Triathlon is an exciting multi-sport event involving the completion of three sequential endurance events. While many variations of the sport exist, triathlon, in its most popular form, involves swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession over various distances.

Triathlete’s compete for the fastest overall course completion time, including timed “transitions” between the individual swim, bike, and run components.

triathlon_1.jpgWhy Do Triathlon?

As an action packed, adrenaline pumping sport; triathlon provides a fun and enjoyable way to compete and stay fit.  The sport provides the opportunity to learn and develop a number of skills and abilities across its constituent sports. Triathlon as a sport that encourages people to explore more about themselves and their own abilities and as a consequence empowers them to develop self belief and confidence to achieve their own personal triathlon challenges.  Triathlon also attracts motivated participants seeking a unique challenge full of variety and excitement!!


The most common race distance include Sprint (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run),  Standard/Olympic (1500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run), Half Ironman (1.9km swim, 90km cycle, 21,1 km run), and Ironman (3.9km swim, 180km cycle, 42.2 km  run).

Age Considerations

As one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and Ireland, triathlon now attracts people of all age groups; with competitors ranging from sixteen to eighty five years old in senior age group (amateur) races.  Age group categories are usually split into 5 year age categories; ranging from 16 years old to the oldest competitor in the race. Elite races are split into junior (race sprint distance), under 23, and senior races.

Over 100 triathlon clubs in UK and Ireland now offer training and events to children, with large numbers of competitions held all over the country. Children’s contests range from 100m swims, 2km bike rides and 1km runs – for under 10 races – to around triple that for under 16 races. Almost 35,000 school children took part in triathlon events in 2012, with initiatives such as ‘Tata Kids of Steel’ helping to boost participation levels.

Key Skills

Triathlon training should be specific to the race you are aiming for, and should be tailored to your targeted race distance, and also take into consideration terrain, weather and your ability/fitness levels. It is also important to approach triathlon as one distinct sport, as opposed three. This means you should train your body to be able to combine the demands of cycling after swimming, and running after cycling.  As you enter triathlon racing, there are a number of things to consider in each component of the race:

Good triathlon swimming can set you up for a great race performance. It is critical to perform the triathlon swimming leg efficiently to set up a successful bike and run leg.  An efficient technique is important to allow you to conserve energy throughout the first leg of the triathlon, whilst helping you attain a good position for the start of the cycle.  It is also essential to recognise that there is a big difference between pool swimming and swimming open water, and thus competitors should become familiar and practice training in open water sessions with a group of people. Triathletes looking to improve their swim times in a triathlon should focus on improving their technique before building fitness! It is also advisable to use a wet suit that is appropriately fitted for open water races.

Since the cycle is the longest portion of the triathlon, in both time and distance, it provides the greatest opportunity to make up time on competitors. In amateur races and Half/Ironman races the cycle portion of the race enforces non-drafting rules, which means that you cannot ride in another competitors slipstream, closely resembling individual time trial racing. Competitors in these races benefit from using time trial bikes, with aerodynamic helmets; with some competitors preferring to use clip on time trial bars on road bikes.

Elite International Triathlon Union races follow a drafting format, where competitors form a cycle group after the swim and attempt breakaways and other tactics before the run portion of the race. This type of racing places a bigger emphasis on running performance as several athletes will enter the bike to run transition at the same time due to drafting. Normal road bikes are used in this type of racing.

Regardless of the type of cycle in a triathlon, it is essential to get a bike that is the correct size for you and get a professional bike fit. This will make you more efficient, maximise power output and decrease the likelihood of injury.

Becoming a more proficient cyclist will mean you will have more energy for the run of the triathlon.  This can be achieved improving your cadence to 90/100 revolutions per minute, improving your pedal stroke and also focusing on relaxing your upper body. Most importantly, to become an efficient cyclist, the best thing you can do is to follow a specific training programme that is tailored to your individual needs.

The primary distinguishing feature of running in a triathlon is that it occurs after the athlete has already been exercising in two other disciplines for an extended period of time, so many muscles are already tired. The effect of switching from cycling to running can be profound, and many athletes discover that they run at a much slower pace than they are used to in training. Triathletes train for this phenomenon through transition workouts known as brick sessions: back-to-back workouts involving two disciplines, most commonly cycling and running. Since running presents the greatest risk of injury compared to the other two disciplines, it is essential that competitors organise sessions smartly, and only build running volume by 5% per week.

Also known as the 4th discipline of triathlon, is the changeover from swim to bike and from bike to run during the triathlon. Some basic tips for a fast transition are to have a plan and practice before racing; keep it simple; and tape anything you need during the cycle to your bike.

Is Triathlon Racing Seasonal?

The majority of triathlon races in the Ireland and UK take part between April and October. Early season age-group triathlons stage the swim portion of the race in a swimming pool, with most open- water triathlon races starting in June.  During the winter months some competitors take part in Duathlon races, which consist of a run-cycle-run format.

UK and Ireland Race ‘Stars’

The Brownlee brothers are the outstanding stars in British Triathlon. Alistair Brownlee won gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Triathlon, whilst his younger brother Jonathon came third to claim the bronze medal. The Brownlee’s, who have numerous European and World Championships titles to their names, are not only known for their exceptional talent, but also their relentless hard work in training and races. Helen Jenkins, Great Britain’s top female triathlete, is double World Triathlon Champion, and finished 5th in the recent Olympics.

triathlon_2.jpgAileen Morrison and Gavin Noble, Ireland’s top Triathletes both represented Ireland in the recent 2012 Olympic Games.  Aileen has achieved numerous podium finishes in World Series and World Cup races over the past three years, whilst Noble has had good success competing at World level over the past 10 years. Ireland’s up and coming star is Conor Murphy. Conor won the European and World Age-Group Championships in 2010, and has since turned professional with the aim of competing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

The Future

The future is bright in the UK and Ireland for Triathlon. The Brownlee Brothers success in the Olympics, as well as the success of Ireland’s top triathletes will continue to raise the profile of the sport, encouraging people of all ages to get involved. Thousands of new people are starting triathlon each year, as they recognise its unique and rewarding challenge. Both British Triathlon and Triathlon Ireland have excellent youth systems in place, and this coupled with increased exposure and funding will mean that an increased number of young people will be competing and enjoying this fantastic sport!

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