Tips for Aspiring Triathletes: The Japan Edition, Part I

written by Faith (Communications Manager)

Give It a Tri

Some folks chance upon triathlon when they’re already good at one of the three disciplines. Oftentimes, they’re seeking a new challenge that can readily incorporate their strengths. On the flipside, there are also the unabashed ones who say, “Why suck at one sport when you can suck at three?”

Of course, if you already know how to swim and ride a bike, the path for your triathlon pursuits is (almost) neatly paved. Just about everyone can run and even if you can’t, it’s okay to walk – just get out there and tri!

guy looking at a board
This isn't rocket science, but it's pretty close.

There are a a gazillion tips for aspiring triathletes out there in the interwebz but we’ve created a list of tips for triathletes – in Japan. If you thought learning Japanese was hard…

We kid, but honestly speaking, we’re going to keep things ~real~. No sugarcoating around here.

So, here are our tips for aspiring triathletes based in Japan. As a side note, the content will be most relevant to civilians located in or near Tokyo. However, the broader ideas and recommendations can be applied to tri-ing in Japan.

Educate Yourself

Having a coach and a triathlon team is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to educate yourself about all things triathlon. Surround yourself with knowledgeable, experienced triathletes to learn by osmosis.

Find the friendly ones that are more than happy to answer even your silliest questions and learn from quietly observing the championship athletes – sometimes, they’re the same people.

Good Things to Know

Triathlon distances
Pool locations and hours
(Minato-ku indoor pools50M in Sagamihara)
Open water swim locations
Local swim/bike/run/tri groups
Local bike shops
Local triathlon shops
(like Athlonia in Sendagaya – Japanese)
Go-to sources for triathlon questions
Japan Triathlon Union
Annual JTU membership
Race calendar

Japan is all about rules and regulations. So, whether it’s the track, the pool, or the beach, learn what’s kosher (as well as what isn’t) – and get used to it. 

The lack of a structured triathlon team and access to coaches in Japan can be a source of frustration for those who don’t understand Japanese. It’s not impossible to join training sessions with Japanese teams or groups but depending on your linguistic abilities, you’ll be relying on someone to translate Facebook announcements or directions during a ride.

Online coaches are another option – just be clear about what is possible or difficult to manage in the Japan context. For example, pool workouts that ask for fins and paddles when most pools don’t permit swim toys nor Garmins. Or strength training without a gym membership. Open water swims and overly-cautious lifeguards…the list goes on.

Short of hiring a coach, it’s no surprise that the internet is one of the best sources for information. A simple Google or Youtube search, e.g. “beginner triathlete” or “how to triathlon”, will give you enough material to browse ‘til the cows come home.

triathlon logo

Facebook can also be a fountain of knowledge and an efficient forum for honest Q&A, noob or not. As with anything posted online, it’s a good idea to cross-check information across different platforms.

In triathlon, you’re always learning.

Useful Facebook Groups and Pages

Women for Tri
(only for women)
Pathetic Triathletes
(a lot of banter)
Triathlon in Tokyo
(ask to join the email group)
E3 Fit
Swim Bike Run Okinawa
(primarily military/DOD and dependents)
Eat Run Love & Travel
(Tokyo-based semi-elite female runner)

Triathlon-focused websitesmagazines, and similar sources in English abound but the vast majority cater to everywhere but Japan. Since access to resources available abroad can be limited or non-existent in Japan, browsing these websites can sometimes border on frustrating or irrelevant. At worst, you feel mildly jealous of all that isn’t readily available in Japan.

Books and Magazines

Triathlete magazine
The Triathlete’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel
The Triathlon Training Book, by DK
Strength Training for Triathletes, by Patrick Hagerman
Be Iron Fit, by Don and Melanie Fink
Roar, by Stacy Sims
Women Who Tri, by Alicia DiFabio

Casual Tri Reads

Run, Ride, Sink or Swim, by Lucy Fry
Chasing Kona, by Rob Cummins
You Are An Ironman, by Jacques Steinberg
Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington
This Girl Ran: Tales of a Party Girl Turned Triathlete, by Helen Croydon
Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow, by Susan Lacke

Find Your Tri-be(s)

For training purposes, there’s no need to limit yourself to triathlon-specific groups. Join a running club like Namban Rengo for speedwork, go for long rides with Rapha, and open water swim with Triathlon in Tokyo or E3 Fit.

Those needing external motivation should make a list of options for group sessions and piece together a schedule that works for you. Especially in the beginning, group sessions are an easy way to make training routine – and a proven way to find like-minded athletes.

triathletes after finishing race
Triathlon in Tokyo at the 2018 Ise Shima Satoumi Triathlon
"Team Taiwan" at the 2018 Okinawa International Triathlon
strava sign

Get Organized (But Be Flexible)

There’s a lot of components to consider when you’re training for three disciplines. Plenty of disorganized triathletes get it done and live to tell the tale, but for beginners, triathlon will be a whole lot simpler if you’re organized and have a plan for every workout so you know exactly what you’re going to do.

In Japan, that might mean thinking through how you’ll bring your bike and gear to the race that’s an hour from home. Or how you’ll count laps and measure splits at the public pool (again, because Garmin watches are not allowed). Being organized includes being flexible with how you manage your time.

From scheduling and logistics to gear, nutrition and hydration, take the time to prepare for success every session, race, and season. Ultimately, a lot of things can happen before, during, and after training that are beyond your control – being organized lets you try to control what you can.

Training Is a Commitment

As with any sport, training is a commitment and you simply have to make time for it. With swimming, cycling, and running to train for, triathlon in particular can feel overwhelming. Naturally, short distances don’t require as many hours of training but as you “move up the ranks”, you just might find your life revolving around triathlon!

In Japan, our days toiling in the office or at work are often lengthy. If you already train for one sport, you’re probably wondering how you’ll train for three! In addition, you may need to factor in a generous amount of travel to reach various training sessions, e.g. the pool, the track, open waters.

Your weekends will inevitably involve hours of swim/bike/run – often with your triathlon buddies, who often become good friends. When triathlon becomes a passion, training will come naturally and you’ll be motivated both internally and externally.


A brick workout is when you stack two (or three) disciplines in one consecutive workout. Bricks help your body become accustomed to “shifting gears” and handle the demands of race day. Avoid nasty surprises on race day! 

Swapping from swim to bike to run is not easy! You have to practice.

From swimming horizontally in water to pedaling across land and using those same fatigued legs to carry you across the finish line, bricks are a critical workout to simulate a race. There’s no need to run more than 20 to 30 minutes after the bike – it’s just enough to get your legs accustomed to the transition.

In Japan, you’ll get a lot of looks when training in skin-tight apparel or a tri kit. If you’re self-conscious or training solo, you may want to consider doing a quick change into running gear (somewhat simulating a transition). We don’t recommend running in padded cycling gear. One word: chafing.

Apart from the open waters and beaches, there are very few options to truly practice the swim/bike brick. Even though this is Japan, unless someone is watching the bikes, you should still practice caution when leaving bikes out in public while you swim – locked or unlocked.

Coming soon in Part 2...

Nutrition and Hydration
Be Patient
Choose the Right Race
Practice Makes Perfect + Work on Weaknesses
Have Fun

About the Author

Born in Singapore and raised in Malaysia, Faith holds a Japanese passport, a BA from Southern Methodist University, and M.Ed from Vanderbilt University. Currently, she works as the Communications Manager at Samurai Sports where she spends weekdays at a desk and weekends at various races. 

In her free time, she trains regularly for her triathlon pursuits and hopes to qualify for her second 70.3 World Championship in 2019. Faith loves dogs, hates celery, and is always hungry. Faith moved from Singapore to Japan in mid-2017 and encountered a lot of struggles adapting to her new triathlon life. Read about her first Ironman 70.3 in 2017!

Faith at the 2018 Alps Azumino Century Ride in Nagano