Can You Complete a Triathlon with No Training?

Tips and Tricks for Triathlon Beginners with NO Training

Many Aspiring Athletes Have Asked “Can I Finish a Triathlon without Training?”

While the idea of competing in a swimming, biking, and running race can be daunting there is no need to be a fully trained athlete to complete in a triathlon. Training for weeks or months will help, there is no doubt to that, but by simply selecting a good event it is possible for even novice aspiring athletes to be able to hit the finish line without getting hurt.

The key when doing a triathlon under-trained (or un-trained) is to avoid competing and to instead focus on completing the race. This starts from the time of signup and gets more important as you enter the transition areas to setup your gear.

Along the way, the best thing to do is to prepare mentally and physically, but that is not always realistic. Sometimes people join an event because a friend told them to, or they set it as a challenge, but without any plans to train. It helps if the event is a shorter distance, but even moving up to Olympic, half Ironman, and Ironman distances there are plenty of proof points to show it is possible to attain a finish with limited training.

If you are a triathlete, you know how hard it is to train for a triathlon. The training is physically and mentally demanding. Not to mention the time commitment where some people will put in 15 or more hours a week into training. Even this can overdo it though, and many people will agree that being over trained (which leads to fatigue and injury) can be as or more problematic than being undertrained on race day.

This article will explore the possibility of finishing a triathlon without training and what it takes to do so. We’ll also look at why this might be something worth considering if your goal is to complete the race rather than compete in it. If you want to find out what type of triathlon to pick for a beginner check out our other article.

triathlon runner training

An Ironman vs. Sprint Triathlon – Choose the Right Event

Considering signing up for a race and just going for it? Good for you, but do yourself a favor and at least pick a reasonable event. Longer events and technical courses risk greater opportunity for injury or any logistical things to go wrong. Short events soften this, you can walk a mile, drag a bike with a flat tire a bit, and swim a bit without goggles and still have a good time.

So how long is a triathlon? It depends. An Ironman is a grueling 140.6-mile endurance event that takes place in the middle of summer. Ironman is a trademarked name but other organizers have taken to running events of the same distance under other names. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

And how hard is an Ironman? The average time for an Ironman is 12 hours, but it can take up to 18 hours to complete it. Completing a Ironman is arguably easier then running a 19 minute 5k race, or other similarly quick races, but it takes an entirely different skill set. Completing an 18 hour workout is as much about nutrition and staying in a reasonable output level as it is in actually being well trained.

A Sprint Triathlon is a shorter triathlon consisting of much less distance, typically something around 1/3 mile swim, 8 mile bike ride, and 3 mile run. Shorter events are also available, the shortest organized event I personally have taken part in is around 100 yards swim, 2 mile bike, and 1 mile run and can be completed in under 30 minutes by most of the participants. Some common race distances are below.

Type Swim Ride Run Total
Sprint   750m   20km   5km   25.75km
Olympic   1.5km   40km   10km   51.5km
World Triathlon ITU Long Course   1.86km   80km   20km   101.86km
Half Ironman (70.3)   1.9km   90km   21.1km   113.0km
Ironman   3.8km   180.3km   42.2km   226.0km

If you are a first time triathlete, or a first time runner, cyclist, or swimmer, then look for an event that is a short distance, but still has some level of organization. Well organized events will make it worth while, and provide cheering support and other athletes to help stay motivated.

There is a difference between well organized and well attended though. Smaller attendance triathlons will help avoid a number of issues. Swimming in a crowd in open water can be a daunting task even for those who are well trained. Similarly, tight bike courses with steep hills can quickly put you out of your comfort zone. While it is common to be a bit uncomfortable during a race, if you are a first timer you want to eliminate the hazards that will create this and allow the challenge of competing to be the discomfort.

Undecided, check out our full guide to choosing a beginner triathlon.

The Bare Minimum Gear for a Triathlon – Bike, Helmet, Clothes

Aside from not wanting to spend the time training (or not having the time to train), another barrier to triathlon is the daunting amount of gear. It is easy to get caught up in the sport and think that you need a small mountain of accessories, when really there is very little to acquire. The major gear hurdle of a triathlon is a bike. But don’t be fooled, you can ride anything with two wheels (and no motor). When entering a race with the goal to finish just remember that whatever gets you to the finish will be fine.

A borrowed, fat tired, non-aerodynamic, single gear, flat pedal bike is fine to participate in a triathlon.

Again, the bike cost and quality does not matter. So long as you can safely pedal it no one will care. Do NOT convince yourself that a fancy high end triathlon bike is a necessity. If you find yourself checking the aerodynamics of a water bottle holder, remember that simply not filling a water bottle or losing 2-3 pounds is likely to have a much greater impact on your time.

Nearly all races will require a helmet.

You can swim in jean shorts for all that matters. It can not be over stated how unimportant the gear is so long as you are aiming to have a good time and provided your attire will not get you injured.

A List of Gear NOT Required to Complete a Triathlon:

After signing up, or as race day approaches, many athletes will ask themselves if they “need” a specific piece of gear. While at the more competitive levels some of this gear can squeeze out a few seconds of improvement, most athletes will not see the real benefit. Especially for things like optimizing aero or weight on a bike, losing a few pounds will have as much or more effect than the latest $300 component. Here is a list of items that are never required for beginner races.

  • 25 hours of weekly free time to train (or even 5)
  • A “triathlon” bike or “road” bike
  • Custom running shoes
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Aero bars
  • Aero Helmet
  • Aero water bottle
  • Bike Computer with power output
  • Swim shammy
  • Swim Goggles
  • A wetsuit (in some instances this may actually be disallowed from the race, and in others it may actually be required)
  • IM Tattoo or Car sticker
  • Swimsuit (seriously, shorts or a t-shirt serves the same purpose. This really is not a necessity but for the sake of those around you, wear something!)
  • Next% Running shoes
  • Energy gel
  • Energy drink
  • Energy bar
  • Pool access
  • Swim cap (sometimes this is required, but typically it is provided by the race organizers)

Do a Triathlon without Swimming!

One compromise to completing a traditional triathlon is to switch to a duathlon. This is a two sport event, although many of them still have three legs of the race (run, then ride, then run again).

If you are trying to train for a triathlon without a pool, the duathlon is a good alternative option. For many athletes the access to a pool, or a place to swim, is a limiting factor in their training. Generally speaking you can setup an exercise bike or treadmill a lot of places, or just go outside, but trying to find an open swim lane can be both costly and logistically difficult.

A similar two sport option is an Aquathlon. This is a sport that combines swimming and running. Again here if you happen to have access to a pool, but do not want to drop the money to get a bike, an aquathlon is a good option.

How to Train For a Triathlon Without a Pool

Sometimes you jump in the deep end (no pun intended) and wind up signed up for a triathlon without access to a pool.  If this is the case it is still possible to complete the race and have a good time. The first consideration though should be whether or not you are comfortable swimming. For athletes who have a swimming background, or are confident in their abilities in the pool, the task will be much easier. Anyone who simply does not know how to swim should be very careful about taking on a triathlon swim. A large field of competitors and murky water or waves is not the place to suddenly learn how to swim.

For those that are signed up but can’t make it to a pool the next best thing is to ensure that you have the strength and stamina to complete the distance. Adding upper body stretching and strength training, especially in the shoulders and back, will help with this. There are even training tools that are designed to mimic the motion of freestyle that can be setup on an exercise bench.

Core work is also crucial to having a good swim. Body stability in the water is crucial to maintaining form and speed, and ensuring your core is engaged can help avoid overcooking it in a swim only to fall apart on the bike.

The final, and sometimes most important, thing to train when trying to complete a triathlon without having access to a pool is working on the mental aspect of things. Become familiar with the race course through research and try to gain enough knowledge to be able to visualize the start (is it a mass start, sandy, floating start, do athletes get sent off in waves) as any chance to have advance awareness will help you optimize out the most troubling parts of the swim.

How to Prepare for a Triathlon with No Training… Without Hurting Yourself

So if none of this stuff is needed, and maybe you decided to drop one sport and do a duathlon or aquathlon, but how do you prepare for a race without training? The first step is to decide you are ok with whatever outcome, and make a commitment not to get hurt. With these two things in mind you will be empowered to, at worst, stop and find a different race to do or, at best, walk away from the finish line with pride and a smile.

Of course, training will also help. Training for a triathlon is not as hard as you might think. You can start with a simple run across your yard. Swim across whatever pool you can find, it doesn’t have to have lane lines or be an open water swim.

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