What Is a Triathlon and Why Should You Do One?

Triathlon is contested as a single sport, but is actually comprised of three sports: swimming, cycling and running. Today, most races are staged in that order—swim, bike and then run—but there remain a few exceptions.

So, what is a triathlon?

The Early Days

The very first triathlon held in Mission Bay, California was hosted by the San Diego Track Club on September 25, 1974. The newsletter announcement read, "Run, Cycle, Swim—Triathlon set for the 25th."

More: The Early Days of Tri

In the early triathlons, it was common to have swimming as the last event. Race organizers thought it was logical to swim at the end of the race in order to cool off. As more and more competitors began to enjoy triathlon, it became obvious that it is unsafe to swim at the end of the event when people have the most fatigue.

A Triathlon Is Timed

Your total event time begins when the gun goes off to start the swim, and ends when you cross the finish line after the run. That means your event time includes the total of your swim, the time it takes you to transition from swimming to cycling (commonly called transition 1, or T1), the time it takes you to complete the bike ride, the time it takes you to transition from cycling to running (commonly called T2) and your run time.

More: How to Set Realistic Time Goals

Top racers are well balanced in all three sports and can make fast transitions from sport to sport. Those coming to triathlon as beginners will often have a strong sport and a weaker sport or sports. Working on the weak sports and capitalizing on the strong sport can hook athletes on triathlon for years.

From the first finisher to the last comes the satisfaction of accomplishment that is based on personal measures, no matter the time on the clock.

Triathlon Is a Popular Sport

Triathlon is an attractive sport for many reasons. Though the media sweetheart of the sport is the Ironman World Championships held in Hawaii in the month of October each year, triathlon has gained worldwide popularity, in part, due to the variety of distances available. From the first race in 1974 to now, the sport continues to experience strong growth.

More: How long is a triathlon?

Triathlon Is Overall Fitness

Athletes training for the sport of triathlon enjoy the overall fitness that comes from crosstraining in three sports. Swimming is a great workout for the cardiovascular system, the upper body, the core and even the legs. Because the body is buoyant in water, this suspension makes the workout easy on joints for those that may suffer if exposed to too much pounding caused by a running-only program.

More: Swimming for Recovery

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