Tips for choosing a triathlon as a beginner

Choosing a triathlon

Choosing a triathlon as a beginner

If one of your goals for 2018 is to try a triathlon, now is the time to start thinking about your goal race. There are countless events to choose from and many factors to consider when picking a triathlon. The decision can be overwhelming for a beginner, so I’ve broken down the key points to think about when choosing a triathlon.


Firstly, you’ll need to decide on the distance. I’d recommend a sprint for a beginner, but some people do jump straight into an Ironman! The most common race distances are:
Super Sprint: 400m swim, 10km bike, 2.5km run
Sprint: 750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run
Standard (Olympic): 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run
Middle (Half-Iron or 70.3): 1900m swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run
Long (Iron or 140.6): 3800m swim, 180km bike, 42.4km run


The swim is often the most daunting part for newcomers to triathlon, so consider whether your chosen race will be in a pool, lake, river, dock or the sea. A pool-based swim is ideal for weaker swimmers, as you’ll be in a safe, warm environment without a mass-start or the need for a wetsuit. Open-water swims are generally colder and come with the added challenge of a mass-start.

Bike and Run Course

Look at the race website for information on the course profile, terrain and whether the route is a single or multiple laps. A particularly hilly course might not be the right choice if you are used to training on flat roads. Will the run be on trails or tarmac? Are there any sharp turns or technical sections to the course? Multiple laps can be mind-numbing but can also help with pacing.


Racing locally has the advantage of reduced travel time and associated costs, but you might also like the idea of a destination race. Combining a triathlon with a holiday or weekend break is a great way to see more of the UK and abroad. Triathlons take place at huge range of locations- in a city, by the coast or in the grounds of a castle. A picturesque course might be high on your agenda or perhaps you aren’t interested in the scenery. The atmosphere at a triathlon is another factor to consider- some races are known for their crowd support while others are quieter and more relaxed.


The triathlon season in the UK tends to run from early May to late September, although you will find a few races in April and October. Obviously, it’s difficult to predict the weather, but it’s a safe bet that temperatures will be lower at early and late season races. Consider whether you prefer racing in the heat or if cooler climates suit you.

Before circling a date in your diary, think about your current fitness levels and how long it will take to train towards the event. A race in August or September will obviously allow more time to prepare.


Entries fees vary depending on the distance and race organiser, but it’s fair to say that triathlon is an expensive pursuit. Ironman generally costs £400+ wheres a local sprint triathlon could be £30. Decide on a budget and factor in the additional costs such as travel, accommodation, kit and equipment.

Start Time

Triathlon races tend to start very early! It’s not uncommon to be in the water before 7am. If you are not an early riser, then a race like London or Blenheim Palace might suit as they tend to have waves rolling throughout the day.


Ironman is a global corporation and the most recognised brand on the triathlon scene, followed by Challenge and ITU. Some athletes are particularly attracted to the prestige of completing an Ironman-branded race, but there are plenty of other options available. Some of the best races are organised by triathlon clubs or local operators, plus these tend to be more affordable. Ask yourself whether a branded event is particularly important when choosing a triathlon.


To ensure your first triathlon experience is a good one, then it’s worthwhile reading race reviews and asking previous competitors for their opinion. Race Check is a great resource for reading honest reviews of triathlon events. I’ve also got lots of race re-caps my blog. You’ll get a feel for which races are well organised, friendly and have a great atmosphere and those which are lacking in certain areas.

What factors do you consider when choosing a triathlon? 


  1. January 19, 2018 / 10:28 am

    Really helpful! I’m definitely considering it for this year if I can find the time to get swimming lessons…

    • January 20, 2018 / 10:38 am

      Awesome, good luck! Look forward to following your progress with the swimming.

  2. January 16, 2018 / 12:08 pm

    This is amazing! I’ve always wanted to do a tri, but as you said am daunted by the swim. Thanks for your helpful tips! 🙂

    • January 20, 2018 / 10:39 am

      Hope they help! I’ve just shared some tips on learning to swim, so they should be useful too.

  3. January 16, 2018 / 8:37 am

    This is an awesome resource for beginners. Just like choosing a marathon without the bike and swim.

  4. January 16, 2018 / 12:49 am

    This is a great post for someone just starting out! Can’t say I’ll be doing a tri anytime soon, but this is awesome!

  5. January 15, 2018 / 11:08 pm

    Thanks for the tips! As much as I want to do a tri I’m not a big swimmer. If there was one with kayaking or something instead of swimming I’d definitely give it a try.

    • January 20, 2018 / 10:43 am

      There definitely is a version with kayaking instead of swimming! Or there is a version with paddle-boarding as well. Have a look into it 🙂

  6. January 15, 2018 / 9:48 pm

    Not on my to-do list at the moment, but I will definitely pass along these awesome tips!

  7. January 15, 2018 / 9:47 pm

    Such great tips here! One thing I also found comforting to check as a beginner were if there were any time cut offs. I liked knowing that if I was going to finish at a certain pace, that I wouldn’t get pulled from the course, haha.

    • January 20, 2018 / 10:44 am

      Yes absolutely, that is often something that can be worrying for a beginner. Thanks for sharing!

  8. January 15, 2018 / 7:29 pm

    I have never done a tri but if I ever do, I will definitely start with one that has the swim portion in the pool! 🙂

  9. January 15, 2018 / 7:15 pm

    The swim is still the most daunting part for me even after doing them for a few years. It always makes me nervous and I much prefer the pool swims

    • January 20, 2018 / 10:46 am

      So many people feel that way. Personally I love open-water swimming, but I know it’s not for everyone!

  10. January 15, 2018 / 6:05 pm

    Triathlons really intimidate me because I’m a terrible swimmer. This is a great post for beginners!

    • January 20, 2018 / 10:46 am

      I’ve just shared some tips on learning to swim, so hopefully they will help you

  11. January 15, 2018 / 2:41 pm

    What a great post for beginners. I remember selecting my first one and seriously, this would have been a helpful guide!

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