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Bare Bones Basics
The standard triathlon consists of one mile swim, 25 miles bike, 10 k run. There are also races of half that distance, some for only women, for example the Danskin series: http://www.danskin.com/triathlon/, and there are races 2 or 4 times the standard distance: http://www.ironmantri.com/. You can find a calendar of races at http://www.insidetri.com/ as well as a state by state list at http://www.trifind.com/bgnrs.html
The time it takes to complete a standard triathlon distance is under 2 hours for the professionals on a reasonably easy course to almost 4 hours for the oldest racers on a mountainous course. Three hours is respectable for many triathletes on most terrains.
The essential equipment you will need is a swimsuit and goggles, the bicycle you already have, an approved helmet, a water bottle, and running shoes. Advice on the many extras you will enjoy accumulating can be found by asking on the newsgroup Rec.Sport.Triathlon. The more specific your question, the more advice you can expect.
The least amount of training will consist of 2 - preferably 3 - sessions per discipline each week. One session of each activity should consist of straight over-distance. If you are training to swim one mile (1500 meters) then swim 2000 meters; the same is true for the bike and run. Once per week, break the distance into smaller parts performed faster than race pace. Once per week, do hills on the bike and run, and concentrate on technique in the swim. Books by Dave Scott and Friel among others have extensive advice for all your training.
Before you enter a triathlon volunteer as a body-marker for a race near you. Your duty will be over when the athletes are in the water and you can spend the rest of the time watching transistions procedures and short-cuts taken by the faster participants.
Check out the newsgroups: In addition to rec.sport triathlon, there are several devoted to bicycling, rec.sport.swimming, and rec.running. Most of these have a FAQ which you will be directed to for your basic questions.
News and information about training are available at http://www.xtri.com/
Everything you want to know and are not afraid to ask is at: http://slowtwitch.com/index.html
For a lot of helpful advice take a look at http://www.hulaman.com/triathlon/tritips.html
Also check out http://www.trifind.com/bgnrs.html for a variety of helpful articles.
Fifty Swim Workouts
Swimming Basics for triathletes
Zero to 1650 yards in 6 weeks
The Adult Learner
Minimal Training for a Sprint Triathlon
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