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17 Triathlon Terms Every Triathlete Needs to Know

New to the sport or a seasoned triathlete with many races under your belt, here are 17 triathlon terms every triathlete should know

From training terms to lingo you’ll hear out at the race site, the world of triathlon truly does have a language of its own. In honor of this year marking the 17th time we celebrate triathletes of all skill levels coming together at The Rookie Tri, here are 17 triathlon terms every triathlete needs to know that will have you graduating from a novice triathlete to a pro in no time.

  1. Aid Stations – Strategically located stations to help you replenish during the race. They usually have water, hydration drinks, and depending on the distance, can also have gels or chews. See where the run course aid station is located at The Rookie Tri.

    Athlete getting body marked on race morning of Rookie Tri

    Rookie Tri athlete getting body marked on race morning.

  2. Body Marking – In a race, you will be required to wear your race number on your body, the upper arm, and the back of the lower leg. Before a race, there will be designated “Body Markers,” volunteers who write your race number on your body with either a permanent marker or applying a temporary tattoo peel-off number.
  3. Brick – back-to-back workouts of the tri disciplines. Traditionally, a bike and run, smushed together like on race day. But it can really be any combination of two of the disciplines.
  4. Cadence – Also, known as RPM, or revolutions per minute, cadence means the rhythm of your swim stroke, bike pedal stroke, or run turnover as your feet hit the ground. Measured in “revolutions” per minute.
  5. Derailleur – A system on a mountain bike, road bike or triathlon bike made of up sprockets and a chain with a method to move the chain from one to the other to cause the shifting of gears.
  6. DNF – Acronym for “Did Not Finish” (the race).

    Perfecting the dolphin dive into Decker Lake

    Perfecting the dolphin dive into Decker Lake.

  7. Dolphin Dive – a way to enter the water in a swim start where the water is shallow in order to start swimming right away.
  8. Fartlek – The definition of the Swedish word Fartlek is ‘speed play’ in English. Involves training at different paces and speeds within one training session and can be applied to all three triathlon disciplines; swimming, cycling and running.
  9. Ladder – an interval workout with progressively increasing then decreasing distances at each interval. For example, run fast for 400m, jog for 200m, run for 800m, jog for 200m, run for 1200m, jog for 200m, run for 800m, jog for 200m, run for 400m, jog for 200m. (BeginnerTriathlete.com)
  10. Open Water Swim (OWS) – swimming in a natural body of water (lake, river, ocean, bay)
  11. Podium – the first 3 competitors in each age group. I “podium’d”. Boom!
  12. PR – Acronym for “personal record.”
  13. Race Number Belt – A belt where you can attach your race number. This is helpful for putting on your number after the swim. You clip the belt around your waist with your number to the back (on the bike), and then when you run, you rotate your number to the front.

    Professional timing gives you accurate results as soon as you cross the finish line.

    Professional timing gives you accurate results as soon as you cross the finish line!

  14. 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.
  15. Timing Chip – Usually handed out in race packets and is to be worn around your ankle during your tri. When you pass over certain points during a race, the timing chip registers your time for the official race results.
  16. Transition – Two time periods within a triathlon. T1 is the period of time between the swim and bike; T2 is the period of time between the bike and the run. Transition is also the physical area in the race where you will transition from one sport to another.
  17. Wetsuit “Legal” – a triathlon where the water is cold enough to wear a wetsuit, as often set forth in the USAT rules.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of some of the most common, essential triathlon terms used by athletes. Try them out during your Rooke Tri training and you’ll be ready to chat with the pros!

Don Nolting – My First Triathlon

Don Nolting, an Austin Triathlon Club Ambassador, recalls his first triathlon

The 2016 Rookie Triathlon (300m swim, 11.2-mile bike, 2-mile run), was my attempt to help a friend, and myself, lose weight. I was 41 and 255 pounds at 6’1.5”. He thought a sprint triathlon would be a fun way to do it since he liked to swim. This probably wouldn’t have been a problem if, 1) we would have decided more than a month before the triathlon was to take place to sign up, 2) I hadn’t just undergone bilateral knee surgeries #4 and #5 six months prior, and 3) if I owned a bike.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

Don Nolting, Austin Triathlon Club, Ambassador, after 2016 Rookie Triathlon.

I was still rehabbing from knee surgery, and given the short time to train, I focused on swimming and riding. While all my doctors discourage running with my knee issues, swimming and biking are highly suggested. The biggest thing for me was to not over train the month before the tri and be so sore and fatigued that I wouldn’t be able to race.

Training

Since I knew how to swim, I focused on that. The good news: the swim distance was only 300 meters. I started in the pool and then made sure to swim in a few different open water spots around Austin. Barton Springs became my really cold friend. I was having trouble freestyle swimming, so I focused on the breaststroke and worked on perfecting my form while training.

The biking was a whole different beast. I didn’t own a bike when I signed up for the tri. So I took advantage of all of the spring bike sales in Austin. I chose a hybrid bike as a starter bike and got in plenty of rides during the month. I even rode the bike course a few times and struggled some.

Since I planned to speed-walk the run, I only worked on increasing my overall fitness for that. In the end, I was pretty happy with where I was feeling after the bike rides, but I wasn’t confident about my swimming.

Race day

Race day showed up really fast! From a tip I had read on lots of tri websites, I laid out my transition and equipment the night before. I was sure I had everything, but 5:00 a.m. comes early. I was nervous, but the pre-race stretches helped calm my nerves. Waiting in line to get into the water was where the nerves sprung up again. Many of the guys in my age group were nervously chatting about how they hadn’t practiced swimming in open water. 

I was towards the back of the line going into the water, and I observed people grabbing the lifeguard canoes and the buoys. (* this is legal by USAT rules as long as you do not use the kayak to make forward progress).  Practicing breaststroke proved to be beneficial. I don’t think I could have freestyled in that water. I felt good after my swim and was proud I had completed it without taking any breaks or needing any assistance. The path to transition was an uphill path, so I took my time so I didn’t injure my knees at all.

Transition went pretty smoothly and I felt good getting onto my bike. The first 1.5 miles went well. However, once I turned into the headwind, it was like I put a sail on my back. I felt like I was going head-first into a wall and barely moving. I was happy to get back to transition, but wasn’t looking forward to the “run.” My legs were gassed, and I hadn’t really practiced going from cycling to a run or walk. Big mistake!

That two miles seemed like 20. In addition, it had recently rained, so the course was muddy and changed to include some hills that were rough on my knees. I wasn’t taking any chances with my knees so soon after surgery, so I walked the hills, but (against my doctor’s orders and my better judgment) slow-jogged the flatter sections. Finally coming around the last bend helped me pick up the pace and finish strong.

The Finish & Beyond

My goal was to finish my first Rookie Tri in 90 minutes, and I missed it by only three minutes. I was tired and sore, but proud that I had finished.

Unfortunately, because of knee rehab, it took me about a year to feel right again in order to train for another race. I got back into riding my bike and started swimming again in late 2017. I joined the Austin Tri Club in the spring of 2018 and have really started to push myself and my training thanks to the group. They support and motivate me as I safely train for aquabike challenges (*Aquabike participates complete the swim & bike portion of the triathlon, with their official timing stopping after entering transition after the bike.) and I enjoy cheering on my club-mates as they compete too.