Triathlon Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a list of frequently asked questions around both the WSTC Club and Traithlons/Duathlons in general. Whether you are doing your first Triathlon or a seasoned competitor there will be some useful information here for you. These FAQ's cover all aspects of Triathlons/Duathlons from Swim, Bike, Run and Transition. You can also contact us for any questions not listed here via our Contact Us page or FaceBook Direct Message from our WSTC group or Western Suburbs Triathlon Club page.

Western Suburbs Triathlon Club is a club for members and visitors of all levels of experience - from first timers all the way through to seasoned venterans - the knowledgebase within the club is extremely deep and we operate in the spirit of - there is no such thing as a silly question. A triathlon can be very intimidating on your first (or even 20th) event, members, officials and volunteers are always happy to help.

FAQ's: Western Suburbs Triathlon Club

What is a triathlon?

Triathlon is an endurance and versatility sport, in which the individual athlete carries out a swimming, a cycling, and a running segment, in that order, and with the clock running during transitions. It is an athletic contest won by completing the course with the fastest time.

What is a duathlon?

A Duathlon is similar to a Triathlon, but the swim leg is replaced by another run leg, so it becomes a run, cycle, run race. Basically a duathlon is a triathlon without the swimming. Duathlon distances are similar to those for triathlons.

What are the typical triathlon distances?

There are no set distances for triathlons. Many triathlons use various distances that conform to the land/water available to them. There are, however, some standard distances for triathlons:

• Ironman: 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42.2 km run
• Half Ironman: 1.9 km swim, 90 km bike, 21.1 mile run
• Olympic Distance: 1500 meter swim, 40km bike, 10km run
– this is the distance used in the Summer Olympics

At WSTC there are three short distances held at each event day. These distances can be viewed on the Events page.

Who can do a Triathlon?

Anyone can do a triathlon. If you’re in search of fitness and looking for a rewarding challenge, Triathlon is for you.

Why do Triathlons?

Triathlon is a great sport! It attracts many different types of people. It tends to attract social friendly types and fits in well with a variety of life styles. And, you don’t need to be super fit to participate. Many people use triathlon as a goal or a way to get motivated to do cardio and lose weight.

Triathlon offers a great variety for training so you are not always doing the same thing. The sport offers finishers a great sense of accomplishment. It also presents endless challenges! You can always work to go further and get faster.

What are the different divisions in a triathlon?

Triathlons are usually separated into different divisions for awards. Most commonly there are pro/elite categories and age group categories. The age group categories separate men and women into different groups. Each gender group is then separated by their age. Age groups are usually in 5 year sections. For example, womens ages 19-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-45 … mens ages 19-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-45. Awards are often given to the top finishers overall for each gender and for the top 3-6 finishers in each age group division.

Do you really think I can finish a triathlon?

Yes, I do. If you’re reading this, the chances are pretty good that you could finish a triathlon. You’re interested in fitness, in endurance and fitness. As long as you pick a triathlon that’s suited realistically to your abilities, you can finish. What you really need, ultimately, is to want it bad enough. If you do, you will.

What triathlon distance is right for me?

The distance you choose really hinges on your comfort in the water. You can probably ride or run (or walk) the distance in longer events, but don’t put yourself in the water for a longer distance than you can handle. This is where training comes into play. As you spend more time swimming, biking and running, you will be able to go further and can take on longer triathlons. If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider a sprint distance race.  Most beginners start with the sprint distance. This way they can get more comfortable with putting the three events together.

Do I need to have a strong background in one of the events?

Not necessarily. While you will encounter athletes who swam in high school meets or ran cross-country, many new triathletes are approaching these events for the first time. You just need to be able to practice all three disciplines. Some people would have started racing triathlons earlier, but they don’t like to swim. For some, the swim can be a challenge, but part of triathlon is about encountering challenges and overcoming them. You may not the best swimmer, but when you exit the water in a triathlon, the race is ON!

Do I need to buy a lot of expensive gear?

No. It’s possible to compete in a triathlon with equipment you already have. All you need is a swim suit, tennis shoes, a bike and a helmet. Everything else is extra and after you have done a few races and decide you like the sport, then you can start acquiring gear.

How much training should I do?

How much training you need to do before your first triathlon depends on you. It depends on what level of fitness you are at in all three disciplines and it depends on what your goals are – do you want to do a sprint, a standard, middle or full distance? Do you want to be competitive or just be able to finish the race? To give yourself something to aim for, enter a triathlon some months ahead. Choose a race you think you can finish, and prepare adequately. By race day you should be able to go the full distance of each event in training.

Which race should I choose for my first race?

One of the best ways to learn how to do a Triathlon is to do one. Club events such as those offered by WSTC provide an excellent avenue to learn and experience the sport. The Club caters for those at all levels and prides itself on looking after those that are new to the sport and trying it for the first time.

The club has a wealth of experienced triathletes from around the world who have competed extensively and love a good chat and pass on tips.

From there the sky is the limit on the events that are out there both domestically and internationally.

Check out our Events Calendar to pick an event. If you are new to the sport and this is your first, jump on our Facebook page and message us to let us know you’re coming and we will be happy to catch up with you to guide you through the race.

What do I need to know about nutrition?

It’s very important to keep hydrated, both in training and during the race. Drink adequate amount of fluids before and during your workouts. As your workouts become longer (longer than 2 hours at a time) it will be time to start considering food during your workout so you can sustain the activity. Information on fuel can be found at:

Should I join a Triathlon Club?

Triathlon clubs are the perfect way to get information, to improve your race and to meet other local triathletes. They can give you access to facilities and discounts and possibly even sponsors. WSTC provides a wealth of information and has volunteer coaches to assist in organised club training. WSTC also provides a large network of other people to learn from.

WSTC is different to many other Triathlon organisations in that it is not a commercial entity. The clubs focus is providing a relaxed avenue for athletes to compete.

If you are new to triathlon there are a number of ways you can compete at WSTC events;

- Non-club Member & Non-Triathlon Australia Member – which allows you to turn up and compete at any time (entry costs a bit more as this is to cover insurance etc)
- Non-club Member & Triathlon Australia Member – allows members of Triathlon Australia and other clubs to compete as WSTC events
- Club Member & Triathlon Australia Member – offers discounted event entry to its members

If you are looking to compete at multiple events during the season it is more economical to join Triathlon Australia as well as WSTC as this offers a discounted Triathlon Australia membership price and discounts to club events plus many other benefits.

What if something goes wrong in the Special Triathlon I’ve spent so much time preparing for?

For some, understandably, a triathlon is a culmination of much dedication, preparation, training time, and family support. It’s a project, it’s a big deal, and you want it all to be worth it. But sometimes things go wrong out there, in the same way that it might rain on a long-planned outdoor wedding. The swim might not go as well as you expect. You might get a flat tire on the bike. You might experience unexpected cramping on the run. If you do run into a problem during your triathlon, it’s ok. There are many more races out there. Your time and effort didn’t go to waste because now you are in GREAT shape! Assess what went wrong and then sign up for another race. Keep up with your work outs and you can “redeem” your self at the next race.

What are the rules of triathlon?

Triathlon rules vary by race and governing bodies. For individual triathlons, check the race packet for rules for the race. WSTC follows the rules published by Triathlon Australia. A copy of the rules can be found at Triathlon Australia Rules.

As mentioned above, for each race you do it is important you review the rules packet provided by that even in case they have some deviations.

Where can I find more information on triathlons?

Triathlon Australia – New to Triathlons

FAQ's: Swim

I can’t swim, what can I do?

While WSTC at this time don’t provide formal swimming lessons its membership base can provide a number of contacts for swim schools to join.

There are a number of informal member swim groups that are arranged as the summer month’s approach which get a good following at WSTC’s local Altona Beach or Williamstown Beach.

Joining the WSTC Facebook group allows you to be up to date on where these sessions are. They can be both at local pools or open water.

What strokes are permissible?

Any stroke is allowed in triathlons as long as you are not using an artificial means to propel yourself through the water. The most common and efficient stroke is freestyle. Breaststroke, however, is often performed by people who either have trouble with freestyle or are resting or sighting.

I’ve heard that a triathlon swim is rough, and people even try to swim over you; is this true?

This really depends on the start of the race. Some races start in waves with a smaller number of people starting together, which gives everyone more room. Other races are in swimming pools and you start on your own. Others still start all at once and these tend to be the most turbulent. However, the talk about the swim typically surpasses the reality.

What should I wear?

Don’t worry too much about what to wear, especially for your first tri. There is triathlon specific apparel you can wear, but for your first race, swimsuit for the swim, Shirt/Jersey and shorts (over your suit) for the bike and run, whatever is in the back of the wardrobe!!! Once you have done a few, you can invest in a triathlon specific outfit. Triathlon shorts are generally spandex and have a light chamois (padding). Triathlon tops are also spandex, sleeveless and may have a couple pockets. Keep in mind, for some races, a wetsuit is required.

In open water swims, there are no lane markers and everyone’s trying to go in the same direction, some with more success than others. Yes there is occasional contact, but it’s unintentional. Do not take it personally, just keep swimming. If you are concerned about being run over, just wait a few seconds until the starting area clears of swimmers and then begin your swim. You may be a few seconds back, but your anxiety will be lower and overall your swim will benefit from it.

Just remember guys (and girls too!!!) you must have your chest covered during the cycle and run.

Do I have to wear a wetsuit?

That depends on the race. Your race will have that information available to you, usually on their website. If you are swimming in a pool, you should not wear a wet suit. If you are swimming in open water, the water temperature is the main factor. Wetsuits help you stay warm in longer swim distances, and the buoyancy will make most amateur swimmers swim better. They can however be difficult to take off in transition. If it is a shorter swim, you feel comfortable with the temperature you probably don’t need one. Try swimming in a wetsuit to help you with your decision. At certain temperatures wetsuits are required, so check the rules for your race.

(Note: in training you can always wear a wetsuit in the pool, this is so you can practise doing the distance in the wetsuit if open water conditions are not good at your location. It also allows you to understand where any rubbing points are on your body from the suit and remedy).

What are the rules about wetsuits?

The wetsuit rules change by race and governing body. WSTC adheres to the Triathlon Australia race rules found at Triathlon Australia Rules.

Do I need to buy a wetsuit?

A wetsuit is not mandatory for most triathlons, and certainly not needed in the short distance races like Sprints. If you live in a warm climate there may be no reason to buy one, however if you live where the waters are often in the sub 20 degrees you should probably consider one.

If you are going to buy a wetsuit, make sure you get one that is made for triathlon. A dive/jet ski/etc wetsuit will not give you the freedom of movement you need to swim effectively. Triathlon wetsuits generally range from about $100 to big $$$ depending on the type and quality so it can be a pricey investment. There are several types of triathlon wetsuits on the market.

Having a chat to other members in WSTC will provide a wealth of information on suits that are available and pros and cons of each.

What type of wetsuit should I buy?

This depends on the temperature of the water you will be swimming in most often. Here are the comparisons:

Shorty: No sleeves with short legs
Pro: Cheap, easiest to remove in transition
Con: Least exposure protection (coldest) and speed improvement

Farmer John: No sleeves with long legs
Pro: Improved warmth over Shorty without sacrificing range of motion
Con: Less speed improvement than a full suit, slower transitions than Shorty

Full Suit: Full sleeves with long legs
Pro: Fastest suit with best exposure protection (warmest)
Con: Arm movement somewhat restrained, slowest transition, most expensive

FAQ's: Bike

Do I have to wear a helmet?

Yes. The helmet is for your safety and every race you do requires the use of a helmet. Your helmet must be buckled before you mount your bike and until you dismount or you will be disqualified. With out a helmet, you will not be allowed to race, no exceptions.

Can I cross the white line?

No. This is for your safety. Athletes who cross the centre line will be disqualified (see local rules for the event). You are to stay to the left at all times unless you are in the act of passing another participant.

What is drafting?

The ITU defines drafting as: The technique of riding in a pack during the cycling event. They define draft zone as: An imaginary area approximately 12metres long and 2 metres wide surrounding each competitor during the bike segment.

Basically drafting is a method to increase your speed or decrease your effort by lowering your wind resistance.

So stay back the required distance, and make sure when passing that you are completely finished passing within 20 seconds of entering the drafting zone.

Triathlon Australia has provided an easy to follow video on drafting to further assist you in understanding your obligations as you ride. Remember to review the race rules of the event you are entering in to ensure you understand any local adaption of this rule. Race organisers watch for this sort of behaviour and there are penalties that apply under the race rules. Triathlon Australia Drafting Explained

Why is drafting bad/good?

Drafting is a hot topic of debate among triathletes. Those that are against drafting often list the following reasons:
- Drafting takes away from the individual competitor nature of the sport
- Drafting is less safe/causes higher insurance rates

Those that are for drafting often list the following reasons:
- Drafting evens out triathlons which often are weighed to longer times in the bike leg
- Drafting is more spectator friendly

What is blocking?

Blocking is basically riding in the wrong part of the bike course. Most commonly the left side of the bike course is for riding while the right side is for passing. Riders who camp out or overextend their stay in the passing lane are blocking. Blocking is a violation in most triathlons.

Do I need to buy bike shorts?

Bike shorts have a special pad in them to help you stay more comfortable on your bike seat. As you know comfort is very important and the better you feel, the longer you can stay in the seat. So bike shorts are highly recommended.

Do I need to buy an expensive triathlon bike?

Anything with two wheels in your garage can get you started at no extra cost. Many beginners use their mountain bikes out of the garage. Some races even have a special division for those athletes riding mountain bikes. When you decide to take on longer triathlons, a road bike will probably be more comfortable for you and will take less effort to ride greater distances. You can look for used road bikes at your local bike shops or you can invest in a new one for about $600. Keep in mind, over the years you will ride thousands of miles on your bike, so you will get your monies worth.

Should I buy a road bike or triathlon (time trial) bike?

You don’t need a triathlon bike to do triathlons. Modified road bikes are very common in triathlons. If you already own a road bike or plan on doing other types of riding you may be better off with a road bike with clamp on aerobars. The advantages of a triathlon bike are in the positioning. They are setup to keep you more comfortable when in the aero bars and to work the quads less, saving them for the run. Often triathlon bikes are more aerodynamic than road bikes.

Will a new bike make me faster?

There’s a saying ‘if you think a new bike will make you faster, then it will.’ Part is psychological. But in the first place, you are the one powering your wheels. If you are not in shape, a $5000 dream bike with tricked out wheels and components won’t make a difference. On balance, at any triathlon transition area, the bikes will be more impressive than the bike riders in many cases. It’s another way of saying just buy the bike that works for you, don’t worry about trying to have the hottest bike out there. Better to be the hot rider.

What about those disk wheels some triathletes use?

Rear wheel flat disc wheels look wicked cool, don’t they? Makes your bike kind of look like a Stealth Fighter. Two problems: good ones are expensive, and they really won’t help you at all until you can ride well over 40 km/h. This is putting it simply, and the rocket scientists can give you the specifics, but in short, they will only help the very fast riders. Until you are one of them, save your money.

Should I use 650c or 700c wheels?

Both wheel sizes have advantages and disadvantages. 650c wheels accelerate and climb faster, but they also decelerate faster. 700c wheels are more comfortable and are more readily available if you need a tube on the road. The only people who should be really concerned about wheels sizes are particularly short or tall people. 650c wheels work much better with shorter people, especially on triathlon bikes where the geometry prevents the use of 700c wheels on smaller bikes. Tall riders should stick to 700c wheels.

How do I change a tire?

To change a tire you have to take off the tire and replace the tube. Specifics on how to change a tire can be found here.

What if I get a flat tire during the race?

If you get a flat during the race, you do the same thing you would do if you got a flat on a training ride. You change the flat and keep going. You should have a flat kit on your bike. Many people put their flat kits in a under the seat bike bag. Here is how to change your flat on the road.

What do I need to change a flat?

A replacement tube
Tyre levers
Hand pump or CO2

Where can I find information on bike maintenance?

Sheldon Brown has a great website devoted to bike maintenance and other bike related issues.

What is an indoor trainer?

An indoor trainer is a piece of equipment that will temporarily change your outdoor bicycle into a stationary bike for indoor training. You can use these to ride at night or in the colder months.

What’s the best kind of trainer to use?

There are two common types of trainers available: stationary trainers and rollers. Stationary trainers clamp on to your rear fork and provide a rolling mechanism for your rear wheel. Resistance is offered by wind (a fan attached to the roller), fluid (a fan incased in oil attached to the roller) or magnets. Wind units tend to be the cheapest. Fluid resistance tends to offer the smoothest ride. Magnetic units often have adjustable resistance. If you get a stationary trainer you should also get a block for the front wheel to keep the bike level. Stationary trainers have the following advantages/disadvantages: Pros: Excellent for spin/muscle/aerobic training Easier to ride/learn Cheaper (usually) than rollers Some have computer interfaces to simulate road conditions More options for resistance control Cons: Do nothing for balance and form Allows you to coast Cause a lot of wear on the rear wheel Causes more stress to the frame of the bike Requires no thought so can be mind numbing Rollers provide 3 tubes two of which are connected by a belt. The front wheel rests on a single tube and the rear rests between two tubes. The belt from the front rear tube to the front tube causes the front wheel to spin with the rear wheel. Resistance is offered by friction and gears (smaller tubes offer more resistance) or a fan unit attached by a belt to one of the tubes. Rollers have the following advantages/disadvantages: Pros: Excellent for spin/muscle/aerobic training as well as form and balance Ride is more true to actual road riding Do not allow you to coast Force you to concentrate on your workout Less stress/wear on bike Cons: Harder to learn/use More expensive than basic stationary trainers Less resistance options Easy to fall off The big reason most people avoid rollers is that they have a steep learning curve. The common fear is that you will ride off the rollers and hurt yourself. You can’t actually ride off rollers like you might imagine, the only thing you can do is drop the front wheel off of the side of the roller which can cause you to loose your balance and fall. The best tip for learning to ride rollers is to start in a doorway so if you loose your balance you can just stick out your elbow to stop your fall.

FAQ's: Run

How do I avoid cramps during the run?

Two good suggestions to avoid cramping when you start the run: Stay hydrated on the bike. During the last couple of miles on the bike stretch your calves by standing on the pedals and dropping your heel down.

How will my legs feel after I bike?

They will feel weird. They will feel like you are running a little slower than normal and like you just can’t quite hit your normal stride. This feeling goes away though. Depending on the person it may subside right away and for others it may last a while. With practice you will notice improvement.

How can I make the transition to running better?

PRACTICE. After your bike ride, within 10 minutes go for a short run. Practicing the transition from biking to running will help your legs adapt to the change.

What shoes do I wear?

Wear your running shoes. If you wear bike shoes, you will need to change in T2. If you don’t, you will wear your running shoes on both the bike and the run.

FAQ's: Transition

What is Transition?

Transition is the term used to describe the change over between the individual segments of a Triathlon, Duathlon or Aquathon. It is when you are “transitioning” from one sport to the next. Transition 1 (also known as T1) occurs between the:swim and cycle in a triathlonfirst run and cycle in a duathlon Transition 2 (also known as T2) occurs between the:cycle and run in a triathloncycle and second run in a duathlon Most triathletes spend the bulk of their training time focused on the three events: swimming, cycling, and running. But the transition between each event also requires training. Each triathlon has two transitions: a swim-to-bike and a bike-to-run. Although they seem simple a poor transition can add precious time and waste energy during a race. A good transition can improve your position and spirits while a bad one can leave you struggling to make up lost time.

Where do I put my clothes, towel and bike on race day?

On race morning, you will enter a secured area called the Transition Area. Here you will find tons of bike racks. Your spot on the bike racks will be assigned by your heat or race number. If it is simply first come first served, get thee early and claim a spot. Here you will lay out your towel, shoes, helmet, etc. You will come here after you finish the swim and bike legs to exchange out your gear.

Does my time stop in transition?

No. Your time is running from the start until you cross the finish line, so don’t dilly dally

Where can I change?

Most people wear their swimming suits (or triathlon suits) the whole race and put clothes over the top so they don’t need a changing room. If you need to change in a way that you may be exposed, you will need to use a locker room or porta-potty to change.

How can I improve my transition?

Here are some tips to help you prefect your transitions.

1. Simplify

Keep your transitions clean and simple. By this, I mean don’t try to do too many things during a transition. Keep the number of tasks to the bare minimum. In a transition, the more you have to do, the more time it takes and the more that can go wrong. During the swim-to-bike transition, the fastest athletes may only put on a helmet and grab their bike to run out. Wear a one-piece racing suit to avoid clothing changes if possible. Some racers leave their shoes attached to the pedals and they put them on while riding. A trick they use is to rubber band the heel loops of the cycling shoes to the bike so that they are right side up. Sunglasses can be looped over the handlebars and put on down the road. Food and drink are already attached to the bike so you can fuel on the road as well.

2. Multi-task

If you want to be efficient in the transition, you need to learn how to do a few things at once and keep moving in a seamless, fluid motion. Know what things you can do while running or riding or on the run-up to the transition zone and what you have to do before leaving. Something as small as taking off your cap and goggles, or unzipping your wetsuit on the run-up to the bike can save seconds, putting on you cap and sunglasses as you run is equally efficient. It may seem like these things take little or no time, but this will help keep your momentum for the next event.

3.Train for Transitions

It is clear that if you want to get better at transitions, you need to practice them. But many athletes don’t practice this part of the race. A good time to practice is during your regular event training, but a mental walk-through of a transition is also important. Practicing transitions during your regular training will help you feel very comfortable on race days. This sort of practice is also a good time to try new techniques and to see what you can do without. Never try something new on race day.

4. Race Day Set-up

On race day, you should arrive with enough time to survey the transition area before the race and actually do your run-ups and exits so you know exactly where to go. Lay out your gear and do a test run to make sure everything is where you need it and ready to go. Make sure you can find your bike and know your path in and out. This pre-race check is also a good time to do a mental rehearsal as well. Visualizing your transition will help you deal with any challenges that are not a part of your practiced walk-through.

As you do more and more events, you will find what works best for you, but these tips will help you develop transitions that are efficient so you can save your energy for biking and running.

Can my friend wait for me in the Transition Area to cheer me on and help me get out of my wetsuit?

The Transition Area is for athletes only. This way it can remain secure and your gear will be safe. There are plenty of great spots at the swim finish, at the bike and run starts for your friends and family to cheer you on.

What about before the race….can my spouse and kids help me set up my gear in the transition area?

Being a small club race the Transition Area for WSTC is open allowing Athletes to have assistance in setup from friends or family prior to the race. Once the race is underway the Transition Area is off limits until the race has completed. For external and bigger events you will need to be familiar with the rules of the Transition Area prior to, during and after the event. In general, the transition area must be secure at all times. Therefore no spouses, friends, dogs, etc. are allowed in on race day. They can help you carry your gear to and from transition but once you get to the entrance it is all you.

Do I need a bike lock for my bike in the transition area?

No, you do not.

What if I finish the swim portion and I can’t remember where my bike is?

WSTC transition area is small enough to remember or sight your bike during the event and thus labelling of the rows and bike spot is not done. You can use simple tricks such as a brightly colour towel in which you put your transition gear on top of to assist you identifying your spot if required – this is helpful when coming back after your bike ride. In bigger events the rows of the transition area will be labelled with numbers and letters. Before the race, you may want to write down your row # with a permanent marker on your hand to refresh your memory after the swim leg.