Beginner’s guide to Triathlon

In partnership with Zone 3, Coffee Stop have prepared an essential guide to introduce you to the basics of Triathlon. Here, we dive into why you should give Triathlon a shot, top tips for training and during the event, plus kit recommendations…




Boredom definitely won’t be an issue

With many more training sessions to fit into your day, there won’t be time for boredom to set in! Though, you may want to warn your non-triathlete friends that most of your chat will probably revolve around triathlon from now on.

Three Times The Fun

The best news, you’ve got the luxury to choose three different sports! So, when it’s cold and wet out you don’t have to go out on the bike, for example.

Variety is the spice of life

Mixing up your training and taking a more dynamic approach that includes swimming, biking and running will help develop your all-round fitness. It is great for conditioning too, which develops power and efficiency.

Hone the perfect beach body

Swimming = toned upper body, bike and run = toned legs. If you’re going for a stacked muscular build then triathlon probably isn’t the right sport for you but it will definitely help you get lean.

Reduce the risk of injury

The repetitiveness of doing the same sport day-in, day-out can cause overuse injuries. As well as this, swimming and cycling offer good low impact exercise.



Something to tick off your bucket list

A triathlon is seen by many as ‘the ultimate fitness challenge’ so pick an event that you really want to accomplish, sign up and get training. Whether it’s a super sprint or ironman, it’s great to have a goal.

Meet new people

Triathlon is one of the most welcoming sports with no shortage of clubs. It’s not just the training though – triathlon is a really friendly community and really does become a lifestyle.

The perfect excuse for new kit

There’s no getting away from the face that if it’s your first triathlon, you’re probably going to need to invest in some kit. You can spend as much as you like but there’s no need to go all out (unless you want to really splurge).

Your ticket to travel the world

Triathlon is always better in the sun – whether that’s training or racing. There are a lot of organised camps and races in exotic locations, so if you need an excuse to take another holiday, triathlon may be the perfect answer.

Reward yourself with sweet stuff

That extra training is going to eat up a few thousand more calories each week and you’ll want to be well fuelled. Although eating healthy will help improve your performance, it’s up to you if you occasionally use these extra calories to reward yourself with something sweet.



>> Choosing the right Triathlon length with Zone3 <<



With the help of one of Zone 3’s ambassadors, Mark Kleathous, we have come up with a guide of training tips and a beginners plan for the last 8 weeks of training. Mark has completed over 500+ triathlons, and is now a full time triathlon coach.


Which distance should I go for?

As it is your first triathlon, we recommend you don’t begin with an Olympic-distance race. We recommend a sprint or super sprint distance, anything up to 750m swim/20km cycle/5km run.


How long do I need to train?

The optimum time period we recommend you allow yourself to prepare for this race should be about 14 weeks, so 3 and a half months. However, you can prepare in 8-14 weeks if you have a sporting background in either of the disciplines. If you have been training consistently for at least a year in at least one of the disciplines, or have a past sporting background then you could probably complete the training in 8 weeks minimum.

How should I schedule my sessions?

At the beginning of training is a good time to develop a consistent routine dovetailing swimming, cycling and running into a weekly lifestyle. This is important, because it allows your mind and body to be prepared for the training sessions.

If your day is likely to be busy with work etc, then try to do the training session early in the morning (yes, we know it’s hard to get up earlier, but that way whatever happens during the day, the box has been ticked!)

You cannot develop a good and consistent training routine without being organised. For example you need to know when the swimming pool is available for lane swimming, you need to find quiet roads on which you can cycle, and your circuits need to include both flat and hilly sections.

Work out how long each route will take (approximately) so that your training sessions don’t overrun. That way you will be able to concentrate on the session. It is also good to have a certain flexibility in your schedule so that, if you are unable to train on one day, you can re-schedule the training on another day.


Swimming Tips

We advise your first triathlon to be a pool-based event if you are new to swimming, have less time to train, or aren’t very confident in the water already.

From an overall fitness point of view, it might be advantageous to train by performing all the different swimming strokes, but with concentration on front crawl as this is obviously the one used in triathlon.

Because our senses do not operate as well in water as they do on land, this makes it much more difficult for us to feel what we are doing, and to self-correct any errors in technique. As good technique is so important for competitive swimming, you might find it beneficial to book a few sessions with a swimming coach for a short period of time. If you can develop an efficient style from the very beginning, this will stand you in good stead for the rest of our career in the sport. If you feel you can’t afford the services of a coach on a one-to-one basis, you could try visiting your local swimming club and getting advice from the club coach.

You will find that you are able to push yourself more when swimming than you can when cycling and running, relatively speaking that is. This is because it puts much less stress on the body than the other two sports. The water supports at least 85% of a swimmer’s body weight and the effort is spread much more evenly across the whole body.

Also, because the water provides a constant resistance, the chances of injury are reduced. Consequently, swimming is a good form of exercise for rehabilitation after injury.

In order to develop a hydrodynamic swimming technique (the water equivalent of aerodynamic), you might find the following pointers useful:

– Concentrate at all times on maintaining a good, streamlined body position. This will make it easier to stroke, breathe and kick correctly.

– Aim to lengthen your stroke in order to reduce your stroke count, but without over-reaching.

Avoid excessive body roll by not turning your head too soon in order to breathe.

– Study the style of good, long-distance swimmers; slow and easy but powerful and efficient.

– Make sure your arm movements are always smooth and that each one spends the correct amount of time through each part of the swim stroke: recovery – entry – catch – outsweep – press.

– The more flexible your shoulder joint becomes, the easier it will be to raise it out of the water without rolling the body. This is important, because fish-tailing and excessive body movements will increase your drag through the water.

– Develop a good, efficient kick. This will make it easier for you to maintain a horizontal body position, which in turn will help all parts of the swim stroke. The kick should not be too deep and the ankles should only be 2-6 inches apart, otherwise there will be too much drag. The knees should be slightly bent on the upward part of the kick and on the downward part they should be straight. Make sure your toes are pointed behind you and imagine you are kicking a bucket.

– Learn to breathe at the correct times so that it doesn’t affect your arm and leg movements. Once you breathe in, hold your breath so that you do not breathe out into the water as soon as you have breathed in. This will allow your body to extract more oxygen and make you more buoyant in the water. Then, gently release the air before finally pushing out as much air as possible just before you open your mouth. The vacuum caused will force air back into your lungs.



If your normal training swim is 400m, then once every ten days try and swim non-stop 400-600m. Once you are able to cover this distance comfortably, then you need to break it down into smaller chunks.

For instance, complete one of the following each week (depending on pool size):

Weeks 1-5 Broken 400m: (16 x 25m), (8 x 50m), (4 x 100m) or (2 x 200m)

Weeks 6-10 Broken 450-500m: (18 x 25m), (9 x 50m), (5 x 100m) or (3 x 150m)

Weeks 11-14 Broken 500m-600m: (20 x 25m), (10 x 50m), (6 x 100m), (4 x 150m)

Your recovery time should be a minimum of 20 seconds for 25m and 30 seconds for 50m. For longer distances, your recovery time should be at least half the time it takes to swim each interval.

If you slow down by more than 10% (for example, if you take 60 seconds to swim the first 50m, but then over 66 seconds for future speeds) you are either swimming the early intervals too fast, or you need more rest between them.



>> Zone3’s guide to buying the right wetsuit <<


Cycling Tips

The first thing we will say about cycling is: do not buy the most expensive bike, you may not like triathlon and only complete this one triathlon.

Safety and comfort is paramount during the cycle section. So, the most important decision here is how to get your bike set up correctly.

If you develop pain soon after cycling, this is nearly always due to an incorrect body position. Even if the body is only slightly misaligned, injury can still be caused many months later from the thousands of inappropriate movements made in that time.

We are all different, so everyone’s body position on the bike will be unique to them. Because of this, you might like to get professional advice when setting up your bike. It can be cheaper than two or three physiotherapy treatments for an injury caused by the wrong bike set up. You will obviously need to be aerodynamic on the bike, but avoid ‘aggressive’ cycling positions.

– Try to maintain a consistent body position. Keep your body still whether your cadence is fast or slow. Do not bounce on the saddle when spinning fast, and keep your hips from moving from side to side when pushing hard.

– When cycling up hills, make sure your body is as still as possible, whether you are in the saddle or standing on the pedals.

– If the sun is shining, you could try monitoring your body position by looking at your shadow, otherwise ask someone to watch you cycle.

Cycling out of the saddle towards the end of the bike segment can stretch the leg muscles and relieve tension in the back, making it easier to run afterwards.

– It is also important to learn exactly when you should change gear. Shift too late and you will lose momentum, but do it too early and your legs will go round too fast or you will cause fatigue from an unnecessary resistance.

– In a race you should aim to maintain your cadence at 85-95 revolutions per minute (or at your own natural cadence). Cadence = how many times the pedal goes around in a minute.

– Change down into an easier gear when going uphill, and change up to increase resistance when going downhill, thus maintaining a constant RPM.



Running tips

Running is the easiest and most natural of the three sports to do; you can start from your front door. However, running can produce more injuries than swimming or cycling. Consequently, your choice of running shoes is extremely important.

– You need to develop a running style that channels most of your energy into moving forwards, rather than up or down. Consequently, body movement should be at a minimum and your head should remain at more or less the same level.

– Your arm actions should be symmetrical (i.e. a mirror image of each other). Your hands should be relaxed, and feel ‘light’ when you run.

– Never run if your legs feel heavy, sore or tired. This could lead to injury. Most running injuries are preventable, as long as you listen to what your body is telling you. Pain signals are sent to the brain to let you know when there is a problem – either an injury or the body needs more time to recover. Any pain should always be treated as though it could be serious, that way you will not go wrong.



It is rare to be able to run normally immediately after dismounting the bike. You will probably experience one of a number of sensations:

– Your legs could feel heavy or wooden.

– You might experience dead-leg syndrome, or they could feel like jelly.

– You could have tight hamstrings or a tight back.

– You could have triathlon shuffle (shortened running stride).

– You might feel uncoordinated

– Altered running gait i.e. flat footed.

– During the cycle segment, the body is supported by the bike, but then suddenly we have to stand up and run. At the start of each run after cycling, you should simply concentrate on finding your correct running style and then settling into your optimum pace.



Combination Workouts

Combination workouts get your mind and body used to switching smoothly from one discipline to another. These include swimming and then cycling, cycling and then running and even swimming then running. If you don’t complete combined workouts on a regular basis the body will take time to adjust during a race, resulting in a loss of performance.



You can successfully complete triathlon training by consistently training for 8-14 weeks as discussed, training up to 6 times per week. Some sessions can be back to back. Below is an 8-week training program which highlights the key session workouts. Always complete a 5-8 minute warm up and cool down before ALL of the workouts below. Based on your fitness ability, complete somewhere in between the number of repetitions where there is a minimum and maximum specified. If you are proficient in that particular discipline, try and go for the maximum.




You should also make sure you practice the transitions, T1 is the swim to cycle and T2 is the cycle to run.

– Practice putting on the cycle helmet and running shoes before running with the bike and then mounting (you have to be outside the transition area before getting on the bike)

– Practice mounting the bike, running with the bike and then removing your cycle helmet.

– Go to a local park with all your kit arranged the way it would be at the race, and then practice both T1 and T2.

– When you rack your bike and kit at the start, use non-moving landmarks to remember the location of your bike.


Pre-race Transition Set-up

– Bike/Triathlon Watch on bike (if you are using one) – switched and set to the correct screen and settings.

– Check tyre pressure

– Put bike in correct gear for the start of the cycle.

– Place helmet so the rear of the helmet is pointing away as you approach the bike. Then, place your sunglasses lens down (if wearing sunglasses), with arms sticking up and then race belt is placed in between arms with the belt straps dropping either side of the helmet

– Bike shoes (if using) clipped in, straps open and elastic bands holding them horizontal.

– Check nutrition is loaded – including water bottles, sports drinks, etc.

– Fold/roll down your socks on themselves and place in each shoe as open as possible.



– As you’re running up the beach, push your goggles onto your forehead and undo your wetsuit. Pull your arms out of the wetsuit and roll it down to your waist.

– In some events, it’s a yellow card if you remove your swim cap and goggles before being in the transition area. Once you’re in the transition area, remove them off your head in one.

– Cap and goggles can be chucked onto floor in front of run shoes.

– Then, remove your wetsuit fully and put your race belt on.

– Put glasses (if you have any) and helmet on.

– Then it’s – buckle the helmet and run out of transition as fast as you can. If you can, mount the bike with a jump, trying to take as much momentum as possible.



– As you’re approaching T2, undo straps on your shoes and slip your feet on top of the shoes. Then, as you get close to the dismount line, dismount on one side and coast the last few metres.

– Dismount with speed, again without coming to a standstill

– Once your bike is racked, place your helmet on the handlebars and pull your running shoes on (if different to the shoes you’re cycling in).

– Grab anything you need for the run (hat, energy gels, bottle) and run out of transition, while switching your watch to run mode (if you are using a watch).



The top advice we will give when it comes to kit is to prioritise your comfort, and wear kit that will keep you warm. These are the top picks in kit that we advise for your first triathlon! When it comes to kit, always train in the kit that you will be wearing for the race for a while prior to the race, to ensure that everything is comfortable and worn in. You don’t want any bad surprises on race day!



If the pool section of your race is open water, you may be more comfortable, and in some cases obligated, to wear a wetsuit. Zone3 Advance and Vision wetsuits are award winning and designed for entry level athletes. The price point has been kept low however they certainly don’t lack in performance – punching well above their price tag. Be sure to try out your wetsuit before the race to make sure it fits right. Top tip: If you find that your wetsuit rubs in any areas, try using a skin glide on the area that it rubs to prevent chafing and friction-related irritation.



The priority when buying goggles as a beginner would be to ensure good visibility, and comfort.




Important for drying your feet after the swim section, as it will make the cycle and run sections more comfortable for yourself.


Comfortable shoes for running/cycling

Most beginners will wear the same pair of trainers for their cycle and run sections of the race, however it is personal preference. As it will be your first triathlon, we suggest you to wear whichever shoes you will feel the most comfortable with. Practice both cycling and running training in these shoes prior to the race, as stated previously. Top tip: Using elastic laces will make your shoes much easier to put on during transition.


Race belt

A race belt is used to hold your race number. It is convenient to use one as you will need your race number on your back during the cycle and on your front during the run. If the number is attached to a race belt it is very easy after the cycle to simply turn the belt around so that the number is on the front.


Transition Bag

A bag to store your kit in will ensure that everything is well organised and accessible to you on the day. Our transition bag has been designed with the triathlete in mind, and will provide plenty of space and compartments to organise your kit well. Top tip: Lay everything out on your bed or a large surface before packing, and pack everything in reverse order of when you will need it. This will mean that the items which you will need first are on the top, and speed up your transition.




You can cycle using any bike you wish, however it must have brakes on the handlebars and is not allowed any type of motor attached to it.


Puncture repair kit

If you are worried about getting a puncture, it may be a good idea to carry a puncture repair kit in a saddle bag on your bike. We suggest that you watch some online tutorials on how to repair punctures and/or practice if you don’t know how to.



It is essential to wear a helmet during a triathlon, you won’t be allowed to race without one. Most helmets are triathlon-friendly, it just needs to have a CE mark on it.


Tri suit

It is personal preference what you wish to cycle and run in. The easiest, and most comfortable suggestion would be a tri suit. It makes the transition quicker too. Zone3 provide both one and two piece tri suits. We recommend the activate range for beginners. This range was made to provide first-timers a high quality tri suit at an affordable price.



Water bottle

Most races will provide a water point during the run part of the race. However, it is advised to bring a water bottle with you, to ensure that you are keeping hydrated.


>> Browse Evans Cycles full range of Zone3 products here <<




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