The idea of doing a triathlon can be daunting, it seems like you need a lot of gear and have to be super fit but you don't! Well, there is some gear you need (more to come on that later) but you don’t have to be super fit and like me, you will hopefully find it a lot of fun!
My top recommendation if you have never done a triathlon is to find a local Go Tri event. These are shorter distances, often with a pool swim and are designed for beginners to have a go and see if they like it.
Sam swimming during a Triathlon
What do I need to do a triathlon?
There is some essential kit you'll need to get in to triathlon but when you're first starting out you may be able to borrow from a friend or buy second hand. There are plenty of triathlon groups online where people swap, sell and borrow kit.
For the swim, if it’s in a pool all you need is:
• Swimming costume
• If it’s open water, depending how cold the water is you might want a wetsuit. There are expensive wetsuits designed for swimming in with lots of easy shoulder movement, however the main aim is to keep you warm and if you have an old wetsuit from messing about at the beach on a boogie board, it will do the job!
Sam on a road bike leg
For the cycle leg:
• A bike is of course needed. Again you can get expensive triathlon bikes, but starting out as long as it’s wheels move and it has a saddle it will do. My first bike was a cheap one from Halfords that had been sitting in my shed for several years. Bit of oil on the chain and some air in the tyres and it was good to go.
• Bike helmet is compulsory for good reason.
• Clothes to cycle in. You can get what is called a tri-suit, which is an all in one lyra suit you can swim, cycle and run in, but again it’s not necessary. You are not allowed to be nude in transition, however if you bring a towel or changing robe, I’ve seen many people do a full change from a swimming costume into their shorts and t-shirt for the bike ride.
• Shoes to cycle in. Again, you can get cycle shoes that attach to the bike pedals, however a pair of trainers (that you can also run in) and your flat cycle pedals will also do the job.
• Sunglasses/clear glasses. If it’s sunny you want to be able to see where you are going, but even if it’s not sunny, little bits of dirt can fly up from the road, so it’s best to have your eyes covered, as trying to see where you are pedalling with something in your eye is not the best experience.
For the run leg:
• Pair of trainers which you might already have on your feet.
Sam running in the Cross Tri
How fit do I need to be to do a triathlon
I think the idea of needing to be super fit to do a triathlon, comes from it involving three sports. However, just think of each one as it comes and if you know you can swim, cycle and run the necessary distance of the event in separate sessions, you will be fine on the day putting it all together. Just pace yourself through each one. Think of the swim as the warmup for the bike and your arm workout, the bike gets your legs woken up ready for the run and then the run is the last effort to the line.
Sam in the Triathlon Wales run
While some people are very competitive and push themselves to complete a triathlon as fast as they can, there are many who enjoy the variety and exercise and take it at a comfortable pace throughout. So don’t feel pressure to have to go as fast as you can right from the starters gun, or at any point. Particularly for your first one, just enjoy it, take your time and hopefully you will cross the finish line with a big smile on your face.
Sam completing her first triathlon
Why I decided to get into triathlon and the challenges I’ve faced
I decided to get into triathlon because I missed being outside! After many years competing in martial arts and only seeing the inside of sports centres, I realised I was now only truly enjoying my cardio run sessions. Because I like a challenge, I didn’t just get into running, I decided to add swimming and cycling to the mix too. First challenge was relearning as an adult how to swim. My childhood lessons meant I knew how not to drown, but that’s quite a different skill to swimming in open water surrounded by other wetsuit clad bodies all aiming for the same buoys on the course as you. This is one area the martial arts training did prepare me well for! My love of being outside in the countryside is what made me want to step into the world of cross triathlon.
The main challenge I faced was swapping my road bike for a mountain bike and the steep technical ability learning curve this involved. I love it, but it has involved plenty of bumps and bruises as I learned how to ride a mountain bike over obstacles such as tree roots, rocks and logs, up and down steep climbs and descents and now even off drop off where both my wheels have to come off the ground! It causes numerous spikes in my heart rate and not due to the effort I’m putting in, but also gives me that childhood excitement and a huge sense of achievement when I see how much I’m improving. So, like I said at the very start, it can seem daunting and there will be challenges, but there is also a whole word of triathlon fun to be enjoyed!
From beginner to podium position
The smile on my face was so big after my first triathlon, that I quickly signed up for my second. Three months later I had qualified to represent the GBR Age Group team and six months after that first triathlon I was competing at the Sprint Distance Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam in 2017 which is a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run and ending up 29th in the 25-29 age group.
Since then, I’ve moved up the distances and with my natural diesel engine, I love middle distance triathlons which involves a 1900m swim, 90km cycle and 21km run. I’ve also dipped into the world of cross tri, where it’s a normal open water swim, but the road bikes changes for a mountain bike and the road running trainers change to a cross country trainers. I love being off-road and highly recommend cross triathlons if a trail is more up your street. OS Maps has been an essential app to help me plan my mountain bike ride on cycle-friendly trails.
Sam at the Triathlon World Championships in Ibiza
Competing as part of Team GB
On the 5th May, I did my second ever cross triathlon which happened to be the World Championships in Ibiza representing the GBR age group team. I had a challenging race but managed a great result of a bronze medal, ranking myself 3rd in the world!
It started well with the 1,000m sea swim and I exited the water in 2nd position in my age-group. Then onto the 20km mountain bike course, which was much more technical than any of the athletes expected and a big challenge for me. I managed to stay upright (many didn’t) however the rocky conditions caused my rear wheel and gears to have issues on the first lap of the course, thankfully I was able to fix it and complete the bike course. The mechanical delays had caused me to drop back to 3rd position at the end of the bike leg. I hit the 6km trail run hard and had the fastest overall run of my age group category, but unfortunately couldn’t make it back up any places. I crossed the line in bronze, only 2mins 12secs behind 2nd and 4mins 49secs behind 1st. After only getting into mountain biking a year ago, my first goal was to make it around the course in one piece, so to make it onto the podium is the icing on the cake and I’m really excited to see what I can achieve in future cross triathlon races.
So why not give a triathlon a go, you might surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it and what you can then achieve, I certainly have!