Running a marathon no longer tops the stakes in fitness cred – it’s all about triathlons. So here’s our guide to training for your first event and a list of triathlon competitions in Asia.
While only a handful truly excel in this mentally and physically gruelling swim-bike-run sport, thousands around the world sucessfully attempt it in a bid to call themselves triathletes. Using our guide, some hard work, determination and buckets of sweat you’ll be able to complete an Olympic Distance triathlon before the year is out. Just a warning, we hear it’s addictive.
Leg 1 – Swimming: 1.5km
Open water swimming is usually where first-time athletes get put off or, worse, drop out entirely. You can take this leg at your own pace as race organisers generally stagger the start times for athletes to prevent overcrowding in the water.
Most practice races in Singapore are held on the East Coast where water conditions are relatively calm. Once you have developed a good technique and stamina in the swimming pool, Nicholas Lange, senior trainer at Ultimate Fitness Performance Studio, suggests slotting in some open water sessions in the calm 400m-stretch at the lagoon at Tanjong Beach (in front of Tanjong Beach Club) or at the actual race site to get familiar with the water conditions.
Freestyle (also known as the front crawl) is the most efficient stroke as it creates less drag compared to breaststroke. First-timers should practice sighting during training to ensure they stay on course. Also, a good pair of swimming goggles will greatly increase visibility. If you need a breather, trap water to stay afloat.
“Swimming in your first triathlon can be intimidating. It’s best to swim on the outside or behind the crowd or both, as being caught on the inside of a corner can be scary,” advises Nicholas.
Leg 2 – Cycling: 40km
To ensure a smooth transition from swim to bike (often referred to as Transition 1), schedule brick sessions during training to see what works for you and to get used to transitioning.
While road bike, mountain bike and hybrids are all allowed and used in this leg, EduardoFinkelstein, head coach and branch manager of Athlete Lab, suggests spending your bucks on a road bike for a faster and more efficient ride. A road bike is versatile and can be used in training, racing and for leisure. Heavier bikes like mountain bikes may exhaust too much energy, leaving nothing for the upcoming run.
“Once you get started, it’s a good idea to buy clip-in pedals and clip-in shoes, as they will greatly improve your efficiency on the bike,” says Eduardo. It’s also a good habit to practise starting, stopping and clipping in and out of the pedals in an empty car park or quiet street during training.”
Always keep to the left side of the road to allow faster cyclists to overtake and check if drafting is allowed. The drafting zone is defined as a rectangular area of seven metres long by two metres wide. Needless to say, helmets are a safety regulation.
Keep a bottle filled with your favourite isotonic drink or water on the bike to hydrate every 20 minutes and refuel with a sports energy gel once every 45 to 60 minutes. It is especially important to do so early in the bike leg as it allows time for absorption before the run.
Leg 3 – Running: 10km
Transition 2 is fairly straightforward – push bike to transition area, rack bike, change from bike shoes to running shoes and off you go – though practice is still advised.
The last leg, which requires practically zero gear save for a trusty pair of running shoes, is the least technical but is more mentally and physically challenging after the swim and bike. At this point, athletes just have to dig deep to find energy for the final push on foot all the way to the finish line.
Many athletes who haven’t paced themselves throughout the race may experience bonking or hitting the wall. Leg cramps are fairly common too, especially if you fail to replenish your energy with gels and isotonic drinks during the early bike and run legs.
Races in Singapore are mainly held on the flats of East Coast Park. Shades and a well-ventilated cap help keep the sun off your head and may make the run more comfortable. “Look out for posture, arm swing and gait while running as biomechanical inefficiencies can cause unwanted stress on the body,” says Nicholas.
 Sighting: Lifting your eyes out of the water to look ahead and around you
 Brick sessions: Training sessions where you do two disciplines back to back, eg, a swim followed immediately by a bike or a bike followed by a run
 Drafting: Act of riding behind another cyclist in an area of reduced air pressure, thus giving you an easier ride
 Transition: An area to store your equipment like bike, towel, running shoes and the process of changing disciplines during the race
To aid you in your quest to conquer an Olympic Distance triathlon in nine weeks, we asked Eduardo Finkelstein, head coach and branch manager of Athlete Lab, to provide a tried-and-tested training schedule to help you cross the finish line on your first tri.
If you find yourself struggling to make time for training during weekdays, Ram Toh, personal trainer at Fitness First, suggest focusing on intensity training on weekdays and train for mileage on weekends. “A lot of endurance athletes ignore strength training but I find that resistance training gives you power and improves joint stability.”
Race Day: Tips from the Pros
“Eat solid food like oatmeal or bananas three to four hours before the competition to allow the food to digest and replenish glycogen levels,” says Ram, who has completed four Ironman triathlons.
“Everything you do on race day should be a ritual that you are familiar with and know that works. It’s not the day to try something new. You can then focus on prepping yourself mentally and physically without having to bother about trivial matters,” says Eduardo, who has previously raced as a professional triathlete in the ITU World Triathlon Series and has completed 20 Ironman triathlons, including three times in Kona.
Sprint, Olympic and Ironman – what’s the difference?
Sprint is a short-distance triathlon consisting of a 750m swim, 20km bike and 5km run.
Average completion time: One and a half hours
Best for: Anyone, especially newbies
Olympic Distance (OD) is the standard-length triathlon, which was introduced into the Sydney Olympics in 2000. 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run.
Average completion time: Slightly under three hours, cut-off time is generally four hours. Olympians complete it in less than two hours.
Best for: Those looking for a tougher challenge
Ironman 140.6, as the name suggests, consists of a highly gruelling 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.195km run. Ironman 70.3, also known as a Half Ironman, consists of a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run.
Average completion time: Usually 12 hours, with a 17-hour time limit. The current world record is seven hours and 45 minutes set by Belgian Marino Vanhoenacker.
Best for: Experienced triathletes who have competed at least two OD triathlons. Depending on how competitive you want to be, it may require a year of training to advance from OD to Ironman.
Upcoming triathlons in the region
BCU Coffs Triathlon
Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia. Olympic Distance.
Entry Fee: A$160 + additional A$20 for non-Triathlon Australia members
Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia. Olympic Distance.
Entry Fee: A$200 + additional A$20 for non-Triathlon Australia members
Languna Lang Co Triathalon Vietnam
Cu Du Village, Phu Loc District of Thua Thien Hue Province, Vietnam. A triathlon and triathlon team relay: 1.8km swim, 62km bike and 12km run.
Entry Fee: US$120
Metasprint Series Singapore
Changi Beach, Singapore. Sprint and various brick challenges you can try out before embarking on a full triathlon.
Entry Fee: S$98
4 and 5 May:
Absolute Phuket World Series Triathlon
Phuket, Thailand. Sprint, Olympic Distance and a Double Olympic Distance.
Entry Fee: Check website for details
18 and 19 May:
Bintan, Indonesia. Sprint and Olympic Distance.
Entry Fee: S$120 (sprint) and S$188 (OD)
Nirwana Gardens Bay, Bintan, Indonesia. Half and full Ironman distance.
Entry Fee: S$320 (half) and S$680 (full)