Fit ‘n’ Healthy: Triathalons Demystified

If you can ride a bike, swim 25-50 metres, and walk for 20 minutes, then you can finish a sprint triathlon!

For a lot of people the idea of finishing a triathlon seems daunting. All it takes is a little motivation, a little planning and a little hard work.

The motivation and the hard work you need to find in yourself, but today I am going to break it down for you so the planning part doesn’t seem so hard.

I’m focusing on sprint distance as this is the one that most beginners will work on completing first, unless you have some distance racing history.

The sprint distance is a 500 m swim, a 20 km cycle and a 5 km run in that order.

The swim portion is usually the one that turns people off the most, but there are ways to get over this fear.

First, there is no one judging you on how you finish your swim. You can do any stroke you want, you can float on your back, you can do sidestroke, breast stroke, or doggie paddle for all they care – all you have to do is finish the distance.

If you are concerned about your stroke or your swimming style, sign up for some adult swim lessons. They will teach you proper form and technique, to improve your speed and ability.

A wet suit is nice if you are doing an outdoor swim and will help with buoyancy in the water, making your swim a little easier. But it’s definitely not a necessity in the pool.

As well, you’ll want goggles. This will make your swimming experience a lot more comfortable and you’ll be able to see where you’re going.

Now, the cycling. You don’t need to buy a fancy new bike. Use the one you’ve got! Or buy one out of the newspaper. It doesn’t matter that you have a mountain bike when your goal is to actually finish the race.

Make sure you get your biked serviced in the spring, be sure you have good tires and the gears all work properly, then set out and start riding.

If you’re concerned that you’ll be uncomfortable or your bum will hurt, start off with short rides and not every day. This way your body will have a chance to get used to the bike.

Bike shorts are nice to have to cushion the saddle, but not needed. Helmets are mandatory. Invest in a good certified helmet, not a used one.

Also be sure to invest in a good pair of shoes. This will be important for your joints and your comfort. Don’t use the ones that have been sitting at the back of your closet for 10 years – you need ones with good cushion and support that will fit your feet properly.

Go to a reputable shoe store and ask for help to fit your shoe to your foot. If you have orthotics, bring them with you to the store and try the shoe on with the orthotics in them.

Most reputable stores have a treadmill that you can use so you can feel the shoe when you’re walking or jogging. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Now, equipment in place, get some motivating music together. It’s amazing what some good, motivating, fast tempo music can do for keeping your body moving.

You can find some good playlist ideas just by Googling “running playlist” – and iTunes has some Nike run songs that I quite enjoy. They are 45 minutes at a constant tempo so you’re not switching gears in the middle of your run.

Next, you have to learn how a triathlon works. When you register you will be asked your approximate times for each of the events. Unless it’s a mass start (which our local indoor triathlon is not) the organizers will place your start time where they think you will best fit in.

The morning of the race you’ll bring all your equipment with you and set up your bike, number, shoes, towel, helmet, clothes and water bottle at the transition station.

The swim portion is first. There will be a volunteer helping to count your laps, so just look at them if you lose track of how many you’ve done.

Start out at a slow, consistent pace. Your heart may be racing, you may be nervous; in the pool you really want to calm that down.

When you’ve completed the swim, you’ll jog to the first transition. Here you will change your shoes, grab your bike, your helmet, your number, put on any clothes you have chosen to wear, and continue to walk out to the bike portion.

Normally the transition to the run is at the same place that you transitioned for the bike, so when you return here you will simply place your bike in the racks, change your shoes if necessary and start your run portion.

Here’s a 12-week workout sample plan:

This column is provided by Mrs. Lee Randell, independent fitness consultant, who is an ACE certified advanced health and fitness specialist and personal trainer. You can reach her at

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