Tri-Curious? Go for an Indoor Tri!

If you've done this you're 2/3 of the way to your first indoor tri! Flickr Image by Nottingham Trent University.
If you’ve done this you’re 2/3 of the way to your first indoor tri! Flickr Image by Nottingham Trent University.

At one point in your running life I bet you thought you were a strictly one sport kind of girl. But maybe you got injured and had to spend some time on a bike or in the pool which got you thinking that maybe, just maybe, you might enjoy a triathlon. But then you never got up the nerve to actually do one.

Until now that is! Enter the indoor tri: the perfect intro to multisport for you soon-to-be-former one-sporters! 

A couple weeks ago, in the midst of another Northeastern deep freeze, I competed in an indoor triathlon sponsored by my favorite local running store.

Indoor tris are great. This one was my second, the first one being 5 years ago in Chicago, but the format was familiar. The deal is you have set time frames for each event. Swim as far as you can, bike as far as you can, and run as far as you can in those time frames. For this race, it was 10 minutes in a 25-meter pool, 30 mins in a spin studio, and 20 minutes on a treadmill.   Transitions are also timed, so you’re never on the clock unless you’re in a leg of the race.

As an athlete who’s done a number of sprint and olympic distance tris, I can see the value of the indoor version as a welcoming intro for tentative first-timers and a valuable fitness check for off-season competitors. Here’s a rundown of some of the pros and cons (mostly pros) of indoor tris.

1. It’s Indoors – Like the name suggests, indoor tris are perfect for those days when the temps hit single digits. You can sweat it out in climate-controlled conditions with ready-made places (a.k.a. locker rooms) to stash your stuff. No waiting for bag check – hurrah!

2. No Transition Times – At least not the kind that add to your cumulative time. Instead, we had a fixed 15 minutes for T1 (swim to bike) and another 10 minutes for T2 (bike to run). These gave plenty of time to walk from one room of the gym to the other, change, grab a quite bite of nutrition, stretch out, breathe and be ready for the next round.

And if you've done this you can totally handle an indoor tri! Flickr Commons image by Penn State News.
And if you’ve done this you can totally handle an indoor tri! Flickr Commons image by Penn State News.

3. No Open Water Swim – More favorable water temp, less likelihood of getting kicked in the face, less panic, and it’s how most of us train anyway.

4. Less Intimidation The limited space in an indoor gym meant that heats were small, which lead to a feeling of more personal attention and community. In addition, the absence of bibs meant that you couldn’t judge if the person next to you was in a better corral or an elite heat. (Although, I outed myself by showing up/showing off with my Escape from Alcatraz swim cap.)

5. Less Investment – Let’s face it: triathlon gear requires you to shell out some serious bucks. For indoor events, no wetsuit needed. No bike either. And at this race, we were even given SPD bike shoes from the facility. Indoor tris are the epitome of “come as you are” events. But in hindsight, I would still recommend a decent pair of padded bike shorts. (Still sore, ow!) Oh yeah, and the entry fees are cheaper. Less cost prohibitive all around.

6. It’s a More Democratic Race – Everyone is on the same spin bikes, same treadmills, same swim conditions. This reduces any advantage racers with their Rudy helmets and disc wheels might have.

7. You’re truly competing against yourself – Indoor tris are different in that you’re racing as the clock counts down not up. You can get immediate feedback from bike computers and treadmill monitors and not have to keep checking your watch. And since everyone is stationary while riding or running, you’re removed from comparing yourself to others, unless of course you sneak a look at your neighbor’s computer or display. (I mean, who doesn’t do that even in their regular gym workouts.)

8. Safety and Encouragement – Constant volunteer monitoring means that there is always someone who has their eye on you, and they truly want you to do your best and have a great time.

Despite all of these positives, there are a few downsides to indoor tris compared with their big sibling, the outdoor kind. There’s the boredom factor of not taking in any scenery, and there’s a certain feeling of it being less of an accomplishment with all the comforts of a fancy facility. Not to mention the smaller size and less hype doesn’t get the adrenaline going in quite the same way as a gunshot start in a crowd of your fellow athletes.

But not to end on a negative note, indoor tris are definitely a great introduction to the sport. Low pressure, low risk, and a great all-around workout.

I mean, maybe, just maybe my favorable feelings towards this indoor tri are because… well, I won! 20 laps swimming, 22.81 miles biking, and 2.81 miles running made me the top female and second overall. Next stop is the Indoor Triathlon Championships on March 22 in NYC. We’ll see if my opinion of indoor tris remains that they’re low-pressure events.

Have you ever done an indoor tri? If not, have I convinced you to give one a try?


A Minnesota girl living in New York City. I'm a middle school teacher (by choice!), runner, bike commuter, traveler, and general do-er of things. My next goal is to change my finally crush my marathon PR of 4:01 to under 4:00.

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  1. This I might consider! Especially if it was this short and for a charity perhaps. I wouldn’t be competitive as I’d have a really slow swim (so out of practice, was never a “swimmer” anyway). Running off the bike is an interesting feeling, I’ve tried it a couple of times as I have my hybrid on a trainer next to my treadmill. Could be fun. Is there an association or web site to look for such events? How do you find them if you’re not a triathlete? (and not really looking to be)

    1. I’d check three places for information on indoor tris in your area. 1. Check if there are flyers or a community bulletin board at your local running store, 2. Same for local gyms, and 3. Google “triathlon clubs” in your area and see if they have an online calendar that lists events.

      I hope you find one! I’ve always thought they would make great charity or fundraiser races.