A Beginners Guide to Triathlons
Nothing gets the blood pumping like a triathlon. These three-pronged endurance races feature swimming, cycling, and running legs, each of which is really long enough to be a major race in its own right. It's a unique and serious discipline, but just its name alone raises some questions. Where did such an incredibly demanding blend of sports disciplines come from? Although the Greek name sounds old, they certainly didn't have bicycles in ancient Greece. What do triathlons look like today, though, and how do people prepare for such a grueling event?
Triathlons don't have their roots in an ancient, inspiring story like marathons do, though people have always blended different forms of racing to complicate challenges and dares. The new tradition grew out of American's fascination with long-distance endurance races. By blending three of the top endurance racing sports, ambitious athletes found a new challenge to overcome.
The San Diego Track Club held the very first official triathlon event on September 25, 1974. Since then, it has grown into a popular college sport and even an Olympic event. In less than 40 years, the triathlon has expanded beyond anyone's expectations of the niche athletic challenge that brought a handful of athletes together in the '70s.
The Modern Triathlon
The fact that triathlons began in sunny southern California is no coincidence. While swimming teams and running clubs can hold meets in indoor spaces, triathlons are all about actual distance covered. That means they almost always happen outdoors. In addition to running and cycling outside, participants typically swim in rivers, oceans, and other bodies of water. During the early spring, late fall, and winter, many of these water courses become dangerously cold. Because of that, in most parts of the world, the triathlon is a summer event. This carried over to the Olympics, of course, where it joined running, cycling, and swimming events as part of the summer games.
Modern triathlons, like modern marathons, actually come in several different lengths. These include sprint, Olympic, Ironman, and half-Ironman. Although there are other, customized races with different distances for various universities, private races, charity events, etc. the vast majority of major triathlons conform to one of these four. The most popular is probably the Olympic, which features a .93-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike route, and finally a 6.2-mile run. No true triathlon features a rest between its three legs; it is a single race with a single time for each participant. This endurance challenge has made the event not only an achievement for seasoned athletes, but also a goal for many health-conscious individuals. There are races for everyone.
Training for a Triathlon
Training for a triathlon is not just training for three separate sports. Even great swimmers, cyclists, and runners struggle with these events. Training demands physical, mental, and even dietary preparation. Each element supports the others, which is why so many people are turning to this training for health reasons. Balancing these various disciplines is no easy feat, but fortunately, there is a way to boost training and determination: joining the community.
Students can take advantage of on-campus triathlon training. Many universities and colleges offer group support and exercise in preparation for this specialized race, even for students who are not on a school sports team. The direct access to a coach and more experienced participants is a great boost for newer triathletes, and the sense of community support is invaluable. Universities aren't the only way to get support, though. Many private clubs, regional teams, and informal groups work together to recruit new participants and prepare them for their first race. There is always a network ready for those looking for support.