Cal Poly’s Triathlon Club gets lots of questions from new and prospective members. In order to provide some guidance and direction for those interested in the club, we put this FAQ together.
Is the team for experienced triathletes, or can newbies join too?
We welcome participants of all skill levels. There are some experienced and competitive triathletes in the club, but there are also lots of newer triathletes who want to learn about the sport.
While it helps to have a “base” in one of the disciplines – swimming, biking, or running – it is not mandatory. You will find that triathlon is an incredibly welcoming sport, both as part of the club as well as on race day.
If you are on the fence, you should join!
What kind of gear do I need to participate? Is it expensive?
Being involved in triathlon doesn’t require a ton of gear, but there are a few things you will want to have ready – many of which you very likely already own.
To start, you need to have the basic gear for all 3 legs of the sport: Swimming: Jammers or a swimsuit and goggles for practice. Perhaps a wetsuit for races, but not mandatory. Cycling: A bike, bike helmet, shoes, and basic bike clothing like bike shorts. Many triathletes practice indoors in a spin room, which makes the bike optional for many practices. Running: Running shoes, and general workout gear which you likely already own.
Additionally, on race day, most triathletes wear tri-specific clothing like a singlet or tri shorts.
Regarding the bike, you can spend a lot of money on a bike but you don’t have to. Any road bike will be competitive in triathlon, and a tri-specific bike is marginally better. But you can always borrow or buy used if you don’t have the budget for a new bike.
Many items are available for rent on race day, too. Wetsuits are commonly available for rent, and you can sometimes even rent a bike for a week.
Do you help with training plans?
Many of the more experienced racers can provide guidance on training plans, and our natural cadence of practices generally provides a good base-building phase for your tri season.
You can also find training plans online, both paid and free. Obviously, the plan differs based on which distance race you are doing.
To help with your training, it is good to be able to track your workouts and manage your pace, duration, and intensity. If you don’t have a fitness tracker you like, you may want to consider a triathlon watch to help make your training more precise.
What if I am nervous about swimming?
Well, then you are not alone! The swim leg is probably the one thing that keeps people from trying triathlon. Conquer it, and you will feel a great sense of accomplishment!
Swimming is so good for your body, you will likely get hooked on a weekly swim once you start doing it. If you are not a swimmer, start out slow in the pool. Triathletes usually focus on the freestyle (or front crawl) stroke, so you don’t need to master all different types of strokes.
There are lots of coached swim classes available, and our practices will help you become a more confident swimmer too. Don’t let the swim leg become a barrier.
If I am a newbie, what kind of shape do I need to be in?
As with any endurance sport, you will generally be more competitive if your baseline fitness level is higher. With that said, triathlon is a great way to whip yourself into shape if you would like to be leaner, more fit, or just feel better.
You probably want to get active as soon as you decide to pursue the sport, even if the race you plan to do is a ways out. Start with slow, zone 2 (low heart rate) runs, spins, or swims, and build from there.
The typical new triathlete is relatively proficient at one of the sports – running, for example – but needs to work on one or two of the others.
What is the time commitment?
This really depends on two things: What distance races you plan to do, and how competitive you want to be.
For someone whose goal is to simply finish a sprint triathlon feeling good, you can probably train well in 4-6 hours per week. For someone else who plans to do a half Ironman and is trying to finish in the top quartile, they are probably looking at many hours of training each week.
Our practices are generally 6 days a week, some days having multiple practice options. We know that not everyone can make every single one, but if you want to get the most improvement, and lots of club camaraderie, we encourage you to attend as many as possible.
How many people are on the team?
There are usually more than 170 people on the team. This is a very large and active team, by collegiate triathlon standards, so you are very likely to find others at your speed and skill level who you enjoy training with.
What are the various distances?
There are four main distances of triathlons. Because every course is different (e.g. road closures might affect the bike leg), the distances for shorter races often vary.
Sprint: ½ mile swim, 12-15 mile bike, 5K run Olympic or Full: 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 10K run Half Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
Do you train in winter?
Because Central California is lucky to be in a warm climate, we can train year-round. Pool swimming is obviously always available, most athletes prefer to run outdoors, and often the only thing limiting cycling hours is daylight.
For people who are not as comfortable cycling outdoors during cooler months, or in traffic, indoor cycling on your own is always an option. For those who have the space and budget, smart trainers provide some great workouts and allow you to practice on your own bike. However, for many students, attending group classes is more economical and works well too.
What about competitions?
We go to a few races each year, including some from the March Triathlon Series.
In April, many collegiate triathlon teams also participate in the USAT Collegiate Nationals, and so do we. We are typically competitive at that level. Nationals are a fun event, focusing on the Olympic distance race, that allow the top few finishers from each school to count toward the overall competition.
Of course, some more casual team members are more about the training than the competition, or perhaps they plan to compete at their home location during the summer.