Other Options: Relay or Duathlon
The triathlon is not the only multisport event out there for those who are looking to expand their athletic horizons. If you don't feel you can get up to speed in all three sports in time, or if you prefer to test the proverbial water one toe at a time, try to participate in the triathlon on a relay team. Pick the part of the race you feel confident in doing and get a couple of teammates who can do the other disciplines. In other words, if you feel that you can handle the run with no problem, try to find a swimmer and a biker to join you.
Luckily, you don't necessarily need two more people. A relay team can be two people: one member competes in two of the events, and the other person does one. So if you don't feel you can master the swim part of the race in the allotted training time but feel good about running and biking, try to recruit a competent swimmer.
Relay teams are common at triathlons, and they come in three flavors: men's, women's, and mixed. Some triathlons also have a master relay team category for participants forty years old and older.
Relay team members compete in the same order — swim first, then bike, then run — but they must hand off a wristband or computer chip at each transition point. As with individual competitors, the lowest time wins. It is fun to participate in a triathlon on a relay team in part because it expands the social aspect of the event for you and is very satisfying to feel that team spirit.
In the Arena
One advantage of participating in the triathlon on a relay team, especially if it is your first time to compete in such an event, is that you will experience the triathlon first hand. This could be very helpful to you in a number of ways, not the least of which will be psychological.
You won't be taking part in each race, but you will see how a triathlon works and how the veteran triathletes handle themselves and prepare for the competition. If you are competing in only one part of the race, you will have a chance to watch the others and learn something in the process. You may even see some mistakes that you can avoid in the future without having to make them yourself.
Be very careful about making your debut triathlon in an event that has an ocean swim. If the water is choppy or rolling on the day of the race, you can experience extreme disorientation. Play it safe — stick to the lakes.
You may not be competing as an individual, but when you hit the lake, the bike course, or start your run, you will be out there swimming, riding, and running with the best. That alone will boost your confidence for the time when you take on all three events by yourself.
Also, if you plan on doing all three sports in the same triathlon in the future, you will have gained the experience of one or more parts of the course in advance. You will know what to expect next time and you will be able to plan for it.
It Just Takes Two
The duathlon is a good option for an aspiring triathlete who does not feel completely confident in the swim portion of the race and doesn't want to recruit or be part of a team. In a duathlon, competitors start with a run, then hit the bicycle, followed by another run. A typical duathlon starts with a 5K run, followed by a cycling stage of 18 to 20 miles, then a second 5K run. It's not unusual for such a race to be off-road, that is, on trails.
Participating in a duathlon won't take the place of the triathlon, but it will introduce you and your body to the rigors of competing in two sports rather than just one. Also, after the cycling portion of the duathlon, you will at least get a preview of what the second two stages of the triathlon are like.