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How To Become A Triathlete Runner: Part 1

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You Can Do A Triathlon

A three-part series by Meredith Atwood, author of Triathlon for the Every Woman.

You can become a triathlete—yes, you! Runners all over frequently dip their thoughts into tackling the world of multi-sport. Meredith Atwood has been encouraging the “every woman” to do just that since 2010. In this three-part series, Meredith will share her tips and tricks to getting to that start (and finish!) line. You can order her best-selling book, Triathlon for the Every Woman, here.

“Oh, I could never do a triathlon,” the mother of three said to me in a checkout line at the grocery store, eyeing my race t-shirt that had swim, bike and run stick figures prancing across it. Second to the disbelieving question that’s often pointed at me (“You did a triathlon?”), the short phrase, “I could never do a triathlon” is the most common to cross my 37-year-old ears.

I look like an average mom of two who juggles motherhood with a job and bills and everyday stress. I am a size 10 on a great day, a size 12 on an average day and a solid size 14 during the holidays. There’s nothing overly athletic or capable or special about me, and I certainly don’t look like someone who is a triathlete. But like a duck on water, the mechanics happening underneath the surface, paddling hard, are not always easy to see—and they’re even easier to underestimate.

I am here to tell you that if your heart desires to do a triathlon, then yes you absolutely can. I am here backing that statement with the traditional, “If I can, anyone can” type of mentality. Not because it’s condescending or trite, but because it’s 100 percent true.

When I decided to tackle the sport of triathlon, I had two children under the age of two, worked full-time as an attorney, commuted 12 hours each week…the list of life’s demands goes on. (Did I mention that I weighed about 250 pounds)?  Little by little, I kept working and I did, in fact, become a bonafide triathlete. I did my first short-distance triathlon with very little skill, even less speed and a whole lot of heart. I have now completed dozens of triathlons, including four of the really long and hard ones (the Ironman distance, which involves a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run).

If I can become a triathlete, so can you.

What Is A Triathlon?

A triathlon is a race that consists of swimming, cycling and running in one event, usually in that order: swim first, then bike, and ending with a run. This article assumes the sprint or mini-sprint distance triathlon race, which is the shortest triathlon option. A “sprint tri,” as they are frequently called, usually encompass a 300- to 800-yard swim, a 10- to 15-mile bike ride and a 5K (3.1-mile) or shorter run. The race distances may vary depending on the event, but those are the general sprint distances offered.

First Swim, Then Bike, And Then Run?

Correct. This is the typical order of things, which means you get out of the swim portion (usually in a river, lake or ocean—sometimes a pool) and hop on your bike—soaking wet. Truth.

You have a space in between each event called a “transition,” which is both a noun and a verb. There is a Transition Area on the course, where you get to change shoes or equipment (but not outfits) and smaller items like a hat or a towel. Then you “transition,” meaning you move from the swim to the bike, and later on from the bike to the run.

A sample triathlon can be summed up as follows:

The announcer blows the whistle, everyone gets in the water, swim swim swim, everyone leaves the water. Competitors go to Transition 1 to put on their bike shoes and helmet, get their bike, roll their bike out of Transition 1 and mount the bike at the designated mount line. Competitors begin the bike portion, pedal pedal pedal, arrive at Transition 2, dismount the bike at the designated dismount line and roll the bike to its designated drop-off area. Here helmets are removed and running shoes are pulled on to replace the biking shoes as the run portion of the event begins. Following the signs, competitors run run run until they get to the finish line, hold their arms up and celebrate their achievement.

That’s it! See? Easy.

Well okay, maybe it’s not easy, but it actually is simple. If you are willing to put in some consistent work and become a bit of a student about the process, the sport really does become easy and enjoyable.

How Do I Become A Triathlete?

Step one to becoming a triathlete is believing that you can and knowing that you will. Make the decision that you will become a triathlete, and your next step will be to take some small but consistent actions toward that goal.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a four-time Ironman, recovering attorney, motivational speaker, coach and author of the best-selling book Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. She is the host of the podcast The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. You can download a free triathlon race-day checklist here. Meredith lives with her husband and two tweens, and writes at Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is available Fall 2019.