The triathlon industry has continued to grow at a phenomenal rate year on year.

In the UK in 2015, 220,000 willing competitors took to the water to take part in a triathlon, up 15% from the previous year. To add to this, #triathlon claims over 3.3m tags on Instagram. However, peering into the world of triathlon from the outside can be an intimidating prospect, with common myths and perceptions that stop many taking part. It can seem like a sport for the ultra-fit and the ultra-committed with marathon-like distances on all three legs. These myths are the driving force turning those away from triathlon, they however, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Phil Paterson, from RG Active the official training partner of the AJ Bell London Triathlon, looks to debunk these myths and give reasons why everyone can take part in the sport.

“I need to be super fit to take part in a triathlon”

With a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2mile run, IRONMAN triathlons are for the ultra-fit. Regular triathlons, however, are much more accessible and signing up to a triathlon nowadays means that you don’t have to commit to the traditional distances. There is now a wide variety of distances that provide options suitable for every ability and taste. For first-timers, a super-sprint is a great option 400m swim, 10km bike and a 2.5km run and doesn’t require months and months of strenuous training.  Following completion of these, guaranteed you’ll absolutely want to up the distances the following year.

“I’m not a strong swimmer, so I wouldn’t be able to take part”

Understandably, the swim leg is often the most feared of the triathlon disciplines and some people are uncomfortable in the water. Fear not, at many triathlons, relay options are readily available, all you have to do is find a friend, colleague or family member willing to get into the water to share the experience with you. You still get the incredible atmosphere at race day crossing the finish line in front of numerous spectators. Many shorter distance triathlon swims take place in a pool, which can be a good stepping stone into triathlon before attempting an open water race. Plus, it saves the cost of buying a wetsuit until you’re sure this is something you want to do more of.

“A triathlon is super-expensive”

After a race-entry fee, bike, trisuit and accessories, triathlon costs can add up. There are ways around the costs, for example purchasing last season’s model of bike or even purchasing a second hand bike. Wetsuits and bikes can also be hired from suppliers for a fraction of the cost, or borrowed from willing friends. Aside from those two you’ll likely need little equipment for your first triathlon, swim goggles, a helmet and running shoes. Besides, equipment is also likely to be an investment as the “triathlon bug” is contagious and you’ll soon be using your newly purchased equipment at a second triathlon.

“I’d have to run in front of thousands of competitors in a skimpy trisuit”

The most common race attire is a trisuit, or tri-shorts and a top, because it’s designed specifically to be the most practical clothing for all three disciplines. This is, of course, not compulsory – you can absolutely transition into something more comfortable, your favourite running t-shirt and shorts if you’re uncomfortable running in a trisuit. The triathlon community aren’t judgers though, it’s about taking part not what you wear.

“The water is full of all sorts of bugs, I wouldn’t want to get sick”

The risk of picking up an illness from open water swimming is minimal and the water quality at events is normally great, as event organisers must meet strict water quality standards. Having said that there is a small chance you may be exposed to some nasties – yet there are things you can do to minimise the risks of illness. Firstly, bugs are usually picked up in open water training so always swim in certified areas or on blue flag beaches. The other is to adjust your swimming technique, for example adapting your sighting and breathing to open water, to ensure you swallow less water.

“The transition sounds complicated, what if I cannot find my bike”

The transition phase of the triathlon (essentially switching from swim to bike, and bike to run) from the outside may seem like a complicated process. It’s easily understood however, the best thing to do is to practice, practice, practice! A good way to become familiar with the process is by repeating it numerous times, as part of your training. It’s also essential to walk through transition on race day so you are familiar with the process; where you enter, and exit transition after each discipline, that way when you come hurtling out of the water you know where you’re going and where to find your transition area. Look for a landmark for reference; a tree, sign, advertising banner etc. My biggest piece of advice is to swallow your pride and just ask someone, it’s easily picked up and anyone at the triathlon would be happy to help.


Picture: AJ Bell London Triathlon