What happens in a triathlon?

The structure of a triathlon

To the newcomer, a triathlon can appear to be a chaotic event with competitors starting at different times and sometimes competing alongside each other but in different disciplines. Generally though, triathlon events are extremely organised and cater for different age groups and abilities all swimming, cycling and running their way to the finish line.   Although the distances of each event can vary — the basic structure of a triathlon is as follows ...

Competing in a triathlon

Swimming in a triathlon

The swim is always the first discipline, primarily because being fresh contributes to safety. Open water events (unusual for sprint triathlons) can involve mass starts, where everyone starts together and at the same time, or age group starts, where you are categorized according to your age and start in separate groups and at separate times.

Pool swims are always grouped because it is impossible for everyone to swim at once in the confines of even the largest of pools. As a result, some swimmers will be heading for the bike before others have started their swim. However, with personal allotted start times, everyone’s finish time is adjusted accordingly to produce accurate results at the end of the race.

Transition 1 (T1)

From exiting the swim, you head out to your bike. Bikes will be racked in a specially designated area, where you can lay out your cycling kit, shoes, socks, helmet and anything else you may need such as food and drink. The transition area is clearly marked and your bike must only be wheeled when inside it, a safety precaution for other competitors. Additionally, your helmet must always be worn when in the transition area, failure to do so will result in disqualification.

Cycling in a triathlon

Once you exit T1, you can mount your bike and commence the cycling section of the race. Here you will be sharing the same road as competitors from different age group categories, so you are both racing against the clock and other triathletes. It is also possible that you will see runners on the course who may have been allotted an earlier start time.

Transition 2 (T2)

At the end of the cycle section, you enter T2. You must dismount from your bike and wheel it back to the designated area and keep your helmet on until your bike is racked. Any clothing changes before your run take place in T2 and this is your last opportunity to take on any light food or drink that you may want before the finish. You exit T2 on foot as you begin the run section.

Running in a triathlon

This is the final leg of your triathlon and the courses are usually a couple of loops or an ‘out and back’ route, so it is common to see many other competitors during the race. At the end of the run, your finishing time will be recorded and your personal overall final position and finish time calculated for the results when everyone has finished.

If you are now inspired to tackle a triathlon then take a look at our triathlon event listings.

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