Curious About Triathlon? Give It A Try Indoors

April 2, 2012

People ask me all the time what it’s like to do triathlons. Such as what are the sensations that go through your body while doing it, how tired you are at the end, what is the mental side of it, etc...
A triathlon is quite a unique experience, and I would advise anyone to try at least once in their life.
However, I’m aware that not everybody is willing to buy all the necessary apparel, enter a race and actually compete, just for the sake of giving it a try.
Fortunately there are other ways to try it and get a sense of what it’s like, if you’re interested. My favorite one is to do an indoor triathlon at the gym.
I’ve done it several times with my friends that wanted to give triathlon a try, and it has always been a lot of fun.
In order to do an indoor triathlon all you need is to have a membership at the gym that: has a swimming pool, offers spinning classes and is equipped with treadmills.
I’m aware that not all gyms have indoor swimming pools but, for instance, here in NYC there are quite few that have (located all around the city). If yours doesn’t have it, ask for a complimentary pass to a friend/colleague if their gyms does.

What you have to do in an Olympic distance triathlon

An Olympic distance triathlon entails swimming for 1.5k, biking for 40k and running for 10k. One discipline after the other with only few minutes of transition in-between each segment.
In an indoor triathlon there’s no need strictly stick to such rules nor distances. All we’re aiming is to replicate the effort so that we can get a sense of what triathlon is all about. So yes, you’re going to swim, bike and run, but we’ll “take it a bit easy”.

Plan ahead

1) Pick the right day. You want to choose a day in your week where you can have at least 3 to 4 hours to dedicate to yourself (i.e., staying at the gym for such amount of time). I strongly recommend Saturday so that you have the whole Sunday to recover. But if you don’t have a standard Monday-to-Friday job any day of the week could work as well.

2) Sign-up for a spinning class. The spinning class will represents the bike segment of the triathlon (which is also the second one). This means that prior to spinning you’ll have to swim, and afterwards you’ll have to run. But spinning will be the “core” of your indoor triathlon.
Spinning class tend to be very popular in gyms (especially during the weekend) and normally one is required to sign-up in advance.
Remember to book a class at a good time during the day such as morning or early afternoon (a noon class or a 3pm will do the trick).
Why choosing a spinning class? Spinning class tend to be  much more enjoyable than stepping on an exercise bike and pedal for 40k on your own. Also, the music and the people around you make time fly. Plus a spinning class is pretty challenging and it’s can certainly replicate at some level the effort of the bike segment in a triathlon.

On the indoor triathlon day

1) Start swimming one hour before your scheduled spinning class. Let’s assume you have booked a spot in the 12pm spinning class. In such case you want to jump in the swimming pool at around 11am.
The swimming segment in a Olympic distance triathlon is 1.5k, but you don’t have to cover that distance, especially if you’re not super trained.
Assuming you can’t complete 1.5k, swim for at least 45 minutes, taking all the pauses you need to recover. But give it your best, whatever that best is!

2) 10 to 15 minutes before the spinning class get out of the pool. 10 to 15 minutes before your spinning class starts, get out of the swimming pool, go to the locker rooms and change into your spinning gear (shorts + t-shirt). During a triathlon race transitions are completed in as little a minute or in 3 maybe 4 minutes. In this case you’re giving yourself more than twice the time requested so you don’t have to rush too much, can also catch a breath and hydrate your body.

3) Don’t push yourself too much in spinning. You’re now in spinning class, and no matter what your instructor is yelling in the mic don’t over do it. Make sure that you save some energy for the running (and last) segment.
Spinning can be a lot of fun, with the dim lights, the loud music and all, but don’t forget that you’re  in the midst of a triathlon: tame your drive and save some stamina for later.
Also, remember to bring a water bottle to class and to sip it from time to time to avoid dehydration.
As with the swimming try to give it your best!

4) Step on the treadmill and run 10k. When the spinning class is over, give yourself 5 minutes to replenish your body with fluids and rest a bit.
When the “transition” time is over, step up on the treadmill and start running.
Now, you’re likely going to be pretty tired, so start slowly. Just walk if that feels like the right thing to do. You can always increase the pace when you’ll feel better.
Running it’s the home stretch of a triathlon, you want to give it all you have left in you, but without collapsing.
The target is to run either 10k (6.2 miles) or for 1 hour. In order words this means that if you’re running/walking at slower pace than 10minutes/mile (6mph) you’ll stop when you hit the 1 hour mark. If your pace is faster than that, complete the 10k (6.2 miles).

5) Stretch, replenish and relax. GOOD JOB! You have just completed your first indoor triathlon.
Time has come to take care of your body: stretch your sore muscles, drink a lots of fluids and also eat something delicious and full of nutrients to replenish your body.
Then relax. Take a long shower and enjoy the sensations that come up.

Some tips

1) Prepare yourself physically and mentally. During the indoor triathlon you’re going to exercise for at least three hours. Such efforts require some preparation.
Of course you need to be in decent shape, nothing too extraordinary but you should have alreadt some endurance built in you.
Eat 2/3 hours before starting: you want to give your body time to digest before start.
Also, you should be rested. Don’t do it if you’ve been out until late the night before and had a few!

2) Listen to your body and stop if you feel like something is wrong. During the indoor triathlon always, and I want to stress this out, ALWAYS listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right: STOP!
Among the advantages of doing an indoor triathlon is that you can stop whenever you want.  That doesn’t happen when you’re in a real triathlon when you’re swimming in the sea (or in an icy lake), biking through the hillside and running in a park. If something goes wrong there, getting rescued might become complicated. Instead in an indoor triathlon you’re one step away from the locker-rooms, the water fountain and the stretchers. Take advantage of that if you need to.

3) Do it with a friend. If you can find a friend that is interested in trying a triathlon, do it together, it’s going to be a lot of fun. A bit of friendly competition will provide some healthy incentive to  push yourself a little bit more. Plus there’s the social side of it, that it’s going to make to experience a lot more enjoyable.

4) Enjoy the process. The key to success in a triathlon is to enjoy the process. If you don’t, it just becomes an ordeal, insufferable to bear. Learn to savour the sensations that come up while doing it.


At least three times a year I manage to convince a friend to do an indoor triathlon with me. It’s always a lot of fun and all those whom have tried it are now full triathletes.
How come? Because triathlon is the best. It’s my sport and it’s awesome.
If you’re curious about it, doing an indoor triathlon is the easiest (and cheapest) way to try it.
And I’ll promise, completing a triathlon (even an indoor one) will change your life.

The Iron You


  1. Now I'm tempted...might need some training but I got to try it once!

  2. Hi Martha! i'm same to you.I hope that helps this blogs.