The Women’s Guide To Triathlon

Today is the first ever guest blog post here at the Blog of Impossible Things. We don’t do these often (read never), but today’s post is special.

As I went to put together Impossible TRI, I realized that I could speak a lot to triathlon from the men’s side of the world, but there was still 50% of our audience that’d I’d be forgetting to address – all the women reading this who want to run a triathlon. So, while writing it, I asked Susan to step in on behalf of the women triathletes and tell it like is – no excuses allowed. With Susan’s regular columns at and No Meat Athlete as well as an Ironman and dozens and dozens of triathlon races under her belt, I knew she knew her stuff.

We decided her advice shouldn’t just be relegated to the triathlon guide, so I asked her again to step up and write a guest post – just for the girls.

susan lacke womens triathlon

So, ladies, if you want to do a triathlon, but think you’re a little intimidated by the prospect of jumping into such a testosterone-drenched sport – Susan’s here to kick your butt.

Take it away Susan!


It’s Ladies Night at The Blog of Impossible Things!

I’ve kicked Joel out and taken over today with my feminine wiles (contrary to what my habits of peeing in bushes and blowing snot rockets may have you believe, I do have feminine wiles).  I recently had the delightful opportunity to work with Joel on Impossible TRI, and upon the release of the book, both of us heard the same thing from many women:

A lot of y’all are scared of triathlon!

What gives, girls? Look, I know the sport seems intimidating. If you go to any triathlon, it’s a real sausage fest – there are far more men in the sport than women. But that doesn’t mean women can’t do it. Women can, and should, be a part of the triathlon community. Listen, we were built for the pain of childbirth…surely we can handle a little swim/bike/run, right?

I’d like to help you get started. In addition to my contributions to Impossible TRI, Joel has asked me to share a few tips for women looking to get started in the sport: 

“Shrink and Pink”…

Because triathlon is still a relatively new sport, manufacturers are still learning a lot of things – specifically, that making triathlon gear for women is more than just making men’s gear in a smaller size and dying it pink. Though our gear looks identical, my partner, Neil, and I can’t exactly swap bike shorts without consequence. Eliminating the ick factor (dude, his sweaty balls were in there), Neil’s gear is constructed for men. It won’t work for my – ahem – delicate flower.

Female-specific bike shorts have a chick-friendly chamois (the padded part), a wider cut in the hips and thighs, and bigger leg openings. There’s also female-specific triathlon suits (with built in sport bras), goggles (made to fit our smaller eye sockets), bike seats, and more. When purchasing triathlon clothing and gear, search for female-specific options.

…But Don’t Go Lady-Crazy

Just because there’s female specific options doesn’t mean you have to purchase them. For example, when it comes time to purchase a bike, don’t let anyone pigeonhole you to the “women’s-specific” options. My first bike wasn’t women’s-specific; my current bike (a triathlon bike) is. There is a wide variety of bike sizes and geometry available for riders, and a good bike salesperson should be more interested in getting you on a bike that fits you and your budget, even if it is a so-called “men’s” bike.

Find Your Girls…

If the thought of sharing a swim, bike, or run course with a bunch of aggressive, Type-A males intimidates you, consider women-only events until you feel more comfortable in the sport. SheROX, See Jane Run, and Athleta Iron Girl are just a few race organizations who put on triathlons specifically for females. Many bike shops and triathlon clubs have organized group rides and runs for females only, for those afraid of not being able to keep up with the guys.

 …But Don’t Shy Away From The Guys!

For the longest time, I put off participating in my triathlon team’s co-ed group rides because I was scared. The rides were mostly attended by faster guys, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to hold my own with them. One day, on a promise from one of the guys that they wouldn’t leave me behind, I headed out on my first group ride and was instantly hooked. Even though the guys were faster than me, they motivated me so much that I wanted to stay with them, so I worked harder. Those guys knew how to push buttons I never knew existed. As a result, I became a much faster rider – and got a new set of big brothers in the process.

womens triathlon susan lacke ironman

Most Importantly:

Though most guys are really cool and welcoming of women in the sport, some guys in this sport fear getting “chicked,” tri-slang for “beat by a girl.” This paranoia about being beat by the “weaker sex” causes some guys to live up to their anatomical namesake – yup, they can be real dicks.

I once did a triathlon where I ran alongside such a dick for a little bit. He was full of smack talk, and it was kind of intimidating at first. Eventually, though, his jokes about my running skirt and pink sports bra became annoying, and I decided to run harder just to teach him a lesson. I soon dropped him, and hit the turnaround of the run course long before he did. When our paths crossed again, he was struggling. I just smiled and waved as I dashed off toward the finish line.

The moral of the story? Don’t let the dicks intimidate you. If (actually, when) you beat those jerks, just smile and wave.

After all, it isn’t ladylike to gloat.

It’s time to stop being so scared of triathlon. Put on your big-girl pants and come join me at the races! Impossible TRI has training plans for girls (and guys) as well as interviews with myself and 4x Ironman and 15x 1/2 Ironman Hailey Manning. Got more lady-specific questions as you get started? You can always shoot them my way via Twitter (@SusanLacke).

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  1. says

    Great post, especially about women-oriented gear. I’m training for a triathlon too, thanks for the tips! More posts for women please! :)

  2. Ali says

    It can be a hard sport to break into, but ladies need to get on in there, and stand their ground! My first tri was a half Ironman, and a dude tried to talk me out of it WHILE I WAS IN LINE TO CHECK IN. The nerve! Honestly, having never done a tri before, his words rattled me a bit, but I stood my ground and finished in the top half of the field. I like to think I smoked his ass. :) Anyway, it’s an awesome sport, and I’d love to see more ladies out there.

  3. Jen Janofsky says

    If it’s your first tri, totally do a SheRox event. They are so, so fun and good competition, too. All over the course you hear, “You go girl!” Plus, they have the best expos!

  4. Deanna Cuchiaro says

    Ladies, get out there and do it! They are addicting and so much fun! In NJ, there is SheRox, Jersey Girl and Danskin, I have so many who said I can’t swim in the ocean, believe me, its more of go with the waves out and back and there are so many people to help you! And, the beach is flat, flat, flat for the bike/run! The events here, the men have always been helpful! So, Just Do It! Any bike will do too !

  5. Helen McKenzie says

    I have to say I have NEVER heard any of my friends even thinking about this and I certainly never did. I did my first triathlon in 2004 as part of my training for my first half ironman in May 2005. There were no womens specific bikes they were all just bikes and I had no desire whatsoever to look for a pink “girl” outfit… there was no problem finding womens bike clothes etc.
    Coming from a running & cycling background I remember being a little intimidated by the swim but never once thought about the ratio of men to women. All the guys I train with are SUPER supportive and I never really think of it as men vs women… we are all athletes, we all have good training days and bad training days… and on race day it should all come down to racing for yourself!

  6. says

    Great piece Susan!

    Very informative, to the point, and funny. What a great sport for women, especially if you are an athletic female. Fun, healthy, and having a sense of accomplishment – should inspire more ladies to participate – certainly in sprint triathlons.


  7. Anne says

    Awesome blog, i Love it. I have moved from just running to doing my first triathlon- yay! It was hard but I enjoyed the variety.

    Lots of women think about doing a short tri but never get going on it- It was great fun


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