“Do a triathlon they said. It’ll be fun they said,” I muttered to myself, while deciding whether to fish the energy gel I’d just dropped out of the suspicious looking puddle on the floor of one of the porta-potties halfway round the marathon course at my first Ironman. Whose idea was this!?

Yep, with three sports to master and all the logistics and time management in between – triathlon is a sport that can present you with a steep learning curve. And some of those lessons will be learnt the hard way. Like why it’s a good idea to take your gel out of your tri-suit back pocket before you strip off in the portaloo. Or why it’s also a good idea to double check you’re swimming towards the correct buoy before the kayak of shame has to paddle over to tell you you’re swimming the wrong way. Hey Herd, I make these mistakes so you don’t have to!

My mishaps aside, training for a three-discipline sport can leave you with a lot of questions – especially when you’re just starting out. From how to fit it all in, to what sort of training you need to be doing and how often. We caught up with aspiring pro triathlete, Tom Epton, to get his insights on the key things he learned when he first started triathlon.

Tom Epton: “Five things I wish I knew when I started triathlon…”

Tom Epton wearing Stolen Goat change thingy and beanie hat

Hey Herd, Tom here. I started triathlon in 2017. My first race was the Reading Triathlon, and since then this sport has gone from something to keep me fit outside of football season, to being my entire life – I’m now trying to get ready to qualify as a pro triathlete this spring. Over these last wild few years of getting into triathlon, I’ve learned quite a few lessons about training for this sport. I’ve condensed them down to a list of five because hey – you’re a triathlete now. You’re probably rather busy!

1. How to train for running – without getting injured

This tip is particularly pertinent if you’re coming from another sport. I came from a football and swimming background, but I know there’s a number of cyclists who are dabbling in triathlon, too. Running is the part of the sport that is most likely to injure you – and this is because everyone always runs too fast. I didn’t realise that you don’t have to try and break 20 minutes for 5k every time you leave the house in a pair of trainers. Since I’ve started triathlon, I’ve had a litany of run injuries: from IT band syndrome, to Achilles problems. Everything from hip to foot has hurt at some point or another! All of this pain was stemming from one thing – I was running too fast. Please, slow down to avoid getting injured. 90% of your run training should be at an easy pace and this is especially important for beginners! Oddly, as I’ve got faster at running over the years my training runs have actually got slower. I just do more of it now.

2. That cycling is actually fun

I came from a swimming background to triathlon and it’s probably fair to say that during my first year in the sport I didn’t always appreciate the subtleties of cycling. I learned to love it though and now I couldn’t imagine life without my bike. The key to making cycling fun is a simple: join a cycling club and learn the art of the café ride. After these steps are completed, everything else falls into place.  Entering a bike race isn’t a bad shout either, they’re objectively much more fun than running and swimming events (but not time trials, they’re horrible) and will help no end with your bike handling and skills. They also teach you how to use your energy effectively which is a useful skill – especially as you race longer triathlons.

3. Training in a group is almost always better

Just like cycling, triathlon is better with your pals. Go and join your local triathlon club. If that doesn’t suit you, try a masters swim squad and a cycling club. Triathlon is an individual sport but training for it is much easier with others around you. They can push you, help answer questions or just be there to help the long miles pass a little quicker. It’s a lot easier to get to the pool in the morning if you’re being gently encouraged (or insulted – depending on your mates) to turn up to training. Athletes who train together, win together.

4. How to go easy (and why that’s important)

Learning how to slow down, across all three sports, is something I’m yet to master fully. In triathlon, it can often feel like we are cramming our training in and with this comes the urge to absolutely smash yourself in every training session. Not only is this going to completely exhaust you, but it’ll also actually slow you down in the long term. Getting intensity distribution right is one of the most important parts of training. Aerobic training shouldn’t feel hard: you should get back from an ‘aerobic run’ feeling like you could’ve carried on almost indefinitely. The same goes for cycling and swimming. Just chill out a little, it’ll make you faster. Living in a constant cloud of fatigue is not the result of successful training and will lead to injury and burnout. If you go too hard, you’re constantly tired. If you’re constantly tired, you’re not having fun. If you’re not having fun – what’s the point?

5. How to structure training

Structuring your training is unlikely to be something that you’ll ever ‘master’ perfectly. But in triathlon, the place to start is by following a few rules of thumb and working everything else out from there.

If you’re just starting out in the sport, split your time evenly across all three disciplines. Do two weeks of slightly harder training, then take one easy week where you reduce your training volume to recover. Repeat this process, doing slightly more each time – but never more than 10% week on week (and in most cases, this is too big an increase). At the beginning there will be a period of real trial and error to find out what routine works for you, so you must be patient with this process. If you want to skip over some of the trial and error you could get a coach – the British Triathlon coach finder tool can help you to find someone in your area with this. Playing around with your training is one of the fun parts of triathlon, it can seem daunting at first but it’s a part of the sport many self-coached athletes really love!

Triathlon is an amazing sport, which you’re possibly only just discovering. With that will come mistakes but you have an amazing journey to look forward to. Of the above tips, the one that’s most important is learning to slow down and enjoy your training. Like I said, if you’re not enjoying it – what’s the point?


A big thanks to Tom for sharing his insights. If you’re after more triathlon training tips, check out a few of our other posts:
– Pool swim sessions to level-up your swim game
– Tips and training sessions to get you running strong off the bike
– How to make the most of your turbo training sessions.

And don’t forget – a new season of races is the perfect excuse for some super cool new tri kit. Because when you look fast, you race fast! Check out our new SS22 tri suits below – designed for speed, tailored for comfort… and here to help you stand out from the crowd on your next start line.