For many people, the words "first triathlon" conjures up visions of an all-day suffer-fest complete with crawling across the finish line.
Some find this type of challenge inspiring. If you decide to enter an Ironman triathlon (2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running), more than likely you will be spending the better part of a day, and maybe part of the night, ticking off the miles. Crawling, however, is never recommended.
Triathlons, however, don't typically last all day.
Sprint or Olympic Distance
Rather than beginning your triathlon adventures with an Ironman, a sprint triathlon (typically around 500 yards of swimming, 11 to 15 miles of cycling and 3.1 miles of running) is a better choice for first-time triathletes. For athletes that are experienced distance runners and endurance swimmers, an Olympic-distance event (0.9 miles of swimming, around 24.8 miles of cycling and 6.2 miles of running) is also a possibility.
Shop for an Event
Now that you've decided on a sprint or an Olympic triathlon, the next step is to shop around for an event. I recommend finding an event within driving distance of your home. Adding airline travel to your first event is a complication that is best avoided if at all possible.
Aim for an event that is some 3 to 6 months away. This gives you enough time to build your fitness while minimizing the risk of injury.
A 500-yard swim is 20 lengths or 10 laps of a 25-yard swimming pool. If you currently cannot swim at all, it is still possible to complete a triathlon in the next few months. Your first task is to enroll in swimming lessons or hire a private swim instructor.
To reduce the anxiety of racing, I suggest learning to swim first, then shop for a race. Depending on your athletic background and the time you can commit to the task, learning to swim can be accomplished within a couple of months.
I have numerous emails from athletes that learned the valuable life skill of swimming because they wanted to complete a triathlon. Many have told me they went from not being capable of swimming 25 yards to completing a nearly a mile in a triathlon.
Even if you are currently a non-swimmer, triathlon is within your reach.