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Beginner’s Luck: 8 Things to Know Before Tackling Your First Triathlon

The list of what you need to know before competing in your first triathlon is shorter than you might expect.

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So you’re tackling your first triathlon this year? First, woohoo! Of course, for the newbie triathlete, there are so many things that feel—well, new.

From the swim to the bike to the run, and all the equipment and training and time in between, it certainly feels like there’s so much to remember.

From where I sit, almost 10 years into tackling my first real exercise habit (then triathlon), the advice I like to give to first timers is fairly simple.

If you want to bog yourself down with tons of requirements, training perfectionisms, and more—there are plenty of resources out there to do so. Triathlon is a great endless place to read, learn, and grow as an athlete. But for the beginner who simply wants to change his or her life with a new experience, all of that might all seem overwhelming.

Here’s what you need to know to tackle your first triathlon.

  1. Go at your pace. (Forward is a pace.)
  2. Learn how to swim.
  3. Swim in the open water (with people, safety first!) before your first triathlon, if that’s where your race will take place. If you are in the pool for the race—even better for a first timer. Regardless, make sure you can swim in the lake, river or ocean before race day. (This is a non-negotiable for many reasons, including safety. You will have a much better race day if you have a comfortable swim.)
  4. Learn how to ride a bike (any bike—yes, really!).
  5. Understand and follow the rules of the road when riding (in training and on race day). That generally means staying to your right unless you are passing, making sure you are clear to pass, signaling verbally that you are passing (“on your left!?”), and holding your line when you are riding.
  6. Wear your helmet. Always.
  7. Be able to move your body forward in a walking and running motion—no matter how fast or slow you are. If you can go forward on your feet, you can finish.
  8. Get into the training habit. Try and do three to four workouts a week starting about 12 weeks from your first triathlon. Focus on your weakest sport perhaps two times a week. As you get closer to the race, add more. Remember: steady and at your pace.

Does this seem like a short list?

Yes, because it is! There’s not a lot of rocket science to complete your first triathlon (mini sprint or sprint). You do need to train and learn the rules. You do need to work hard.

But the main thing on the journey to becoming a triathlete? Believe in yourself. Recognize that you are on a journey to discover new things—go easy on yourself. You have plenty of time to learn, train, and get better. But go ahead and tick off that first triathlon—you can do it!


Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the new best-seller, “Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.” She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith lives in Overland Park, Kansas (for now!) with her husband and two tweens and writes about all things at Her next book, “The Year of No Nonsense,” is available December 2019.