The London Triathlon is the world’s biggest multisport event, attracting thousands of athletes year on year. Its location in one of the world’s largest cities and its beginner friendly nature makes it very popular for those looking to compete in their first event. The flat, fast nature of the course means it also appeals to PB hunters.
There are multiple distances available:
Super Sprint: 400M swim, 10 KM bike, 2.5KM run
This distance is ideal for those just looking to dip their toe into the world of triathlon. It’s a less popular distance, so less places are available.
Sprint: 750M swim, 20KM bike, 5KM run
Very popular with first timers, this is a challenge in endurance in its own right. Don’t let the word sprint deceive you though, it could take you over two hours.
Olympic: 1500M swim, 40KM bike, 10KM run
This distance gets its name from its inclusion in the Olympic Games. This will be the greatest sporting achievement of many people’s lives. The winners may go just under the two hour mark, with most people coming in somewhere between 2:20 and 3:10. There is a separate wave for those who can go under 2:30 to allow them a clearer, less congested course.
Olympic Plus: 1500M swim, 80KM bike, 10KM run
This course will appeal to stronger cyclists, and works well as a stepping stone to a half iron distance.
Getting to the start of the event can a challenge due to the road closures for the event. Especially on the Sunday where the road closures are more extensive. As a result I highly recommend you take public transport to the start if based in London. If you are travelling from afar, it may be worth booking a local hotel. There is a limit on the number of bikes that are permitted on each DLR train, but this is rarely enforced.
Make sure you arrive at least two hours before your wave starts where possible. This allows you time to set up your transition area, collect your number, mark up your bike, get changed into your wetsuit, make multiple trips to the toilet and still be there 20 minutes before your swim start.
Ensure you take time to watch the briefing video and familiarise yourself with the layout of transition area to save you valuable seconds during your race. The clock doesn’t stop between the disciplines!
The swim is held in the London Royal Docks, which isn’t as dirty as it looks or sounds! The docks have long been abandoned and the water quality improved dramatically in the last 15 years with the installation of a filter at the intake point. NOWCA run swim sessions most days at the west of the docks. I have spent countless hours in the water coaching without ever falling ill, so the likelihood of you picking something up during a race are incredibly low. Just try to avoid swallowing any water.
Wetsuits are compulsory for The London Triathlon. I believe it is due to the large number of weak swimmers at the event. Make sure you have a suit ready in advance as there are none available to hire on the day. If the water temperature is over 25 degrees wetsuits will be banned and athletes will need a tow float instead. To my knowledge this has never occurred in the history of the race. But given the summer we’re experiencing at the time of writing it’s not out of the realms of possibility.
You will receive an update on the weather conditions when you arrive at the swim start. Once you walk outside and down the steps you will find yourself on a floating pontoon. You can enter the water however you like, whether you prefer to dive, jump or tentatively lowering yourself in. You can be waiting for quite some time if you’re one of the first in the water. If you’re nervous hang towards the back to avoid time spent treading water.
The swim course is as simple as can be. It consists of a one lap clockwise loop dependent on the distance that you are swimming. Start on the right if possible to shorten the distance to the first buoy. Start towards the back if you are feeling nervous or are a slower swimmer to avoid any incidents.
Once you climb yourself out of the water you have to remove your wetsuit. There are wetsuit strippers on hand to assist you with this. You need to place your suit a plastic bag to avoid water dripping on the floor of transition. Next you will head in the direction of the stairs that lead back up to transition.
Be careful here if you are feeling dizzy after the swim. Don’t run up the stairs if you aren’t feeling steady on your feet.
Once you collect your bike, you will then follow the signage to the “bike out”. This will lead you to a mount line. This will be very clear as marshals will be holding flags to denote the position of the line. Once you have crossed the line, you can mount your bike and begin the longest of the three disciplines.
The course varies depending on the time and the day you are racing. On the Saturday you traditionally will be on a much shorter course. On Sunday the course will be longer, going all the way out to Westminster for some waves.
The course is fast and flat but technical in parts due to the amount of roundabouts and 180 degree turns. Keep your eyes on the road, and don’t take any risks.
Even though The London Triathlon is held on closed roads, this doesn’t mean you can switch off and ride where you like. If anything it means you have to keep your wits about you even more as you will be sharing the course with a large amount of cyclists. Some may be travelling at twice your speed, or riding in a very unpredictable fashion. Ensure you always ride on the left and check over your shoulder before any change of direction. If you hear a call of “right!” that means a rider is about to pass you on your right, and this is a polite reminder to hold position or move over to let them past. Be wary when taking corners of riders going around the inside or outside of you. Hold your line and avoid erratic movements to keep everyone safe.
After you complete the bike your legs will already be tired, but it’s time for the most physically demanding discipline, the run!
The London Triathlon run course is 2.5KM long and absolutely pancake flat. The course is incredibly busy as hundreds of athletes are crammed into a 2.5KM stretch of tarmac. Things have improved in recent years with a simple out and back course rather than the twisty course used previously. I’ve never been overtaken by another runner on this course. Primarily as many are competing in their first triathlon and starting to run out of gas by this point. If like me the run is your strong suite, be prepared to do a bit of dodging and weaving to maintain your pace. If you are starting to struggle yourself then stay to the left of the course to avoid blocking faster athletes.
The run starts and finishes in the main exhibition hall. This includes a 200M section inside the exhibition hall itself so your GPS watch will struggle. The course comes up considerably shorter than advertised, especially at the 10K distance. I believe the Olympic distance is much closer to 9KM in total, although as I haven’t competed since 2015 this may have been addressed since.
Once you cross the line you will find yourself in the finisher’s area where you will receive your medal. You can have your photo taken, pick up some alcohol free beer and relax for a bit before you make your way back to transition to collect your belongings.
If this is your first triathlon you may need to brush up on some basic rules to avoid any penalties/disqualifications. I’ll run you through some of the most essential rules to avoid embarrassment:
Drafting is the act of riding behind another cyclist and gaining an advantage due to less air resistance. The London triathlon has a 10 metre drafting zone behind each competitor that you cannot enter unless you are overtaking. If caught gaining an advantage in this way you could be liable for a time penalty.
Helmet on before touching bike
Not only are helmets mandatory, you must have your helmet on your head and fastened securely before you even touch your bike. Not doing so can result in a time penalty, and riding with an unfastened helmet is a good way to get yourself disqualified.
Ok, so this goes without saying I hope, but most importantly this extends to keeping your torso covered. If you have a full length zip on your trisuit you can’t run with it open if it gets hot.
Bike in good working order
Your bike needs to be safe to take part in the event. This means the brakes need to work, nothing is loose, and if you have dropped handlebars, that they have plugs.
For more insights into a successful race day check out our article on Triathlon Race Day Success
The information provided here is correct at the time of writing, but be sure to check their website for the latest information
Hopefully this has given you a good idea of what to expect and will ease the pre race nerves. Whether this is your first triathlon or you are taking part in an elite wave, I wish you the very best of luck with your race!