What is TRI

Triathlon 101

What is Tri?

Tri — the nickname for triathlon — is a sport comprised of swimming, biking and running (almost always in that order). Triathletes start by swimming in a body of water (such as a lake, river, pool or the ocean) along a marked path. At the end of the swim, they run out of the water to the transition area (known as transition one, or T1), where their bike and other gear is set up to help them easily prepare for the cycling part of the race. Leaving the transition area, athletes mount their bikes and ride along a set course that usually finishes back in the same transition area, where they dismount and prepare for the run (known as transition two, or T2). They leave the area and run along a set course that ends at the finish line. A triathlon finishing time will include the time it took the athlete to swim the course, transition to the bike, ride the bike course, transition to the run, and complete the run course. Triathletes train to improve in all five segments of the race (swim, T1, bike, T2, and run) in order to get faster overall finishing times.

How Long is a Tri?

Triathlon races come in four standard distances:

While the distances might suggest that some races are easier than others, that’s not necessarily the case. Many factors can play into how hard or easy a race is, including:

  • Climate (temperature, humidity, wind, etc.)
  • Terrain (is the course flat or hilly? Is the water rough or smooth?)
  • Ability (more experienced athletes may approach shorter races with more intensity, whereas beginner athletes may use the shorter races as a way to test out the sport in a more manageable way).

How Much Training Do I Need?

For the average woman working out 2-3 times per week (in fitness classes, doing short runs, or just generally leading an active lifestyle), IRONMAN-certified coach Jennifer Summer Craine suggests planning on the following timeframes to appropriately prepare:

Distance# of MonthsAverage Weekly Hours Training
Sprint 3 Start around 3 hours and build up to around 6
Olympic 3 Start around 4 hours and build up to around 8
Ironman 70.3 / Half Ironman 5 – 6 Start around 6 hours and build up to around 12
Ironman/ Full Ironman 6 – 7 Start around 8 hours and build up to around 15

While this table provides a basic timeline for training, it’s important to note that each athlete is different when it comes to experience, ability and scheduling. Craine believes this is where a coach can be helpful. “All of the above recommendations allow for proper recovery and adaptation, but coaching is important to avoid burn out and injury, thus allowing the athlete to perform at their best ability on race day.”

What Gear Do I Need?

One of the biggest myths about triathlon is that you have to have all the fancy gear to do it. When it comes down to the very basics, it doesn’t take much to get started.


Go Basic: Find a pair of goggles that fits well and doesn’t leak, and a swim suit that makes you feel good.

Get Fancy: Time for the speed suits and wetsuits. Both are designed to give you an “edge” as a swimmer, either making you more buoyant, or decreasing your resistance with the water — two ways to make your swimming more efficient (i.e. faster). Wet suits can also provide warmth in colder waters.


Go Basic: Does it have two wheels? Then it’s go time! A beach cruiser, mountain bike, hybrid bike or road bike will do the trick for shorter distances (Sprint or Olympic races). If you’re going for a longer race like the half or full IRONMAN, a basic road bike with extra water bottle cages is all you need. Just make sure you have a helmet and the proper items to repair a flat tire!

Get Fancy: Looking to get faster on the shorter courses or step beyond the Olympic distance to the half or full IRONMAN? Then it’s time to think about upgrades for your road bike (like aerobars to put your body in a more efficient cycling position, clip-in shoes and special pedals to increase your efficiency and power, or choosing a lighter frame made of carbon to maximize your speed). If you’re really looking to upgrade, you might even consider a tri bike specifically designed to help your body achieve optimal performance from cycling to running.


Go Basic: Lace up your favorite running shoes and hit the road — it’s that simple. Not feeling the outdoors? Take it to the treadmill if you must.

Get Fancy: Running shoes come in all shapes and sizes, with some touting the benefits of barefoot running, while others provide extra cushioning or encourage the foot to strike the ground in specific ways. A running specialist can help you determine the best shoe for your specific needs.

What Do I Really Need To Know?

Tri is about TRY. Know that this sport and the people who do it are fueled by a passion for potential, and inspired by a lifestyle of health, wellness and fun. Sure, there’s competition. There are bad days. There are races we can’t finish, and workouts we can’t get through — but there is always heart — because we TRI.