Triathlon For Beginners: What Is A Triathlon, And What Do You Need To Know To Get Started?

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reviewed by Ben Gibbons
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Triathlons are multi-sport endurance events in which competitors race across three disciplines: swimming, cycling, and running.

Combining multiple sporting disciplines is an exciting way to get fit and challenge yourself to levels you might not know you could achieve – and it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the popularity of triathlons increasing year-on-year.

Triathlon for beginners can be a difficult task, and there’s a lot to learn. You might have experience in all different sports, but there’s a bit more to triathlon than you might think.

There are a lot of easy mistakes to make, but with the right know-how, you can easily become a strong triathlete in no time. Here’s what we’re going to be speaking about:

  • What Is A Triathlon?
  • Triathlon for Beginners: What Equipment Do You Need to Get Started?
  • What are the Different Types of Triathlon?
  • How Should You Train for a Triathlon as a Beginner?
  • Example Triathlon Training Plan for Beginners

Let’s jump into it!

Triathlon for Beginners: Title Image

What Is A Triathlon?

A triathlon is a multi-sport endurance event with three disciplines: swimming, cycling, and running. The three events, or “legs”, are completed consecutively, without breaks in between.

A conventional triathlon begins with the swimming leg, then progresses to the cycling leg, and ends with the running leg.

The goal of a triathlon is to complete all legs as quickly as possible. The clock doesn’t stop in between each leg, so being able to transition between the three sports quickly and efficiently is crucial to achieving a competitive time.

Triathlons come in many different lengths, from “Sprint” triathlons all the way up to Ironman races (more on this later!).

Triathlons demand a combination of endurance, strength, and versatility, making them a challenging and rewarding test of overall fitness. Some of the fittest athletes in the world are triathletes who compete in events such as Ironman.

A helmet cycling shoes and race number lie on the ground.

Triathlon For Beginners: What Equipment Do You Need To Get Started?

One thing you will find with triathlon is that you generally need more equipment than other sports because of the multiple disciplines.

Here’s what we recommend as an essential triathlon kit list for beginners to get you started:

Swimming Leg

  • Swim Suit – Tri Suit, Wetsuit, Or Tri Shorts
  • Swim Cap
  • Goggles
  • Towel

Cycling Leg

  • Bike – Road or Triathlon Bike (you don’t need to invest in an expensive bike when you’re just starting out – don’t let it stop you from getting involved!)
  • Spares and Tools
  • Hamlet
  • Sunglasses
  • Cycling Shoes
  • Carry Bags
  • Water Bottles

Running Leg

  • Running Shoes
  • Speed Laces
  • Running Cap 
  • Running Socks

These will be the basics that will get you started on your triathlon journey. If you wanted to invest more, you could add a lot of value by using a fitness tracker, heart rate monitor, cycling power meter, and even bike aero bars

A man wearing green cycles on a triathlon bike with the sunset in the background.

What Are The Different Types Of Triathlon?

Triathlons come in many different types, and it’s not a general set distance for all events.

Here are the different types of triathlon you might want to try: 

Sprint Triathlon

  • 750 m Swim
  • 20 km Cycle
  • 5 km Running

A sprint triathlon is one of the shortest events you can attend. It all kicks off with a 750m swim, which will generally be done in a pool, lake, or even on the side of a beach. 

It continues with a 20 km cycle, generally on a road course closed or unclosed. The final part of the sprint triathlon is the run, which is 5 km. Each of these distances is very achievable for a beginner with some proper training, which we’ll be discussing below.

When it comes to a sprint triathlon, the transitions must be quick, as this can really affect the total overall time. 

Sprint triathlons are perfect for beginner triathletes as they are a shorter distance and also great for those people who favor going fast over endurance.

We highly recommend starting at a sprint event when it comes to triathlon for beginners.

A group of swimmers wearing wetsuits run into the sea.

Olympic Triathlon

  • 1.5 km Swim
  • 40 km Cycle
  • 10 km Running

An Olympic triathlon is double the distance of a sprint triathlon and is considered a great medium distance and an excellent mix of speed and endurance. The swim is 1.5 km, which shortly goes into a 40 km cycle.

After that, the 10 km run takes you to the finish. Again, the transitions are very important and have to be done very quickly. They call it an Olympic distance because it’s the distance agreed on for national standards and events such as the Olympic games. 

We recommend an Olympic triathlon to a triathlete with some experience in triathlon or a high fitness level. For beginners, we recommend building up by doing a few sprint triathlons first. 


  • 1.9 km Swim
  • 90 km Cycle
  • 21 km Running

Then we have the Half-Ironman.

This is building past the longer distance of the Olympic triathlon and is a middle distance before going up to a full Ironman event. It’s a great way to enjoy a triathlon but favors endurance athletes over athletes who value high speed and intensity. 

It’s a 1.9 km swim followed by a 90 km cycle and finally a 21.1 km run. Half-Ironman is one of the most popular distances in triathlon and a goal for many triathletes to hit. These events are hosted all over the world and have an official championship.

A cyclist wearing green rides a triathlon bike with mountains in the background.


  • 3.8 km Swim
  • 180 km Cycle
  • 42 km Running

One of the famous triathlete events is the Ironman. An Ironman is an incredible sporting feat, and many people train for years to complete the event within the time limit set on that location. 

The swim is 3.8 km, the cycle is 180 km, and the run is 42 km. Professionals who compete in the events look to finish within 10 hours, but top-level athletes have been known to complete it in less than 8 hours.


If you’re intimidated by the swimming leg of the triathlon, then there might be the perfect option for you: a duathlon.

Duathlons consist of a running leg, a cycling leg, followed by another running leg instead of a swimming leg. They come in a variety of distances, just like triathlons.

Duathlons can be a great option for beginner triathletes who love running and cycling but haven’t quite found the passion for swimming for whatever reason, but there are also plenty of experienced and competitive duathletes who just prefer that form of the sport and have no intention to switch to triathlon.

An Honorable Mention

It’s also worth mentioning a few other types of triathlon you might be interested in.

A “super sprint” is even shorter than a sprint triathlon and can be even more attainable for a beginner triathlete – although they’re less popular, so you might have to look further afield to find an official event.

You also have Olympic Plus, which is also known as an international triathlon, but the distance varies depending on the event.

If you are looking for something very long distance, you also have Ultra Triathlon, which is anything longer in distance than an Ironman. Many new events are popping up with other distances and race options to suit a triathlon beginner.

For an extensive list of event distances, check out the Triathlon Distances Guide!

A triathlete wearing red runs along a tarmac road.

How Should You Train for a Triathlon as a Beginner?

When it comes to triathlon, it is important to train for events to ensure you can not just complete the event but enjoy it. With so many disciplines to train, getting event-ready can be challenging.

Here’s what we recommend when it comes to a triathlon training plan for beginners:

Step #1. Establish A Goal

The first step we recommend for a triathlon beginner is to establish a goal.

This could be a sprint triathlon to get you started, or you might want to go straight to Olympic distance. We feel it’s very important to understand what you want to achieve to create the best training plan possible.

We highly recommend booking an event to train for. This will not only help keep you motivated, but it will give you something to help push you through those tougher sessions and help take your fitness to the next level. 

Step #2. Create A Triathlon Training Plan

Next, you’re going to want to make a training plan. The plan will differ depending on your goals and who you are.

Here is an example of a standard weekly triathlon training plan for beginners who want to participate in a sprint triathlon:

Monday Cycle 10 km, Run 2 km (Brick Workout
Tuesday Swim 500 m
WednesdayRun 3 km
Thursday Rest Day
FridayCycle 15 km
Saturday Swim 500 m, Run 3 km (Brick Workout)
SundayRest Day
Example Sprint Triathlon Training Plan for Beginners

Once you have a plan, it’s important to start training. The key is consistency and keeping the sessions regular while still having enough recovery.

A swimmer wearing red and black does the front crawl through the water.

Step #3. Learn Good Form

When starting triathlon events, it’s a good idea to spend some time just focusing on form and technique.

This could be someone as simple as a bike fit to improve the cycling leg or having some swimming lessons to perfect your form underwater.

It’s vital to get the basics correct to ensure you can be as fit as possible and efficient as possible. Joining a triathlon club will put you in front of many like-minded, knowledgeable triathletes.

A big part of being a good triathlete is transitioning well in an event or competition. We highly recommend practicing transitions regularly to ensure you don’t lose races due to lost time changing from leg to leg.

Is there any other advice you’d share with triathlon beginners? Let us know in the comments below!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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