Triathlon Guide for Beginners

This general guide for the novice triathlete may help to smooth the path to your first race. I hope it encourages you in the learning process for your first triathlon.

This may be a “one-off” experiment for you, so we understand the need to improvise during that first experience. Invest to the proper gear later once the “bug” catches hold.


Before the race: Make sure you eat well the night before the race and have a good breakfast. You will use as much energy as you can consume.



You’ll need a swimsuit and goggles. Triathlon-specific single or two-piece costumes are made for versatility and extra comfort, especially on the bike. Only invest if you plan to be a regular competitor.


It must be roadworthy and comfortable fit for your size. It can be a mountain bike, a hybrid, or a tourer; it need not be a “racer.”

Many borrow a bike for their first race, which is fine. If you hire, make sure you spend a little time getting familiar with it and check that it is roadworthy.

If you plan to use a non-racing bike, it may be worth investing in “slick” tires. Taking a mountain or hybrid out on the road and “racing” is ok. The resistance caused by the extra tire tread will mean you have to work harder to maintain your speed.

The other mandatory piece of equipment is a helmet.

All triathlon races operate a “no helmet, no race policy.”

You must keep the helmet strapped on leaving transition. You may not release it until you are back in the transition area.



This is the section that you go through between Swim and Bike and Bike and Run.

You “rack” your bike here, together with any other essential items of kit or sustenance (drink and or food).

It’s a good idea to have a lidded box into which you place your “bits” to snack during and after the race.


You will put on your trainers after the swim and wear them through the bike and run sections. If you use cycle-specific shoes (clip-on style), then change to your trainers on the second transition.

There is no right or wrong way in your first race. If you are a “strong” cyclist, you will go to the “clip-on” route because you’ll feel more comfortable and can use the footwear to your benefit.

If cycling is not your strength at this early stage, you’ll not get help from the clip-on style shoe. Instead, you will lose time passing through the second transition, which you can’t make up over the relatively short bike section.


A good pair of trainers is the primary requirement.


After exiting the water, you will be on the bike for the best part of 30 minutes or more and running for 20 to 25 minutes.

The nature of the event means you work hard throughout this period. Assuming you have done a reasonable level of fitness preparation, you will work at your “aerobic threshold” level. Pace knowledge is not likely to be a huge issue.

Therefore, assuming they hold the race in air temperatures exceeding 10°C, minimal clothing will be adequate.

That is to say:

Clothing Advice to Female Racers

Continue from the pool through the race in your costume. Supplement your dress with the required footwear and a number belt (you must display the printed race number which you get at registration).

You can put a T-shirt on (with a number fixed). The dampness from your swimsuit will make it wet and cause it to lose a lot of its heat conserving properties.

Clothing Advice to Male Racers

You must cover the upper torso in triathlon racing.

Standard triathlon wear is a one-piece singlet or a two-piece suit that covers the upper torso, and matching swim trunks, plus number belt.

Most novice racers will use regular trunks and cover the torso with a T-shirt. You put it on during the first visit to transition, before the helmet!

It is worth considering bringing “arm warmers,” which can be slipped on in transition and rolled up only if the air temperature gives cause for concern.

A final note: nudity in transition is allowed, but not recommended.

Race Format

Familiarize yourself with the bike course. If you can, try it out in the weeks before the race.

Arrive early to prepare for the race. You have to:

  • Find the venue
  • Park your car and access/set up your bike
  • Attend Registration
  • Visit the toilets
  • Change
  • Have a natter to your friends
  • Rack your bike
  • Plan what to wear
  • Arrange your race kit
  • Warm-up
  • Visit the bathrooms
  • Attend the Pre Race Briefing

You’ll enjoy the race more if you leave yourself a good 60 minutes to complete this process.

Tips for the race

Check the Race Briefing

Check the last-minute rules. They usually give instructions to enhance the safety of the race.

Relax for the proper swimming rhythm

Relax at the start and ease into your swim rhythm over the first two lengths.

To overtake in the pool, you tap the person in front’s feet. They pull aside at the next end turn and allow you through. Vise verse if you are “tapped.”

The Pool Race official will stop you if you ignore this basic rule!

Beware of a slippery pool-side as you exit the pool area.

Prepare for the transition

Think in advance the sequence you will use through the first transition (T1).

Shoes on > T-shirt on > (no T-shirt; then number belt on) > helmet on > remove the bike and proceed, in the designated flow direction, to the exit.

They permit no cycling in transition, so you mount your bike at the exit line or beyond.

It’s a good idea to set the bike’s gear in the desired ratio to enhance your getaway. Nothing worse than finding you’re in top gear and there’s a steep hill staring you in the face!

Biking tips

Rules of the road apply. Marshals are there to make sure you go the right way.

Ride hard, but take care. You must obey the draft rules which they explain in the briefing.

Take care when approaching the second transition, and prepare to dismount before crossing the line into the designated transition area.

Transition 2 (T2)

The sequence is:

Rack your bike back where you got it > remove your helmet > replace bike shoes with running shoes (if necessary) > leave T2 in the designated direction on to the run route.

Running tips

It’s just 3k, so press hard! There will be a water station should you need to hydrate.


Smile for the camera as you “cruise” through the finish.

After the finish:

  • Relax, enjoy the atmosphere.
  • Watch the experienced racers as they go through T1 & T2 and see how it is done at speed.
  • Collect your bike and all your gear.
  • Shower and make your way to the presentation area for some food and drink. Allow yourself to reflect on when you’ll be doing it all again!

You can read more about how to prepare for your first triathlon from this comprehensive beginners triathlon guide at

Triathlon Top Tip

Keep hydrated even if you don’t feel thirsty – cramps can hurt big style!