Splash Wobble Plod

Summary

The Triathlon FAQ

This article is owned by Hollywoof!

The interest in the tri side among runners seems to be fairly high at the moment - lots of people are asking questions in emails and threads about all sorts of triathlon, swimming and biking issues. This article contains some of those questions and some attempts at answers...
*1 General*
*- 1.1 Is triathlon racing fun?*
*- 1.2 Where do I start?*
*- 1.3 What should I do for my first race?*
*- 1.4 Is it always swim-bike-run?*
*- 1.5 What's a duathlon? An aquathlon?*
*- 1.6 Where can I find more info?*
*- 1.7 Are Tri peeps nice or all Adonis hunks?*
*2 Racing*
*- 2.1 Will I come last? Will I be on my own?*
*- 2.2 What are the different distances?*
*- 2.3 What is Ironman all about?*
*- 2.4 What's the "age group" stuff all about?*
*- 2.5 What clothing do I need?*
*- 2.6 What's a number belt? Can I just use safety pins?*
*- 2.7 How much should I eat and drink during a race?*
*- 2.8 Why do tri's cost more than running races?*
*- 2.9 Do you wear the same suit for all 3 events or do you need to change during transition?*
*- 2.10 I hate the heat, any recommendations for not getting blistering hot and dieing at or before the finishing line?*
*3 Transitions*
*- 3.1 What? How? Eeek!*
*4 Training*
*- 4.1 Three sports - does that mean three times as much training?*
*- 4.2 What's a brick?*
*- 4.3 Is there a 10% rule each week?*
*- 4.4 Should I have an easy week every 4 weeks?*
*5 Clubs*
*- 5.1 Are triathlon clubs scary?*
*- 5.2 What/who are the pirates?*
*- 5.3 What/who are tritalk?*
*- 5.4 Where can I find out about other triathlon clubs?*
*- 5.5 Should I join the BTA?*
*- 5.6 Can I represent my country?*
*6 Bike*
*- 6.1 What is Drafting all about?*
*- 6.2 Can I use a Mountain Bike (MTB)?*
*- 6.3 Where do I buy a road bike? How much do I need to spend?*
*- 6,4 What if I can't actually ride a bike!*
*- 6.5 Will my helmet be OK?*
*- 6.6 Will my bike be OK?*
*- 6.7 Do I have to wear a helmet?*
*- 6.8 Is cycling on roads safe?*
*- 6.9 What happens at Traffic Lights during races?*
*- 6.10 What happens at Roundabouts?*
*- 6.11 Do I need bike shoes?*
*- 6.12 If I buy clipless bike shoes will I fall off?*
*- 6.13 What happens if I get a p-word?*
*- 6.14 Do you wear socks?*
*- 6.15 I'm a complete bike beginner, can you recommend a friendly website where I can ask all those beginner bike questions without being laughed off the net?*
*7 Swim*
*- 7.1 What if I can't actually swim?*
*- 7.2 Can I swim breast stroke?*
*- 7.3 Can I wear my number in the swim?*
*- 7.4 Do I need a wetsuit?*
*- 7.5 Can I use a surfing wetsuit?*
*- 7.6 How are swims organised in pool-based tris?*
*- 7.7 What are OW swims and mass starts all about?*
*- 7.8 Why does everyone seem to hate the swim?*
*- 7.9 Can you p1ss in the lake at Windsor?*
*- 7.10 Can you swim in Pirate shorts?*
*- 7.11 Where can you train in a wetsuit, and is a Pirate one piece a wetsuit anyway?*
*- 7.12 Help! Cramp!*
*8 Run*
*- 8.1 how much will tri training help with my running?*
*- 8.2 how much will tri training hinder my running?*
*- 8.3 Do you wear socks?*
...
*1 General*
*- 1.1 Is triathlon racing fun?*
Simple answer is Yes! Most people know how much I love run racing and how I'm always seen with a big smile on my face and always heard shouting loudly whether I'm competing or spectating.
Well, triathlon has been exactly the same - only better :-)
The things I personally love about doing tri are that:
- it gives you the same sort of physical challenge as running, bu then it also gives you even more physical challenges on top - there are always bits that scare you, that you need to improve and that push you to your limit!
- it gives you so much to think about - so much more than in just running, there are a lot of things to stratch your brain when tri racing - there's the separate pacing on each of the events, there's even more eating and drinking and then there are those tricky transition thingies...
- it gives you variety in the training - suddenly even your x-training is real training and fitting in all three sports every week is a fun challenge!
- it gives you so much kit to buy :-)
*- 1.2 Where do I start?*
Just as you wouldn't normally enter your first running race unless you'd done a little run training, you shouldn't really enter your first tri until you've done a little swimming, cycling and running.
You may want a look for a good pair of running shoes to get you started as well. Link (roll over me to see where I go)
Dependent on your background you may already be comfortable with all 3 of these or you may be a total newbie at all 3. But don't be scared - you will not be alone - I've seen quite a few fetchites and forumites now who have gone from complete non-swimmers, non-cyclists and non-runners to having so much fun racing.
There are some hints and ideas about where to go to learn to do each sport later in this FAQ - if you want to train on your own there are plenty of ways to do it... or if you want to do it in a more social environment then there are plenty of choices there too - both from tri-specific organisations and from other places like local swimming pools, from cycling and running clubs and from online forums.
*- 1.3 What should I do for my first race?*
Almost all triathlons seem to have newbies at them. All of them allow you to come along on a shopper bike. All of them allow you to swim breaststroke... so really you can start anywhere!
However, a sensible place where people often start is at a "sprint" or "supersprint" event - these are normally roughly equivalent in duration and effort to a 10km road race. There's nothing stopping you going straight in for a longer event - several pirates on Runnersworld have even debuted at long distance events - however, most people will want to start shorter - there is always time to move to longer events later!
For a choice of races, there are big events organised like the London Triathlon and there are little club events organised like my local club Thames Turbo Triathlon. Which of them you would rather do is up to you - do you prefer doing a local small event? Or a mass participation event? The other factor that may come into your decision though is swimming - some events are pool based while some are lake or river based - if you are looking for a lower entry cost and for an easy introduction to triathlon swimming then you'll probably want to go for a pool based swim.
*- 1.4 Is it always swim-bike-run?*
Yes - almost always - almost all triathlon races go in this order.
*- 1.5 What's a duathlon? An aquathlon?*
A duathlon is normally an event where you do a run then do a long bike leg then do another short run.
An aquathlon is an event where you swim then run (or sometimes when you run then swim)
*- 1.6 Where can I find more info?*
There are lots of websites around with more information...
- Look at www.britishtriathlon.org for information about clubs and about races.
- Look at the Tri sections of www.runnersworld.co.uk and here for more information.
- Look at the www.tritalk.co.uk website
- Look at the www.triathletes-uk.org website
- Look at 220 magazine - available from newsgents.
- Look at loads of other websites like www.trinewbies.com
*- 1.7 Are Tri peeps nice or all Adonis hunks?*
Both!
Seriously when you get to the start line you will look around you at all these ultra-healthy multi-sport gods and you will be scared! But when you beat them to the finish line then you will be so proud and so smug.
Relax, have confidence in yourself and enjoy your training and racing.
*2 Racing*
*- 2.1 Will I come last? Will I be on my own?*
Someone always comes last! And sometimes the back of the field can be quite empty.
However, all of the triathlons I've seen have similar ranges of athletic ability to normal running races - so normally there are some very steady (plodding) people at all triathlons.
So the chances are that you will not be the last person. And even if you are the last person you will still have people at similar speeds to race against... Also I've never seen a triathlon where the last person is "laughed at" - normally they are applauded and cheered home for their achievement just as loudly (if not more loudly) than all the people in front of them.
Do *not* get put off entering a triathlon because you think you will be too slow in any and all of the events! If you are worried then at least look at the previous year's results or talk to the organisers - they will often be able to find a way to make sure you can race safely and happily.
*- 2.2 What are the different distances?*
Because no two swim, bike or run courses are the same there is some vagueness in triathlon naming... Roughly speaking the different distances are:
- supersprint and try-a-tri - normally between 100m and 400m swim; between 5km and 10km bike and around 2.5km run - these are about a similar effort to between a 5km and 5 mile running race and are normally packed full of virgin triathletes.
- sprint - normally between 400m and 750m swim; around 20km cycle and 5km run - roughly similar to a 10km running race in effort terms.
- olympic/international - normally between 750m and 1500m swim; around 40km cycle and 10km run - roughly similar to a half marathon running race in effort terms.
- half ironman/middle - normally between 1500m and 2000m swim; around 80km cycle and 21km run - roughly similar to a marathon running race in effort terms.
- ironman/long - normally around 4000m swim; between 120km to 180km cycle and between 30km to 42km (marathon) run - roughly similar to an ultra running race in effort terms.
The majority of races are sprints and olympic distance - the longer events are less frequent and generally smaller.
*- 2.3 What is Ironman all about?*
Ironman is a trademark for a series of races which are 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42km running.
They are very popular races as they present a challenge of human endurance in a similar way that events like marathons and ultras do. Also, some of these races attract huge crowds and media coverage making them sporting spectacles - which some people particularly like...
Competing in and completing an ironman is definitely a challenge.
As a novice triathlete don't think that an ironman is unachieveable - it definitely is achieveable if you put in the training and some people have done ironman races as their first events.
However, as a novice triathlete also don't think that an ironman is the only challenge - remember that completing your first sprint triathlon will be a moment of huge-grin happiness and should be a very proud achievement - you'll have swum, bike and run and you should be very very proud and very very happy!
*- 2.4 What's the "age group" stuff all about?*
Running races have their age categories for diiferent levels of "veterans".
Triathlon takes this one step further and puts everyone in an age category - so you'll normally find yourself ranked in a 5 year age group and you'll see your result next to all the other people in that age group.
*- 2.5 What clothing do I need?*
For a short triathlon like a pool based sprint, you will be able to race using just your normal swimsuit and running clothes.
However, as the race distance rises, as you want to get more competitive and if you enter open water swimming events, then you will start to need some more specialist clothing:
- one or two-piece lycra trisuits contain a small amount of cycle padding and often provide pockets for putting gels, food and cycle spares in. Ladies trisuits also contain some breast support to help with those bouncing while running problems!
- specialist shoes can be used on the bike to help improve cycling performance - whereas running trainers are often designed to cushion impacts, cycle shoes are normally designed to be as rigid as possible, helping to transfer power to the pedals.
- a swim-specific wetsuit is often needed for open water events - these help avoid people getting too cold and also provide additional buoyancy to help avoid people getting into trouble during the swim leg.
*- 2.6 What's a number belt? Can I just use safety pins?*
A number belt is a very simple elasticated belt with some studs and/or strings to help attach your race number. This is especially useful in triathlon and duathlon events as you will want your number on your back during the cycle but on your front during the run - using a belt makes it very easy to transfer your number round... They generally cost 5 pounds or less.
If you don't want to spend the meny on a number belt then you can just use safety pins and can attached the number to your top just as you would in a running race - often the race will provide you with two numbers so that you can put one number on your front and one on your back.
*- 2.7 How much should I eat and drink during a race?*
Good question!
Just as what you eat and drink is key to running races, it is key to triathlon too.
The bike leg, in particular, gives you a chance to take onboard a lot of food and drink.
People's strategies for what to eat and drink varies a lot - some people will consume vast quantities of gels and isotonic drinks, others will just drink a little water.
I'm not going to offer any advice here - maybe someone else will? If not, then look at some of the other websites offered below - there is a lot of advice out there.
*- 2.8 Why do tri's cost more than running races?*
Triathlons do often cost more than running races.
There are a few reasons for this:
- triathlons are often run by professional event companies and these companies do need to make profits, pay wages, etc.
- triathlons sometimes require road closures for the bike legs - these road closures cost money.
- triathlons often require additional swim safety measures - these lifeguards, kayaks, etc cost money.
- because of all the elements involved in triathlon - swimming, biking and running - and because of the amount of equipment used - e.g. expensive bikes - the race insurance for triathlons can be quite high - and the competitors ultimately have to pay this insurance cost.
*- 2.9 Do you wear the same clothes for all 3 events or do you need to change during transition?*
If you buy a trisuit - either an all-in-one lycra thing or a two-piece pair of lycra things - then you can wear that for all three events in a row without needing to get changed.
For your first tri events, you might prefer to just use an existing swimsuit for the swim and then put a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt over the top for the bike and run. Ladies may also choose to wear a sports bra under the swimsuit - in order to provide extra support.
*- 2.10 I hate the heat, any recommendations for not getting blistering hot and dieing at or before the finishing line?*
Firstly the Great British summer should help you out.
Secondly, the good news is that the swim and bike legs are quite cooling - the swim can even be cold and the airflow on the bike has a nice cooling effect.
For cooling on the run, consider using a hat or buff (bandana) to keep the sun off your head (yes I know that wearing a hat can actually make you hotter), make sure you take advantage of the drinks stations and any shade from trees, buildings, etc.
Also some people do things like:
- putting ice in their hat
- freezing their drinks bottles before a race
- putting silver foil around their drinks bottles
*3 Transitions*
*- 3.1 What? How? Eeek!*
These are actually very simple! Yes, I know it's easy for me to say that... but it is true.
Here's what you have to do in a typical triathlon...
Before the race:
- make sure your bike is ready to race - check things like the gears and the brakes work - also check that you leave the bike in a middle or low gear so that it'll be easy to start. And make sure you have your water bottles on the bike if you are carrying any,.
- get your bike racked - you'll normally be given a numbered position to hang it from a waist high horizontal scaffold pole - so all you need to do is lift your bike up and put the front of the saddle on the pole. You will no doubt get stressed about which side of the pole to put it... do you face left of right but basically you should try to alternate with your pole neighbours to give yourself some space in the transition area.
- put a bright towel over the bike handlebars so you have something distinctive to help you find your bike.
- place your helmet on your bike or on the ground next to your bike
- place your trainers, socks and any other clothes you want to wear after the swim on the floor next to your bike...
- if you have special bike shoes then sort these out too
- place your race number and number belt somewhere obvious too (unless you are wearing it for the swim too)
- place anything else you need - e.g. food, drink, Garmin, sunglasses, sunscreen, ...
- look around you to memorise where your bike is - it is very funny watching people when they can't find their bike in a race - but you probably won't find it so funny if it is you!
- look around you to work out what your route will be when you come in from the swim, where you will need to start the bike, where you come back in from the bike and where you go back out for the run. Some people even practice jogging through these "swim in", "bike out", etc routes
- relax!
Then with everythign set up you can start your race... as long as you have all your kit with you (swim clothing, wetsuit if necessary, swim hat and goggles!)
Then after your swim, in Transition 1 (swim->bike)
- calmly but quickly find your bike - you'll know where it is from your pre-race lookaround.
- put down your swim stuff (wetsuit, hat, goggles)
- put on your bike stuff, with your number belt showing your number on your *back*.
- put on your helmet and do it up - it is *very important* you do this before you take your bike off its racking place
- take your bike off the rack and wheel it over to the "bike out"
- get on your bike - the marshalls will tell you when you can - and ride!
Then after your bike
- get off your bike where the marshalls tell you to - it can be really quite slow if you get off it too early - so make sure you know where the end point is (e.g. in Windsor this year there was a little extra bike section along the side of transition and lots of people got off before this section, costing them half a minute or more in wasted time)
- keep your helmet on!
- wheel your bike to the racking place and rack it
- get your helmet off
- change any clothes you need to change for the run leg - some people will change shoes, some will change sunglasses, hats, etc
- start running towards the "run out" and, as you do, turn your number belt around so that your number faces forwards.
That's it!
OK - I admit it did sound quite complicated, and the first couple of races it will probably feel quite complicated too. But don't let it stress you out. Keep calm during race set-up and then the transitions in the race itself will be simple too.
Oh and one other important thing : *transitions are part of the race* - this is not a time to stop, clean your nails, dry your hair, etc. - treat the transition as Michael Schumacher treats his pitstops - get in and out as quickly as possible - when you are moving in transition you should be *running* not walking! Even in the longer triathlon races you will discover that people race the transitions quite fast - there's no point in pushing hard in the swim, bike and run if you are going to waste time in the getting changed bit.
*4 Training*
*- 4.1 Three sports - does that mean three times as much training?*
The simple answer to this is NO.
Most of us lead lives where we can't just keep adding on time for training - so there's no way you can train as hard at all 3 sports as you can if you are concentrating on just 1.
So what you will have to do is do less training on each individual event.
However, you will probably find that you do want to spend more time on training for triathlon in total than you do for just running on its own.
The good news is:
- you will probably find that parts of the training for 3 separate events complement each other quite well - e.g. that doing bike rides does help with your running fitness too.
- you will probably find that you can add more training in the 3 sports without getting injured than you can in just running - this seems to be especially the case because running puts quite a lot of strain on your body - whereas the non-load-bearing nature of swimming and biking don't put the body under quite so much strain - so you can do more of these activities each week without getting injured.
- you will probably find that training for 3 sports is more interesting (less repetitive) than just training for one.
*- 4.2 What's a brick?*
A brick is when you combine two activities in the same training session - e.g. when you do a cycle ride and then a run immediately afterwards. I find that these are especially helpful in getting your mind used to the odd physical sensations you get when competing in triathlon - I'm always amazed at how odd my legs feel on the run after cycling - with the biking muscles tired but the running muscles warmed up - and yet actually I've discovered my split times in the first parts of these runs are always very good.
I find that you don't need to do that many of these brick sessions (I think I've only done 3 or 4 short sessions this year!) but other people may tell you otherwise.
*- 4.3 Is there a 10% rule each week?*
This question came from a runner who had heard the very sensible advice that you shouldn't add more than 10% to your long run each week during training.
In response I've got to admit not heard anyone say that you shouldn't increase your swimming or biking by more than 10% a week.
However, it does seem quite sensible to follow some sort of pattern like this if you want to succeed at any sport - giant leaps are always going to risk injuries - much better to build slowly.
*- 4.4 Should I have an easy week every 4 weeks?*
Again, this question came from a runner... and it seems like good advice to me. If all you do is train hard, then expect to be tired!
If you are interested in finding out more about how to build a big training plan for a full season (or a whole career) then I recommend you take a look into some of the triathlon training books - Joe Friel's "Bible" has a lots of pages on how to structure a training year, including advice on base, build, race and recovery weeks within each training year.
*5 Clubs*
*- 5.1 Are triathlon clubs scary?*
Triathlon clubs are new. No really they are. Triathlon is such a new sport that the clubs are all really young - 10 years is old!
As a result, triathlon clubs tend to have quite a friendly feel to them still - everyone there can remember how it felt to be starting out.
Also... almost all triathlon clubs (just like almost all running clubs) have slower members - often you will find triathletes at the clubs who look like they are drowning when swimming, who cycle quite slowly (but have very nice bikes) and who walk quite a lot of the runs.
So just as with running clubs, do not be scared - go along to your local club and say hello! The people you see there will no doubt look like gods and goddesses and may scare you, but once you've been there a couple of times you will know how welcoming they are and you will know that some of them are just as bad as you (even though they may have been trying harder for longer!)
And with triathlon the benefits of joining a club can be even higher - as the clubs can offer coaching on all 3 disciplines - and there are a lot of technical things to learn in triathlon.
*- 5.2 What/who are the pirates?*
The Pirate Ship Of Fools (PSOF) are an unofficial club from the runnersworld.co.uk forum - many of whom are also on Fetch.
The "club" started because a few of the forum were doing an Ironman and wanted a team name and a uniform. So they invented the distinctive yellow lycra with black skull and crossbones - and they chose the PSOF name.
Since then it's grown and grown... and there are now a few specialist Pirate events. The most famous event is the yearly trip to an Ironman race - which attracts 50+ pirates a year, many of them first time triathletes. Apparently it is a very impressive and hugely fun trip - the pirates and their support teams paint the town yellow and have a laugh facing up to the ironman challenge.
But the pirates are not just about the ironman race - they also race sprints, olys, half ironman races and even running races. And when a lot of pirates descend on an event then they have a lot of fun.
Anyone can join the pirates - all you have to do is enter one of the races, say hello on the forums and preferably where the yellow kit (so that people can spot you and know to say hello!) - if you enter wearing a Fetch vest or an old URWFRC vest then they will also no doubt see you and say hello too.
For details of big pirate events and for details of how to get yourself some pirate lycra to race in, then take a look at the runnersworld.co.uk forums - or post a question on here - there are lots of RW members who are Fetchies and vice versa! One word of warning - the pirate lycra is custom made in Canada - so there's normally only once chance a year to buy it - if you miss the chance then you have to wait a year!
*- 5.3 What/who are tritalk?*
Tritalk.co.uk is a website specifically about triathlon. It's forum is very dedicated to triathlon races, equipment, etc. It is a good place to ask technical questions and to find other cyber-people who are going to the same races as you. It's also quite friendly although perhaps not (in my experience) as light-hearted as RW or Fetch. However, there are lots of tirathletes there of all levels (fast and slow) so if you want advice it is a good place to go.
There is sometimes some banter between the Pirates and Tritalk about racing, but this is mainly friendly (and juvenile) stuff - and hopefully it will stay this way.
If you do join in with tritalk (it's free) and get involved on their forums then they do also have a tritalk kit you can buy and wear in races (but personally I think it's horrid next to the pirate gear!)
One other benefit of tritalk is that if you put tritalk down as your club then you can get cheaper membership to the BTA.
*- 5.4 Where can I find out about other triathlon clubs?*
The British Triathlon website has a big list of clubs - see Link (roll over me to see where I go)
*- 5.5 Should I join the BTA?*
Triathlon membership and racing is a bit different to the UK Athletics type membership.
Basically, each "official" triathlon race has a fee attached to it (somewhere between 3 and 5 pounds) which goes to the British Triathlon Association (BTA) for affiliation purposes - including insurance. This is a bit like the 2 pounds that UKA levies on non-club runners for most running races. One difference is that it is strongly policed - every race checks the BTA licenses and makes people without their licenses pay the fee. This is mainly for insurance reasons (I think)...
Unlike the UKA scheme, the BTA race fee is *not* included in club membership - so if you pay to join a club then you do not get BTA membership, although you do get a reduced membership price.
The advantages of BTA membership are:
- it includes all race levies
- you get a magazine every 2 months
- you get access to various websites (including a very good training log website - but I started using Fetch first)
- you get some personal insurance help - and this can help if (for example) you have a bike accident (but please don't have one!)
- you can apply to race for GB as part of the Age Group system
Is this worth the 40-50 pound membership fee? It's a personal choice! Shiraz and I decided not to join when we were only doing a few races, but once we started to do more and once we wanted to apply for GB squad age group racing, then we signed up.
*- 5.6 Can I represent my country?*
The BTA has (IMO) a very healthy attitude towards developing the triathlon sport. Every year there are European and World championship triathlon events with separate amateur race categories for each age group/sex (20-24F, 20-24M, 25-29F, etc), and BTA tries to send full squads to these events.
For certain popular competitions and age groups this can mean there is a selection process (involving some selection races). However, for less popular competitions and age groups, BTA operates a first come, first served policy and takes everyone who applies. As a result of this, fairly middle-of-the-pack racers can go to these big championships, can parade in the opening ceremonies and can race in GB kit for the medals... some of the race categories are even quite open and fairly normal racers can even win medals (if anyone knows any 20-24 year old ladies who want to go long distance, then there was only one competitor in this category this year at Almere!)
Of course, there are costs involved (you have to get yourself and your equipment to the races in Europe or further afield - and you have to buy your GB kit), there are really fast people who race these events and there are more and more people applying for these events every year. But, if you fancy a chance to race triathlon for your country then you really can do it (and you probably won't even come last!)
*6 Bike*
*- 6.1 What is Drafting all about?*
Drafting is about one or more cyclists tucking in behind another cyclist in order to hide from the wind! It's a really effective technique. It dramatically reduces the amount of effort needed to keep going. However, unfortunately it's also got some dangers involved - if you've ever seen pictures of a bike race where someone clips the wheel of the person in front or just topples over then you'll know what can happen when cyclists are too close together (e.g. Link (roll over me to see where I go))
To help prevent accidents in races, the Internation Triathlon Union (ITU) has banned drafting in non-Elite races (i.e. in all races you enter).
This rule is enforced to varying degrees at all races and there are a varying degrees of punishment handed out.
Basically, the rule does change every couple of years, but it currently states that you should keep your bike out of the rectangular zone which extends either 1.5 metres either side of the rider in front's front wheel and 7 metres behind his front wheel. If you do enter this zone then you have 15 seconds to get in front of him (at which time he has 15 seconds to drop back the 7m) or you must drop back.
Does this sound complicated?
Well in practice you will find avoiding drafting is actually very straightforward and not something you have to think about too actively.
On most races you will find that you are overtaking or being overtaken quite quickly - you won't find yourself in many epic well-matched dogfights where the 15 seconds overtaking/drafting barrier is a big issue - and when you do find these battles you can still fight it out - there's no excuse for you sitting in behind the guy in front of you.
However... you may discover that sometimes you do get caught-up by a group of other racers who are already (naughtily) drafting together... or you may find that someone you overtake tries to hang on to your back wheel - to sit there and draft. In these situations, it is your job to make sure you don't join in the drafting. It's also up to you whether you shout advice and/or abuse at your fellow cheating competitors... but I'd definitely recommend you keep a calm head and avoid any accidents if you can - a crash will ruin your race.
In order to police the drafting most races employ both static marshalls and motorcycle-based marshalls who look for cheats... This works to varying degrees in different races.
I'm afraid that drafting is an effective form of cheating - it does save people a lot of time and energy durign races. However, it is cheating... just like taking shortcuts, taking performance enhancing drugs, putting an engine on the bike, etc - so I'd urge racers to resist the urge to join in.
Remember this rule is designed to prevent accidents and no-one wants to end up hurt - so please stick to the no-drafting rule - just keep thinking that the guy in front could fall over - how much space do you need to get around him if that happens?
*Note:* Ironman races are held under WTC rules rather than ITU - these rules have a different definition of drafting... generally this will be explained in the pre-race briefing and in the race information pack - so you will get a chance to know what the rule is!
*- 6.2 Can I use a Mountain Bike (MTB)?*
Yes - lots of people do - especially at the shorter distances.
If you go to a local sprint triathlon (or a big mass field event like the London Triathlon) then you will see a lot of people on a lot of shopper, MTB and hybrid bikes.
So if you just want to experiment with triathlon - to try a few and see if you like it - then by all means race on whatever biek you have to hand.
However, if you start getting into triathlon you will find that people on racing bikes are generally quicker and you will probably want to get a "racing" bike... This is due to many reasons:
1. Racing bikes are lighter - they're not made quite as strong and heavy as MTBs.
2. The racing bike position makes you lower and more aero-dynamic - the MTB position is more upright and mroe about getting power through the mud...
3. Racing bikes have very narrow slick tyres whereas MTBs have fat, knobbly tyres with huge rolling resistance.
If you are racing on an MTB, then one fairly cheap thing you can do is to fit some narrower slicker tyres - and to pump them up hard - this will help a lot with your speed.
*- 6.3 Where do I buy a road bike? How much do I need to spend?*
However, a specialist bike shop will probably give you the chance to test ride several sizes and makes of bikes and to get some good advice.
Also, some triathlon shops do some good value starter packs (including bike, wetsuit, trisuit, helmet, etc) which you might want to consider.
And if you do know what type of bike you want then secondhand can be a good option.
In general:
- the cheapest bikes you will find in stores like Halfords, Decathlon, etc will cost less than 100 pounds and will be fine for your first sprint triathlon if you have no ambition to but to finish - but will be far from ideal for racing (see the question on MTBs above)
- for around 200-300 pounds you will be able to buy a poor quality racing bike. Apart from one or two these are probably a false economy and will have very little resale value should you choose to buy something better in future. Really for this money you should be looking second hand.
- up to 500 pounds you will find some decent entry level road bikes with reasonable shimano or campagnolo equipment on them. Realistically for the beginner there is very little to be gained spending more than about £600 on a road bike.
- as you get higher - up to 1000 pounds and beyond - you will need to spend increasingly more for each gain and each gain will be smaller. Be aware that expensive road bikes are designed for bunch road racing (think Tour de France) and not for triathlon. If you are spending serious money then you may better off with a triathlon or time trial bike which will be designed for aerodynamic efficiency.
*Wealth warning* - buying bikes and bike equipment can be very expensive - even in quite small triathlon races you will no doubt find people who have spent thousands of pounds on bits of their bikes like their wheels, let alone their bikes! Don't feel you need to spend a lot to start with (or even long term) - you can still race, compete and get better without spending thousands of pounds.
*- 6.4 What if I can't actually ride a bike!*
This question has been an eye-opener to me.
I didn't realise quite how many people couldn't cycle.
If this applies to you it seems that you are not alone - there are heaps of people like you out there.
Unfortunately if you are reading this it is probably too late to persuade your dad to take you down the park and get him to push you along while you learn.
However, help is at hand.
There are lots of learn to cycle resources out there. And you will not be alone. And you will get a huge new life skill out of cycling :-)
For a start:
- try the Cyclist Touring Club in the UK - Link (roll over me to see where I go)
- try your local adult education college - many hold courses where you can learn with many others
- or try posting a question on Fetch or on RW - e.g. the "cr@p cyclists" thread Link (roll over me to see where I go)=
*- 6.5 Will my helmet be OK?*
All helmets sold in the UK comply with a number of British and European Safely rules - you will see an EN and BS and maybe CE sticker on the box and on the inside of the helmet.
Any of these new helmets are safe enough to race in.
If your helmet is a few years old, then it is worth checking the helmet for cracks - if it has any then it's less useful than when new and any race check will not allow this helmet to be used - so it will be time to buy a new one!
If your helmet is very old or has been involved in a crash, then it is definitely time to buy a new one.
Not all races, check the helmets very thoroughly, but some do - so expect them to check:
- that you have it snugly fitted - when on, it shouldn't be free to move around your head - it's supposed to protect your skull, not slide off it...
- that it is EN/BS/CE safe
- that it doesn't have cracks in it
This check is for your safety and their race insurance. If your helmet fails then you will have to buy a new one - most races have shop stands where you can buy one... but if you can't find one then you won't be able to race.
*- 6.6 Will my bike be OK?*
All races claim to check the safety of bikes and many races do.
In general the things I've seen them check are:
- do the brakes work?
- does the rider know how the brakes work?
- do the handle bars have sharp ends or are they missing plugs in the ends? (If they are missing the plugs then they normally make you buy some or use gaffer tape to plug them).
All this is basic safety - and it is in your own interest to turn up on a bike that you know you can safely ride - if someone's brakes don't work or if someone has something sharp sticking out of their bike then it could hurt!
*- 6.7 Do I have to wear a helmet?*
In training, it is up to you. I do because I've fallen off with and without one on and I preferred falling off with one.
In a race *yes* - you may debate whether it makes you safer or not... but the rules say yes, so just get on with wearing it...
*- 6.8 Is cycling on roads safe?*
Not entirely no. But then it's not that dangerous either - allegedly DIY is still the most dangerous thing to do in your spare time!
When cycling you do have to be careful. Know your limits. Expect other road users not to be sensible and not to see you. Make sure your bike is in full working order (gears are smooth and brakes work!)
Take care out there and you can really enjoy it.
*- 6.9 What happens at Traffic Lights during races?*
Some races will have special road closures or partial road closures and so the traffic lights will either be turned off or there will be marshalls waving you through.
However, most local races will *not* have closed roads - so if you encounter a red traffic light in these races, then you must stop. Enjoy the rest time this gives you. If you ignore the traffic light and a marshall sees you then you will get disqualified.
*- 6.10 What happens at Roundabouts?*
If you are racing on non-closed roads then the Highway Code applies - so be prepared to give way at the roundabout and definitely don't go round the roundabout the wrong way - if you break the Highway Code (and you survive) and a marshall sees you then you will get disqualified.
*- 6.11 Do I need bike shoes?*
The reasons for where bike shoes and using special clipless pedals are:
- because bike shoes have very stiff soles - so they help to transfer power directly from your feet to the bike - whereas training shoes with their cushioning actually absorb some of that power.
- because the clipless pedals attach your feet directly to the bike - again assisting with the transfer of power from you to the bike.
However, you do not need bike shoes - they only give a relatively small performance benefit - however most people will wear them.
So don't feel pressured into using proper bike shoes from the start, but as you progress then consider switching to them...
*- 6.12 If I buy clipless bike shoes will I fall off?*
Being attached to your bike does have its problems. When you get to a road junction you have to get unattached - and if you leave this too late then you will fall off!
So when you first get the clipless pedals and bike shoes, make sure the pedals are set up on their softest (easist to disconnect) seeing and then find somewhere safe (possibly a grass area with someone there to run alongside you!) and practice, practice, practice, ...
Once you get used to the pedals and shoes unclipping them will become second nature and you won't fall over. However, on the way there you may have some embarassing and perhaps painful moments.
*- 6.13 What happens if I get a p-word?*
If you get a [whisper]puncture[/whisper] during a race then you have to fix it! There is no way around this. You simply have to fix it. So make sure you know how to, and that you are carrying the spares - a small saddle bag should hold the innertube and tyre levers and then you can either carry a frame pump (or a small mini pump) or (if you are feeling hi-tech) then you can carry special CO2 cannisters that will pump your tyres up firm and fast. If you use a mini pump don't expect to get anywhere near maximum pressure in the next hour or so and you'll have a very sore arm afterwards.
But, having said all this about p-words... most triathlons take place on fairly good roads - often they have been swept clean of debris especially for the race - so this helps avoid p-words in races.
*- 6.14 Do you wear socks?*
For shorter races (sprint and maybe oly) I now don't wear socks - I've bought fairly soft bike shoes deliberately to help with this. For longer races I do wear socks.
*- 6.15 I'm a complete bike beginner, can you recommend a friendly website where I can ask all those beginner bike questions without being laughed off the net?*
Ask on Fetch!
And if you don't want to ask here, then ask on RW - e.g. Link (roll over me to see where I go)= - there are people there who are attending adult education lessons as they really are complete beginners and there are lots of peeps who'll be friendly!
And if you don't want to do that, then you could try some of the other RW-like sites - Link (roll over me to see where I go) or Link (roll over me to see where I go)
avoid veloriders.co.uk as they aren't very friendly.
*7 Swim*
*- 7.1 What if I can't actually swim?*
You do need to learn before you start a race (not necessarily before you send in the application form though!) - it wouldn't be fair on the race marshalls to turn up if you can't actually swim.
To learn to swim, take a look at the local council pool - they will definitely offer adult lessons and there will be other non-swimmers there.
Beyond this first stage, local swim clubs and tri clubs may offer coaching and there are a growing number of private companies offering swim coaching - including hi-tech outfits offering things like video analysis in endless pools.
One other way of learning to swim is using self-help books and DVDs - one particularly well-known such series is the Total Immersion series - quite a few forumites claim to have made huge improvements to their swimming using these DVDs.
*- 7.2 Can I swim breast stroke?*
Yes you can.
One pirate at Ironman Germany swam breast stroke all the way - and found he had 800 people behind him.
However, the quickest swim stroke is front crawl - and this is worth learning.
*- 7.3 Can I wear my number in the swim?*
In UK races where wetsuits are involved, you can put your number belt on under your wetsuit - I now do this and it saves me at least 2 seconds every race.
The numbers are made from that special plastic-paper material - so they don't rip very easily at all.
*- 7.4 Do I need a wetsuit?*
For pool based triathlons, you will not need (or be allowed!) a wetsuit.
For open water swims, there are quite strict rules about when you will need one.
Generally in the UK the water temperature is cold enough that you must use one.
Sometimes, the water temperature is warm enough so that this is optional - but in general swimming without a wetsuit will make you slower (so I wear one in these conditions!)
With increasingly warm summers, the water temperature could soon get hot enough that wetsuits will be banned at certain races - this already happens at some races in Europe.
*- 7.5 Can I use a surfing wetsuit?*
I think you can normally use a surfing wetsuit or a sleeveless long-john wetsuit if you want to (check with the race organisers though!)
However, using these wetsuits isn't ideal - they aren't really designed for swimming in.
*- 7.6 How are swims organised in pool-based tris?*
There seem to be 2 basic mechanisms used:
- either each pool lane is given over to 3-4 swimmers at a time; they are started at 5-10 second intervals; and they get to complete their swim lengths all in the same lane.
- or (less commonly) the swimmers are started at 10-30 second intervals from one corner of the pool and each swimmer goes up and down each lane once until the end up at the swim exit point.
Regardless, swimmers are normally seeded to avoid too many crashes in the pool and the marshalls will be on hand to help explain what is happening.
*- 7.7 What are OW swims and mass starts all about?*
Open Water swims are just swims in rivers, in lakes or in the sea. Because of the additional width and length (compared to a pool) then these allow competitors to start together and to do various loop and out-and-back courses rather than the up-and-down of a pool based swim.
When many swimmers do start together, this is a "mass start". This can be quite an exciting experience... It can also be quite a fight - it's a bit like the start of a running race only with lots more thrashing of arms and legs. If you don't feel confident in this mass start then you can normally avoid most of the fighting by staying to one side or to the back of the start.
Generally the big squash is over within a minute of the start - the field quickly spreads out just like it does in a running race. However, again just as with a running race, you can get problems again when the field squeezes together again - e.g. when it approaches the first corner.
Some people do get very nervous about OW swimming - it's best to get these nerves conquered through practice sessions outside of races - your local tri club (or someone on a forum) will be able to recommend a practice location - be sure to go along with a buddy - that'll help with the nerves and make sure you are safe. Remember that the wetsuit is there to help you float in OW - it really helps.
*- 7.8 Why does everyone seem to hate the swim?*
I think this is down to the fairly poor state of UK swimming in general. Because people here don't do that much swimming, then they're not very good at it and so they hate it...
However, some people do love the swim.
And if you invest the time in swim training, then you can gain big advantages in races.
*- 7.9 Can you p1ss in the lake at Windsor?*
If you really have to.
*- 7.10 Can you swim in Pirate shorts?*
Yes - tri shorts are designed to be swum, biked and run in. They dry quite quickly and don't cause too much drag during the swim (unlike big flappy bermuda shorts)
*- 7.11 Where can you train in a wetsuit, and is a Pirate one piece a wetsuit anyway?*
Some swimming pools let you train in a wetsuit, especially the open air ones. Otherwise you'll need to find an OpenWater location - the sea is quite handy for this... otherwise there are an increasing number of lakes open for swimming - near me there are the Serpentine (early weekday mornings), Heron Lake (see Link (roll over me to see where I go) - Summer only) and Liquid Leisure (see Link (roll over me to see where I go) - Summer only). IMO you can do most of your swim training in non-wetsuit in the local pool - other than races I only do a few wettie swims a year... I did 2 in preparation for my first and only race in 05, and I've done 3 this year.
*- 7.12 Help! Cramp!*
Lots of people do - and yes it is really painful but it doesn't last long... This article on goswim has lots of useful tips on how to avoid cramp and how to handle it - Link (roll over me to see where I go)
*8 Run*
*- 8.1 how much will tri training help with my running?*
I've personally found it helps quite a lot - as tri training means I'm doing a lot of extra training in addition to my running.
It's also worth noting (repeating) that I think you can spend a lot longer each week tri training than you can run training (as your life permits). This is because the swim and bike activities are not as demanding on your body as running.
*- 8.2 how much will tri training hinder my running?*
I don't think it should hinder your run training.
However if all you are interested in is setting the best run PBs you can then you need to concentrate on running - the muscles used in swimming and biking are different so time invested in these sports is not as effective as time invested directly in the running (in my opinion)
*- 8.3 Do you wear socks?*
For shorter runs (5 and 10km) I now don't wear socks - I've bought fairly soft shoes deliberately to help with this. For longer runs I do wear socks. For Almere I even changed socks between bike and run (but I wouldn't do this again - a complete waste of time!) - one other handy hint - elastic laces are fun time savers!

Recent Updates User Comments
Nov 2006 Hollywoof! Added cramp question
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! Added question on bike websites
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! At last I have finished it. Thank dog for that... just so long as no-one else asks any new questions!
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! One more website from CliffyTC
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! More questions... more answers!
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! More answers...
Oct 2006 Hollywoof!
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! Added a few more answers
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! Final attempt at better formatting - sorry!
Oct 2006 Hollywoof! Still trying to improve the formatting!
hurricanehamlyn Mandymoo Unicorn Pipes DoricQuine pdc Gavvers lake SherryB Girlie Old Man runnerbean Fitz JenLov paul the builder GAZGIB pjlovr25 Chromey shyfire Steve Wood surreystriderâ„¢ toulouse31 snogard DerbyTup doopy
Fetcheveryone is a publication of Hearst Magazines UK which is the trading name of The National Magazine Company Ltd, 72 Broadwick St, London, W1F 9EP.
Registered in England 112955. All rights reserved. Copyright © 2014.