Swim, cycle, run!

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

Who can’t have been bursting with pride at the recent World Triathlon Series in Edmonton as the British girls dominated the event finishing in four of the top five places, including Vicky Holland romping home with the gold medal.

So has this inspired you to try triathlon? Maybe your concerned it’s just for awesome, elite athletes and don’t know where to start? Well, if you want to get your teeth into something new and exciting then the wonderful world of triathlons may be right up your street. It’s a great way to get active and, by taking on the three elements of swimming, cycling and running you can keep it fun and varied too.


Originating back in the 1920s and said to have been conceived in France, the modern triathlon as we know it was first raced in America in 1974. 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.

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. 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. It’s for all ages, including mini triathlons for kids, and for all ambitions as you really are racing against yourself.

The Olympic distances are a 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km cycle, rounded off with a 10km run. But don’t feel daunted – it really is for everybody and there are various events with much smaller distances with mini triathlons starting from 50m swim, 800m bike, 600m run. The cheap option is… cycle to the pool, swim, then run when you get home!


Here’s my 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).

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 your first three or four events just have fun and get used to the whole experience – after that you can get a bit more serious!