Triathlon can be a daunting sport at the best of times, but not knowing the difference between a DNS and a DNF or what a 70.3 is could make it even harder to feel part of the community. We're here with all the triathlon vocabulary you need so that you can mount your TT and calculate your VO2 and FTP with confidence.
How To Speak Triathlon
Aero Bars – These are bars that you can fix onto your road bike in order to achieve the elusive 'aero position' which allows you to ride faster. Aero bars are relatively inexpensive and are a good alternative to buying an expensive triathlon bike. Aero bars are not allowed in most cycling road races and are usually exclusive to multisport racing (in duathlon and triathlon mainly).
Aero Position – Many serious triathletes will spend hours perfecting their aero position so as to ride as fast as possible on the bike section of the race. You can achieve the aero position by resting your forearms on your tri bars or aero bars. This is a notoriously difficult position to maintain and requires a very strong back and core as well as concentration to control the bike. It is not recommended to hold this position while navigating a technical course.
Sundried sponsored athlete Conal McBride holds the aero position while competing.
Age Group/Age Grouper/AG – Triathlon races and results are categorised into gender and age group so that athletes can compete fairly against people of the same gender and similar age. If someone wins their Age Group, it means they came first out of the people in that category; there may have been hundreds competing or there may only have been one other!
Elites or Pros compete separately, regardless of age. Age Group triathletes are amateur athletes who do not get paid but are at the top level for their age; professional triathletes cannot compete in Age Group competitions.
In Britain, the following age groups are applied to BTF races:
Category Ages Youths 15-16 Juniors 17-18 17-18 Juniors 19 19 Seniors 1 20-24 Seniors 2 25-29 Seniors 3 30-34 Seniors 4 35-39 Veterans 1 40-44 Veterans 2 45-49 Veterans 3 50-54 Veterans 4 55-59 Veterans 5 60-64 Veterans 6 65-69 Veterans 7 70-74 Veterans 8 75-79 Veterans 8 80+
AquaBike – For those who have an active imagination, an AquaBike is not some sort of amphibious bicycle. An AquaBike is an event with only a swim and cycle section, ideal for those who aren't keen on running.
Australian Exit – This is a type of exit found in open water races with multiple laps. The competitors will exit the water after one lap, run on land around a marker or monument and then get back into the water to swim another lap. The Australian Exit is popular for spectators as it creates such a sight and allows family and friends to cheer on athletes as they exit and re-enter the water.
Bonk/Bonking – Otherwise known as “hitting the wall.” If you bonk during a training session or race it means your body has run out of glucose and you are running on empty. It may also be down to dehydration and/or not taking on enough electrolytes. Bonking can take many forms, from feeling light headed to physically not being able to move. It's important to nail your nutrition and hydration strategy to avoid bonking.
BOPer – An acronym for 'Back Of Packer' which refers to someone who frequently races or finishes in the Back of the Pack.
Brick/Brick Workout – A brick workout is a training session where you do two different disciplines back to back, usually cycling followed by running. These sessions are crucial to performing well in triathlon as running off the bike can be notoriously difficult and getting your legs used to it is vital for not getting caught out by jelly legs on race day.
BTF – The BTF is the British Triathlon Foundation and is the governing body for triathlon in the UK.
Cadence – More commonly known among laymen as RPM< or revolutions per minute. Your cadence is the rhythm of your swim stroke, bike pedalling, or running stride. A higher cadence when running would mean taking more steps, a higher cadence when cycling would mean pedalling more quickly, and so on.
Century – A 100-mile bike ride. Many cyclists and triathletes consider riding a century to be an important milestone.
Century, Metric – A 100km (62-mile) bike ride.
Cleat – The part on the bottom of the cycling shoe where your shoe attaches to your clipless pedals. You can read our cleat guide here.
Clipless Pedals – Pedals installed on your bike that allow you to “clip in” your shoes. Some people do not feel confident 'cycling clipless' as there is the danger that you could topple over if you do not unclip before your bike comes to a stop. However, if you have the confidence, riding clipless will allow you to increase your power output and therefore ride faster and more efficiently.
Criterium (Crit) – A criterium is a cycling race which consists of cycling several laps of a tight and often technical closed course, usually in city or town centres.
DFL – Acronym for “Dead F***ing Last”. It is no shame to finish DFL in a race.
DNF – Acronym for “Did Not Finish” (the race). An athlete can have a DNF for any number of reasons, from bike mechanicals to illness or injury.
DNS – Acronym for “Did Not Start” (the race). Many triathletes consider a DNS to be worse than a DNF, because with a DNF at least you gave it a go.
Dolphin Kick – Kicking your legs in unison when swimming. Athletes will often do this just after diving into the pool before they resurface and begin their stroke.
DQ – Acronym for being disqualified from a race.
Drafting – In cycling, drafting is when you cycle closely behind a fellow cyclist (or sometimes vehicle) in order to conserve energy. Due to reduced wind resistance because of the object in front of you, drafting allows you to keep a steady pace while using less power and as such is considered cheating in some races.
Drafting is more commonly seen in pure cycling races as many triathlon races are 'non draft legal'. Additionally, drafting takes skill and precision in order not to cause a crash, which is why most amateur races will not allow drafting while professional races may allow it.
Drafting is most commonly seen in cycling races like the Tour De France and is often banned in amateur triathlon races.
Duathlon – A duathlon is a race consisting of a run followed by a bike section, followed by a second run. Duathlon is a very popular sport for triathletes to undertake in the winter as open water swimming becomes inappropriate and still allows triathletes to practise their running and cycling in a competitive atmosphere. Duathlon racing is also popular for those who dislike swimming.
Fartlek – Fartlek is a Swedish term that translates as 'speed play'. Fartlek training is a type of interval training whereby you mix up the intervals to keep your body guessing and make better progress.
Foot Strike –This is a term that applies to running and refers to the way your foot hits the ground. Different people will have a different foot strike, and most people have either a forefoot strike, mid-foot strike, or heel strike. It's good to know which category you fall into so that you can buy the appropriate running shoes.
Freestyle – Also known as the “front crawl,” this is the most efficient form of swimming in a triathlon.
FTP – FTP is a cycling term that refers to the average power an athlete can produce over the course of an hour in watts. Many triathletes and cyclists will use a power meter which measures your power output in watts and do a regular FTP test to make sure they are producing a good level of power.
Half-Ironman – Ironman is a specific brand of triathlon and a half Ironman race consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. This is considered a good stepping stone for those who have the goal of completing a full Ironman. Half Ironman is also known as 70.3 due to the number of miles the athlete completes over the course of the race.
Holding the Line – Holding the Line is a cycling term that refers to cycling in a dead straight line without wobbling or diverging. Holding your line is an important bike skill to have when cycling in groups.
Indoor Trainer – Also known as a Turbo Trainer, an indoor trainer is a piece of kit that you attach your bike to in order to allow you to ride it indoors while stationary. Many triathletes will use an indoor trainer during winter when conditions don't allow for outdoor cycling. Turbo sessions are notoriously difficult as it can be boring cycling indoors with no scenery and no wind to dry your sweat!
Some turbo trainers will attach straight to the chain ring while others clip onto the wheel.
Ironman – A full Ironman is considered one of the toughest tests of human endurance and consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. Completing a full Ironman is the life goal for many triathletes and requires a huge amount of training dedication.
Long Course Triathlon – A long-course triathlon or full distance triathlon is an unbranded version of a full Ironman.
Mass Swim Start – A mass swim start is when all participants of the triathlon start the swim at the same time. A mass swim start takes some getting used to and it is not uncommon to be kicked or even punched when participating. Practising with a triathlon club can help massively, such as having fellow members splash you when swimming.
Mdot – The name of the trademarked logo of Ironman. Sometimes when a triathlete has completed an Ironman, they will get the Mdot tattooed on them somewhere as a mark of pride.
Negative Split – If you run a negative split it means that as you progress through the miles, you get faster.
PR – Stands for “Personal Record.” Also known as a "PB" or "Personal Best".
Race Number Belt – In triathlon races, you are required to show your race number on your back while cycling but on your front while running. The traditional safety pin method of attaching your race number doesn't allow this, so triathletes will wear a race number belt which fastens the race number securely and can be spun around when necessary.
Racing Flats – Lighter and “faster” running shoes to be used in races only. These are usually reserved for track running as they are not suitable for running long distances or on uneven terrain.
RPM – See Cadence.
Swim Wave – If a race doesn't feature a dreaded Mass Swim Start, the swim leg will be divided into waves whereby racers start the swim at staggered times.
Taper – The period of time before a race where you slow down the frequency and intensity of the workouts in order to give your body time to recover and rest before the event. Most racers will taper for around a week.
Turbo Trainer– See Indoor Trainer.
Transition – The transition area is the space where you will rack your bike ready for the race. After the swim, you will enter transition in order to collect your bike for the bike leg. Once you've finish the bike leg, you will return to transition to re-rack your bike and head out on the run.
Sometimes there are two different transition areas, usually if the race is point-to-point. For elite athletes, the time spent in transition can mean the difference between a win and not even making the podium, so practising your transition is vital. You will need to practise things like taking off your wetsuit, mounting your bike, and taking on any necessary nutrition. Some athletes spend less than a minute in transition but it is a fine art!
You will enter the transition area before the race to rack your bike and place down any kit you need for later in the race.
Triathlon Bike – A triathlon bike, or tri bike, is a special type of bike specifically used in triathlon. These do not have conventional handlebars and instead use tri bars as defined above. A triathlon bike can be notoriously difficult to handle so they take some getting used to. Not all races are suited to triathlon bikes as they are better for flat courses and ones that are not too technical.
VO2 Max – The highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and utilised during exercise by a person. The higher your VO2 max, the fitter you are and the better at racing you'll be! There are fitness tests you can do to calculate your VO2 max in order to keep an eye on your progress and see how you stack up against others.
Washing Machine – Refers to the swim start in some races where the water is so choppy that it feels like the swimmers are in a washing machine.
Wetsuit Legal – According to the BTF, wetsuits may be mandatory or forbidden depending on the water temperature. Wetsuits are forbidden above temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius and mandatory when swimming in waters colder than 14 degrees Celsius.
Michelle Dillon is a two-time Olympic triathlete who started her career as a 10,000m runner in the Commonwealth Games. She has represented Great Britain in many amazing races, winning silver in the World Duathlon Championships in 2001, gold at the European Triathlon Championships the same year, finishing 1st at the London Triathlon in 2002, and returning to claim gold at the World Duathlon Championships in 2005, among many others. After a back injury halted her career in 2008, she turned to coaching and has coached some of the finest athletes the country has to offer such as Jodie Stimpson and Emma Pallant. She took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for Sundried about life as an athlete-turned-coach.
Do you come from a sporty background/family?
Yes, when I grew up I found running and this was my passion from a very young age. I pursued it and started training more seriously when I was about 13. I saw improvements immediately and went on to win cross country for my school, then later on at 21 I represented my country (which was Australia at the time) at the Commonwealth Games in the 10,000m. My parents weren't particularly sporty, I just had this need to run and followed my dreams!
Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be an elite athlete?
When I first found running and started training more seriously, I knew that I wanted to be an elite athlete, I had so much motivation to train even if it was on my own. I would go running after school and make up my own training, I just loved to push myself and knew this would be a massive part of my life. I left school and immediately followed my dreams and started making a living out of sport so was able to support myself and see how far I could get.
Photo credit: Darren Wheeler www.thatcameraman.com
What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you when you first started competing?
Don't over train. Little did I know injuries were something I would have to deal with for most of my career. I could push myself all day but my body would break down easily. Back when I was competing, there wasn't enough advice on strength and conditioning, instead it was the more training you could do the stronger and tougher you were. So injuries for me held me back from reaching my full potential!
What is something unusual we might not already know about you?
Well I was born a breach baby (feet first) and the cord was wrapped around my neck which stopped me from breathing. I was taken to intensive care, they thought they had lost me, but thankfully they brought me back to life. I guess I wanted to run from the very beginning!
What has been your favourite part of competing at an elite level?
Racing the best in the world and being able to push myself to my limits. I loved the push and challenging myself to be the best I could be as an athlete.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
When I look back on my career now I don't necessarily think it was a particular race that I won that made me proud, it was more what I had overcome with injuries to get on the start line. For example, the last year of my career I had suffered back problems for years, but this particular year I had two disc protrusions which were extremely painful and limited me to my bed for months at a time. I thought my career was over when the doctors told me to stop, however I gave myself one more shot at a "come back" and surprised myself to win a non-drafting race in the USA against some World Class competitors and broke the course record. It showed me that with the right mindset and determination you can do anything you want. My year lasted a few more races before I had to have a major operation on my spine.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Just like what I was talking about above, setbacks can be tough and very challenging as an athlete and in life in general. Sport has taught me a lot about myself, especially when I've had major setbacks in my career. Staying patient is extremely important but certainly not easy, setbacks are character building and if you can get through them you always come back stronger!
How does being a coach compare to being an athlete?
It's completely different. As an athlete, you just have to think about yourself and your training, whereas being a coach you are responsible for someone else's career; you help them make decisions which can be crucial to their development in the sport. You have to be very understanding and patient.
What's your favourite part of being a triathlon coach?
I love being able to pass on my knowledge from all the things I have learnt through my career, so if I made mistakes I try to ensure that they don't make the same. It's very rewarding bringing on an athlete whether it be a World Class athlete or an Age Group athlete, seeing all my athletes do well makes me very proud.
What advice would you give someone entering the world of triathlon for the first time?
I would say invest in a good coach, it's so valuable to have a coach with the knowledge to help you make the improvements, and help you talk through your training, give you advice on nutrition, injuries etc. We have a host of World Class coaches who coach athletes at all levels from beginners to the most advanced athlete and we are ready to help you. Contact us via our website Team Dillon Coaching to find out about our coaching.
Lauren Steadman is a young Paralympian who has a number of incredible achievements under her belt. She competed at the Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016 and is now preparing for Tokyo 2020. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview her at an exclusive Garmin launch event, and she tells me about her inspirations, her motivations, and life as an elite athlete.
Your journey to becoming a triathlete started at a very young age, did you always know you wanted to be a triathlete?
I started when I was 11 as a swimmer, and competed at 2 paralympic games as a swimmer. After London 2012, I decided to make the transfer across to triathlon. At that time it wasn’t a paralympic sport so I trained hard for 3 years, then won the 2 World Titles and 4 European titles, then competed in Rio 2016. I never dreamt I’d be a triathlete, but I’ve always been a cross-trainer and good at all 3 sports, so it just all fell into place. And while there’s still a hell of a lot for me to improve on, it’s going alright so far!
You’ve accomplished some amazing things, what was your proudest moment?
Out of triathlon probably the first world title. I think the first time you qualify for the paralympic games and your first world champion medal is always the best. You can qualify again but it’ll never be your first one. All my family was there and I won by 3 and a half minutes so it was a really good win. It makes you more determined to win the title and work harder to stay ahead of the rest of the world.
What’s an unusual fact we might not know about you?
That I like to dance salsa; I’ve been doing it for about 4 years and I teach now as well. I got into it because my psychologist said that sport is no longer your hobby it’s your career, so you need something outside of that to enjoy. One day when I was walking home from uni I saw salsa dancing advertised every Wednesday, so I gave it a try and the rest is history! It’s a chance not to think about the stress of competing and to just enjoy dancing.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
I would probably say to get over my fear of open water. I really really don’t like open water, even in a lake I’m pretty damn sure there’s a great white! I’m confident in a pool, I’ve done it my whole life, so just to enjoy being in open water and get it done. If you get eaten, you get eaten!
Do you follow a specific nutrition plan? If so, what/when do you eat?
Because I’ve been an elite athlete since I was 11 it’s ingrained for me to eat healthily. I do watch what I eat but as a triathlete, I expend a vast amount of calories so I can enjoy eating lots. I have favourites, I love eggs, avocados, and I do love meat - I actually lived in South Africa when I was younger - so I love my meat.
What has been your toughest race?
Probably the toughest race was Rio, purely because I’ve never made a mistake as big as I made then. I was proud of how I came back from that but it was very tough to deal with the fact that I’d been as prepared as I could and something that I could’ve controlled went wrong. I was proud of my reaction to it, but it was tough to deal with the fact it had not gone how it was supposed to.
What are your goals now? What’s next on the horizon for you?
So this year was predominantly just to finish my masters, I want a distinction in it. I will race, Europeans and worlds are on the cards, but my main focus was getting my dissertation finished. I’ll give it my best shot, training hasn’t been optimal, but I’ve got 3 years to get back on track.
Can you talk me through your training regime?
I tend to work with my coach Sam Warriner, and we train in a 4-week split with 1 week swimming, 1 week cycling, 1 week running, then 1 week resting; when the intensity drops but the volume doesn’t. I also do 3 gym sessions a week. I have a good level of swimming from being a swimmer but I still swim 3 times a week and do a long bike ride every 2 weeks, which is anything up to 4 hours.
You’re studying for a master's in business, how do you balance training and a social life?
It was something that I had to learn; leading up to London 2012 I didn’t do it very well, I prioritised training but I now believe happy Lauren equals happy athlete. You have to make sacrifices but you have to be around people who understand and are supportive which I am.
What’s the ultimate goal for you?
Probably just to be happy. Just because so many things bring me happiness but I really want to feel a sense of achievement in myself. Maybe to regain titles that I let slip last year with my crash and swimming the wrong way, but mostly just happiness.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Lots of people have inspired me at different stages in my career; when I was younger I was at a caravan park with my grandparents and I watched Dame Kelly Holmes win her two golds, and then last year when I got back from Rio, her and I were put together on a panel for a question and answer session and I was just like “wow, I watched you all those years ago in 2004 thinking I can be like that, I can be like her, and here I am sat here with you with an Olympic medal from Rio!”
What would you say to someone considering entering triathlon for the first time?
To enjoy it, to work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths, and to find a coach who you get on well with.
Why choose Garmin?
Garmin for me have always been the secure and safe option; they're reliable, their products have everything I need, and they sponsor triathlon so everything I need is in one place. My coach can see my stats all the way from New Zealand where she is based, and I like things to look nice and their latest watch looks great!
From all at Team Sundried, good luck Lauren and we look forward to seeing you succeed in all that you do!
So you've taken the plunge, signed up, and now the training begins. The early morning brick sessions and the late night foam rolling will all make a difference in the end, right? Here are 5 things you'd only understand if you're training for a triathlon.
1. Now you realise why it's called a 'brick' session
Because your legs feel like bricks afterwards! Running is one thing, cycling is another, but putting both together can be brutal! Not to mention the jelly legs after a tough swim session. But this is why we train!
2. The world is surprisingly peaceful at 5 am
Getting those early morning training sessions in before work or just before the rest of the world has woken up can seem like a chore, but in reality, it's one of the most peaceful and enjoyable parts of the whole process. Those Sunday morning rides when there's no traffic on the road and it's just you against the world give you plenty of time to gather your thoughts, reflect, and mentally sort out anything that's been stressing you lately.
3. Checking training stats is addictive
If you use Garmin, Strava, or anything similar, you'll appreciate how addictive it can be to try to beat your previous performance or to beat your friends on a particular segment. Maximum cycling speed of 26mph on your last ride? Better get that to 30!
4. Triathlon burns HOW MANY calories!?
You never realised just how many calories you'd be burning and how much you get to eat now! Your average run can burn around 600 calories, a long ride maybe up to 1,000, but doing a big brick session can get you closer to the 2,000 calorie mark! That means lots of pizza to refuel!
5. Getting an early night and not drinking so that you can get up early the next morning is surprisingly enjoyable
You used to laugh at the people who went home early to get to bed, but now you're one of them. You definitely don't miss the hangovers, and your new cycling and running friends are super supportive! Who knew that training for a triathlon could be so fun! Enjoy!
Paul is one of only a handful of endurance athletes who has done some of the toughest, most gruelling events in the world, including the diabolical triple Ironman. You think one Ironman is tough? Try doing three in one go! Sundried had the pleasure of finding out more about this incredible athlete.
All photos credited to Neil Hall of Reuters who accompanied Paul on his Arch To Arc triathlon journey.
I have used endurance events to raise over £56,000 for charity.
I’m Paul, father of three children and a director of marketing and fundraising for the spinal injury charity Aspire. I have spent the past 15 years specialising in endurance events and have completed some wonderful challenges. In November 2000, after twenty years of alcoholic drinking, I got sober and began a process of change that has been the most incredible journey. I am now a great advocate of using sport as part of a gateway to a more fulfilling life. And, having started from such a low base, I believe that anyone can achieve amazing things should they so wish.
What inspired you to enter the Arch To Arc triathlon?
I had managed to complete a triple Iron distance event in 2011 and had been surprised that I had handled it relatively well both physically and mentally. It was at that point that I began to wonder what I might really be capable of and I was aware of the Arch to Arc. It was an event that I wouldn’t have dared look at a year earlier, but we lay foundations for the future by what we achieve in the present. The triple gave me that impetus to enter the event.
You are the oldest person to have completed this epic challenge, do you feel like age played a part for you?
Age and experience has made me more humble and endurance events need to be approached with humility. I sometimes still see alpha behaviour out on long distance courses and you can guarantee that alpha approaches will only end up in very long, miserable days out.
I am now no longer the oldest to have completed the Arch To Arc triathlon. Grantley Bridge, a truly old git, is now the holder of that title.
What was the hardest part of the challenge (your lowest moment) and how did you get through it?
The last two hours in the Channel were crucifying. I was lost and thought that I had blown it. I had told my support team to give me no references to time or place (for psychological reasons that is often recommended in Channel Swimming). It was dark and I had no idea where I was. I had decided that I had missed the coast and had been taken by the tide and wouldn’t finish. At this point, I made the decision not to call the event myself but to swim until someone ordered me to get out of the water. The order never came and at 5.24 a.m., Sept 14th 2014, my right hand brushed the sand of France; I had swum the Channel.
You have also done some amazing Ironman events including the elusive Triple. How do those types of events compare to the Arch To Arc?
Both of them have components that are the crux of the event and are terrifying in their enormity. The triple has the 336 miles on a bike. No normal person knows what will happen on a bike over that distance. Similarly, the Arch to Arc has the Channel Swim at its heart. If you complete the swim or the cycle, you know you have a good chance of finishing, providing you can make the cut off time. It’s funny, but I when I did the triple and was close to finishing the bike I began to think that an 87 mile run would actually be okay….it wasn’t…
What gets you through these types of events mentally?
These events make you understand how small you are in time and space; that is pretty frightening but can be worked with. Chunk up each section into manageable amounts and just add section to section like building blocks. Understand that time will pass between the start of the event and the next time that you go into work. You can choose to fill that gap in time and space anyway that you like, but it will pass and you will pass through it and be delivered out the other side. So you could sit on a sofa eating pies or you could choose to walk quietly into work knowing that you have completed a life-defining event. Knowing I am choosing something special and life-enhancing helps carry me through. I also know that everything passes. Discomfort is replaced by euphoria is replaced by anguish and back to euphoria. I know that any feeling I have will change over the course of an event, so I may as well keep going.
Have you always been into endurance sports?
No, I use to drink myself to death, so this is a better option. My first Ironman was 2007, my first ultra run was 2010 and my first double Ironman was 2010.
Do you follow a specific nutrition plan? If so, what/when do you eat?
I am now 90% vegan and eat clean food. I have never felt so damn good and so full of energy.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
I fit training around my life. Why drive into work when you can run or cycle? Weekdays will be a mix of Paul-powered commutes and CrossFit sessions. The weekend is reserved for a long run/cycle. I also work at a place that has a swimming pool so I tend to swim at lunchtimes.
Are there any other epic challenges on the horizon for you now?
I have just come back from cycling from London to Armenia and Azerbaijan. That was so totally awesome it will never leave me – just like the Arch to Arc. I am lucky that I have a library of memories that I love.
What advice would you give someone thinking of doing a similar challenge?
Approach the event with humility. Scare yourself. Be audacious. Choose something impossible. Then plan what events/training will get you closer to impossible. Everything is a progression. Raise money when you do a big event for a cause that you care about. Even if you fail you will still have a sense of fulfilment about what you have done. Visualise what it will feel like to have achieved the impossible and what that first cup of tea/curry/cake will taste like. It is bliss!