My First Triathlon: Tips for Training

My First Triathlon: Tips for Training

The main goal of triathlon training for many people is to overcome the full Ironman distance. This is the classical and the longest triathlon distance: 3.8 km (2.36 miles) swimming, 180 km (111.84 miles) cycling and 42.2 km (26.22 miles) running.

A lot of new triathletes are wondering, if it is possible to start with Ironman right away or it’s better to choose a short race for your first triathlon start. In this article we are going to consider this question in detail and provide valuable Tips for Your First Triathlon start.

Triathlon distances (km - mi):

  • Full distance: 3.8/180/42.2 – 2.36/111.84/26.22
  • Half: 1.9/90/21.1 – 1.18/55.92/13.11
  • Olympic – 1.5/40/10 – 0.93/24.8/6.2
  • Sprint – 0.75/20/5 – 0.5/12.4/3.1
  • Super Sprint – 0.3/8/2 – 0.19/5/1.2

Beginners tend to think that shorter distances are easier. Most coaches recommend starting with a sprint. Such a short race is considered performable for almost everyone, if there are no health restrictions.

Let's take a closer look at each distance, difference in training and passing it, to answer the question - will short distance competitions help prepare for the classic Ironman?

All triathlon distances differ mainly in:

  • training;
  • eating during the race;
  • drafting;
  • equipment.

Drafting means cycling close to the athlete in front of you to get into the pit of discharged air, formed by that athlete. It helps reducing your own air resistance. According to various estimates, drafting may save about 30% of energy.

Full distance 3.8/180/42.2 (km)

When preparing for the full Ironman distance, most of the workouts are performed on a low heart rate with a gradual increase in intensity and duration.

Find your Heart Rate Training Zones >>

At full and half Ironman distances drafting is prohibited.

Short distances

Preparing for shorter distances will not take you much time. But all the trainings should be carried out mainly in the high-speed mode. A person with untrained heart can be physically unable to work at higher heart rate for a long time.

Don’t know your HRMAX? Here you can calculate your maximum heart rate.

You might also be interested in reading “Running Heart Rate Zones: 7 Tips for Training”.

Short distances differ from long ones in tactics, energy supply zone and power supply. Besides, their rules allow drafting.

The basic nuances of tactical short distances training with allowed drafting:

  • Fast swimming with a leading group and fast transit after. If you fail to be with the leaders after swimming, then the chances of catching up with a group of athletes alone are practically nonexistent.
  • Ability to confidently pass the distance in a group.


Short distances are not particularly useful for preparing for Ironman, because they are very different in terms of training, tactics in the race, and equipment:

  • energy supply zones are different;
  • tactics for passing the distance are different;
  • no food intake, while for long distances it plays a key role;
  • bicycles are different. For long distances the triathlon bicycle will help a lot. It cannot be used at short distances with allowed draft.

Nevertheless, short distances allow you to get acquainted with the triathlon and work out some technical moments of passing the distance. Preparation is faster, while equipment and registration fees for short distances are much cheaper.

Prepare for your first triathlon

Preparation for your first triathlon includes:

  1. Selecting suitable gear and equipment. It is important to set up new equipment for the athlete.
  2. Training activities. You cannot start your training, if you are pressed for time. It’s useless to start training 1-2 months before the start. The minimum training period for any distance is 4 months
  3. Individual training plan. This applies to both the training plan and the tactical plan for the competition.

Key differences of triathlon distances:


Short distances

½ Ironman


Heart rate zone for training

For Super Sprint and Sprint, mixed Olympic distance: predominantly aerobic and mixed

aerobic, avoid mixed heart zone

Aerobic – other zones are not recommended

Average distance time

30 minutes for Super Sprint, 60-90 minutes for Sprint, 2 hours 30 minutes — Olympic distance

5 hours

11 hours

Average training time per week

4-5 hours

4-10 hours

12-17 hours

Minimum preparation period

4 months

6 months

12 months

Optimal preparation period

12 months

12 months

12 months

Food intake during the race

Not necessarily




Usually allowed




Racing bicycle

Triathlon bicycle

Triathlon bicycle

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