Triathlons are hard. They are supposed to be hard, and that is why we love them. They give us the opportunity to find out what our physical limits are, and then push ourselves beyond these limits.
But the question is; what is the hardest part of any triathlon? What makes triathlons exceptionally challenging is the cost of joining, having the right mindset, enduring the run without getting burned out from the previous two disciplines, and finding the time to put in the required training hours every week.
In this article, we will attempt to find out which is the hardest part of any triathlon, but we will not only look at which discipline is the toughest. We will also be looking at the financial barriers, the time constraints, and the mental game needed to complete this epic challenge.
Talking about how hard triathlon is, you may want to check out our article on Are Triathlons Harder Than Marathons? Alternatives & Why To OR Not To Race One
- Financial Barriers to Entering A Triathlon
- Which Discipline Is The Hardest In Any Triathlon?
- The Mental Game of Triathlon
- Triathlon Endless Training Hours
- Bonus Tips To Make Things A Bit Easier
Financial Barriers to Entering A Triathlon
The single hardest part of any triathlon for many is simply being able to afford to compete. This is a sport that requires a good amount of essential equipment, and that equipment does not come cheap.
Tri-suit – This is the clothing you will wear which is specially designed for the swim, bike and run. While there are good value options available such as the entry-level suit from Decathlon at $40, you can expect to easily spend $150 on a quality suit. If you are interested in getting a triathlon suit then you must check the Best Budget Triathlon Suit – I’ve Used It for 7 Years! (Guide & Options For Men & Women)
Open-water goggles – An absolute must for a comfortable swim, these specialist goggles will set you back anywhere from $20-100. Check out the budget “Arena the one” swimming goggles (Amazon link) that we high recommend (selling at around 20$ USD)
Bike – Easily the most expensive piece of kit, an entry-level road bike will cost around $1500 as a minimum (source). As you walk around the transition area it will not be uncommon to see bikes worth upwards of $12,000! Take a look at Why Are Triathlon Bikes So Expensive?What To Look For & Is Used A Good Option! to see why triathlon bikes are so expensive. Add another $70-100 for a pair of clip-in shoes too.
Running shoes – Many triathletes will actually have a couple of pairs of running shoes, one that is mainly used for training and a competition pair. That said, a single pair of Zoom Pegasus ( link to Amazon) running shoes costs around $150- USD ( Our favored triathlon running shoes).
Registration fee – The final thing to take into consideration is the race itself which can cost around $200 depending on the venue.
We have placed the basic necessities in a table below to give you an idea of what the beginner triathlete is looking at spending just to get themselves on the start line.
|Total Cost||$1900 – 2700|
For a more detailed analysis of costs for first-timers through to advanced triathletes take a look at The Actual Cost Of Racing Triathlons; First Timer, Beginner, Enthusiast, And Advanced
As you can see, the initial investment for triathlons is huge and the single hardest part of any triathlon for many is simply getting started. For tips on how to reduce these costs, and others, check out Top 47 Tips For A Triathlete On A Budget: How To Afford Triathlons? for tips on triathlon on a budget.
Which Discipline Is The Hardest In Any Triathlon?
The Swim – Most athletes that you speak to will say that the swim is the most challenging part of a triathlon despite the fact that it takes up the smallest portion of time and distance( around 10 to 15 % of the race)
One reason for this is that many move into triathlon from a running or cycling background, so they lack the experience and technique in swimming compared to their favored disciplines.
Another reason is the lack of access to training facilities, especially for open water training, compared to cycling and running. This means that it is more difficult to build up your experience in ocean swimming than it is to put in hours on the bike or run.
The Bike – The bike takes up a disproportionate amount of time and distance in a triathlon. Look at the chart as a visualization of average times:
Given that the bike takes up 45% of your time it would be easy to conclude that this is the hardest discipline but this is not quite the case. You have to take into consideration that this is the best opportunity to take on food and to rehydrate.
You do not have the jolting up and down of the run, so you can more easily digest a gel or a banana and you can drink whenever you want rather than waiting for specific drink stations.
Also consider that you may be allowed to draft on the bike behind other riders in the Olympic distance triathlon. This can save you up to 40% of your energy as opposed to fighting wind resistance on your own (source).
So, what is quite a large portion of the race may not actually be the hardest part if you get your positioning and tactics correct.
Not all races are created equal, so take a look at the course beforehand to see if it is flat or hilly and train accordingly so that you do not get caught out on race day.
The Run – Arguably the run is the hardest discipline of any triathlon because you are already fatigued from the swim and the bike, and your body is screaming out for a rest. Check out Why Is the Run at The End of A Triathlon? How To Deal with It !
For more on the triathlon distance options, disciplines breakdown by average time and distance, and typical finish time, we highly recommend that you check out our post: Triathlon Distances & Average Timings Analysis (Infographic); Pick Your Right Fight !
Although the run is not a technically tough part of the event, it is possibly the most mentally challenging part. Many competitors that go out too fast, too soon can be found walking to the final section as your body decides to give up on you at that point.
The Mental Game of Triathlon
As touched on, another part of triathlon which could be considered as the hardest part is the mental game. 187 out of 1227 starters in the 2021 Dubai 70.3 Ironman failed to complete the course.
While there are mechanical and health reasons for not completing a triathlon, one cannot underestimate the mental fortitude that it takes to reach the finish line.
When your knees and ankles are in pain and your muscles are starting to cramp up there is a huge part of you that wants to make the pain stop. The worst of that is that you can make it stop whenever you like; it is your choice to carry on or not. On a side note, we recommend that you check out our post on cramping titled How Do To Stop Triathlon Muscles Cramps? Prevention & Swift Treatments Techniques!
For more on the mental side of endurance sports, check our post What You Should Think About When Running? The Fascinating Endurance Mindset!
The average age-grouper completes an Olympic distance triathlon in 3 hours. This is 3 long hours for you to continuously fight your own body, which is telling you to quit, with your mind that is telling you to keep going.
For many, it is the mental aspect that takes its toll and is the hardest part of any triathlon. Check out our take on if Triathlons are Harder Than Marathons? Alternatives & Why To OR Not To Race One
Check out our article on What Are Triathlon Races Cutoff Time? What’s a Good Finish Time!
Triathlon Endless Training Hours
If you are already in relatively good condition and are exercising on a regular basis then you can most likely be triathlon fit within six weeks. In those six weeks, you can expect to be training from 9-14 hours per week. (Source)
For many people, this is the hardest part of any triathlon. You are trying to hold down a job, you have your family and your friends to see, the household chores that do not stop just because you are training.
All of these extra activities mean that it sometimes feels like an impossibility to train the required number of hours.
Sometimes it means waking up at 4 am so that you have enough time to get a swim session in before work. Other times it means saying goodnight to your partner as they go to sleep and you are just about to start out on a 2-hour night ride.
Finding enough time to train at the intensity that is required for a triathlon could quite easily be the single hardest part.
Bonus Tips To Make Things A Bit Easier
What Is The Most Important Thing To Do In Any Triathlon?
Pacing yourself is most likely the most important part of performing well in any triathlon.
A good way to think of a triathlon is that the swim is a warm-up, the bike is an exercise in energy efficiency, and the run is where you win it. If you look at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt was way back in a group of around 40 athletes at the end of the bike. His exceptional run of 30:45 was what made the difference.
Going out too hard at the start is a common mistake, especially as you are buzzing with energy from the crowd and the whole experience of finally being at the start line.
Try as best you can to pace yourself so that when it comes to the run you are able to reel in those in front of you because you have saved the energy needed. The difference between a good run and a bad run (or even a walk) can be massive.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Triathlon?
As a general rule of thumb, you should give your body 3-5 days per hour of racing to recover. An average time of 3 hours for Olympic triathlon means 10-15 days should be sufficient time to allow your body to repair itself and begin training again. (Source)
This will vary depending on factors such as the intensity or the race itself and also the care you give yourself after the event. Try to eat healthily, avoid the temptation to binge on your favorite treats, and get a good amount of sleep.
What Is The Easiest Part Of Any Triathlon?
The easiest part of any triathlon is signing up! So go and look for a local event and commit yourself to it; after that is when the hard work starts.
Other Good Read
Also, it would be nice to have someone cheer for you. Check out What Is Jockstrapping In Triathlon? Funny Triathlon Cheering Quotes You Should Use