Triathlon Training Tips and Gear – Straight From a Pro

Planning to test yourself with swim-bike-run race this year? With these tips from an experienced triathlete, you’ll be on the path to success.


Give yourself three months. Twelve weeks is enough time to prepare for  triathlon if you are already fit.

Start with a plan. Write down a training plan that balances your workouts among all three activities. Include light days each week to minimize your risk of injury. “Every workout has a purpose; each workout teaches the body how to adapt to training stress”, says Marni Sumbal, a seven-time Ironman and a professional triathlete coach.

Focus on weaknesses. I got into triathlons as a runner/cyclist and wasn’t a great swimmer. I dedicated my early swim workouts to concentrating on form, not speed or distance.

Hit the bricks. Bike-then-run workouts are called “bricks” because that’s how they make your legs feel – heavy and stiff! They are crucial to preparing your body and mind for race day.

Prepare to swim. Training in a pool prepares your body, but “open water swims can be nerve-wracking, which can sap your energy,” says Theodora Blanchfield of Alleviate the anxiety with at least one open-water swim during your training. Practice sighting (looking up in between strokes) to ensure you stay on course.

Every workout has a purpose; each workout teaches the body how to adapt to training stress

Marni Sumbal, Seven-time Ironman



Swimsuit. Train in a racer-back suit, which won’t interfere with your shoulder’s range of motion. Chlorine degrades the suit’s fabric, making it loosen over time, so if you’re torn between two sizes, go smaller.

Wetsuit. A wetsuit you rent or buy can help you feel comfortable when the water temperature is cooler than 78 degrees F. Be sure to check with your race director about restrictions on wetsuits – many triathlons limit their use above 78 degrees.

Goggles. Clear goggles are designed for swimming indoors or on cloudy days; tinted ones are best for swimming outdoors in the sun.

Bicycle. You don’t need a dedicated triathlon bike for your first race, but you do want a road bike with thin tires and a light fame. Hybrid or mountain bikes can be 10 pounds or heavier, extra weight you don’t want to haul.

Biking shoes. Clip-in shoes dramatically increase your pedaling efficiency, giving you power on both the push and pull segments of each stroke. If you’re not comfortable with clip-ins, pedal cages you can slip your sneakers into help, too.

Helmet. Protect your head in the event of a crash, which become more likely as you and other competitors tire. The more vents in your helmet, the cooler your head will be.

Gloves. The padding on bike gloves keeps your hands from becoming numb on long bike rides, and protect your hands in a crash.

Sunglasses. Be sure your sunglasses are shatter-proof. I can tell you from experience how easy it is to lose your glasses in the middle of a race.

Running shoes. With so much variety among running shoes today, the most important quality in a training shoe is fit. Check different widths, arch heights, and cushioning patterns to find the right pair for you. On race day, always wear shoes that are well broken in.

Tri-suits. Serious competitors wear one- or two-piece outfits with lightly padded shorts that they keep on for the entire race. If you’re considering getting one, keep in mind that a one-piece tri-suit is less likely to ride up on you, but a two-piece suit makes going to the bathroom easier (not an insignificant detail). Either way, pick a suit that fits you snugly, without rough seam lines, which cause chafing.  You don’t need a tri-suit. You can swim, bike and run in lightly padded cycling shorts and a sweat-wicking sports bra.

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