Whether you have signed up for your first triathlon in 2019 or you’re still undecided, Wikiwiki coaches Rob and Loren have put together this series of guides to help you get up to speed on the fundamentals of triathlon.
These simple start-up guides to swimming, cycling, running, pacing & racing and nutrition will explain the basic things you will need to get started, some of the things you don’t need but might like and a few luxury bits that you can think about once you know you are in it for the long haul! We’ve also included lots of other useful tips and ideas to help you on your way.
Triathlon can become an expensive hobby; however, it doesn’t need to, especially at the start.
Being race ready is much more about knowing what you need to train and not going bankrupt in order to be on the start line! This section will give you the low-down on the essentials you need to train and race swim section of a triathlon, plus a few upgrades you can schedule as you start to look to make improvements.
The only things you really need to start training is swimming trunks or costume, a pair of goggles and a swim cap.
In the build up to your first triathlon, a lot of swimming is done, which means a lot of time in the water. Certainly, in the UK there is a very short window for open water swimming unless you are a hardy soul who swims open water all year round! Either way, the balance of training will normally consist of both pool swimming and open water. The ratio between the two is generally based on whether you intend to race a pool or open water-based triathlon but other factors such as whether you have a wetsuit, confidence to swim where you can’t see the bottom and access to facilities might be a strong influencing factor.
This is important to think about now as some swimwear doesn’t switch so easily between the pool and open water – unlike goggles and caps. For example, a trisuit or a pair of tri shorts is going to deteriorate quickly in chlorinated water, so you don’t want to wear your nice race kit for pool-based training.
If you don’t want to wear through swimsuits quickly you need to find a suit made mostly, or entirely of polyester or invest in technology that is chlorine resistant. Nylon and lycra will are materials that break down in chlorine and quickly become too stretched out (or see-through) to wear.
Ideally, you don’t want something that is going to cause drag in the water and slow you down. For women, a suit that is fine for the beach might affect your aqua dynamics in the water when you are moving forward. If body confidence is an issue, you might think you want to wear something that hides your body and doesn’t draw attention, but people at pools an open water venues are more likely to look at you funny if you are swimming in a suit with a ruffles and bows than if you are wearing a proper swimsuit and trying your best, even if you are showing more than makes you feel comfortable.
The same goes for men. It might seem a lot less embarrassing to wear regular old swim shorts or Bermuda shorts, but you will be able to swim much more efficiently in a suit that is tight to your skin. If you don’t have the nerve to sport a pair of Speedo trunks, the jammer style that fits like compression shorts is a great compromise.
Fit wise – when trying on a competition suit, it should be tight enough that it’s a struggle to get it on. It will loosen up with water.
Swimwear care – Always rinse your suit in clean water and if you can, use the swimsuit spinner at the pool if they have one and avoid wringing it out – it can cause it to stretch prematurely.
Goggles are very individual so although they look similar, don’t be fooled! With so many shapes, sizes and brands on the market, the most important thing to know is what you are using them for.
Triathlon and open water goggles tend to be slightly larger and have a bigger lens, so they provide the swimmer with greater peripheral vision. They normally offer mirrored or polarised options which help prevent glare, water reflection and damage from UV rays. Mirrored lenses are another option and they are good at reflecting the sun however they don’t perform well on darker days. Polarised lenses reflect the sun away and perform well in darker conditions.
Racing goggles or pool specific goggles tend to be smaller in size and fit closely to the socket of the eyes. Perfect for a pool environment but not so good when you get into open water.
Goggle selection comes down to which environment you are likely to be in the most. To start with, a pair of goggles that can do both would be our recommendation but if you are only doing pool-based events then pool specific goggles might be a better option.
Once you have selected the type of goggles you want, the single most important thing is that they fit. Leaky goggles are just not fun! If you have the chance to try before you buy, then here is a way to check the fit – take the goggles and stick the lenses over your eyes without putting the strap on. Apply a bit of pressure for a few seconds and take your hands away. If they fit, the suction should keep them on your face.
Most places are used to swimmers doing this, but it’s polite to check with the shop before you start opening boxes!
- Swim Cap
Firstly, a swimming cap is not designed to keep hair dry but it does make you streamlined in the water and reduce drag, help maintain the hygiene of the pool – people tend to lose hair whilst swimming, and in open water, a swim cap allows swimmers to be more visible to the safety teams and other water users such as surfers, jet skis and boats.
There are 5 main types of swimming caps:
- Latex: Latex swim caps are made of latex rubber and tend to be very durable, making them a good investment. They give the swimmer a speed advantage as they are a tight fit, but this also means they are difficult to fit onto the head and remove.
- Silicone: These swim caps are durable and give a tight fit, with the added benefit that they are not made of latex – great news if you have a latex allergy! They come with the same difficulties in applying and removing as latex caps and are usually slightly more expensive than the latex alternatives.
- Neoprene: these caps are made from the same material used for wetsuits and are designed to insulate and keep your head warm. Although they are expensive, they are a great purchase if you enjoy open water swimming and a worthwhile investment if you struggle swimming in the colder temperatures of open water.
- Bubble hats: If you have long hair, consider a bubble hat! They give a more generous fit than standard latex caps, and normally cover your ears, which is great for adding warmth and keeping the water out of your ears.
- Polyester and Lycra: these swim caps were designed with comfort in mind. They are made from a soft material which doesn’t pull your hair, making them easy to put on and remove. They are however porous, which means your hair will get wet and won’t be protected from the effects of chlorine.
As with many things in triathlon, the choices are varied, and the decision is yours. It is worth checking the regulations for the event you are doing as many will dictate what types of equipment you can use. It is worth noting that many athletes particularly in open water events use their preference of swim cap such as neoprene or silicone and wear the races own cap – normally latex, over the top. This can add an extra layer of insulation but isn’t ideal in a heated swimming pool.
Nice to have –
The following are not necessary to train the swim element of triathlon, but they will become fundamentals should you start racing regularly or need to start adding more to your swim training than using a pool.
If you are seeing triathlon as an ongoing pursuit and are likely to do more than one race, it might be a wise investment to invest in a triathlon suit of some kind. If you have joined a local triathlon club and will race for them then they normally like their triathletes to wear their team kit. If you only have the budget for one trisuit then this might be your only option. If you are not a member of a club then you can buy whatever trisuit you want. Shameless plug alert – the Wikiwiki Tri Team trisuit designed by Raceskin, who won the 2018 220 Triathlon Trisuit Brand of The Year, is in our opinion one of the best out there! We will be opening orders at various points throughout the year so let us know if you want any kit and when we have enough orders in waiting, we’ll put in an order.
A trisuit is a one- or two-piece item of clothing which is worn in the swim, bike and run elements. It removes the need for changing, adding or adjusting anything in transition. They save you time and simplify the logistics around what to wear and how to change. They include lightly padded trishorts for the bike section and are comfortable at the waist because there is no drawstring or elastic band to cinch in your tummy. For women, virtually all trisuits are designed to be worn with a sports bra underneath. Most of them not only don’t have any support, but they are often cut very wide under the armpits, which doesn’t work without a bra. Make sure to practice so that your bra-trisuit combinations doesn’t rub against your skin or pinch.
Some prefer a pair of tri shorts with a top or shirt of some kind. This is a popular combination because it makes it easier to navigate toilet stops without completely undressing, and the tops and bottoms can be mixed and matched if something wears out, or if your size changes on top but not on bottom. The main thing to check is that there is no seam running through the crotch area as this is very uncomfortable on the bike.
Triathlon tops are meant to be worn on the swim and need to be very snug, so they don’t take on water, but bear in mind trying to put one on after the swim is almost impossible without taking lots of time. Men’s tops are straightforward. For women, some can get away with the built-in bra that is part of the top. Others find they need to wear a separate sports bra underneath to have enough support for the run. If this is you, make sure the sports bra is made of a thin, quick-drying fabric and doesn’t chafe underneath the tri top.
Nearly all trisuits have pockets which are a great feature for carrying a gel or something on the bike or run, but make sure they are super tight and don’t cause drag in the water.
We debated this long and hard. No, you don’t have to have a wetsuit to train for the swim of a triathlon. However, if you are doing an open water swim as part of your race, unless weather dictates or the rules state it is non-wetsuit, you will need a wetsuit. You can hire them for races or the season, but our advice is this – if you’ve never swum in open water in a wetsuit, get your wetsuit sorted sooner rather than later. As any experienced triathlete or open water swimmer will tell you, it takes getting used to. The best way to get used to it is by training in it.
A wetsuit is a great item to have if you plan any cold-water swims. Wetsuits make you more buoyant in the water and shield your body from the cold. If you put the suit on properly, carefully moving the loose material towards your torso, you should be able to move your arms and shoulder without fatigue.
- Pull Buoy
A pull buoy is a figure-eight shaped piece of closed-cell foam used in swim drills – Wikiwiki Triathlon swim sessions often use pull buoys in the drill sets. Swimmers place the buoy between their thighs or their ankles to provide support to the body, normally to replace the leg kick. This allows you to focus on swimming with your arms – developing both endurance, upper body strength and developing good breathing technique.
Using the pull buoy gives the arms a more focused workout by supporting the hips and placing your body in good alignment. Good body position and technique can be reinforced through drills and a swimmer can develop and refine skills such as bilateral breathing rhythm.
Kickboards or floats are flotation aids used to develop a swimmer’s kick. Swimmers of all ability can benefit from using them to develop and/or refine technique and strengthen a swimmer’s legs. Although mostly used in drill sets, they can also be utilised in main sets as well. Wikiwiki Triathlon swim sessions often use kickboards in the drill sets.
There are some variations of kickboards from the traditional form with two hand grips to others which can be used as a kickboard and pull buoy. These are often oddly shaped, so they can be used for both training aspects.
- Ear plugs
For people with sensitive ears, trapped water can lead to ear infections. Properly fitting swimming ear plugs can stop water from getting in your ear canals as you swim. Ear plugs for swimmers must be swim specific – noise-cancelling ear plugs are not designed for swimming!
- Flanged: Flanged ear plugs are a universal-fit, conical shape with flanges that act as barriers against water. They are cheaper than other types of ear plug and are a good starting point.
- Ergonomic: Ergonomic ear plugs are shaped to fit inside the ear and lay flat against the outer ear. Each pair comes with a specific left and right plug.
- Mouldable: Mouldable silicone ear plugs are made from putty that is applied to the outer ear canal to form a comfortable, custom-fit with a waterproof seal, irrespective of ear shape.
Luxury Items –
These are the items you don’t need to have to train for your first swim but are good to bring into your training as you develop your skills, technique and performance in the water. The following list is not exhaustive but gives you an idea of all the tools out there to make you a better swimmer.
- Swimming fins
- Swim snorkel
- Pool Mate swim watch
- Waterproof MP3 player
- Hand paddles
- Drag chute
- Buoyancy shorts
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