How to Prepare for your First Triathlon

Are you up for a new challenge?

Enter a triathlon.

Many who have taken the leap will quickly tell you it becomes addictive.

A traditional standard distance triathlon incorporates swimming (1.5km), biking (40km) and running (10km) all in one race. I know you’re thinking completing such an event is impossible, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s no secret that triathlons are physically demanding and intimidating, but with over 3.5 million participants each year, it has a reputation for being unusually welcoming and supportive for beginners.


If you participate in a triathlon regularly or have signed up for one, the first question you’ll likely be asked is “why?”.

“Why on earth would you want to put your body through over three hours of exercise?”

Although the reasons people do triathlons differ, the benefits remain the same. The whole process from training to completing the race will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. If you ask anyone who has completed a triathlon, they will tell you the same thing.

The beauty of triathlons nowadays is the social aspect of the events. As thousands swarm popular locations such as Noosa and Mooloolaba in Queensland, the triathlon brings a festival feel to it all.

No matter if you’re a beginner just wanting to finish, you’re there for a laugh with friends, or you’re competing as an athlete – the event will have something for everyone.

Training and preparing for a triathlon won’t consume your life either. In fact, if you’re already regularly exercising, it can only take roughly six weeks of training to get you to the finish line.


The one thing most people are concerned about is the swim leg of the race. It is often the most grueling part of the event and should be a priority to those who aren’t regular swimmers.

Identifying what your weakest leg is will help you set the standard for your race goals and help you to prepare appropriately.


Exercise Right spoke with Accredited Sports Scientist, Dr Kellie Pritchard-Peschek.

Kellie has worked as a sports physiologist in high performance sport for over a decade, first at the Queensland Academy of Sport and then the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport, supporting their national swimming teams through 3 Olympic Games. Kellie also happens to be a triathlete herself, competing in the Ironman 70.3 distance triathlon at various levels over the years, including local events, the National Series where she placed 3rd in her age group, and 2 World Championships.



For someone who has just signed up for their first tri, what are the key things to consider?
  • How many days you have available, and how many hours per day you can devote to training
  • What your goal/expectation is for the event
  • Your starting level of fitness and familiarity with all 3 legs
  • Whether you will join a squad for coaching, or whether you will follow a general program online and train individually
  • Plan in advance when you will have time to train each day so the training gets done
  • Choose someone who will keep you accountable to your training/goal
  • Plan your nutrition for training sessions and race day


How long out should you start training?

For a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon – generally start structured training approximately 8 weeks out from the event depending on fitness level and time available, but 6 weeks could work.

For a long-distance triathlon (i.e. Ironman or 70.3 Ironman) – generally start structured training 16-20 weeks out from the event depending on starting fitness level.

Key equipment needed?

Cycling – A bike, cycling shoes (optional – running shoes will suffice), helmet, water bottle and sunglasses

Running – Running shoes, socks, Hat or visor and race belt

Swimming – Goggles (a must), a tri suit or swimmers

Other tips – Anti-chafe cream (hot tip!), nutrition for pre-race, bike and run and sunscreen!

Should you focus on all 3 legs or focus on the legs you are weakest?
  • There are 4 legs: swim, bike, run, and transitions (1 and 2)
  • Focus on training all legs, but you can emphasis training on your weakest leg/s if preferred
  • Training the strong legs can also improve your advantage over other competitors and make training enjoyable
  • Focus on transitioning between swim/bike, bike/run and swim/bike/run in training sessions, called “brick sessions”


What does a sample program look like for someone training?

Phase 1: base training (i.e. maintaining stable distance and volume to build endurance)
Phase 2: build phase (e. moderately progress training intensity and volume weekly, and intersperse with recovery weeks
Phase 3: race preparation andtaper (e. drop the volume substantially in the final week of training and maintain some speed)
General guidelines: start with 3-4 sessions per week, progress the number of days of training to the maximum you can fit in (i.e. 6-8 sessions per week).
Tip: adding a stretching and mobility session at least once per week will help your body recover from training, maintain joint range of motion, and enable good technique in training

Note: Sessions can be completed either in the morning or evening depending on your schedule. If you’re just starting out, try to allow 12-24h between sessions for adequate recovery.

Top 3-5 tips for someone entering their first triathlon?

1. Don’t underestimate the value of training the transitions T1 and T2 and doing brick sessions!
2. Periodise your training program to include recovery weeks once per month (i.e. reduce the intensity of training sessions every 4th week)
3. Remember easy is easy and hard is hard – mix easy and hard sessions throughout each week for variety, optimal adaptation and progression of fitness and strength
4. Aim for consistency in training (e. avoiding long breaks) to prevent injuries and build fitness
5. Practice open water swimming (if your event is in the ocean or a lake)

Are you ready to enter?

The moment you finish a triathlon, you will be astounded at the new realm of possibilities that open up to you. Forget about the obstacles standing in your way and the self-doubt! Once you overcome them, you won’t look back.

Want to get the most out of your first triathlon?

An Accredited Exercise Professional can assist you by guiding you through an individualized, safe and evidence-based exercise program to “bulletproof” your workouts. Get in touch with your local exercise expert today by clicking here.

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We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series.

The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.