Swim, cycle, run! The triathlon is the ultimate calorie-burner… and anyone can take part and have fun, says committed competitor Lisa Melvin

Have you been wanting to get your teeth into something new and exciting? Well the wonderful world of triathlons may be right up your street! Originating as far back as 1920s and said to have been conceived in France, the modern triathlon as we know it was first raced in America in 1974. The world famous Ironman long distance event was established three years later in Hawaii. The sport itself comes in many different variations all based on three continuous and sequential disciplines, the most popular being triathlons involving swimming, cycling and running. Athletes compete for a fastest overall course completion time including timed transitions between the individual swim, cycle and run components. What’s really great about the sport is that it allows complete amateurs to compete side-by-side with elite professional athletes, creating an amazing, inspiring and exciting experience for all concerned.


Maybe that’s why triathlons are booming here in the UK, with the number of people taking part rocketing by more than 300 per cent in the past five years. It’s a trend that’s mirrored by some of the world’s most famous names – with the likes of Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey, racing driver Jenson Button, superstar Jennifer Lopez and TV presenter Davina McCall being bitten by the ‘Tri-bug’. On the outset, you might be thinking triathlons equal finely-tuned athletes racing with equipment that costs of thousands of pounds, sporting beautifully honed and toned bodies, dressed in unforgiving rubber and Lycra. But actually the sport is accessible and open to absolutely everyone – the beauty is that while you have three disciplines to master, each one is really achievable. (The chances are that at some stage you either swam or ran for your school or college anyway.) This is partly because the range of distances available means whatever your speed, background or ability, you can have a go. Despite being an ‘endurance sport’ some races can be as short as a 400m swim, a 20k cycle and a 5k run – still hard work but definitely do-able. What’s more, it’s not only a great way to get fit – the average triathlete burns off about 800 calories an hour ¬– but to have fun, too.


Top tips for a ‘newbie’ racing a super sprint or sprint event in a swimming pool.

  1. Enter a local race or venue that you are reasonably familiar with. If not, make sure you go to the race briefing and drive the cycle route
  2. Don’t spend a fortune on the gear – you will need a swimming costume/trunks, goggles (a swimming cap will be provided), shorts, T-shirt or vest, safety pins, trainers, cycling helmet, sunglasses and a bike of any sort as long as its in good working order and is suitable for the road. You should also take a towel and a change of clothes and trainers.
  3. Eat and drink plenty of water the day before you race. Don’t worry about ‘fuel’ for the actual race, such as gels, etc. Just eat a good breakfast and then maybe a banana an hour before.
  4. To keep yourself well-hydrated make sure you have a full water bottle on your bike.
  5. Don’t do any intense training on your legs or arms for three to four days before you race.
  6. When you arrive in transition from the swim, put your T-shirt and shorts on first (your race number should already be attached to your T-shirt) then your helmet (practice clipping and unclipping it beforehand or you may struggle and lose time ¬¬– like I did the first time!)
  7. Just before you finish the cycle phase, take on plenty of water so you are fully hydrated for the run.
  8. Last but not least… remember to smile and enjoy your race, and wave furiously at your supporters. For you first three or four events just have fun and get used to the whole experience – after that you can get a bit more serious!