One sport to multisport: an intro

Look no further if you're a single sport veteran looking to get into triathlon

Single sport to multisport: an introduction

Tempted to get into tri, but wondering how to progress from one sport to the magical three disciplines? Andy Bullock reveals how to play top your strengths…


The multi-discipline nature of triathlon is one that makes our sport many things – exciting, interesting, challenging – but if you’re a newbie, you might be wondering how to go about becoming proficient in all three sports.

After all, you might be a great runner, training several times a week and regularly taking on distances such as 10k or half-marathon, but only swim when the kids want to go to the pool. Or, you might feel at home spending your weekends on the bike, but aren’t sure whether you’ll be able to run further than the end of the road.

If this sounds like you, then be reassured to hear that it’s not unusual for even some of the best triathletes to have come from a single-sport background. After all, it’s natural to gravitate towards one sport as a favourite and focus on being as good as we can within it. It’s often only when circumstances change (through injury, or the need for a new challenge) that we start to look beyond our preferred discipline.

Research undertaken by the Triathlon Industry Association in 2013 points towards participants entering tri from a number of different sporting backgrounds. Of 3,800 triathletes surveyed, a massive 56% had a strong background in running, while 20% were keen cyclists (of which 13.5% were mountain bikers). 19% listed swimming as their main sport before taking up triathlon.

Starting triathlon with a background in one of the individual disciplines can offer a great advantage if you go about it in the right way – especially when it comes to racing. The time spent consistently training in one sport means the body and mind is familiar with the training process, even if the specific exercise being done is different.

This means you’re already coming to the sport with a distinct advantage over someone who hasn’t done any kind of activity – and this is an advantage that can help you perform even in the more unfamiliar disciplines.

Yes, as with taking up any new sport you can expect to experience muscle soreness in unfamiliar places (especially if you haven’t run much before, due to the impact through feet, legs and joints), but be reassured by the fact that if you already have a background in sport, your body will be familiar with the recovery process as well as the training process, so you’ll bounce back faster too.

Depending on your previous sport, there will be many advantages you can bring to triathlon. Turn the page to find out which apply to you – and to read more about how to translate these strengths into a blistering triathlon debut…

Race strategies

The sport you’re most familiar with may affect how you decide to approach tri:


With many triathletes citing swimming as their least favourite discipline, you have a real advantage if this is your strength. The benefits to a natural swimmer may be best seen over a standard-distance race, where the proportions of swim to bike to run will see you maximising your advantage before making others chase you during the bike and run. Get ahead, crack on with your own race and let those behind you play catch up.


The bike section is generally the largest of the race, so longer races such as middle- and long-distance events are likely to suit you more, as this is where you have more opportunity to put time into your fellow competitors. You may play catch-up after the swim, but with the bike as your strength you know that you’ll be passing plenty of competitors during your favourite discipline and can push home your advantage, or save some energy for the run section.


If you come from a running background (as the majority of triathletes do), your confidence comes from knowing that when everyone else is tiring you’re coming into your own. Plan to chase those that are flagging down to the bitter end, knowing that you have the experience to finish strong!


Coming up in the next instalment: how to go from swimmer to triathlete