Tri to Be Fit: A Beginner’s Guide to Triathlons


One of the best shirts I’ve seen since getting serious about triathlons myself reads, “Triathlon: What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Except sharks, sharks will kill you.” I had to smile, coming from a running background, the idea of open water swimming in more than just a casual, cool-off-from-the-summer-heat sort of way, can be intimidating. First there are the waves (sans surfing). Next there’s the possibility of being kicked. Then the inevitability of consuming salt water (plus side: eliminates the need for electrolyte tabs). Then of course the premise of this t-shirt, marine life lurking that you can’t see. In this article I hope to dispel some of these fears by addressing some basics of each of the three disciplines of the triathlon: swimming, cycling and running.




tri swimming

While training for my first Ironman triathlon,  I picked up some swim tactics along the way, hopefully they will help you to feel more comfortable in the water.

  • RELAX – perhaps the most important thing to remember. Panicking in the water is never going to help in any aspect. It will cause you to waste valuable energy that you will need later.
  • Gear you will need – swim cap, goggles that fit snug, comfortable bathing suit, wetsuit (depending upon the race and water temps), anti-chafe cream (if wearing a wetsuit).
  • Practice in a pool to get comfortable. Practice breathing on both sides since you won’t know on which side the buoys will be set up on race day. Practice sighting. Develop a breathing pattern that works for you and stick with it.
  • Safety first: never swim in open water alone. Wear a brightly colored swim cap. Choose a swim location that is friendly to swimmers.



Tri biking

Cycling can be more difficult at first because more gear is required than the other two disciplines, and the costs associated with this gear can add up quickly. Consider renting a bike if you don’t already have one, so you can get an idea of what you like. Cycling is a really great way to work on your cadence and fitness, without the pounding of running.

  • Get fitted for your bike – proper bike fit, whether you are renting or own is important for optimal performance and comfort.
  • Gear you will need – bike, helmet, sunglasses, water bottle, cycling shoes (if you like to clip in), gloves (optional).
  • Take a spin class at your local gym or try setting your bike up on an indoor trainer for rainy days or to get comfortable in the saddle without the concern of traffic.
  • Safety first: always inspect your gear – tires, wheels, pedals, seat, brakes, helmet, etc. Practice cycling in a small group setting or in areas that have light traffic. Obey all traffic signs and signal appropriately. Check the weather.



tri running

Running is my favorite discipline but probably the one most triathletes tend to dread. This, to me is the easiest aspect to take up, since it requires very little gear and you can do it right from your doorstep. Running also has the most, “bang for your buck” in terms of time required and calories burned.

  • Lace up and head out to a group run! These can be motivating and fun and there are many options available.
  • Gear you will need – comfortable pair of running shoes, socks, moisture-wicking running attire, running watch (GPS optional), small water bottle (for longer runs).
  • During the summer months, try to avoid running in the extreme heat of the day. Dehydration and heat exhaustion can be a real concern, so hydrate often and plan accordingly.
  • Safety first: wear a blinking light or reflective vest if running in the dark. Wear light, reflective clothing for easy visibility. Don’t run with headphones in congested areas.



I always encourage the clients I work with in my personal training business to find a race that interests them and to put it on the calendar. This helps to keep you motivated and gives you a benchmark by which to measure your progress. Jacksonville offers so many racing opportunities, nearly every weekend so there really isn’t even a lot of travel or expense involved, besides the race entry, many of which donate portions to a local charity so you can also feel good about your efforts. A sprint triathlon is a great place to start, as the distances are quite manageable. Often, these include a ¼ mile swim, 12-15 mile bike and a 5k run. If you don’t feel like you are quite ready to tackle a full distance event yet, recruit a couple friends and you can enter most of these races as a relay team, one person swimming, another biking and the third running. Or consider volunteering at a local event – it’s a great way to get involved and experience the range in the level of competition. I hope to see you out there “tri-ing” soon!


Upcoming Jacksonville area triathlons:

BFAST Sprint #2 – 6/13/15

JAX Sprint Tri #1 – 6/20/15

BFAST Sprint/Olympic #3 – 7/11/15

JAX Sprint Tri #2 – 7/18/15

JAX Sprint Tri #3 – 8/8/15

Hammerhead Olympic Tri – 8/8/15

Julie Stackhouse

Julie Stackhouse

Julie Stackhouse is a USATF Certified Level I and II Instructor in multiple event areas. She's coached Division I collegiate cross country and track & field teams for over a decade before making personal training a full-time pursuit. Her entire life has been devoted to health and fitness, obtaining both a bachelors and masters degrees in Health and Exercise Science while competing as a scholarship athlete at Furman University. Julie's passion is sharing her expertise in the field, training individuals from novice to elite, youth to masters to achieve their personal bests, no matter their fitness goals!

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