Beginner’s Guide

This page is designed to help beginner triathletes through their first race. The first part will outline the things you need to do on race day, the flow of registration, etc. After that, there is a section outlining some of the more common questions beginner’s have about races, transition areas, etc. The final section will touch briefly on preparing for your first triathlon. We hope you find it helpful.

We’ve divided this beginner’s guide into sections. All the information located on the links on the right will help you familiarize yourself with the sport, rules and guidelines and make your experience a memorable one!


Whether you will be doing a Try-A-Tri race or a longer triathlon, these are a few suggestions that will apply in all situations:

The Swim

The swim is often the most daunting aspect of a race. The idea of all those arms and legs thrashing around at once can really frighten some people. The best way you can prepare for it is to be confident in your ability to swim the distance. Most Try-A-Tri races start with a 375m swim. That’s 15 lengths of a 25m pool. Most people go to the pool and train a bit to make sure they can do the distance before they sign up to race. I suggest that you practice swimming even a bit further, so that you will be in better shape for the race distance. Remember, you have to bike and run once you get out of the water. It’s probably a good idea to make sure you can swim 15 lengths straight, but you may also want to do some swim workouts where you do intervals of 50-100m or more, with a rest in between. That will allow you to do more than the 15 lengths in training which will help your confidence and fitness levels.

If you have the opportunity to do an open water swim in a lake, take it. That’s the best practice because navigating in open water is a challenge. If you don’t have access to a pond or lake, you can practice open water technique by occasionally lifting your head out of the water and looking forward in the pool to sight. Try to get used to doing this while still swimming so that you don’t lose time. Another useful drill is to close your eyes in the pool whenever your face is under water. You can open them when your face is out of the water to breath or sight forward. That will give you a good idea what it’s like to navigate open water.

It’s also a good idea to have a technique or two to fall back on if you get tired or spooked in a race. You may start with front crawl, and then move to breast stoke if you need a rest, or even to floating on your back if you have to. A backup plan like that in the water is comforting.

One technique to avoid the ‘panic attack’ that a lot of people talk about is to swim the last bit of the warm-up hard, maybe even holding your breath longer than normal, to force a bit of hyperventilation when you stop. I’ve read that this technique helps to open up the lungs, and you’ll be less likely to feel constricted during the race.

The Bike

As far as the bike portion is concerned – most people are pretty comfortable here. Once again, it’s a good idea to do some bike rides that are longer than the race distance so that you’ll be confident on race day. Even better is to do what we call a “brick” workout where you do a bike ride and then get off and put on your running shoes and go right into a run. This helps your legs get used to the feeling of moving from biking to running which can be quite strange to beginners. It doesn’t have to be a long run, just enough to start feeling comfortable while running will be useful.

Don’t over-drink! Most people are too worried about getting dehydrated but that’s not a big concern in short races. The body can only absorb 750-1000ml of water per hour, maximum, so if you plan on doing the bike in less than an hour, don’t take 3 huge water bottles. I’ve seen people completely loaded up like they’re going to ride through the desert, for a short race in cool weather. It’s just added weight on the bike and even if you do drink it all you’ll just have it sloshing around in your gut as you run. But be sure to carry enough for your personal needs.

The Run

While most people don’t fear the run portion of a race (you can always walk, right?) one thing is for sure – you will be more tired starting the run than you would normally be if you just went on a training run (duh!) so it’s a good idea to be able to run a bit farther than the race distance. In a Try-A-Try with a 2.5km run, it would be good to be comfortable running 5km or more in training. Even better would be to have run a 5k or 10k road race so that on race day you will have lots of confidence that you can finish the distance.

Another good idea is to watch a race in person before doing your first. You’ll get an idea how things flow and you’ll see a wide range of competitors which may help build your confidence 🙂 Alternatively, watch one or more of the races on Subaru Triathlon Television on OLN and SportsNet to get an idea how the races work.


The swim portion of a race is often under estimated in the whole process of a triathlon. Be sure you are ready. There are lots of great informative articles out there on how to prepare for a race. Here’s an example. If you are a weak swimmer, you can place yourself in the LAST wave of athletes where it will be less crowded. Just ask during registration, at the ‘Problems’ table and our staff are there to help guide you. We fully understand the needs of the first time athlete and are more than happy to help answer any of your questions! You can also email us.


The best advice I can give to first timers, although this applies to all competitors, is to arrive at the race site early. There’s lots to do before a race, and lots of people trying to do the same thing, so the best way to avoid being rushed is to insure that you have enough time to get organized pre-race. Here is a logical progression that you may want to go through when you get to the race site:

  • Arrive Early! A half hour won’t be enough time to get everything done. Give yourself an hour, even more if you can, so that you won’t be rushed. It is an even better idea to have seen a triathlon event before you race. That way you know exactly what you are signing up for and it helps relieve any pre-race anxiety. Come to an early season event and watch or better yet, come to an event and volunteer. By the time your turn comes to race you will be well informed!
  • After parking, take your bike and gear with you to the transition area (the big fenced in area with the bike racks) and claim a spot of real estate for yourself. There’s nothing worse than arriving with plenty of time to spare, but forgetting to rack your bike FIRST, and then ending up with little or no room to lay out your gear. If you are doing the Try-A-Tri make sure you rack your bike in the right area. The Try-A-Tri will often have it’s own area which is often smaller than the regular transition area. All too often people rack their bikes in the wrong transition area and then they can’t find their way in there once the race starts. When in doubt, ask someone who looks like they know where they are.
  • You can ‘rack’ your bike by either hooking the seat over the top rail of the bike rack or by hooking the handlebars/brake levers over the top rail. The choice is yours – whichever works better for you. Take a look around to see what others are doing, and then follow suit. Once your bike is racked, you can drop your gear next to it – there should be time to lay it out neatly later. You can pump your tires up beforehand, or in the transition area – the choice is up to you.
  • Now you should consider heading to the registration area . Registration flows like this:
    • Step 1– Race # look up. Find your name on the list and then look for your assigned #.
    • Step 2– Sign a waiver form (parents must sign for those under the age of 18). Also write your race # on the waiver form.
    • Step 3– Race # pick up. Tell the volunteer your race # and hand in your waiver. You will be handed an envelope with the contents of the envelope listed on it. In the envelope will be your Race #BIB that has been specifically assigned to you. You will also receive a sticker sheet with 2 numbers on it. One sticker goes on the front of your helmet and the other larger one goes on your bike. You will also have a wristband . Put the wristband on BEFORE the event in order to recieve your post-race food. This allows you access into the food area. The volunteer will aslo hand you a swim cap . You can also pick up some pins at this step if you need them to secure your bib to your shirt.
    • Step 4– Race Kit Pick Up- You will receive a sponsor bag with and sponsor samples (at participating races). Take this bag to the next table where you will receive your t-shirt.


  • Race Number and pins
  • Swim Cap if you are doing the triathlon
  • Sponsors goodies
  • Along with your all-important T-shirt which you can wear proudly the next day.


Next you will need to get Body Marked and pick up your Timing Chip.You will find these stations just outside the transition area (where you rack your bike). Look for the green SportStats tent and that’s where volunteers will mark your race number on your one arm and age group category on your one calf. They will also give you a timing chip and Velcro strap that gets worn around the ankle. Your time is electronically monitored when you step on the big orange mats at the finish line, so be sure to step on these mats or your time won’t be recorded.

Now that your bike is racked and you have your race kit, if you arrived early enough you should have plenty of time to get Ready to Race:

  • First off, you need to do something with that race number. You have to finish the race with the number on the front of your body, so you can either use the pins you were given to pin it to the shirt you’ll wear during the race, or you can use a number belt if you have one.
  • You should be pretty organized by now so you can use any spare time to familiarize yourself with the flow of traffic once the race starts. Figure out where the swim finishes and where you’ll have to run to get your bike. Locate a fixed landmark (garbage cans may get moved) or count the number of bike racks to your bike, so that you don’t get lost looking for your bike. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack if you don’t have some idea where to start.
  • After the swim, you will most likely enter the transition at one end and leave at the other. When you return you reverse things. That is, the bike starts and finishes at the same side of the transition area, and the run goes out where the swim came in. Got it?
  • It’s also a good idea to do a walk or warm-up run of the start of the run course and finish. That way you won’t get lost starting the run and you’ll have some good landmarks as you near the finish line. It’s always nice to know when you are nearing the finish line, so if you have some visual cues you’ll be more comfortable.
  • The best advice I can give any Newbie triathletes is to get to the swim start early and do a good warm-up in the water. The swim is often the most daunting part of a triathlon and I don’t care if you come from a swimming background, open water swimming is different than pool swimming. When you can’t see the bottom and there are no lane ropes people often freak out a bit and then they have trouble swimming. Factor in any trouble navigating and you’ve got a long swim on your hands. Take some time to get comfortable in the water and with the fact that you can’t see as well. Practice sighting the orange buoys so you won’t get lost. The more time you spend getting comfortable, the less time you’ll spend panicking. If you are a weak swimmer or a beginner, please stay to the back of the pack. This not only keeps you from getting clobbered, but it also helps those stronger swimmers get out of your way faster.
  • One more point about the swim. You will see people at the race with wetsuits. You don’t have to have a wetsuit to race, so don’t worry. They do help you float a bit better in the water which can improve your swimming and that’s why people wear them. But, first time wetsuit wearers often find them constrictive and it causes even more panic. It’s not that they are too tight, but coupled with open water anxiety they start to feel like they are too tight on your chest. If you are wearing a wetsuit for your first race, especially if it’s borrowed, spend even more time playing in the water before the race so that you get VERY comfortable in it.


Here are just a few of the things that you could get disqualified for in a triathlon. These are simple things that most people wouldn’t do if they knew in advance that it was against the rules. Rules are always changing and in Ontario, Triathlon Ontario is the governing body that implements the rules. You can vist the “Resources” section of their website by clicking here (bottom left), to find out more about rules, code of conduct and the appeal policy.

  • Unracking your bike before you do up the chin strap on your helmet, or undoing the chin strap before you rack bike.
  • Mounting your bike before you reach the mount line on the road, or dismounting after the same line on the road.
  • Not wearing a race number while on the bike and run
  • Altering a race number – you can’t fold or cut it to make it smaller, for example.
  • Men not wearing a shirt/top while biking and running (you need to wear a top during BOTH). This is not 1980.
  • Competing while listening to a walkman/MP3 player. This is a safety hazard so DO NOT race with headphones of any kind. You will be DQ’q.
  • Drafting, blocking or crossing the centerline on the road during the bike portion of a race.
  • Not obeying an official or being abusive to officials.

We know you are full of questions. We are always receiving questions regarding our events and race procedures. We’ve compiled a list of the most common questions below. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

When you talk about a race having a “wave” start, what does that mean?

In order to spread everyone out we break the groups up into “waves”. So if there are 400 people in the race then we would have roughly 100 people in each “wave” spaced between 3 and 4 minutes between each. We will announce what wave you are in in the pre-race email that you will receive on the Thursday before your event. We try our best to keep all the age groups together so those that are looking to stay competitive can keep their eye on their competition.  For those athletes that are trying their first triathlon we always encourage you to start in the last wave. If on race day you find out you were assigned one of the first waves and don’t want to be, then please come and see us at the Solutions Table where we can make that adjustment for you. It just takes a few seconds and you will be happy you did! By leaving in the last wave you can take a little more time , find your space and not have to worry about the next wave catching up to you . It makes for a more enjoyable first time and gets you used to the triathlon environment!

I hear a lot of talk about a “Transition Area”. What is that?

Great question! The Transition Area is the place where everyone racks their bikes for their race. This is where you “transition” from swim -to bike- to run. When you get to the race site, you will see a fenced in area with bike racks all in a row. Each rack will be labeled according to the race and the age group. When you set up your bike look at the end of the bike rack to make sure you are on the right rack. If you are in the Try a Tri the sign will be yellow and labelled “Try a Tri” and it will also state “Wave 1”, or “Wave 2” etc. Your race envelope that you pick up at registration will have your wave designation listed on it. Duathletes will also rack with other duathletes (red )and by their wave designation. Sprint and longer athletes will be racking by GENDER and by 5 year age group. (Women 25-29, and Men 25-29 etc .) Relay athletes will also have their own rack.

Are there any special rules in the Transition Area?

Another great question! Yes there are! Only athletes are allowed in the transition area. Family and friends must wait outside. If you have your timing chip on, please stay away from the timing mats until the race is actually in motion. Also, anytime you take your bike off the bike rack you must have your helmet on your head and it also must be securely strapped. You also can’t unstrap your helmet until you return your bike to the bike rack. Tip: On race morning make yourself familiar with your surrounds. All exits and entrances are marked so look to see what way you will enter and exit the Transition Area when you return from the swim and the bike and leave for the run. All the towers have either BIKE COURSE written on the them or RUN COURSE. These help point you in the right direction.

What are the age requirements for racing triathlons and duathlons?

It has been approved that 14 is the minimum age for kids to race in Try-a-Tri distance races. Each athlete must be at least in their 14th year at the time of the race (a 13 year old can race if their birthday is before the end of Dec 31 that year).  16 years old is the minimum age for sprint distance events (15 year olds turning 16 by Dec 31 of that year) and 18 years old is the minimum for olympic distance events (in their 17th year, turning 18 by Dec 31).

I can’t tread water very well. Do any of your swims start on land? 

Most triathlons will start with a land based swim start. What that means is you will either start entirely on land and run/walk into the water or you will be in shallow water where you can touch the ground. All the Try-A-Tri races offer either a land start or the opportunity to wait on land until the race starts. NOTE – if you will be wearing a wetsuit, you will find that you float very easily in the water and therefore won’t have to work hard to tread water.

Are there any swim cutoff times?

Yes there are! Swim Cutoffs are imposed by Triathlon Ontario. They are as follows:

– 301 to 750m-30min
– 751 to 1500m- 1hr 10 min
– 70.3 (1900m)- 1 hr 10 min

What happens if I feel like I can’t finish the swim? What do I do?

If you feel like you are panicking or too tired to continue, lie on your back and float . If you can, take off your swim cap and wave it in the air. A lifeguard will come and get you. The most important thing is to remain calm. If you are just feeling tired, by all means, you can just take a rest at a nearby kayak. When you feel rested you may proceed with the race. You will not be disqualified for outside assistance. Safety always comes first!

How do I get the sand off my feet after the swim?

Most swims will have a bit of a run to get to the bikes. Often the run is through grass which will naturally clean your feet. If you get to your bike and you have sand between your toes, you may want to use a towel to wipe it off, or some people bring a container like a Tupperware which they fill with water to rinse their feet. I have done lots of races and never really had any problems with sand remaining on my feet after the swim.

What should I wear during the race?

There are lots of options here. Many people just bike in their bathing suit, which isn’t as uncomfortable as one might first imagine. Men need to finish the race wearing a shirt of some sort, but women can race in just a bathing suit if they like. If you are a little more modest than that, you can take time to put on a pair of shorts after the swim (either cycling or running) and a top but be aware that there are no changing tents so anything you put on will go over what you are already wearing. If you are wearing a wetsuit, you should wear whatever you will biking in under the wetsuit to save time and make transition easier.

Where do I place my bike in the transition area?

The transition area is the fenced in lot where the bike racks sit. The racks are organized into age groups (Men 20-24, Men 25-29, etc.) and the duathlon racks are separate from the triathlon racks. You need to find the rack that corresponds with your age group and the race that you’re doing (tri or du) and from there it’s first come first serve.

What should I wear during the race?

There are a few bare essentials that you need to do a race. You will need a bike (anything that is road worthy will do. No need to have a high tech racing bike for your first triathlon), you must have an ANSI/Snell/CSA certified bike helmet (all bike helmets sold today are certified), you probably want goggles for the swim, you need a swim suit, running shoes of some kind, cycling shoes if you have clipless pedals on your bike, and men need a shirt of some sort to wear. That’s the bare minimum, really. You may want a hat for the run, sunglasses for the bike and run, a water bottle or two on the bike is a good idea as well. After that, things like wetsuits, fancy wheels for your bike, racing flats to run in, etc. are all extras.

I have changed my mind and don’t want to race anymore. Can I get a refund?

We are very sorry, refunds are for medical reasons only. One of the nice things about the Series, is that if you can’t make it to the event because of a scheduling conflict etc. We are happy to switch you to another event (equal or lesser in value or just pay the difference). Take a look at the schedule and see what one suits you better then let us know. Please, no switches within 1 week of the event.

I have a friend who wants to take my spot because I can’t race. Can I sell or give my spot to him?

Unfortunately no you can’t sell or give away your spot. When you purchased your entry into the race you also purchase your insurance to participate. This is held in your name specifically. Anyone who sells or purchases a spots risks disqualification and future ban in any sanctioned event.