Triathlon FAQs Answered

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Maybe it’s just me, but whoa – Monday seems to be whizzing by!  Which is a good thing (who likes Mondays?) and a bad thing (I’ve got to get stuff DONE!). 


Lunch was fabulous. 


Return of the Green Mmmm Sauce (I just add a few handfuls of spinach).  Love me some Mmmm Sauce.  I’m eventually going to to turn into a big vat of the stuff.


Smothered on steamed green beans:


And drizzled on quinoa and chickpeas:


Time for a fun little FAQ about my new favorite subject… triathlons!


Annie wrote, “I’d love to hear more about how to start doing triathlons!”


Triathlons, like running races, come in a variety of terrains and distances.  The easiest triathlon is a sprint (or a super-sprint, which is even shorter).  A sprint is usually a 500 – 750 meter swim, 14- 17 mile bike ride, and a 5K run.  You can expect for the race to take 2 – 3 hours.  The swim can either be in a pool or in a lake.  Some triathlons have mountain bike rides, but most are on the road.  And the runs can be on the road or on trails.  It really just depends! 


So, if you want to do a triathlon, you need to do two things: 1) train for three sports and 2) have the appropriate gear for three sports.  Training is discussed below.  In terms of gear, you’ll need (at a minimum) a swim suit, goggles, and a swim cap; a bike (you can use a hybrid or mountain bike for a sprint if you don’t have a road bike), a helmet, biking shorts, gloves, and bike sunglasses; and all the normal running gear.  Once you get into triathlons, I highly recommend investing in a trisuit and clip-in bike shoes.


Jen wanted to know if I used a training plan.


Because I’ve done so many races and ‘know’ what I need to do in terms of training, I make up my own training plans.  You can see how I trained for my last two triathlons on this page.  I swam three times a week (about 3000 meters total) and ran three times a week (about 10 miles total).  I totally phoned in the bike – ideally, I should’ve also been biking twice a week, at least.  I also should’ve done more back-to-back workouts, like biking and then running (which are called bricks because they make your legs feel like bricks!).


Here are two great training plans for novices:  Option 1 and Option 2.  These plans assume you can run a 5K.  If you’re working up to a 5K, try the Couch to 5K plan.  If you’re uncomfortable with the swim, I highly suggest taking adult classes at your gym or read this post for swimming tips.


Grace asked, “I was wondering what your strategy is, stroke-wise. I feel like most people do front crawl/freestyle, but I’m much more comfortable with breast stroke. Is there are variety of strokes people use? Do they change it up mid-swim?”


Official USAT rules allow triathletes to use any stroke they’d like!  So if the breast stroke works for you, fine!  If the front crawl is faster, that’s great.  Many people do switch up their strokes when they get tired.  The backstroke is especially popular.  I do the front crawl and breathe on alternating sides, every three strokes. 


Jennifer (and Hannah Hawley) wanted to know about transitions.  Jennifer wrote, “I am training for my first sprint tri after having run many road races. Learning and training for 3 sports at once has been challenging, but I love it. I think now that I am finally getting comfortable on the bike and in the water, my biggest fear has turned to the transition. I don’t know what to do, how to set it up, or what to expect. I was wondering, what are your top tips for the transition area?”


Transition is exciting, but it can also be nerve wracking!  The night before the race, I suggest reading over my Sprint Triathlon Packing list to make sure you have everything you need.  Then, sort the two transitions (swim to bike and bike to run) into two separate reusable grocery bags and tie them tightly before placing in your car.


Transition is usually organizer by bib number, so you’ll want to find your spot on the racks and put your bike on the rack.  Some people like to spread out their transition gear on a little towel, but that makes me nervous. I’m afraid someone will kick it or something will roll away!  So I’ve begun to just toss the two bags under my bike.  When I come in for T1, I open it up and see all my bike gear: helmet, gloves, bike shoes and socks, sunglasses, fuel.  When I come back for T2, I have my running shoes and hat in the next bag.  Everything stays nice and organized, and I don’t have to stress out about forgetting anything – once the bag is empty, I know I have everything I need for the next leg and can leave transition.


Michelle asked, “For the swim, are you only allowed to wear the eye goggles? Can you wear a snorkel mask (i.e. one that covers your nose) or is that a total no-no?”


Official USAT rules allow you to wear any type of goggles/face mask that you want (or no goggles at all!)


Khushboo asked, “In between legs, do you refuel?”


This really depends on the individual, but the short answer is yes.  You should take in calories during your race to ensure you have enough energy to finish strong.  I took in about 200 calories during my last triathlon.  People have different energy needs; some may need more or less. 


Tricia wrote, “I am doing my first sprint in August and am really worried about the swim. Can you hold on to the markers along the side at all to catch your breath? I think it is a triangle and they will have ropes and that is what I want to grab onto. Is that possible?”


Perhaps my most epic race recap was the Wildman Olympic Triathlon.  I had an epic meltdown in the middle of the lake (literally, a panic attack) and ended up flagging down a lifeguard.  In the video below, around the :30 mark, you can see that I’m holding onto a noodle in the middle of the lake.  I asked the lifeguard if taking the noodle would disqualify me, and he said no, so I did.

PS–I can’t even watch this video without crying! I was so scared coming out of the lake.


Later, I found out that taking the noodle WOULD have technically disqualified me (the race organizers felt so sorry for me that they didn’t DNF me – they were awesomely nice… plus, it’s not like I was going to win the race at that point!).  The official USAT rules state, “A participant may stand on the bottom or rest by holding an inanimate object such as a buoy, boat, rope or floating object. Excluding the bottom, a participant shall not use any inanimate object to gain forward progress.”  So that means you can CAN hold onto the buoy or rope if you need a break.  But you can’t swim forward holding onto anything.  Make sense?


There are actual several offenses that you can get docked for during a triathlon, so it’s important to read the Most Common Violations sheet and make sure you don’t do anything naughty!  The biggest no-no is drafting during the bike.  “Drafting is the act of riding behind another cyclist in an area of reduced air pressure created in the wake of that leading cyclist.”  Check out this awesome site for more information on drafting.  If you violate a rule and an official catches you, they will dock your time.  This is actually pretty common – even at small races, a few people always get docked for violations.


Personally, one of the reasons that I like triathlons so much is that they are complicated!  I think it’s a fun physical AND mental challenge.



  • Michelle July 18, 2011, 1:52 pm

    For the swim, are you only allowed to wear the eye goggles? Can you wear a snorkel mask (i.e. one that covers your nose) or is that a total no-no???

    • CaitlinHTP July 18, 2011, 2:00 pm

      Updated the post with your question!

      • Michelle July 18, 2011, 2:17 pm

        That is so good to know. I haven’t done any tris ever even though I do swim and bike (non-competitively). I am hopelessly devoted to a full mask though – hate water even near my nose when my face is underwater!

        • Susan July 18, 2011, 5:00 pm

          I haven’t read the rules, but my BF tells me you can use a snorkel, too. You just might not be able to place. I volunteered at a 70.3 this weekend and saw a guy walking around T1 carrying a full mask and snorkel.

  • katie @ KatieDid July 18, 2011, 1:55 pm

    I knew your husband would be begging for the mmm sauce in a matter of a week haha! Or maybe he didn’t beg but you missed it too much. Interesting to read more about the tri, it does seem like a sport thats difficult to just dive right into without knowing a lot of the basics.

  • Eliza July 18, 2011, 2:06 pm

    Thanks for posting this Caitlin! My first tri is in a month and I’m getting nervous. Would you recommend going into this first sprint tri with goal times in mind, or should I just do my best and focus on improving my times for the next one? Thanks!

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 2:08 pm

      I always think its a good idea to go into any new race just looking to finish and have fun. Don’t stress about time – you’re setting your PR no matter what!

      • Eliza July 18, 2011, 2:12 pm

        Thanks! That’s what I’ll do!

  • Donna @ Life of a Happy Blonde July 18, 2011, 2:08 pm

    I can’t get my BF to like mmm sauce but i’m working on it 🙂
    What a great post, not sure a tri is in my future but its nice to know more about it!!!

  • Jeanelle @ Glocal Girl July 18, 2011, 2:09 pm

    What a great video! So inspiring. Thanks for sharing and again, excellent job!!!!!

  • Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat July 18, 2011, 2:09 pm

    Caitlin, every time you write about tris, it makes me want to do one! I suppose I should jump in the pool first and start doing some work on my swimming because I rarely do! I used to swim competitively but haven’t actually spent longer than 15 minutes swimming lengths in the pool for about 4 years! I love all of your answers though – super useful!

  • Meredith July 18, 2011, 2:09 pm

    This post is awesome, Caitlin! Thanks for posting this… I’m not registered for a tri yet, but I’m planning on doing one next summer, so this post will be handy!

  • Holly @ The Runny Egg July 18, 2011, 2:12 pm

    Thanks for this post — I don’t think I could ever do a triathlon because I am just so scared of the swimming part. Even swimming in a pool freaks me out.

  • Laura July 18, 2011, 2:23 pm

    Great post…and for anyone who doesn’t think you will get docked for rules violations…think again. THey will probably cut some slack in the Try a Tri category but the race my hubs was at this weekend, at least 10 people got drafting and dismount violatons, and 3 DQs for …crossing the yellow line I think?

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 2:29 pm

      I almost got docked for not dismounting fast enough!

      • Rae July 18, 2011, 3:08 pm

        Laura, crossing the yellow line is actually against the law, thats why they dock you. You risk getting hit by oncoming traffic, as most courses are not closed to cars!

  • Victoria (District Chocoholic) July 18, 2011, 2:27 pm

    “Hello my name is Caitlin and I’m an Mmmmmmmmmmm Sauce addict”

  • Meagan July 18, 2011, 2:28 pm

    Thanks for this, Caitlin! It’s great to learn more about triathlons and how to prepare for them!

  • Amanda- The Nutritionist Reviews July 18, 2011, 2:29 pm

    That lunch does look really good! I need to try that sauce.

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife July 18, 2011, 2:33 pm

    I gotta try that sauce!!!

    Thanks for the info, I love Tri’s! I need to sign up for another!

  • Nessa @ Island Style Running July 18, 2011, 2:39 pm

    Wow this is awesome! I recently completed my first 5K (two months ago!) and because I’m pregnant (yeah!) I have scaled back on my runs and training.

    After reading this, I hope to one day participate in a short triathlon! I remember the excitement from my first 5K and can only imagine the excitement of a triathlon! One day I will get there!

  • Anne G. July 18, 2011, 2:45 pm

    I think you have succeeded in convincing me to do a Sprint… oh my.

  • Leanne (Bride to Mrs,) July 18, 2011, 2:56 pm

    I think doing a tri is such a huge accomplishment. All your posts about swimming lately make me wanna get into swimming 🙂

  • Ali G. July 18, 2011, 3:01 pm

    with all of this tri talk, you should register for beach to battleship! it’s still open!

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 3:04 pm

      Are you doing it?

      • Ali G July 19, 2011, 6:17 am

        YES! It will be my first full iron-distance triathlon. The location looks amazing – my friends and I are all coming from Boston and rented a big house on the beach for the week. I’m so nervous, but so up for the challenge.
        We have a group that is registered for the full iron distance as a relay team and another friend that is coming for 70.3.

  • Marissa C July 18, 2011, 3:03 pm

    I’ve done 5 sprint tris and found the rudeness of those racking their bikes to be a persistent problem…people get there really early and take up a space that is allotted for 2-3 bikes. I just move their stuff over, but I’ve seen people get huffy about this. Is it just re “bigger is better” Texans that have this problem?

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 3:04 pm

      I would call over a ref if you see a blatant space violation – I think they should handle that kind of stuff.

    • Susan July 18, 2011, 5:13 pm

      I was going to mention this, too! It’s not just a problem in Texas! Please be considerate of others. Last year when I got to my rack, there was space for my bike, but someone had put down a freakin’ fully opened beach towel for her stuff, so there was no room for my things. I looked at every other rack for my age group and there was no spot for my bike so I called over a volunteer and he folded her towel up so I could have room. He shook his head at the amount of space she took up.

      Also, I would try to rack your bike opposite of the bike next to you. More bikes can fit and then everyone has a nice little area next to them for their stuff.

      Oh, and if you’re going to move someone’s stuff, be nice about it. I got to T2 at the same race (different transition areas so I had to set it up the night before) and someone had just tossed my stuff aside to make room for her bike gear.

      • Marissa C July 18, 2011, 11:17 pm

        I’ve always been nice when I move it…just a little scoot so I can actually rack my bike! It just drives me bananas…especially when it is made quite clear that 10 bikes have to fit on a rack and your bike just wiped out the space for 3. Rude!

  • Mary July 18, 2011, 3:06 pm

    this is an awesome post! I’m doing my first sprint tri in a few weeks, I’m so nervous!

  • allison @ thesundayflog July 18, 2011, 3:08 pm

    love this, thanks!! i agree – my main concern now is transitions (and making sure no one steals my garmin while im swimming! does that happen??). i am doing it on a hybrid bike, so ill report back with my findings 🙂 also, why is drafting on a bike not allowed, but drafting in the water is? not that im planning on doing either.

  • allison @ thesundayflog July 18, 2011, 3:14 pm

    wait. i’ve known this for a while but forgot to ask…can i REALLY not use an ipod on my run?? 🙁

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 3:16 pm

      I did… shhh!

      • allison @ thesundayflog July 18, 2011, 3:18 pm

        ok good. im planning on it. hopefully they wont notice (and the 2:00 violation will actually be less than the increase in time if i can’t use it…haha)

        • Liz July 18, 2011, 3:44 pm

          They were real sticklers at my tri last week about headphones. They watched people out of the transition and at each aid station (each mile). I use the Nike+ on my iPod to keep track of my pace and distance and stuff. I didn’t even have my headphones in and they yelled at me for having my iPod. If you’re willing to take the time violation, go for it. I would just be aware that they can dock you each time they see you.

        • Susan July 18, 2011, 5:15 pm

          Be careful because they could also DQ you for it.

  • Angela @ pinching and packing July 18, 2011, 3:17 pm

    Thanks for this post! The BF and I are training for our first official tri in September, and I am start to get a little nervous! The swim is especially giving me trouble, so its nice to think about being able to switch up strokes when I am struggling.

  • Katie G. July 18, 2011, 3:18 pm

    my first (official) triathlon is in late August! (technically I did a spring triathlon this weekend but it was a practice run with my TNT team). The swim definitely scared me once I was out there more than I had planned! Now I know what to practice in the upcoming month. I am terrified but cannot wait at the same time!

  • Casey July 18, 2011, 3:29 pm

    I had a meeting this morning with someone who said TGIM. She was completely serious too!

  • Elizabeth @ reads recipes runs July 18, 2011, 3:34 pm

    eek! your posts actually really make me want to try a tri! I’m going to focus on my half marathon for now, but this is something I might want to do in the future. My husband wants to too!

  • Liz July 18, 2011, 3:35 pm

    I don’t understand why a noodle would have dnf’ed you? The USAT rules make it sound like you can hold onto something (a noodle) without using it to make forward progress.

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 3:42 pm

      Oh I swam with it for like 300 meters.

      • Liz July 18, 2011, 3:45 pm

        Now it makes sense 🙂

  • Rebecca July 18, 2011, 3:38 pm

    At the tri my dad did last summer (limited to 500 participants apparently), I don’t remember there being allotted areas for certain numbers in the transition spot. Maybe there were and they were already full? Don’t remember. I think my dad ended up putting his stuff along one of the “walls” of the space. Bikes were everywhere; I don’t remember there being an order to where they were at all. =\ And it seemed like a super-small area for 500 bikes, too, I guess…

    • Tami July 19, 2011, 12:31 pm

      So,sometimes it’s first come first serve for racking your bike other times there are spaces allocated to each participant

  • Kelley @ Just Call Me Jack July 18, 2011, 3:42 pm

    Wow, thanks for the tips. It makes me consider it… but the swim makes me nervous…

    Thanks for the video post too!

  • Katherine July 18, 2011, 3:55 pm

    Awesome post of tips!

  • Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga July 18, 2011, 3:58 pm

    Awesome tips, Caitlin!

    I did one tri in my life, about 10 years ago. It was so much fun. But I have never done more..whoops 🙂

  • @HilaryFleming July 18, 2011, 4:14 pm

    Very helpful. Thanks!

  • Jessica @ The Process of Healing July 18, 2011, 4:59 pm

    Interesting! I think tri’s would be more fun and less boring because you’re constantly switching things up!

  • Carolina John July 18, 2011, 5:16 pm

    I like how endless the gear list is. Look for Yanx or some speed laces the next time you are in a running/tri store. Put speed laces in your running shoes and they slip on – no wasting transition time tying shoes anymore! Best tri gear ever for about $3.

  • Ellie@fitforthesoul July 18, 2011, 5:32 pm

    Everything sounds so intense~These seem like great tips! The only obstacle for me is that I need to learn how to properly swim 😛 Thank you for taking your time to answer all these!

  • Beth July 18, 2011, 5:35 pm

    So helpful, thanks! I want to start competing in triathlons, but I think the thing that scares me the most is just not knowing the rules and regulations (and consequently looking like an idiot). It’s a lot more complicated than just putting one foot in front of another!

  • Jackie @ That Deep Breath July 18, 2011, 5:46 pm

    I’m not sure that I will ever compete in a triathlon, but kudos to you!! it must feel so rewarding to finish something tough like that. to those who do this often it may be discouraging to not get the best time or score, but to those who don’t do it, the fact that you attempted it is really admirable! i love reading how the races go for you, your a superstar!

  • Leigh July 18, 2011, 5:56 pm

    I think this post is great! It definitely helps answer questions for people who are thinking about doing a triathlon…if you are thinking about doing one, do it!

    As I just finished my training, I used the Hal Higdon training program. There are two different ones: and Definitely very useful!

  • Grayson July 18, 2011, 5:56 pm

    When you turn on your bike, it’s helpful to have that leg closest to the ground (for example in your video it looks like you are turning left but your right leg is closet to the ground and your left leg is bent).

  • Heidi @ The Balance Project July 18, 2011, 5:57 pm

    Thanks for this q&a! I figure one day I will dive (haha) into the world of triathalons and this is a good reference page to have!

  • Sarah @ The Strength of Faith July 18, 2011, 6:13 pm

    Every Monday, our Financial Secretary comes in and does the financial giving statements for the previous Sunday. She comes in at 1 when my secretary leaves. At one point today, I heard the door open, and I thought it was 11:00. It was already 1! I’m not sure what happened.

  • Marci July 18, 2011, 6:18 pm

    Hehe “In between legs, do you refuel?” Dirty. Mind in the gutter!
    When you say “front crawl” is that the same as front stroke? Back stroke makes me nervous, I always go sideways!

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 9:47 pm


  • Emily @ Comfortable Home Life July 18, 2011, 6:55 pm

    Now I want to sign up for a tri. THANKS FOR NOTHING! 😉

  • Laura @ Cookies vs. Carrots July 18, 2011, 7:29 pm

    Great post! It is really inspirational to see how far you’ve come!

  • Molly @ RDexposed July 18, 2011, 7:34 pm

    I am taking mental notes to what you are putting the Mmm sauce on. I’m dedicated to figuring out the best combos!

  • Christina July 18, 2011, 7:46 pm

    Just wondering, what happened to the aerobars on your bike?

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 7:48 pm

      I took them off when I shipped my bike back from California and never put them back on.

  • Ashley @ the fit academic July 18, 2011, 7:59 pm

    I know you asked for questions and I didn’t have any before, but maybe you could do a Tri-questions part 2 because now I’ve got one. When you linked to the official rules I checked it out and noticed no headphones are allowed at any time. I get it for the biking, but an ipod isn’t even allowed during the run?! Is this a strictly enforced rule? Especially for an Olympic length tri I feel like I would HAVE to have some music during the run!!!

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 9:47 pm

      Some tris enforce it very strictly and others do not. I wore earphones yesterday and was just sure to say “thank you for volunteering” every time i passed an official. worst case, they will dock you time.

    • Susan July 18, 2011, 10:12 pm

      Besides safety reasons, I think these are events that you’re supposed to do on your own, unassisted. For some people having music is an advantage. At one race I did, they said you weren’t allowed to place if you had headphones. I volunteered at an official ironman event yesterday and you’re not even supposed to unzip wetsuits for people when they come out of the water.

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin July 18, 2011, 8:23 pm

    I would love to try a tri someday, but I’m always tired after just doing a 5K – I can’t imagine doing swimming AND biking too! 😛

  • Alaina July 18, 2011, 8:24 pm

    Thank you so much for the tips! I really think that a sprint tri may be in my future. 🙂

  • Meghan July 18, 2011, 8:40 pm

    You make me want to conquer my fear of open water swims, get my butt on a bike and sign up for a tri!!!

  • Jackie @ MomJovi July 18, 2011, 9:26 pm

    Your timing is PERFECT with this post. My husband is doing his first tri next month and I’m very close to signing up for a My First Tri in October. But we’re both terrified of the swim! We joined our local pool last week and it’s been verrrrrry rough. I realized that I don’t think I’ve done freestyle since high school 16 years ago! So I was psyched to see you say that some people do other strokes because the breast is my strongest stroke — even though it’s slow!

    We just read through your How to Swim posts too. Thanks for all the tips! I’m sure we’ll both be re-reading (and re-re-reading) these posts again in the coming weeks!

    Of course the area that stresses me out way more than him is the transition area. He’s more laid back about this things but I want to make it perfect, so I love your tips!

    • Caitlin July 18, 2011, 9:46 pm

      Do it! You won’t regret it 🙂 My First Tri is a good distance to do.

  • Alicia @ Addsomesprinkles July 18, 2011, 10:02 pm

    I just made the mmmmmmm sauce for the first time yesterday…. OMG. I have to admit I was skeptical as I was puttin everything together but it was soo good. I was also concerned cause mine wasn’t green.. now I know why! Great tri tips too!

  • Courtney Leigh July 18, 2011, 10:37 pm

    Yay Tri’s!!! My second one (a super sprint) is coming up in a month and I’m super excited. I’m loving all the cross-training aspect of it all. Also – I love the swimming. I learned to swim properly in January and it’s an area where I can see such improvements. It’s really motivating.

  • Erin @ Naturally Addicted July 18, 2011, 11:14 pm

    Great post Caitlin! Thanks for the advice! You’re motivating me more and more to finally sign up for a triathlon!

  • Amy July 19, 2011, 12:18 am

    I just wanted to tell you how much I love that first picture of you in a wet suit. You just look so womanly and gorgeous. It looks like it belongs as a poster to promote something and look at that tiny little waist, you rocked it!

    • Caitlin July 19, 2011, 9:27 am

      Thanks, girl. 🙂

  • Khushboo July 19, 2011, 6:13 am

    Thanks for answering my question :)! Although I don’t have near plans for a triathlon, I really enjoyed reading this post!

  • Allison @ Happy Tales July 19, 2011, 4:25 pm

    Ahhhh this post is sooo informative! Thanks for putting it together 🙂 Fascinating to hear about how it’s okay to hold on to bouys… i wouldn’t have thought that’d be okay! I’d totally do that.

  • HEather July 20, 2011, 11:37 am

    I’ve been wanting to try a sprint tri for a long time. Now, by no means am I a fast runner, own a decent bike or swim very often…but I know I could be ready if I trained. Just the feeling of finishing would make me so accomplished!

    As I was looking for an upcoming one to register for, I came across this awesome Lifetime Fitness Indoor Tri! It is the perfect thing to try as a beginner to see if it is something you’d be interested in. Instead of giving specific distances, they give you alotted times. It’s a 10 minute swim, a 30 minute cycle and a 20 minute run. All inside on the gyms equipment. This is right up my alley to see if my body would like to register for a real one.

    I’m super excited!

  • Nadiya January 6, 2012, 2:57 pm

    What are the distances for the other triathlons?

  • Carolyn August 2, 2013, 3:05 pm

    Watching your video made me tear up! I’m about to participate in my second tri (tomorrow) and I’m really nervous for it, but watching you made me remember why I love the sport so much.

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