What is a Triathlon

Answers the basics of what a triathlon is and it involves. How can one get started?

What's a triathlon?

It’s a valid question and you are not the only one asking.

It is a good possibility someone you know is planning on doing or has already completed a triathlon. As a part of a new dedication to his or her fitness, to raise money for a particular charity or cause, or just to conquer a new athletic challenge, the participation in the sport of triathlon is continuing to grow. It seems everyone is getting involved in this new craze and because you’re reading this article, it is possible someone you know is involved.

According to USA Triathlon, the governing body of the sport within the United States, membership has continued to have a double digit increases since the year 2000, reaching 115,000 members in early 2009. After hovering between 15,000 to just over 20,000 members after the year 2000, membership numbers increased more than 50% to over 42,000 by the end of 2002. Possibly due to the inception of triathlon into the 2000 Olympic Games that were held in Sydney, Australia, or the re-emergence of a health conscious society, the sport of triathlon is continuing to become apart of mainstream America. USA Triathlon also identified that adults age 30-49 years not only make up the largest current participant group, but also largely contributing to the increase in new, first-time memberships.

Welcome. Grab your goggles, your Huffy and a pair of running shoes. It’s on.

Today’s triathlon, considered the modern triathlon, consists of three sports: Swimming, cycling and running with the participant trying to complete all three in least amount of elapsed time possible. Most of the time you will find a triathlon to consist of those three sports in that exact order, although you may come across some events that change that order. Each of the sports, swimming, cycling, and running, can vary in distances within the event although depending on the event’s predetermined course, they tend to fall within four different categories: Sprint, Olympic Distance, Half-Ironman and Ironman distances. Sprint being the shortest of the category events tends to be where overall event distances vary the most. Olympic, Half-Ironman (referred to sometimes as 70.3) and Ironman events all have a standard distance and do not vary within those formats.

Between each individual section of the event there is a period of time called a transition. A transition is when a participant finishes one sport and starts the next. Most often the transition period includes the changing of clothing or equipment specific to the next sport in the series. There are two transition periods referred to as T1 and T2. These “change” periods are included in your overall time, so organization and efficiency in changing tasks are important if time is a major concern to the participant. If time is of no concern then you can take as long as you like inside the transition area. Many rest or have a snack in preparation for the next leg of the triathlon.

In most cases, in order to participate in a triathlon event you must purchase the before mentioned USA Triathlon membership or a one-day license which includes protective measures for participants and event directors as well as partnership services available to those who hold the membership card. Upon registration of the event, either online or through mail-in forms there will be a spot to write in your membership number or check a box for a one-day license. Do not worry, this license does not require any sort of test and texting is allowed, although not encouraged while swimming, riding a bicycle or running.

These are the basics and should help you in the process of questioning whether you want to get involved the next time your friend tries to pressure you into participating. Marking a triathlon on the summer-activity calendar is a commitment, physically and financially and most likely you will want to prepare the best you can. But remember, any activity we choose to participate in should, first and foremost, be fun. A triathlon can of course be fun and once you finish, it most definitely will spur your interest in signing up for another. It can get addictive. That little voice tells you, “ I can go faster.”

Look for future articles discussing triathlon training techniques and specifics on each of the three disciplines – swimming, cycling and running. Until then, enjoy the outdoors and mix it up a bit – try a tri.


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Stacy Calvert
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Posted on Apr 6, 2010
Alma Galvez
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Posted on Apr 4, 2010