FAQs to get you started
What is a triathlon?
It's a swim, bike, and run, in that order.
How do I get started?
The Bay Area is a perfect place to explore triathlons. The weather is mild most of the year and there are a large number of easily accessible swimming pools, the bay & ocean, and a myriad of running and biking routes. You are sure to be in good company both in the water & out on the road. Triathlons are very popular and you will find people training for them everywhere. You don't need to compete in all three sports to participate if your passion is cycling and you aren't interested in running or swimming, you can still train with triathletes and then join a relay team to compete in a race.
Are triathlons for "jocks" only?
You don't have to be in shape to start training -- you just need a positive attitude and dedication. With consistency and plenty of rest, you'll be surprised how quickly you improve.
One way to begin is to join one of the many local triathlon clubs located all over the bay area. Most of them offer tiered workouts suitable for a wide range of athletes, from entry level athletes (of any age) who have never competed in any sport before to more seasoned athletes who have a great deal of experience with competitive sports. They are a great way to learn how to train safely, meet friendly training partners and have fun on race day.
If you are not quite sure you want to jump in and join a triathlon club, try attending local community forums to learn more about the sport. Typically, there are a greater number of workshops offered earlier in the season (starting roughly in March). Topics can include how to race in your first triathlon, training without injury, the biomechanics of swimming, running or cycling, or the mental challenges of endurance sports.
What do "tri clubs" offer?
Some clubs have coaches who offer a variety of clinics to help you learn what you will need to know to enjoy yourself on the road and in the pool. Clinics can focus on anything from good cycling, swimming & running form; how to prevent injury; nutrition and hydration techniques for training and racing; to how to create your own training plan. Gyms and health clubs also often offer training teams, so if you already belong to one don't forget to ask about the triathlon training programs being offered.
Most triathlon club websites usually include an event calendar, team workout schedules, volunteer opportunities, email discussion lists, and information on how to join the club. Often more detail is provided about a group workout, such as whether a bicycle ride is a 'no drop' ride designed for cyclists of all levels or a more intermediate or advanced ride with a more aggressive pace.
You can also just sign up on an email list and read the postings for awhile. You can learn about what is going on in terms of of workout schedules, training discussions, and volunteer opportunities.
What training groups are in the Bay Area?
There's a wide variety of options out there. Take a look at these websites, and you might find the perfect group that suits your needs:
Know of a group not listed here who should be? Tell us about it!
Will my bike commute help me train?
Yes! Commuting can be a great way to train for bicycle racing or the cycling portion of triathlons. The one way distance should be (approximate, varies depending on your goals, race types, etc.) at least 10 miles (see the third bullet below for more on this) to accrue some racing benefit. If your commute distance is less than 10 miles, you can take the long way home. Here are a few additional hints and guidelines:
What triathlons are coming up soon?
Check out these calendar websites:
Is there any special gear I need for a triathlon?
Yes, and the good news is that your SFBC membership can save you a lot of money, with the discounts members get in bike shops all over San Francisco. If you're not an SFBC member yet, join today - you'll find that membership quickly pays for itself!
Absolutely Necessary gear:
Make sure your legs/knees are covered when the temperature is below about 60F (this is an empirically derived temperature based on experience of many cycling professionals and coaches). Knee or leg warmers are an easy way to do this, and if it is warm on the way home, just stick them in your pockets. This is necessary to prevent serious damage to the tendons, ligaments and cartilage of the knees.
Optional but good-to-have gear:
What kind of bike do I need for a triathlon?
You can use any bicycle you want to. Road bikes are lighter and faster.
When can cyclists cross the Golden Gate Bridge to train in Marin?
After 9/11, the people that run the Golden Gate Bridge started banning bikes from crossing at night. The SFBC stepped up to the plate, and after several months of campaigning, we won back 24 hour access. With the help of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, we then beat back an ill-advised proposal to start charging bicyclists a toll to cross the bridge. Now anyone can can ride across the Golden Gate Bridge anytime for free, day or night.
What are the triathlon distances?
Distances range from fun/sprint distances to longer distances. Sprint triathlons are great for a first timer. This could be as little as a 200 yard swim, a 5-10 mile bike and a 3 mile run. At the other end of the spectrum are Ironman distances: a 2.4 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. A middle distance triathlon, and also a good goal for a first time triathlon, is the Olympic distance (it is the same distance as the official Olympic Triathlon). This consists of about a 1 mile swim (1.5 km), a 24.8 mile bike (40 km) and a 6.2 mile run (10km). The Olympic distance triathlon is often called an international distance race as well. (Adapted from the SF Tri-club website)
How high does my heart rate need to get in order to call it triathlon training?
According to the American Medical Association, your maximum heart rate is approximately 220 minus your age. Your target heart rate for any kind of training is 50-75% of your maximum heart rate. This is the rate your heart should reach during aerobic exercise like bicycling. If you're in good shape already, aim for the higher end of that spectrum.
For example, for a 40 year old:
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