The USA Triathlon Rule Book can be found here: http://www.usatriathlon.org/about-multisport/rulebook.aspx
What is a triathlon?
Triathlon is an endurance and versatility sport, in which the individual athlete carries out a swimming, a cycling, and a running segment, in that order, and with the clock running during transitions. It is an athletic contest won by completing the course with the fastest time.
What is a duathlon?
A Duathlon is similar to a Triathlon, but the swim leg is replaced by another run leg, so it becomes a run, cycle, run race. Basically a duathlon is a triathlon without the swimming. Duathlon distances are similar to those for triathlons.
What is an Aquathon?
An Aquathon is similar to a Triathlon, but without the bike leg. So it becomes a swim and run race. Again, just like Triathlons and Duathlons, there are varying distances. However, the distances are normally of sprint distance.
What are the typical triathlon distances?
There are no set distances for triathlons. Many triathlons use various distances that conform to the land/water available to them. There are, however, some standard distances for triathlons:
• Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
• Half Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
• Olympic Distance: 1500 meter (.93 mile) swim, 40k (24.8 mile) bike, 10k (6.2 mile) run
– this is the distance used in the summer olympics
• Sprint Distance: usually about one half of an Olympic Distance race 500-750 meter swim, 12 mile bike and 3.1 mile run.
Who can do a Triathlon?
Anyone can do a triathlon. If you’re in search of fitness and looking for a rewarding challenge, Triathlon is for you.
Why do Triathlons?
Triathlon is a great sport! It attracts many different types of people. It tends to attract social friendly types and fits in well with a variety of life styles. And, you don’t need to be super fit to participate. Many people use triathlon as a goal or a way to get motivated to do cardio and loose weight. Triathlon offers a great variety for training so you are not always doing the same thing. The sport offers finishers a great sense of accomplishment. It also presents endless challenges! You can always work to go further and get faster.
What are the different divisions in a triathlon?
Triathlons are usually separated into different divisions for awards. Most commonly there are pro/elite categories and age group categories.
The age group categories separate men and women into different groups. Each gender group is then separated by their age. Age groups are usually in 5 year sections. For example, womens ages 19-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-45 … mens ages 19-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-45.
Awards are often given to the top finishers overall for each gender and for the top 3-6 finishers in each age group division.
Do you really think I can finish a triathlon?
Yes, I do. If you’re reading this, the chances are pretty good that you could finish a triathlon. You’re interested in fitness, in endurance and fitness. As long as you pick a triathlon that’s suited realistically to your abilities, you can finish.
What you really need, ultimately, is to want it bad enough. If you do, you will.
What triathlon distance is right for me?
The distance you choose really hinges on your comfort in the water. You can probably ride or run (or walk) the distance in longer events, but don’t put yourself in the water for a longer distance than you can handle. This is where training comes into play. As you spend more time swimming, biking and running, you will be able to go further and can take on longer triathlons.
If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider a sprint distance race. Most beginners start with the sprint distance. This way they can get more comfortable with putting the three events together.
Do I need to have a strong background in one of the events?
Not necessarily. While you will encounter athletes who swam in high school meets or ran cross-country, many new triathletes are approaching these events for the first time. You just need to be able to practice all three disciplines.
Some people would have started racing triathlons earlier, but they don’t like to swim. For some, the swim can be a challenge, but part of triathlon is about encountering challenges and overcoming them. You may not the best swimmer, but when you exit the water in a triathlon, the race is ON!
Do I need to buy a lot of expensive gear?
No. It’s possible to compete in a triathlon with equipment you already have. All you need is a swim suit, tennis shoes, a bike and a helmet. Everything else is extra and after you have done a few races and decide you like the sport, then you can start acquiring gear.
How much training should I do?
How much training you need to do before your first triathlon depends on you. It depends on what level of fitness you are at in all three disciplines and it depends on what your goals are – do you want to do a sprint, a standard, middle or full distance? Do you want to be competitive or just be able to finish the race?
To give yourself something to aim for, enter a triathlon some months ahead. Choose a race you think you can finish, and prepare adequately. By race day you should be able to go the full distance of each event in training.
Which race should I choose for my first race?
It is good to pick a race and set yourself a target to aim for. Be positive and pick an upcoming race. There are thousands of triathlons all over the US, and even more all over the world! One way to find out about a race is to go to one. If you go to a local race, you can talk to triathletes in the area and find out about races that are close by and well run.
What do I need to know about nutrition?
It’s very important to keep hydrated, both in training and during the race. Drink adequate amount of fluids before and during your workouts. As your workouts become longer (longer than 2 hours at a time) it will be time to start considering food during your workout so you can sustain the activity. Information on fuel can be found at: http://www.trifuel.com
Should I join a Triathlon Club?
Triathlon clubs are the perfect way to get information, to improve your race and to meet other local triathletes. They can give you access to facilities and discounts and possibly even sponsors. They are a wealth of information and usually have coaches to help you meet your goals. Not to mention you will meet other people to train with. They can be expensive but if you are new to the sport or need some support, triathlon clubs are great.
What if something goes wrong in the Special Triathlon I’ve spent so much time preparing for?
For some, understandably, a triathlon is a culmination of much dedication, preparation, training time, and family support. It’s a project, it’s a big deal, and you want it all to be worth it.
But sometimes things go wrong out there, in the same way that it might rain on a long-planned outdoor wedding. The swim might not go as well as you expect. You might get a flat tire on the bike. You might experience unexpected cramping on the run.
If you do run into a problem during your triathlon, it’s ok. There are many more races out there. Your time and effort didn’t go to waste because now you are in GREAT shape! Assess what went wrong and then sign up for another race. Keep up with your work outs and you can “redeem” your self at the next race.
What are the rules of triathlon?
Triathlon rules vary by race and governing bodies. For individual triathlons, check the race packet for rules for the race.
For ITU races, the rules can be found at http://www.triathlon.org/rules/index.htm
For USAT races, the rules can be found at http://www.usatriathlon.org/Frames/fs_rules.htm
Even if your race is an ITU or USAT event, you should still check the race packets for changes/exceptions to the rules.
Where can I find more information on triathlons?
Beginner Triathlete http://beginnertriathlete.com/
USA Triathlon http://www.usatriathlon.org/
International Triathlon Union http://www.triathlon.org/
I can’t swim, what can I do?
Many local clubs give swimming lessons and can get you up to race fitness. If you do not want to swim, there are many duathlons which are held around the country.
What strokes are permissible?
Any stroke is allowed in triathlons as long as you are not using an artificial means to propel yourself through the water.
The most common and efficient stroke is freestyle. Breaststroke, however, is often performed by people who either have trouble with freestyle or are resting or sighting.
I’ve heard that a triathlon swim is rough, and people even try to swim over you; is this true?
This really depends on the start of the race. Some races start in waves with a smaller number of people starting together, which gives everyone more room. Other races are in swimming pools and you start on your own. Others still start all at once and these tend to be the most turbulent. However, the talk about the swim typically surpasses the reality.
In open water swims, there are no lane markers and everyone’s trying to go in the same direction, some with more success than others. Yes there is occasional contact, but it’s unintentional. Do not take it personally, just keep swimming. If you are concerned about being run over, just wait a few seconds until the starting area clears of swimmers and then begin your swim. You may be a few seconds back, but your anxiety will be lower and overall your swim will benefit from it.
What should I wear?
Don’t worry too much about what to wear, especially for your first tri. There is triathlon specific apparel you can wear, but for your first race, swimsuit for the swim, Shirt/Jersey and shorts (over your suit) for the bike and run, whatever is in the back of the wardrobe!!! Once you have done a few, you can invest in a triathlon specific outfit. Triathlon shorts are generally spandex and have a light chamois (padding). Triathlon tops are also spandex, sleeveless and may have a couple pockets. Keep in mind, for some races, a wetsuit is required.
Just remember guys (and girls too!!!) you must have your chest covered during the cycle and run.
Do I have to wear a wetsuit?
That depends on the race. Your race will have that information available to you, usually on their website. If you are swimming in a pool, you should not wear a wet suit. If you are swimming in open water, the water temperature is the main factor. Wetsuits help you stay warm in longer swim distances, and the buoyancy will make most amateur swimmers swim better. They can however be difficult to take off in transition. If it is a shorter swim, you feel comfortable with the temperature you probably don’t need one. Try swimming in a wetsuit to help you with your decision. At certain temperatures wetsuits are required, so check the rules for your race.
What are the rules about wetsuits?
The wetsuit rules change by race and governing body but the general rules for ITU races are:
|Junior and Age Group competitors:Swim Length Forbidden above: Mandatory below: Maximum stay in water1500m 22 deg. C 14 deg. C 1 h 10 min
1500-3000m 23 deg. C 15 deg. C 1 h 40 min
3000-4000m 24 deg. C 16 deg. C 2 h 15 min
And for USAT races are:
“Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The wetsuit policy for elite athletes shall be determined by the USAT Athletes Advisory Council.”
Do I need to buy a wetsuit?
A wetsuit is not mandatory for most triathlons, and certainly not needed in the short distance races like Sprints, held in water that’s warm or a pool. If you live in a warm climate there may be no reason to buy one, however if you live where the waters are often in the 70s or colder you should probably consider one. Some triathlon stores will rent wetsuits, and that’s a good bet if you only plan to do one or two triathlons. If you can see yourself staying engaged in triathlon longer, the cost of a wetsuit makes sense.
If you are going to buy a wetsuit, make sure you get one that is made for triathlon. A dive/jet ski/etc wetsuit will not give you the freedom of movement you need to swim effectively. Triathlon wetsuits generally range from about $100 to over $400 depending on the type and quality so it’s a pricey investment. There are several types of triathlon wetsuits on the market.
What type of wetsuit should I buy?
This depends on the temperature of the water you will be swimming in most often. Here are the comparisons:
Shorty: No sleeves with short legs
Cheap, easiest to remove in transition
Least exposure protection (coldest) and speed improvement
Farmer John: No sleeves with long legs
Improved warmth over Shorty without sacrificing range of motion
Less speed improvement than a full suit, slower transitions than Shorty
Full Suit: Full sleeves with long legs
Fastest suit with best exposure protection (warmest)
Arm movement somewhat restrained, slowest transition, most expensive
Where can I find a place to train for swimming?
Most suburban areas have pools available for lap swimming. The YMCA and health clubs are a good place to start. Many areas have city recreational centers that also offer lap swimming. Often local high schools or colleges will have a lap pool, call and ask if they allow public use.
If you don’t know about any in your area, US Masters Swimming offers a searchable list of swim locations at
A great international list can be found at
Finding a place for open water swims in your area can be more difficult. Many areas have lakes with public beaches but the swim area is often cordoned off to a small, easily life guarded space. The best bet is to ask other triathletes in your area where they train.
Where can I find information on swim training?
The best bang for the buck is probably to find a masters group in your area. For information on masters swimming in the US refer to US Masters Swimming http://www.usms.org/.
Many people have had tremendous success with Total Immersion http://www.totalimmersion.net/. The general consensus is that if you are not already a good swimmer who is just looking for refinement, TI is a good place to start.
Do I have to wear a helmet?
Yes. The helmet is for your safety and every race you do requires the use of a helmet. Your helmet must be buckled before you mount your bike and until you dismount or you will be disqualified. With out a helmet, you will not be allowed to race, no exceptions.
Can I cross the yellow line?
No. Again, this is for your safety. Athletes who cross the center line will be disqualified. You are to stay to the right at all times unless you are in the act of passing another participant.
What is drafting?
The ITU defines drafting as: The technique of riding in a pack during the cycling event. They define draft zone as: An imaginary area approximately three bicycle lengths long and six feet wide surrounding each competitor during the bike segment.
Basically drafting is a method to increase your speed or decrease your effort by lowering your wind resistance.
So stay back at least three bike lengths, and make sure when passing that you are completely finished passing within 20 seconds of entering the drafting zone.
Why is drafting bad/good?
Drafting is a hot topic of debate among triathletes.
Those that are against drafting often list the following reasons:
-Drafting takes away from the individual competitor nature of the sport.
-Drafting is less safe/causes higher insurance rates.
Those that are for drafting often list the following reasons:
-Drafting evens out triathlons which often are weighed to longer times in the bike leg.
-Drafting is more spectator friendly.
What is blocking?
Blocking is basically riding in the wrong part of the bike course. Most commonly the right side of the bike course is for riding while the left side is for passing. Riders who camp out or overextend their stay in the passing lane are blocking. Blocking is a violation in most triathlons.
Do I need to buy bike shorts?
Bike shorts have a special pad in them to help you stay more comfortable on your bike seat. As you know comfort is very important and the better you feel, the longer you can stay in the seat. So bike shorts are highly recommended.
Do I need to buy an expensive triathlon bike?
Anything with two wheels in your garage can get you started at no extra cost. Many beginners use their mountain bikes out of the garage. Some races even have a special division for those athletes riding mountain bikes.
When you decide to take on longer triathlons, a road bike will probably be more comfortable for you and will take less effort to ride greater distances. You can look for used road bikes at your local bike shops or you can invest in a new one for about $600. Keep in mind, over the years you will ride thousands of miles on your bike, so you will get your monies worth.
Should I buy a road bike or triathlon (time trial) bike?
You don’t need a triathlon bike to do triathlons. Modified road bikes are very common in triathlons. If you already own a road bike or plan on doing other types of riding you may be better off with a road bike with clamp on aerobars. The advantages of a triathlon bike are in the positioning. They are setup to keep you more comfortable when in the aero bars and to work the quads less, saving them for the run. Often triathlon bikes are more aerodynamic than road bikes.
Will a new bike make me faster?
There’s a saying ‘if you think a new bike will make you faster, then it will.’ Part is psychological. But in the first place, you are the one powering your wheels. If you are not in shape, a $5000 dream bike with tricked out wheels and components won’t make a difference.
On balance, at any triathlon transition area, the bikes will be more impressive than the bike riders in many cases. It’s another way of saying just buy the bike that works for you, don’t worry about trying to have the hottest bike out there. Better to be the hot rider.
What about those disk wheels some triathletes use?
Rear wheel flat disc wheels look wicked cool, don’t they? Makes your bike kind of look like a Stealth Fighter. Two problems: good ones are expensive, and they really won’t help you at all until you can ride well over 25mph. This is putting it simply, and the rocket scientists can give you the specifics, but in short, they will only help the very fast riders. Until you are one of them, save your money.
Should I use 650c or 700c wheels?
Both wheel sizes have advantages and disadvantages. 650c wheels accelerate and climb faster, but they also decelerate faster. 700c wheels are more comfortable and are more readily available if you need a tube on the road.
The only people who should be really concerned about wheels sizes are particularly short or tall people. 650c wheels work much better with shorter people, especially on triathlon bikes where the geometry prevents the use of 700c wheels on smaller bikes. Tall riders should stick to 700c wheels.
How do I change a tire?
To change a tire you have to take off the tire and replace the tube. Specifics on how to change a tire can be found here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4ZQMRT12Sg
What if I get a flat tire during the race?
If you get a flat during the race, you do the same thing you would do if you got a flat on a training ride. You change the flat and keep going. You should have a flat kit on your bike. Many people put their flat kits in a under the seat bike bag.
Here is how to change your flat on the road.
What do I need to change a flat?
A replacement tube
Hand pump or CO2.
Where can I find information on bike maintenance?
Sheldon Brown has a great website devoted to bike maintenance and other bike related issues at
What is an indoor trainer?
An indoor trainer is a piece of equipment that will temporarily change your outdoor bicycle into a stationary bike for indoor training. You can use these to ride at night or in the colder months.
What’s the best kind of trainer to use?
There are two common types of trainers available: stationary trainers and rollers.
Stationary trainers clamp on to your rear fork and provide a rolling mechanism for your rear wheel. Resistance is offered by wind (a fan attached to the roller), fluid (a fan incased in oil attached to the roller) or magnets. Wind units tend to be the cheapest. Fluid resistance tends to offer the smoothest ride. Magnetic units often have adjustable resistance. If you get a stationary trainer you should also get a block for the front wheel to keep the bike level. Stationary trainers have the following advantages/disadvantages:
Excellent for spin/muscle/aerobic training
Easier to ride/learn
Cheaper (usually) than rollers
Some have computer interfaces to simulate road conditions
More options for resistance control
Do nothing for balance and form
Allows you to coast
Cause a lot of wear on the rear wheel
Causes more stress to the frame of the bike
Requires no thought so can be mind numbing
Rollers provide 3 tubes two of which are connected by a belt. The front wheel rests on a single tube and the rear rests between two tubes. The belt from the front rear tube to the front tube causes the front wheel to spin with the rear wheel. Resistance is offered by friction and gears (smaller tubes offer more resistance) or a fan unit attached by a belt to one of the tubes. Rollers have the following advantages/disadvantages:
Excellent for spin/muscle/aerobic training as well as form and balance
Ride is more true to actual road riding
Do not allow you to coast
Force you to concentrate on your workout
Less stress/wear on bike
Harder to learn/use
More expensive than basic stationary trainers
Less resistance options
Easy to fall off
The big reason most people avoid rollers is that they have a steep learning curve. The common fear is that you will ride off the rollers and hurt yourself. You can’t actually ride off rollers like you might imagine, the only thing you can do is drop the front wheel off of the side of the roller which can cause you to loose your balance and fall. The best tip for learning to ride rollers is to start in a doorway so if you loose your balance you can just stick out your elbow to stop your fall.
How do I avoid cramps during the run?
Two good suggestions to avoid cramping when you start the run:
Stay hydrated on the bike.
During the last couple of miles on the bike stretch your calves by standing on the pedals and dropping your heel down.
How will my legs feel after I bike?
They will feel weird. They will feel like you are running a little slower than normal and like you just can’t quite hit your normal stride. This feeling goes away though. Depending on the person it may subside right away and for others it may last a while. With practice you will notice improvement.
How can I make the transition to running better?
PRACTICE. After your bike ride, within 10 minutes go for a short run. Practicing the transition from biking to running will help your legs adapt to the change.
What shoes do I wear?
Wear your running shoes. If you wear bike shoes, you will need to change in T2. If you don’t, you will wear your running shoes on both the bike and the run.
What is Transition?
Transition is the term used to describe the change over between the individual segments of a Triathlon, Duathlon or Aquathon. It is when you are “transitioning” from one sport to the next.
Transition 1 (also known as T1) occurs between the:
swim and cycle in a triathlon
first run and cycle in a duathlon
swim and run in an aquathon
Transition 2 (also known as T2) occurs between the:
cycle and run in a triathlon
cycle and second run in a duathlon
Most triathletes spend the bulk of their training time focused on the three events: swimming, cycling, and running. But the transition between each event also requires training. Each triathlon has two transitions: a swim-to-bike and a bike-to-run. Although they seem simple a poor transition can add precious time and waste energy during a race. A good transition can improve your position and spirits while a bad one can leave you struggling to make up lost time.
Where do I put my clothes, towel and bike on race day?
On race morning, you will enter a secured area called the Transition Area. Here you will find tons of bike racks. Your spot on the bike racks will be assigned by your heat or race number. If it is simply first come first served, get thee early and claim a spot. Here you will lay out your towel, shoes, helmet, etc. You will come here after you finish the swim and bike legs to exchange out your gear.
Does my time stop in transition?
No. Your time is running from the start until you cross the finish line, so don’t dilly dally
Where can I change?
Most people wear their swimming suits (or triathlon suits) the whole race and put clothes over the top so they don’t need a changing room. If you need to change in a way that you may be exposed, you will need to use a locker room or porta-potty to change.
How can I improve my transition?
Here are some tips to help you prefect your transitions.
Keep your transitions clean and simple. By this, I mean don’t try to do too many things during a transition. Keep the number of tasks to the bare minimum. In a transition, the more you have to do, the more time it takes and the more that can go wrong. During the swim-to-bike transition, the fastest athletes may only put on a helmet and grab their bike to run out. Wear a one-piece racing suit to avoid clothing changes if possible. Some racers leave their shoes attached to the pedals and they put them on while riding. A trick they use is to rubber band the heel loops of the cycling shoes to the bike so that they are right side up. Sunglasses can be looped over the handlebars and put on down the road. Food and drink are already attached to the bike so you can fuel on the road as well.
If you want to be efficient in the transition, you need to learn how to do a few things at once and keep moving in a seamless, fluid motion. Know what things you can do while running or riding or on the run-up to the transition zone and what you have to do before leaving. Something as small as taking off your cap and goggles, or unzipping your wetsuit on the run-up to the bike can save seconds, putting on you cap and sunglasses as you run is equally efficient. It may seem like these things take little or no time, but this will help keep your momentum for the next event.
3.Train for Transitions
It is clear that if you want to get better at transitions, you need to practice them. But many athletes don’t practice this part of the race. A good time to practice is during your regular event training, but a mental walk-through of a transition is also important. Practicing transitions during your regular training will help you feel very comfortable on race days. This sort of practice is also a good time to try new techniques and to see what you can do without. Never try something new on race day.
4. Race Day Set-up
On race day, you should arrive with enough time to survey the transition area before the race and actually do your run-ups and exits so you know exactly where to go. Lay out your gear and do a test run to make sure everything is where you need it and ready to go. Make sure you can find your bike and know your path in and out. This pre-race check is also a good time to do a mental rehearsal as well. Visualizing your transition will help you deal with any challenges that are not a part of your practiced walk-through.
As you do more and more events, you will find what works best for you, but these tips will help you develop transitions that are efficient so you can save your energy for biking and running.
Can my friend wait for me in the Transition Area to cheer me on and help me get out of my wetsuit?
The Transition Area is for athletes only. This way it can remain secure and your gear will be safe. There are plenty of great spots at the swim finish, at the bike and run starts for your friends and family to cheer you on. USA Triathlon rules do not allow you to receive assistance during the event and this includes helping you get that wetsuit off. We suggest swimming in it before race day and practice taking it off alone.
What about before the race….can my spouse and kids help me set up my gear in the transition area?
No. The transition area must be secure at all times. Therefore no spouses, friends, dogs, etc.are allowed in on race day. They can help you carry your gear to and from transition but once you get to the entrance it is all you.
Do I need a bike lock for my bike in the transition area?
No, you do not.
What if I finish the swim portion and I can’t remember where my bike is?
The rows of the transition area will be labeled with numbers and letters. Before the race, you may want to write down your row # with a permanent marker on your hand to refresh your memory after the swim leg.
aerobars- a handlebar extension enabling the rider to use a more aerodynamic position
bonk-running out of energy during a race a.k.a. hitting the wall
buoy-a float used to mark the swim course
blocking-riding in the passing lane
brick-a bike/run workout
drafting-the technique of riding in a pack during the cycling event
lemming start-a triathlon start where the competitors start one at a time
mass start-a triathlon start where all of the competitors start at the same time instead of in waves
split-the time taken to complete an individual leg of a triathlon
transition-the period/area between legs of a triathlon where participants change equipment/clothing for the next leg
T1-the swim to bike transition
T2-the bike to run transition
wave-a group of triathletes starting together as opposed to a mass start