How a Triathlon Works

How a Triathlon Works

Do you want to learn how a typical triathlon competition works? We have made a detailed description of all three triathlon stages, so you could get an idea of its rules.                                                                         

Before the start

Theater begins with the checkroom, and a triathlon begins with the opening of the transit area. It is a hatched area where one stage follows another.

Every sportsman has a private place for keeping his equipment in the transit zone. Each place has a special number according to the start numbers of the athletes.

The transit has a specific structure that makes every athlete cover the same distance.

Before the start, the transit area is opened. When athletes come into it, they have to undergo a tech inspection and pass a pre-start registration.

Only after that, an athlete can come in and arrange his equipment. The bike is fixed on the bicycle stand, and the rest is put into the bystanding basket.

Shortly before the start, the transit is closed down. A triathlete can get into it only when running the distance. He takes his swimming equipment and heads to the start. 

Move on!

A massed start from the beach, water or the pontoon bridge is one of the most spectacular moments. Dozens of sportsmen line and begin to move all at once. The first miles are crucial. One has to find a place in the peloton without being blocked by other athletes.                                             

1. Swimming

triathlon swimming

The swimming stage is always arranged in the open waters, in the lake, sea or river. The distance is marked with prominent triangular buoys.

Triathletes do the crawl and try to stick to the groups in order to fall behind the strongest swimmers. It allows swimming a bit faster. A good swimmer can swim away from the group, but it would make almost no sense, as one cannot win a triathlon through the first stage. To a certain extent, the swimming stage is just a warm-up for the following cycle race and running.

Swimming in the open waters differs from swimming in the pool. One have to swim in the group hand in hand with other swimmers, and one should feel confident in the open waters. It happens that triathletes have to cope with commotion and adjust to the cold water.

Sometimes the swimming stage consists of a few rounds. Triathletes might come out from the water and run around an obstacle on land. It makes the competition funny and easy to watch.

2. T1 – the first transit

Triathletes come out of the water to the beach or special platform. Then they ran towards their personal spots in the transit area. There they put on the helmet, take their bikes and ran away from the transit zone. Beyond the transit area, they can get on a bicycle and rush into the race.

Experienced athletes run faster as soon as they get out of the transit, and mount their bicycles without hesitation.                         

3. The bicycle race

The bicycle race

The bicycle race is similar to a game of chess on the pavement. It is a key element of the triathlon. If one passes it successfully, there good chances to win the competition. The Olympic distance allows drafting, so the athletes cover it in groups. They should have good skills of bicycling in groups and a keen eye for competitors’ intentions.

The tactics depends on the individual abilities of the athletes. Weaker swimmers should gain upon the leaders; stronger ones can have a little rest and wait for the closest member of the group or try to have a head start on the pursuers.

Strong bicycle racers try to throw off the others and make a safety buffer for the running stage. Strong runners try to save their strength and stick to the group. Often on the plain track, scattered groups unite into one huge peloton.

4. T2 – the second transit

Having covered the bicycle track, triathletes get back to the transit area. They must dismount a bicycle to get access to the transit. Experienced athletes jump from their bicycles along the way in order to hold down the speed and run towards their spots. They fix the bike on the bicycle stand and then remove the helmet. After that, they put on the running shoes and head towards the running distance.

5. Running


Running after bicycling is a tough challenge. It is similar to running uphill and covering the last miles of the marathon distance. Usually trained athletes show an Olympic triathlon running result that is 5% worse than in the 10 km run (6 miles). The thing is that triathletes begin the race with a lack of glycogen and sometimes they are partly dehydrated. Audience support and feeding stations can help a lot.

Calculate the time of the distance you can use our online Triathlon Pace Calculator.


Often the fate of the winning place hangs in the balance during the last miles of the distance. Athletes have a 2-hour race behind, but they still have the strength for the finish duel. Such one-on-one battles are always very captivating.

Athletes have mixed feelings at the finish line. The joy for the achieved result can be mixed with the huge fatigue. Sometimes they feel sad that they could not do better. More often than not, they are proud of themselves and want to make a new start.

Catch the Spirit!!!

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