UK triathlon clubs – what to expect when you join

We look at how some of the UK’s biggest triathlon clubs welcome their new members, and what sort of sessions they provide

Coach Russ Hall puts BRAT triathletes through their paces

Triathlon might be an individual sport, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely existence. The motivation to swim, bike and run regularly comes a lot more easily if you enjoy sessions. And for most of us a bit of company makes training fly by.

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The Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny, cite living day-to-day with the best training partner in the world as a chief reason for their Olympic success, and the self-discipline to head out for a 6am swim session isn’t so hard if you have a bleary-eyed companion waiting for you at the pool.  

Formalising this arrangement by joining a club might seem intimidating, but the benefits could far outweigh just increasing your circle of training buddies. So if the idea conjures scary thoughts of über-serious, calorie-counters with snazzy kit, clip-in bike shoes and mastery of three separate sports, think again. That image couldn’t be further from the truth.

“People often assume that everyone in a triathlon club has been involved with the sport for a long time and can train the house down,” says head coach of London Fields Triathlon Club, Tim Smith. “That’s not the case. We have a wide variety of abilities, from those who have never done a triathlon and don’t intend to, to those competing in iron-distance events and world championships.”

“The best reason for someone new to the sport to join a club is the vast amount of knowledge that’s immediately available to them,” says Russ Hall from BRAT in Birmingham. “The breadth and depth of triathlon experience can be truly exceptional.” 

BRAT club in training

New year, new you 

As well as the boost to your social life and sporting prowess (one not at the expense of the other, hopefully!), there are spin-offs to membership, such as a ready-made selection of friendly rivals to compete against at your club’s ‘A’ race 

It doesn’t have to be expensive, either. In fact, given hook-ups with local sports stores and second-hand, free kit liberally dished out, it could actually make your triathlon adventure a little bit cheaper. And if you’re just starting out, you might see your life insurance premiums take a tumble too.

“One of our members, Anne, 37, came to us to keep fit,” says Marsha El-Hage of RGActive Race Team. “She found a like-minded community who boosted her self-confidence. Training partners became close friends and, after losing 8.5 stone, she is simply an inspiration.”

“There have been several cases of ‘triathlon weight loss’ at BRAT too,” says Hall. “One new member lost six stone in his first season with the club.” For a world facing an obesity epidemic and obsessed with fad diets, perhaps they should be giving triathlon memberships out on free prescription. The actual costs vary from club to club. Some are all-in, but the majority choose a nominal annual fee with additional fees on top per coached session and depending on the facilities used.

BRAT club in training

According to the last Triathlon Industry Association research, club membership in the UK has risen 15%. Cardiff Triathletes has become so popular it’s capped numbers in order to provide a quality coaching service. 

Our other four clubs featured below are also seeing burgeoning membership, even in the crowded London region. “With the success of Great Britain and the boom in the sport, there’s no shortage of new members,” says Tim from London Fields. “We’re lucky to have a beautiful pool, open-water swimming nearby, a lot of green space for running and the Olympic Park venues such as the Velopark available to us.” 

At your own pace

Claire Manson, Cardiff Triathletes, offers one note of caution for those newbies tempted to get swept away by more established triathletes. “Consider what your own goals are and stick to them,” she advises. “Don’t get caught up in others’ targets. Instead, create your own triathlon journey and remember to enjoy it.”

And before long you’ll even be joining your new chums on vacation. “Don’t underestimate the fun you can have on a summer cycling training holiday,” she adds. “Swap the beach for the mountains and you’ll be surprised at the difference endorphins can make.”

Darlington Tri Club

What kit should you turn up with? “We meet most of our new members at the pool, so it’s just a matter of arriving with basic swimming togs,” says Darlington Triathlon’s Graham Bell. “We always advise members to hold off making expensive decisions about bikes until they’re sure they’re going to enjoy the sport. 

“Two wheels of any variety are good enough to get started. You don’t have to have a top-of-the-range bike – we can source good second-hand models and we’re able to hire out wetsuits for a small charge.”

“A decent pair of trainers, an entry level road bike, swim kit and goggles is a great start,” agrees Manson. “There are always people in the club willing to sell their cast-offs for great prices. We have a particular club member who’s great at this – we wait for his bonanza sales!”

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Coach Russ Hall puts BRAT triathletes through their paces

We continue our look at what to expect from joining a tri club by detailing three beginner sessions from London Fields’ head coach Tim Smith…

Starter sessions

Swim

This is a technique session to get beginners comfortable with breathing out underwater. Breath-holding is a major cause of shortness of breath while swimming and contributes to a less than ideal body position. We dedicate one or more sessions to basic breathing drills, repeated throughout a six-week block.

Triathlete in swim training

Warm-up

200m easy (with rests if needed).

Drills 

– 5 x ‘sink-downs’ into 100m easy. Repeat.
– 4 x 50m with fins as 25m kick on side into 25m front crawl (emphasis on breathing out under water and breathing into bow wave)
– 4 x 50m with fins as 50m 6-1-6 into 50m front crawl
– 4 x 50m with fins as 50m 6-3-6 into 50m front crawl
– 4 x 50m with pull buoy using ‘bubble bubble breathe’ mantra

Main set 

4–8 x 100m easy with emphasis on breathing skills.

Cool-down

200m easy, choice of stroke.

Bike

We use a closed 1km circuit with varying gradients, corners and potentially windy sections that may necessitate a change in position or gear. As skills develop, the session is progressed with cornering at faster speeds, climbing out of the saddle and mounting/dismounting while moving. Distance covered is not important.

Triathlete in bike training

Warm-up

10-15mins.

Main set 30-45mins. Bike safety check then introduce athletes to skills: mounting and dismounting, braking, cornering, changing position on the bike and gear changing. Practise over 2-3 laps.

Cool-down

10-15mins.

Run

A beginners’ run session explaining the importance of ideal posture from head to toe for both injury prevention and improving performance.

Triathlete in run training

Warm-up

5-10mins.

Drills

Key technique work with focus on body alignment and correct movement patterns, practised over short distances (strides).

Main set

3-5km. Intervals at a set pace, but focusing on body alignment and movement patterns. Distance covered is not important here. Make sure athletes have fundamental movement skills in place before increasing training load. 

Cool-down

10mins easy jog.

Five UK tri clubs

Here are a handful of clubs from around the UK to give you an idea of the typical benefits and costs of signing up. 

BRAT (Birmingham Running, Athletics and Triathlon Club)

Location: Birmingham
Sessions per week: Up to 20 throughout the city depending on time of year
Member base: Around 900
Club A-race: National Club Relays, Nottingham
Newbie incentives: Free technical T-shirt for every new member and discounts at local stores
Cost: £27 per year
Website: www.bratclub.co.uk

London Fields Triathlon Club

Location: London Fields, Hackney, London
Sessions per week: 8 (4 x swim, 2 x run, 1 x spin, 1 x bike-to-run brick)
Member base: 145, plus places for non-members
Club A-race: Several across different distances that double as club champs
Newbie incentives: Free gift with membership
Cost: £25 per year
Website: www.lftri.co.uk

Darlington Triathlon Club

Location: County Durham
Sessions per week: 5 members 108 senior, 20 junior
Club A-race: Teesdale Triathlon
Newbie incentives: Members can access quality kit at affordable prices, hire wetsuits and use club turbos
Cost: £22 per year
Website: www.darlingtontri.com

RGActive Race Team

Location: London and Essex
Sessions per week: 8-15
Members: 150
Club A-race: Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire
Newbie incentives: Club discounts on kit/sessions
Cost: £50 per year
Website: www.rgactiveraceteam.com

Cardiff Triathletes 

Location: Cardiff
Sessions per week: 3 x swims, 2 x spin classes, 1 x turbo, 1 x run, multiple rides
Member base: 153
Club A-race: Tuska Triathlon, Porthcawl
Newbie incentives: N/A as currently full!
Cost: Social £25 per year. Training £22 per month
Website: www.cardifftri.org

(Images: Romilly Lockyer / Jonny Gawler)

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For our complete online listings of UK tri clubs head here