Top tips for your first sprint triathlon

How to prepare for a sprint triathlon

As a professional triathlete who's spent the best part of 15 years doing triathlon, living in Loughborough (where everyone is an athlete) and almost all of my friends are elite or professional level, it's strange to look back to a beginners’ perspective of getting involved in the sport for the first time.

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.


That said my friend is doing the NHS Sprint Triathlon and asked me for advice so this one is for her and I hope for you if you're doing a triathlon for the very first time. 

This is actually a great time to write this article because it's very early in the year and you have plenty of time to prepare well over the winter. This is generally the time of year where you can make the biggest improvements. You have heaps of time before a race and can focus on your technique, especially in the pool. This is also when you put in a foundation for your running and biking which will go a long way to making you a fitter, stronger athlete. 

This sport is mostly about the preparation so start off by building up your training slowly. Everyone will start at different phases obviously. It doesn't matter where you are right now because the important thing is that you move forward slowly and steadily as you build towards a peak. Try doing two weeks of bigger mileage before taking one week of lower mileage. Then progress the same pattern again but this time try to do more than the first two weeks.

Usually it's good to do have in excess of 50% of your training on the bike, around 25% running and 25% swimming. If you're a beginner then it's unlikely that you can do enough to completely over train yourself so basically the more you can do, the faster you'll be. Just be sure to focus on technique and 8 weeks out from your race include sessions that will make you fast! That means track sessions, tempo runs, time trials and so on. I'd always advise joining a Triathlon Club as they're always very accommodating and you'll learn so much just being around experienced people. 

Triathletes love a piece of fresh equipment and you can honestly spend whatever you want on bikes, gear sets, wetsuits, wheels etc. You definitely don't have to have it all to put together a good race (although it will help), but you will get heaps more satisfaction beating an athlete who does have it all!. BUT there are a few simple and essential pieces of kit which will make your life a lot easier on race day. 

Tri Suit - It's an all in, so you swim in it, bike in it and run in it and it dries straight away. It's fast and you don't have to change.

Elastic Laces - You slip on your shoes, they're tight and snug and you don't have to worry about spending ages tying your laces

Wetsuit – It’s much faster than your skin, especially if it's cold. For most triathlons in the UK you won't be able to start without one. 

Bike – By this I mean ideally you should get hold of a road bike and even better a Time Trial bike. Of course you can use your rusty old Mountain bike but it really is very slow and you'll lose a lot of time! 

I won't go too much into the fact that you need to pace your efforts because if you did any training for the event then you’ll have a good grasp of what effort you can manage. A Sprint Triathlon isn't so long that you'll run into problems with nutrition or dehydration but I would advise that you take every opportunity for 'free speed' that comes your way. By this I mean anything that will make you faster without using any extra effort. 


Draft off someone faster than you in the swim. Swim by their side or directly behind them and feel yourself getting towed along at a faster pace although you should also look where you're going by looking up every so often! 

Transition speed

Be quick through transition. This is really an opportunity to make up a lot of time and is a big part of the race. I used to set up a transition down the street where I live! You can practice at home too, by taking off your wetsuit and putting on your helmet at the same time and jumping on your bike while you're running, before pulling on your trainers (with elastic laces). Top Tip: Super Glue the inner soles to the shoe so it doesn't fold up when you're feet are soggy.


Aerodynamics is huge in cycling. Try to ride as low as you comfortably can. At the very least bend your elbows at 90 degrees instead of sitting up like a postman. Even better stay as much as you can on your aerobars. This will possibly be the biggest time saver in your race. 

Pace yourself

Pacing your run will help you in the long run. Run out of the second transition at an achievable pace for you and try to build into it so that your last half is as strong as your first. Eat and drink if you feel like you need to. 

Your first triathlon might feel slightly daunting but relax, it's meant to be fun and in every race there is always a wide range of abilities. Perhaps the most scary aspect of it can be the open water swim. My advice is to relax and just do what you know how. Start near people of similar ability or out to the side of the field rather than right at the front with the big guns and keep away from the other swimmers if you feel nervous.

It can get crowded in the first 100m if you're starting in the thick of it but that will pass and there are always kayakers out there to help you. And remember, we don't really have any scary sharks so if you see a big fish (you won't because the water is too murky) then it's certainly more scared of you then you are of him. Unless of course you're doing the Sydney Harbour Triathlon! Good luck.

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