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Five key reasons why triathlon is on the rise

Create: 02/13/2017 - 00:00

Top Bristol triathlon coach John Wood answers XtraTime's questions about the rise of the sport – and the best way to get involved whatever your age or ability level...

Triathlon is booming in this country. Why do you think that is?
Triathlon these days is what marathon running was 20 years ago. People look at it – and not just the Ironman and Olympic distances, but even a super-sprint that might only include a 200m swim – and think 'I can do that but I've got to learn new skills'. Perhaps they can run a bit but they might have to learn how to ride a bike – something many people won't have done since they were a child. Doing even a short-distance triathlon replicates that challenge of running a marathon.
How much of that is down to the success of the Brownlee brothers at successive Olympics?
Britain have always had a good name in triathlon. Chrissie Wellington was a fantastic Iron-distance athlete, winning the world title four years in a row, and you also had Tim Don but it has come to the fore because of the brothers. That's a great story and it sells itself and the London Olympics made it a perfect storm in terms of it showing it off to the nation. London 2012 was great, although I don't think the government made the most of the feelgood factor. But the success of Team GB in Rio has definitely made people think they can do a bit more and a lot of swimming, running and triathlon clubs will see a bit of a surge in people thinking 'I fancy a go at that'.
Has the spectacular growth in popularity among those classed as 'veterans' in sport surprised you?
The big thing with triathlon is that it offers something that people who might have done long-distance riding or running can do without weight bearing on the joints. It attracts the 35-plus age group because those people tend to have more disposable income. Whereas somebody in their 20s might do triathlon on a second-hand bike and wetsuit, someone in their 40s might have the money to go out an buy a bike that will make them go a bit quicker or the best wetsuit that helps them float a bit more. You have two markets that merge together in that sense.
So does that tally with the popular belief that triathlon is a not a cheap sport if you want to perform well?
It absolutely can be. If you are doing a pool-based triathlon then you can do it in swimming trunks or a costume, a t-shirt and shorts, a mountain bike or shopping bike, a helmet and a pair of trainers. If you want to go a bit faster then you might want to get a road bike and a wetsuit that is more comfortable and dries out quicker but, at a basic level, that's all you need. You need to make sure the engine is good because, after all, you're still the athlete. A nice pair of wheels, a wetsuit and shoes all help, of course, and the quicker you want to go, the more expensive those gains get. 
Which is the most challenging of the three disciplines to master, in your opinion?
Swimming is the one that holds the most fear for people. I know a lot of experienced triathletes who are scared of the water. The biggest thing for me is getting people comfortable in the water. If you can do that then you can get the water to support you and that makes a massive difference. It means that, regardless of the speed you're swimming at, you exert far less energy and effort. A large part of what I do day to day, and I've been coaching swimming for 15 years, is getting people to feel comfortable in the water. I've always loved helping people swim and it gives me a great buzz.
For details of classes run by John Wood in the Bristol area, visit

About Author

Neil Beck
Neil edited XtraTime magazine across all 11 issues from September 2015 to the spring of 2017. He is a vastly-experienced West Country sports journalist who cut his teeth at the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald before moving on to become head of sport at Bath News & Media.