I’ve been involved in multi-sport since 2001, and started doing triathlons back in 2003 as part of a project to get more urban women involved in outdoor sport (“Yes! You *can* have a two-martini dinner and still go for a five-mile run when you get home!”)
At any rate, navigating some of the terminology in triathlon is one of the things I remember doing first, so let’s start from the very beginning.
Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. But, strictly speaking, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order.
(Cartoon images help me to remember which order events are in a tri.)
That Whole “Ironman” Thing
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when I’m doing an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes I get the same question when I tell people I’m doing a triathlon. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”
There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. I was very disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3” instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles, exactly), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” I suppose, but I believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. I find it annoying. I don’t like the idea of making it sound as if I’ve done something I haven’t. For me, that will all change this year once I cross the finish line at Ironman Switzerland, and I suppose that, in the future, the collective memory will forget that Ironman once meant one specific thing, but…eurgh.
(This logo is fraught with controversy. Okay, just in my head.)
Remember a couple of days ago, when I was geeking out to the math involved in a triathlon? Get ready for some more geekspeak.
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman. Here are the distance breakdowns:
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines as once and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online. I used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
(These are the girls who were in my virtual network for awhile. Loved doing a triathlon with them.)
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.
Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.
Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, I’ll admit this is my own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about the specific legs of a race.