You've been training for a few months, maybe completed a sprint triathlon or two, and you want to move to the next level. As well as spending more time training, getting to grips with the latest gear and honing your technique, joining a triathlon club will give you a huge physical and mental performance boost.
Seeking out your perfect club may seem straightforward, but there are key questions you should answer before committing yourself. If you're wondering whether you're good enough to join a club, the answer is yes. With triathlon said to be the fastest-growing sport in the UK, there are clubs out there that offer the perfect platform for novice triathletes to find out more about the three disciplines and train in a welcoming environment.
Chris Courage joined Zoom Tri Club 12 months ago, after doing his first sprint triathlon: "I really enjoyed my first race, wanted to improve and thought that if I joined a club that would be a great help."
Courage, like many novices, was apprehensive about joining what he imagined would be a super-fit group of triathletes. So much so that he put off attending training sessions, as he felt he was not good enough. "I wanted to give myself three months' training so I felt confident I would not be at the back," he says. When he finally attended his first club session he was relieved and surprised that he managed with ease. "I don't know why I was so worried. It was a lot easier than I had imagined and I could easily have joined three months earlier."
Courage's fear that he might not be able to keep up with his fellow club mates is natural. Triathlon may be becoming more accessible as the sport grows, but for some the impression that it's an extreme sport practised by macho superbeings - rather than triathletes of all sizes and abilities - lingers on. In any club there are athletes who take their training very seriously, but there are also members of all standards who simply enjoy training in groups. It's up to you to find out what the club offers in relation to your ability.
Some clubs are better than others at breaking down perceptions, particularly in the way they market and organise their sessions. Many triathlon clubs put on beginner-specific sessions, or split groups to maintain even standards. Others organise sessions in which everyone in the club takes part, but they ensure that all the athletes work at a level appropriate to their ability.
Clubs looking to appeal to novice triathletes often have male and female coaches and, most importantly, they have a culture of encouragement and recognising success regardless of standard.
Gemma Taylor moved to the Poole area in 2008 and decided to join a triathlon club: "I have always found it useful to join a club when I embark on a new challenge," she says. Her running and swimming have improved thanks to the structured training sessions: "I am really looking forward to the summer season when I can put everything I've learnt into practice."
Benefits of belonging
Triathlon is essentially an individual sport, but clubs do offer a range of benefits you won't enjoy if you train alone. The group training sessions provide the perfect opportunity to glean information and learn new skills from coaches or more experienced club members. These sessions can also provide a wide variety of activities that might be tough for a single triathlete to organise, such as using an athletics track, cycling training in a velodrome or open-water swimming sessions.
Group training is also a cost- effective way of learning more about the three triathlon disciplines. In a single swimming session you might learn why you're not gliding through the water with ease, but you can also pick up transition tips, find out what to eat and drink on the bike, chat about a pair of running shoes you're think of buying - the possibilities are endless.
The final key benefit of joining a club is the added motivation and social contact that training in a group brings. When the thought of heading out for a long bike ride on a wet and windy morning doesn't appeal, sharing that same session with a group makes it easier to get out the door. Many clubs also encourage you to take part in a range of social activities, such as training holidays, activity weekends or race-specific events.
When you're ready to join a club, the British Triathlon Federation (BTF) will be able to tell you about the clubs that exist in your area. Before you go along, you can find out how many members there are, whether the club has a development plan and how it organises its training sessions. The BTF also promotes quality-assurance standards, which indicate that the club has minimum standards in place.
When you've found a club, go along for a few sessions before you decide to join. "I went to my local tri club after completing my first Olympic-distance race," says Cath Pye, who lives in London. "But I quickly realised that the other club members took their training far more seriously than I could. Many of them trained twice a day and when I checked out their race times, I realised quite a few were national standard." Pye decided to wait and see what other clubs had to offer.
You may already be training with a group of friends at work or at the gym and decide that you would like to set up your own club. Most clubs are fuelled by the enthusiasm and hard work of a small group of dedicated volunteers, so check with your group that this is something you're all up for. The BTF's Regional Development Officers are there to help you with information and contacts and if they don't know the answer to one of your questions, they'll know someone who does.
Whether you decide to join a club or start your own, remember that with triathlon, as with most things in life, you only get out what you put in.
For more information on joining a triathlon club, or setting up your own, log on to
www.britishtriathlon.org/clubs, or call Membership Officer Leonie Sijtsma on 01509 226163.