So a few people have suggested that I outline what exactly triathlon is and what is involved in getting into the sport. On the surface of it anything new can be daunting, heck, just taking on one new discipline can be a challenge especially when you have so many other things going on in your life like a career and family commitments, never mind trying to incorporate training for three sports disciplines !! However I am here to tell you it is very doable.
First of all triathlon involves cycling, swimming and running and as it happens you do them in that order. The triathlon season itself runs from April to September and this is obviously for weather related reasons. It would be just too difficult to take part in outdoor triathlons when getting battered by the elements and freezing temperatures. So the winter months are used to train and hone your technique in all three disciplines. Obviously you can run and cycle outdoors from the beginning but when taking on triathlon some people find it easier to start their training inside. Inevitably swimming will be pool based until you are a confident swimmer and for that I would suggest getting lessons. Swimming is easily the most technical of the three sports and learning it certainly cannot be rushed. In all three sports it cannot be overstated how important frequency of training is. I’m not necessarily talking volume, just frequency of sessions.
There are lots of Try a Tri competitions for those who are just getting into the sport, which involve a 250m swim, a 6 km cycle and a 3km run. Now that doesn’t sound like much but believe me it is more demanding than it sounds but not so demanding that it would put you off triathlon for good, in fact it is guaranteed only to whet your appetite for competing in longer distance races. Many people choose to join a triathlon club where they can attend training sessions which may be geared towards their ability. It also structures training over the short, medium and longer term which gives you mini goals to aim for along the way. Training with a group also gives you an added incentive to not skip sessions when you might not necessarily be feeling in the mood.
Now lets talk about price because it is really very easy to spend an absolute fortune when competing in the sport of triathlon. It is not uncommon to see people wearing wetsuits costing 500 euro and cycling the most streamlined aerodynamic bikes that cost upwards of 10,000 euro. If you have the money then fine but it really isn’t necessary especially when just starting out.
The wet suit above is an Orca wetsuit (this is not a sponsored ad by the way). It cost me 120 euro and is very buoyant and warm. It is easily one of the cheapest on the market. Regular readers will know this is in fact my second Orca wetsuit as the first one was faulty and had to be replaced which was a nuisance but I’m presuming that was just an exception because this model has worked fine more me in my races and training so far.
This bike is similar to my own. It is a Halford’s bought Carrera TDF and cost a couple of hundred euro. It won’t win many awards for being light as it’s a hefty 11 kg and it is only an 8 speed but it has enabled me to secure 3 top 20 positions in my last three triathlons. If I can do it then anyone can, yes even on a cheap bike.
The one thing I did do was invest in clip on aerobars. These cost me 40 euro and clip on to my handle bars allowing me to adopt a more aerodynamic position when cycling, this is important because you possess a smaller frontal profile when cutting through the air which means less drag and that translates into more speed.
One other thing I did with my bike and reading copious amounts of articles was upgrade my wheels. These mavic aksiom elite wheels together cost 200 euro and were substantially lighter than wheels that came with the bike and facilitate a faster ride. You are generally advised to invest in wheels if you can’t afford spending alot of money on a new flashy bike. In fact its possible to spend 1000s of euro on wheels alone. Money will buy you extremely light, ultra aerodynamic wheels that are super tough but we’re talking minimum 500 euro here.
My most recent purchases have been clipless pedals and the cycling shoes to go with them. Clipless pedals are an industry standard and are used by all the pros. Apparently clipless pedals allow you to adopt a more energy efficient cycling rhythm as they literally attach you directly to your bike. The pedals are shimano pedals which cost 30 euro and the muddyfox triathlon specific cycling shoes cost 40 euro. Again You can spend an absolute fortune on both these items if you have the cash, only last week I saw a pair of hi tech ultra light cycling shoes costing 800 euro !!! BUT that is not necessary whatsoever.
I am still getting used to the clipless pedals myself. There is a knack when it comes to clicking in and out of them in time especially when you are coming up to a set of traffic lights. I was told everyone has teething problems and falls off their bike when first using clipless pedals, I was no different. I went out on the bike yesterday for the first time and thought i was doing fantastically but I managed to forget I was clipped in and keeled over at a roundabout after 13 km , mortifying but thankfully I wasn’t injured. There does seem to be an increase in speed though when using clipless pedals but I need to look at the data over a period of a few sessions till I can confirm this.
There are other bits and pieces of kit that I have accumulated gradually over the course of the last few months here and there but outlined above are the most basic components of gear that you would need to compete in triathlon. The clipless pedals just about scrape in, but aren’t absolutely vital. I have yet to adopt them in a race but I am assured I will see a benefit. I have spent all in all about 700 all in on triathlon equipment so far, remember some people choose to spend this much on a wheel or a wetsuit, but that is entirely up to you, I’m just here to say triathlon can be done on a budget.
Finally, I popped out to check out the Ironman 70.3 competition in Dublin this weekend. This is essentially a half a full Ironman distance wise comprising a 1.9km swim, a 90km cycle and a half marathon at 21 km. The swim segment as you can see above was in Sandycove as was the first transition to the bike and the run segment was in the Phoenix Park. There were 2000 competitors from all over the world taking part, alas not including me. I’m still new to the sport but I will do a half ironman at some stage for sure. The interesting thing for me was the sheer size and scale of the Ironman machine and the buzz around the athletes. I look forward to joining them at some point.