Five years ago when I started training for a triathlon, I didn’t have a clue what a triathlon was let alone what I was getting myself into! I had never seen a triathlon, I just knew it was three different sports in one.

To help you cut through some of the clutter, here are some common beginner triathlon questions and answers.

Do you change your clothes for every sport?

No, you wear a tri kit or a tri suit. This is a one-piece or two-piece suit that is made of bathing suit material and dries quickly. It also has a chamois so that when you ride your bike, you have some padding.

What are T1 and T2?

T1 is the first transition between the swim and the bike. T2 is the second transition between the bike and the run. Both T1 and T2 are timed so try to spend as little time as possible in transition during the event. The faster you get in and out of transition during the race, the better.

Do you wear the tri kit under the wetsuit?

Yes, you wear it for the entire event, particularly for the sprint or Olympic distance races.

Can you wear headphones on the bike and on the run during a triathlon?

No, most races forbid you from wearing headphones because it becomes dangerous when racing.

How can I find my bike during a race and right after the swim?

When you are racing in a triathlon, it’s important to get to transition early. Count the racks from where the swim in is and where the bike in is. This way, when you finish your swim, you can count the rows as you enter transition. The same thing goes when you come back with the bike to go out for the run. Count the racks. Another trick I have learned is, get a colorful transition mat that will stand out. (I’ve seen people put out powder trails and hang bows or balloons on the racks but that’s distracting to the other competitors, so I don’t recommend it.)

Can you swim backstroke or doggy paddle during a triathlon?

I’ve bumped into numerous people doing the backstroke or doggy paddle in the open water. Although it’s not illegal to do these types of strokes, it’s not efficient. Learn to swim freestyle and make sure you have ample practice prior to jumping in the open water.

Why does it feel like a battleground in the open water at a triathlon?

My first triathlon at the Captiva Tri in Sanibel, Florida.

Everyone is trying to get to the first buoy and then the next buoy. When you start out in the water, if you are uncomfortable with all the flailing arms and legs in the water, go a little off to the side and start out wide. Don’t go too close to the buoy, otherwise, you will bump into someone. Don’t panic. Do your thing and if you are a strong enough swimmer, you will be done in no time! (I hate when someone tells me practice makes perfect but in this case, it holds true.)

Do I really need to buy a new bike?

No, if you have a bike and this is your first triathlon, use it. Hybrids, road bikes, tri bikes, mountain bikes are all allowed. Now, a road bike and a tri bike will be faster and more efficient. I’ve found that my hamstrings used to kill me on the road bike and then I would get off and run, which I found impossible. I still find it hard to run off the bike but the tri bike makes it just a little easier.

Do I need to buy racing wheels?

I would only suggest you buy racing wheels if you have raced many races and need the extra advantage. I purchased racing wheels and haven’t seen that much of a difference.

What are the rules about a helmet in a triathlon?

You must wear a helmet. When you enter transition and pull off your wetsuit during T1, put on your helmet, then your shoes, then unrack your bike and you are ready to go.

When you return, rack your bike, then take off your helmet.

How do I run off the bike?

It is hard to run off the bike. Your time may be slower than normal but once your “jelly legs” get used to running, you will be just fine.

Do I need a coach?

If you are a beginner and have never done a triathlon, a coach may be a good investment. They will spend time with you either over the phone or via email and help encourage you. They will also provide you with workouts that will get you ready for your first race.

If you’ve been doing triathlons for a while, there are many apps that you can use that help you achieve your goals.

What do you do when you finish the Triathlon?

Make sure to finish strong! And, get yourself a great finisher photo. Remember to look and see what’s behind you. My first triathlon, I was so excited I had someone take my photo and didn’t realize the porta-potties were behind me!

Have a great time! If you have any other questions, write them in the comment section below. Happy training.