Triathlon Terminology

As you prepare for your triathlon, there are some terms that are useful to understand.  The coaches have prepared these documents to help you understand some of the common terms, and some expectations you can have when it comes to your triathlon and the training plans provided in the app.



Depending on the length of your event it might not be possible to bring enough food or water with you on the bike and the run. That is where aid stations come into play. Most events will have areas marked off and staffed with volunteers who will offer water and products from whatever nutrition company sponsors that race (keep in mind these folks are giving up their free time to help you, so be nice to them!). You should avoid trying anything new on race day, so unless you are familiar with the products being offered and have used them before, try to stick with just the water. Sometimes that isn’t an option and you need an energy drink or a bar; just be aware that your stomach may not be happy with this new product and there may be unpleasant consequences.



Triathlons with an open water swim are usually set up as an “out and back” course with the turnaround point marked by a large buoy. Keep in mind that every person in the water is aiming for this same spot, so things can get a little crowded in the water, especially at the start and the closer you get to the buoy. While this is your target, using it for sighting can lead to some problems (check out Swim Tips for more on that) so be prepared to adjust accordingly.



Drafting, sometimes referred to as “slipstreaming” is the phenomenon of two or more moving objects aligned so that the overall energy requirement for the trailing object is reduced. In cycling, what this means is that if you are riding behind someone in their “draft” you have to do less work to go the same speed as them; upwards of 30% less work in some cases! In most triathlons, drafting is grounds for disqualification on the bike leg (unless you are specifically doing a draft-legal triathlon). That means on race day you need to be aware of the drafting rules for your specific race. Generally, the requirement is to leave 7m (about three bike lengths) of room between you and the rider in front of you, in addition to 1m on either side. Almost all penalties and disqualifications in a triathlon are due to drafting, so pay attention to those around you on the bike! Good rules of thumb to follow are that unless you are passing someone, stay to the right, and when overtaking someone, move to the left side of the road (after checking for other riders or vehicles) before closing the final four bike lengths. 



In cycling, we base your training zones off of your Four-Dimensional Power profile. In order to set up your swimming zones, you will need to find your swimming threshold pace (STP). Your STP is based on the fastest pace you could maintain for 1000 meters without any breaks. When setting up your zones we will look at STP in terms of 100m splits at this pace, so it is measured as seconds/100m. In order to estimate your STP, we will have you do an all-out 500m swim test at the beginning of your plan. Don’t worry, if your pool is measured in yards instead of meters, you don’t need to change anything, just proceed as instructed, pretending the workout says “yds” instead of “m.”

*Please note, when setting zones to a specific pace, a higher percentage of pace, such as 120% of STP is a slower pace than 100% of STP, and 90% of STP is a faster pace than 100% of STP. If you have not spent much time in the pool before, then your STP might change drastically in the first few weeks simply from improved swimming technique. If you notice your RPE drops significantly for STP then you will either want to test again or decrease your STP by a few seconds. Since swimming is so dependent on technique you will spend much of your time in the pool doing drills focused on improving your efficiency.



Transition areas are where you will have your gear (bike, helmet, running shoes, etc) set up and ready for you to go from one discipline to another on race day. Despite the fact that you pick up your bike in T1 and drop it off in T2, you are NOT allowed to ride your bike while in either transition area. This means walking or running your bike out of T1 before getting on and getting off your bike before entering T2. There will be “mount” and “dismount” lines marked with officials watching for compliance, so make it a point to note these two markers and walk through the transition areas prior to the event to familiarize yourself with the layout; entry and exit points for each leg and where your gear is set up. An often overlooked aspect of training for a triathlon is practicing your transitions. It’s not worth training hard for 12 weeks to take 2 minutes off your bike leg if you spend 3 extra minutes in T1 because you haven’t practiced the transition from swimming to biking. That is why the “brick” sessions within the training plans make note of the opportunity to practice your transitions. Additionally, some events are point to point, which will require extra pre-race planning because T1 and T2 will be in different locations.  



Since triathlon consists of three different events in a single race, you need to get your body used to going from one discipline to another. A “double day” means you have two training sessions of different disciplines on the schedule in a single day. Bike and run sessions are the most commonly paired workouts, however, there may be some swim and bike sessions as well. Typically athletes have the hardest time with the bike to run transition since your legs will be fatigued when you finish cycling and feel as heavy as bricks when you begin running. 

You may not think much about the effect of swimming on your cycling performance, however, it will have a significant impact, not only on the energy expenditure, but you’ll also be jumping on your bike soaking wet, unlike your regular training days when you’ve put on a nice dry cycling kit with chamois cream, etc…so it’s important for you to experience that at least once before race day. If you have sufficient time, space and opportunity to bring your bike and/or bike and trainer to the pool occasionally, there is a benefit to performing these sessions back to back, whether it be an outdoor ride or a swim-trainer bike brick. 



A triathlon-specific piece of apparel that isn’t required, but is recommended for comfort and convenience. It may be a one-piece suit or separate tank and shorts two-piece but will have a thinner chamois than cycling shorts which will soak up less water when swimming and be less bulky and more comfortable when running.



A triathlon-specific bike is not necessary but is popular in long-distance triathlon. These bikes offer a more aerodynamic position, allowing you to save energy for long events.


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