New to triathlon

We have tried to write down the answers to as many questions about triathlon as we can think of. We will add more as we get them asked.

What is a triathlon?
Triathlon is a multi-activity endurance sport that consists where the athlete completes a swim, cycling and run one after each other trying to complete the course in the fastest time.

What is a duathlon?
Basically, it is triathlon without the swim. Usually the swim is replaced by another shorter run section, so it becomes run-bike-run.

What is an aquathon?
Basically, it is triathlon without the bike leg, so it is a swim, then run. Aquathons are usually shorter distance race. They are a great way for swimmers to take a step towards triathlons. 

What are sprint, Olympic and Ironman?
There are a number of different distance races in triathlon, ranging from super-sprint (the shortest) to ‘long’ or Ironman distance (which is the longest). Certain races may vary these distances slightly to account for local conditions.

Name Swim Bike Run
Novice & Super Sprint 400m 10km 2.5km
Sprint 750m 20km 5km
Olympic & Standard 1500m 40km 10km
Middle (also called Half or Half Ironman, or 70.3) 1900m 90km 20km
Long (also called Ironman or 140.6) 4000m 120km 30km


So what is an Ironman?

‘Ironman’ is a brand owned by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). The WTC carefully protects their trademark and brand, so there are official Ironman events that carry the name and the famous ‘M-Dot’ logo, and non-Ironman events which are often referred to as ‘Ironman distance’. An Ironman is someone who has completed an Ironman distance event. Whether this is an actual Ironman branded event or one organized by another events company is a topic of hot discussion amongst triathletes.

Many triathletes have a goal of competing one of the branded races, although others protest against the much higher cost of these events and the challenge of entry (with popular races selling out very quickly a year in advance of the race.

What are the distances for children?
There are clear rules governing the distances for children’s races. These vary according to age.

Name Swim Bike (if grass) Bike (if tarmac) Run
Tristart (age 8) 50m 800m 1500m 600m
Tristar 1 (ages 9 and 10) 150m 2km 4km 1200m
Tristar 2 (ages 11 and 12) 200m 4km 6km 1800m
Tristar 3 (ages 13 and 14) and Youths (ages 15 and 16) 300m 6km 8km 2400m


There is also a category called Junior which covers the ages 17-19 although once over the age of 16, children can enter a limited number of adult races. There are some Junior races for those under the age of 20.

Note that race distances are usually not precise. Each event can vary and transitions between each discipline are not included in the race.

How does the age-banding work?
The age band category that you fall into depends on your age on December 31st in the year of competition. Example: If you are 11 on December 29th 2013 then for the whole of 2013 you will compete in the 11-12 age group (Tristar 2).

What is age-grouping?
As well as children being split into age groups, adults are also split into age groups. This means that although a 25 year old could compete in a race against a 62 year old, the results would show the result split by age. There are opportunities for ‘age-groupers’ to them enter nation and international events in their age group.

So you could start triathlon late in life, but if you are good enough in your age group, then you could find yourself representing the UK in an international competition.

Full details age groups can be found at:

Who can do a Triathlon?
Anyone can start triathlon. If you are interested, then the first step is to find a local club and go and meet the coaches. Don’t worry if you haven’t had a swim lessons since school, can only swim breaststroke and have a mountain bike. It doesn’t matter. A good club will help you understand what you can do and how to start that journey. Many clubs have loan bikes, so you may not even need a bike!

Why do Triathlons?
Fun. Fitness. The challenge. There are many reasons to do triathlons. You don’t need to be super fit or an expert in each event to start. What matters is that you want to try the sport and have fun.

If you watch a triathlon on the TV, you can might be amazed at the elite athletes and expensive bikes, but if you visit a local event you will see a broad range of man, ladies and children from a range of ages, with every possible body type taking part.

Many people started triathlon to get fit, but found that they loved the friendship, the social side of the sport and the sense of achievement.

Can I really do a triathlon?
The answer to this is simple. YES. If you want to do a triathlon and are committed to putting in the time and effort to train, then your local club and coaches will help you meet your goal. The key thing is to pick a triathlon that is appropriate for your ability and go from there. Once you have completed your first one, and you have experienced the elation of finishing (and of course got the very important finishers medal) then you can look for your next step. Over time, you can choose longer distances, more challenges courses (hillier bike for example) or to focus on increasing your time.

Can I become an Ironman?
Finishing an Ironman race is a dream of many starting triathlon. It takes a great deal of commitment and effort to have a realistic chance of even finishing, but the first step is to complete your first triathlon, whether a super-sprint, sprint or Olympic distance and go from there.

What is the right race for me?
The best way to understand which are the most appropriate races for you is to come to the club and speak to coaches and other triathletes who will be able to recommend the best races (and the ones to enter when you have more experience.)

A sprint is a great starting race, but there are many to choose from. The best starting race for a novice is a sprint distance with a pool swim and a flat bike and run course. As your confidence and skills grow, then you can pick increasingly challenging events.

Do I need to be a good swimmer?
No. You need to be able to swim and be safe in the water, but if you can swim 100m (4 lengths) non stop whether front crawl (also called freestyle) or breaststroke then you will benefit from joining our swim groups. We can help you with your swimming and improve your technique and speed.

Sometimes we recommend that new starters take a few 1:1 short 30 minute lessons with a swimming coach. This will provide an opportunity to develop your technique and quickly improve your technique. We will then build on this learning in the club sessions.

If you cannot swim font crawl at all, then don’t worry. Many triathletes who can now swim long distances confidently only started swimming again in the 30s or 40s.

Do I need to spend a fortune on expensive equipment?
No. You can start triathlon with the equipment that you have. All you need is a swimming costume, running trainers, a bike and a helmet.

Once you have done a few races, and have decided that triathlon is a sport you enjoy you can start adding kit and equipment. There is no shortage of great triathlon kit to spend you money on.

One recommendation that we would make is to invest in some good running trainers from a reputable running shop. Having the right trainers for your running style and ability makes all the difference to running. Trying to run in poorly fitting or inappropriate trainers can cause injuries and simply make a run no fun at all.

You can ask coaches for recommended shops, but one shop that is highly recommended is the Lancaster Runners Centre. The shop has a wide range of choices of running shoes, but also has a treadmill and video camera setup in the shop so that they can check your running style and see how your feed land (called gait analysis). It sounds complex, but it isn’t. Go to the shop and explain that you want to start running and need some affordable shoes. That’s all you have to do.

The only downside to good trainers is cost. Expect to pay around £80 for a good pair, but these will last a couple of years with average use (and another couple after that as leisure shoes).

How much time does training take?
You can devote as much time as you want to training. If your training is well planned, then more training will improve your performance. There are many resources available in books or online about developing training plans (at all levels). You don’t need to spend a fortune on these and your coach will be able to recommend appropriate resources.

Should I join a club?
This is a personal choice. Most triathletes are a member of a local club, but mix this with time spent training on their own. Training with a club provides a way to access coaches and attend structured training session, but the social aspect and friendship is important too. Most clubs have branded club kit, so not only will you be show which is your club, but you will be able to be seen and cheered by your friends during races.

Which club should I join?
Again this is personal choice. If there is more than one local club, go and see the training sessions, meet the coaches. Do the clubs ambitions and goals match yours? Some clubs are very performance led, whilst others are more focused on enjoying the sport and being a sport that is welcome to all.

Do I need a personal coach?
When you start triathlon, unless you are already a performance athlete in one of the disciplines, then a local club is likely to be able to provide the depth of coaching that you need at this stage. Club coaches will be able to help you identify areas of improvement and develop plans to address these, whether in group sessions or as specific drills and practices that you can do separately.

If you have competed a few triathlons and find that you want the benefit of 1:1 coaching or want intensive improvement across several areas, then you should seek a British Triathlon Level 3 Coach. Level 3 coaches specialise in developing 1:1 training plans and can work across all disciplines to improve performance. They are often used by age-group athletes seeking to attain podium or qualification level performances.

A highly recommended local Level 3 coach is Rodger Wilkins who runs Racepace. Rodger is an experienced international triathlete who has competed at the highest level and provides performance coaching to a number of local athletes.

Are coaches triathletes themselves or just ‘paper coaches’?
All triathlon coaches in the UK need to be British Triathlon qualified coaches. This requires attendance across a number of training events over several weekends, production of a comprehensive portfolio and completion and deliver of a number of training sessions across all disciplines, both at their club and for practical assessment by formal assessment sessions. Furthermore they need to undertake an exam. Before even being accepted onto the course, potential coaches need to demonstrate competency in triathlon and are expected to have competed themselves. This is a minimum!!!

Many coaches have additional qualifications or experience. Ribble Valley Triathlon Club has coaches who are also teachers, are qualified on other sports as coaches, hold specialist coaching skills (teaching special needs and disability) or are professional fitness trainers. All coaches teaching children also hold relevant criminal record check certificates (what used to be called CRB checks). Level 2 coaches also hold first aid certificates.

More importantly our coaches LOVE triathlon and are active competitors. We all continue to train and enter events, from local sprints through to Ironman events. We don’t just talk the talk – we walk (or run if we can) the walk. All coaches came to triathlon as adults, so fully understand what is it like to start triathlon.

All of our coaches who teach children are also parents.

What about all of the legal stuff such as risk assessments?
We take athlete safety seriously and follow recommended practice in all areas. Every venue we hold sessions at has a Risk Assessment and Emergency Action Plan completed. Every session will have Lesson Plan and we hold emergency contact details for all members.

The club is currently in the process of Clubmark accreditation.

Copies of any relevant documents are available on request.

Where can I find out about triathlon rules?
Most triathlons in the UK will be covered by British Triathlon Federation rules. This is the National Governing Body (NGB) for triathlon in the UK. They publish a handbook online that provides the official rulebook. It can be downloaded by clicking on the link below:

All events though will include a summary of the rules, and any special changes for their event. This is normally emailed to competitors before the race, or is available from the event website. It is important to read this BEFORE the race so you understand any rule changes that are in place.

Many races will also include a ‘race briefing’ before the event. This can be a 5 minute talk at the poolside (for sprint distance events), or an hour long briefing a day before the race (for Ironman races).

Do I need to join anything?
If you attend a local club, then you will need to join the club. Membership is usually paid annually and may cover the training cost or these may be paid session or per month separately.

You can join the national triathlon body, which in England is Triathlon England. Full details of member benefits are listed on their website, but you can do not need to be a member to enter races. If you join Triathlon England then you will receive a race licence for the year, but you can also buy a ‘day licence’ when you register for your race on the day. For children this is £1 per event, for adults it is £5 per event,

All coaches do need to be a member of their NGB in order for them to be fully insured by the body.

What if I have a question that is not shown here?
Use the contact page to ask the coaches. We will contact you back by your preferred choice (email, phone, text) and provide an answer if we can, or a date for when we will have an answer if this requires us to consult an external party such as the NGB.

A friendly local club supporting all levels of triathlete from beginner through to podium placed competitor all the way up to World Champion level athlete.