Introduction to Triathlon

It's common to hear the word "triathlete" and picture a hard-core athlete attempting the grueling Ironman, a race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. But this fun, varied sport isn't just for extreme endurance athletes. The sport includes short races perfect for beginners, and, as a runner, you've already mastered the most physically challenging portion of the event.

Sprint distance tris typically consist of a quarter-mile swim, followed by a 12-mile bike and then a 3-mile run. Unlike long-distance running races, which can demand mental focus to avoid boredom, the multi-sport nature of triathlon and the short distances of each of the three components of a sprint race provide plenty of excitement and a fun race day.

Triathlon training doesn't just add variety to your weekly schedule. Performing regular swimming and cycling workouts builds strength and can help reduce injuries by giving your muscles a rest from the pounding of running. In addition, triathlon training can make you faster. As a professional triathlete, I've seen many triathletes who were already strong runners improve their speed with just three focused runs a week. Why? Swimming and cycling develop muscles in your legs that running doesn't, allowing vital recovery and healing time to occur.

Triathlon Gear

Despite what you might hear from gearhead triathletes, the sport doesn't require bags full of equipment. You can keep it simple. Purchasing a tri suit designed for swimming, biking and running--such as the TYR Jungle Floral Power Support Top ($56) and Jungle Floral Splice Female 4" Race Short ($68) or Splice Female Singlet ($62) and Splice Female 8" Race Short ($68)--can help cut down on your gear needs and shorten the time you need to transition in between race segments.

Cycling is by far the most technical of the three sports. A mountain bike will be slower and heavier, but if your goal is to simply finish the race, it will suffice. It's best for beginners to use a road bike. A very basic one will work, but the key is in the fit. Be sure to purchase from a reputable cycling shop where a knowledgeable person can help you select the right bike. Cage pedals are the most basic option, but for speed and efficiency, consider clipless pedals, which attach a cycling shoe to the pedal.

Race Day Basics

Try these beginner-friendly essentials on race day.

Zoot Sports Tri Bag
This tri bag has a pocket for everything. Padded goggle pockets, a molded helmet compartment and a sealed pouch for wet gear ensure you'll have a smooth transition, and its sleek clamshell design provides easy access to things you need. $150, zootsports.com

Specialized Dolce Triple
The light frame provides a race-worthy bike that can be maneuvered with comfort and ease. It's fit for a woman with specially designed handlebars and saddle. $940, specialized.com

Bell Vela
With 23 vents for air circulation and a snap-on visor to shade your eyes, this helmet is a great choice for warm weather racing. $40, bellbikehelmets.com


Kelly H. Williamson is an endurance consultant for Source Endurance (source-e.net) in Austin, Texas. She has been a professional triathlete for seven years.

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