Beginner’s Luck: Totally New to Triathlon? Start Here

"Beginner's Luck" columnist Meredith Atwood shares four key steps to take in pursuing your first triathlon finish.

Photo: Denver Sports Photographer - Kevin Thompson

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“Beginner’s Luck” columnist Meredith Atwood shares four key steps to take in pursuing your first triathlon finish. 

Have you thought about trying a triathlon, but the whole event seems incredibly daunting? Maybe you know how to run, but swimming and biking are making you a nonstarter? I have good news for you!  You can know how to do none of those things—and STILL finish a triathlon in less than six months of getting started.


Yes, truly. There are a few things to ask yourself, and a little (okay, maybe a lot) of work to do. But if you want to become a bona fide triathlete—you can. And you will!

1. Read and Learn

Becoming a student of triathlon may seem a little silly, but learning everything you can about the sport is the best way to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. The main things to focus on? If you don’t know how to do one of the sports—take swimming for example—then schedule a few swim lessons and learn some tips and tricks. Don’t worry, adults do take swim lessons and it’s far more common than you might think. Attend a local running clinic. Take your kids out on a bike ride, or find a friend who will go with you and help you with the rules of the road. All of these things are small steps in the right tri direction. Remember, the steps do not need to be climbing mountains—baby steps are the name of the game.

2. Get the Right Equipment

Triathlon can be very expensive—but it need not be when you are starting out and deciding if you even want to make it part of your life. For the swim, you need goggles and a good fitting swimsuit—and access to a pool, of course. For the bike, you can dust off any bike you have. However, make sure that you take your bike to your local bike shop for a tune-up and a fitting—to make sure it is the best fit for you.  You will need a new helmet, a water bottle and cage for your bike, and possibly a bike rack for your car.  Stay on the cheap with everything—but make sure you protect your noggin. If you are touching your bike—wear your helmet. Finally, for the run you’ll want to get a good pair of running shoes and wicking socks—and you’ll be ready to go, more or less. Go here to read what to wear on race day.

3. Get Moving

Try to swim, bike, and run at least one time per week—so perhaps swim on Monday, bike on Tuesday and run on Friday in the beginning—if you are brand new to all three sports. Depending on the date of your event, you may want to hit the weaker of the three sports at least twice a week. However, if you are coming straight off the couch—even three workouts a week will feel like a lot. Learn some of the tips for each sport: swim, bike, and run. Set the goal for whatever will equal success for you. If three times a week for workouts is all the time you have right now—then do that. Don’t set the training goals so great they are unachievable. There is plenty of time to train harder and longer. Right now, the key to success is consistency and practice. As you get more comfortable with swimming, cycling, and running, add in a few more workouts. Give yourself plenty of time and space to get comfortable in the sports before race day.

4. Put it All Together

Practice swimming and then cycling in the same day. Then ride your bike and run. Practice changing from the swim to the bike (read more about transitions here) and going from the bike to the run. Once you understand and know how to do that, and you feel comfortable? Well, you’re getting close to ready for your triathlon! After all, triathlon is simply the act of putting together all three sports on one Saturday or Sunday morning with a bunch of your crazy friends.

I recommend finding a first triathlon with a pool swim, unless you are a proficient swimmer. It takes the pressure off of the open water. However, if your first triathlon is in a river, lake, or ocean, just make sure that you practice in the open water before race day.

Most of all, have a great time—and a small warning: after that first triathlon you will never be the same (in a good way!) because you will be a triathlete.

More “Beginner’s Luck”

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. You can download a free race day checklist here. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day.  Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at

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