Triathlon can seem overwhelming for beginners, but there’s no need to fear the world of swim, bike and run. Here’s how to overcome some of the most common triathlon barriers.

Maybe you’ve seen a bit of triathlon on TV, found yourself spectating at a local race or have a friend who’s got into the sport. Now you’re starting to think about getting into the world of swim, bike and run – but you have some nagging worries that are stopping you from taking the plunge.

At this critical point it’s easy for the most enthusiastic, can-do attitude to come unravelled due to self-imposed barriers, but with a little positivity, common sense and forward planning, anyone can complete a triathlon. Here’s our guide to overcoming these issues so you can fall in love with triathlon and never look back.

Not a good enough swimmer

Many people are put off doing a triathlon purely on the basis that they can’t swim as well as they’d like – if that’s you, you’re in good company! We’ve seen so many athletes who can’t swim freestyle or need a breather at the end of each length overcome this barrier to complete their first event – and go on to become Ironman finishers. All it takes is perseverance, a little coaching and some swimming consistency.

Adults learning to swim in a pool
Learning to swim as an adult can be challenging but hugely rewarding. (Photo: Usag Humphreys, Creative Commons)

The first step is to enrol yourself for some adult swim lessons – it might seem a bit embarrassing to be there, but everyone will be in the same situation. You’ll learn good technique from a coach rather than reinforcing bad habits by yourself and grow in confidence as you progress. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a local triathlon club, the coaches and fellow athletes there will be able to help you or give you advice on the best place to go to improve your swimming.

Fear of joining a triathlon club

Joining your local triathlon club is a sure way to fast-track your triathlon progression, but plenty of first-time triathletes steer clear due to worries about fitting in, how they’ll be treated or being out-performed.

Perhaps you’ve seen a tri club swimming laps in your local pool or running around your neighbourhood – those shaved-legged denizens of fitness look pretty intimidating, don’t they? But once you join a club, you’ll find that under the matched-kit exterior, tri club members are there to have fun as much as to train hard and all share a passion for the sport.

Being part of a triathlon club can really boost your confidence as well as your performance. (Photo: Triathlon Vibe)

Far from their experience making them unapproachable, triathlon super fans are usually the most enthusiastic people you’ll ever chat tri with and are always keen to pass on tips and advice. In a club, you’ll find a supportive environment that’s nothing to be scared of and you’ll benefit hugely from the collective experience of other athletes and coaches. In no time, you’ll be the one the next beginner is intimidated by!

Fear of not being good enough

It’s easy to look at triathletes on TV or even at your local race and think, ‘I could never do that,’ but just because you’re unlikely to be fighting it out for the win doesn’t mean you’re not good enough to take part. Even being pretty unfit right now shouldn’t stop you – as long as you’ve got a decent amount of time to train for your race and find a good, consistent routine of exercising, your confidence and fitness will grow.

Another thing to remember is that there will be plenty of other first-timers doing the event – whatever distance you choose – and that while it might be a race, all but the very fastest athletes are really only competing against themselves. Plus, as a first-timer, you’ll be setting a new personal best whatever your finishing time.

Fear of entering an event

It’s one thing to have a new interest in triathlon, it’s another to make it real by actually entering a race. If you’re finding it hard to take the step of clicking enter, paying your money and getting your first triathlon race on the calendar, there are plenty of ways to make it feel easier.

First, sign up with a friend – either someone who’s already done a triathlon and can show you the ropes, or someone who’s also a novice so you can take the plunge together.

It’s one thing to have a new interest in triathlon, it’s another to make it real by actually entering a race

If you want to start triathlon with less pressure on your singular performance, try doing a relay event with friends or clubmates, where you’ll be able to do one or more of the disciplines and feel that finish-line buzz without all eyes being on you.

If you’d rather keep the start of your triathlon odyssey to yourself, try keeping things as familiar as possible by picking an event in a location you know or even one close to home, so you can have your creature comforts and sleep in your own bed right up to race day.

Race anxiety

Once you’ve entered the event, started training and your triathlon is getting nearer, the pressure can start to build in the form of anxiety and worries about being able to complete the race or even make it to the start line.

Be reassured that getting anxious before a race is something that affects every triathlete, from a first-time sprint-distance competitor to an Ironman champion. Even athletes who’ve been doing the sport for years still get antsy and question why they put themselves through it each time as race day looms.

getting anxious before a race is something that affects every triathlete

But this nervous energy doesn’t have to be negative, all it means is that you’re invested in the outcome of your race, that you care about what you’re doing and that you’ve been bitten by the triathlon bug!

Check out our guide to calming triathlon race nerves for tips on how to overcome pre-event anxiety.

A busy life with no time for training

With three disciplines to train for, committing to triathlon can put a squeeze on free time, but while attaining a healthy balance between work, home life and triathlon training can be a challenge, it’s not insurmountable.

If you have a family, it’s important to make them part of the conversation about triathlon and discuss how it might affect them and even get them involved. Running while the kids cycle or getting a partner into one of the disciplines can be great ways of sharing your passion and showing the benefits it can have in improving mood, self-confidence and overall health, which are all worthy goals that can benefit a family dynamic.

Triathlon barrier - time saving with late evening run.
Running while the rest of the world sleeps can be invigorating as well as time-saving. (Photo: Skeeze, Pixabay)

It’s a good idea to pin your training plan up for everyone in the family to see so that they know when you’ll be around. When it comes to the time when you’re not working or training, focus on spending quality time with the family.

When it comes to fitting in your training, taking time out of your routine rather than the family’s, for example through early mornings, lunchtime training or commuting can give you the training hours you need without over compromising family life.

Financial outlay on expensive equipment

Some people think you need a top of the line wetsuit, tri suit, bike and running shoes to take part in a triathlon, but your first forays into the sport can be just as easily explored without a huge investment kit.

Whether through renting a wetsuit, borrowing a bike or sticking with an old pair of trainers, there are plenty of ways to economise before you’re completely swept up in the exciting world of triathlon gear and tech!

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Triathlon Vibe is the home of triathlon training advice for beginner to expert triathletes. From sprint to Ironman, we share how to swim, bike and run stronger and faster.


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