many people wonder what the order of the three disciplines are – we explain it all here.

The Distances

Another big question is about the various distances of triathlon there are. There are four main triathlon distances. See the table below.

Swim.8 km / .5 m1.5 km / .93 m1.9 km / 1.2 m3.8 km / 2.4 m
Bike20 km / 12.4 m40 km / 24.9 m90 km / 56 m180 km / 112 m
Run5 km / 3.1 m10 km / 6.2 m21.1 km / 13.1 m42.2 km / 26.2 m

Half is in reference to “half Ironman” which is, as implied 50% of the full, or full Ironman.

Ironman is a brand name, and the biggest organizer of triathlon around the world, and so the name is commonly used with reference to these two distances.

If you ever see “70.3” or “140.6” those are in reference to the number of miles covered in the half or full. They are interchangeable terms with half and full.

There are other distances, too, such as double or triple or even longer (140.3 x 3, for example) and there are also shorter distances, but they are not very common.

The Swim

This is probably the most feared and least understood part of a triathlon, except for maybe nutrition. It’s often used as the excuse for good cyclists and runners for not wanting to do a triathlon.

But the thing is, plenty of triathletes have similar feelings about the swim – plenty are weakest here and just want to make it out of the water and onto the bike – where they know things will then be ok.

One of the challenges in the swim is knowing where you’re going – this is called sighting. But if you use these goggles you’ll never go the wrong way – check out the video.

YouTube player

Read more about building up your open-water confidence and becoming a better swimmer here.

Tip #14: Sight using the sun

Tip #57: Test your swim alignment in the pool

YouTube player

The Bike

If you don’t have a cycling background, you may be wondering how important a new bike is. And if you need one, do you need a triathlon bike, a time trial bike, or will a road bike do? Or can you just use any old bike?

Well, it depends. If you’re just out to do your first triathlon – and it’s a sprint or even Olympic distance – most would agree that it’s perfectly fine to simply use any bike you have access to, even if it’s a mountain bike or entry-level road bike.

Now is the time to test out how the sport and the event feels, not to break any records or win any prizes.

A purpose-built tri bike is great for long distances but overkill for beginners

So riding on a basic bike is totally acceptable and will be enough to give you a sense of whether you want to continue in this sport. It wouldn’t make sense to invest too much money or learn how to get comfortable on a performance bike if cycling is new to you and you may not even enjoy it.

However, if you have done a few triathlons already and are ready to get serious, you may want to buy a more competitive bike. The first question you need to ask is what type of bike you’ll buy: A road bike or a triathlon bike?

Triathlon bike vs road bike – What are the differences and which should you buy?

The Run

This is the simplest of the three disciplines. All you need is some shoes and you’re set.

However, it may be the toughest since by the time you get through the swim and the bike, you’re fatigued. Are you really ready to run? Can your body handle the shock from the repetitive motion from cycling to the pounding of running?

If you haven’t done many brick runs (runs directly after riding) you may be in for a bit of a surprise when you start your run.

Also, even if you think you’re a strong runner, your times here may be slower than your standalone run times.

You may be capable of a 40 min 10k, but after the swim and the bike that could shoot up to a much slower time if you’re not conditioned properly.

Triathlon suit – What should you wear while you race and train?


Also referred to as the 4th discipline, nutrition is one of the trickiest things to get right.

But if you’re a beginner, I’d suggest not worrying too much about this as you are probably doing sprint or Olympic distances only – not full or half Ironman distances.

It’s really only at those longer distances when nutrition becomes a major and critical component.

However, there’s nothing wrong with learning a bit about it now. Here’s a good place to start.

YouTube player

Also, I have a triathlon nutrition calculator here.

Tri Books for Beginners

I have read many triathlon and training books around racing, nutrition, mindset, and much more.

Here is a list of them – browse the list to see if there’s anything you can use to get started.

View my tri reading list here

As a beginner, you may want to do the following to get started:

Related posts:

10 Things Beginner Triathletes Should Watch Out For

10 Tips to a Faster Run

Basic Nutrition Plan for Half Ironman Fueling