Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | February 27, 2012

Trying a Different Kind of Tri: An Introduction to Indoor Triathlons

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’d never done: an indoor triathlon. To be honest, I’ve never even thought about doing an indoor tri before, but it was organized by Tri-umph Multisport (named best triathlon club in Chicagoland!) and a few friends were doing it, so I decided to give it a try, so to speak.

It was an educational experience. First thing I learned? Well, apparently peeing on the bike during an indoor triathlon is severely frowned upon.

Don’t worry, I didn’t really do it. But I did discover that indoor tris are quite different from outdoor ones. So, in the spirit of those dreaded high school “compare and contrast” assignments, here are some of the salient differences.


Outdoor tri: You usually have to spend several days getting all your stuff together. Wetsuit, goggles, cap, maybe a towel. Then you have to organize all your bike gear, starting with the bike itself. You’ve got to pump your tires and make sure you have everything you need to change a flat, plus your helmet and water bottles. You need to get your running shoes, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and hydration belt all ready to go. You need to make sure your number is on your bike, your helmet and your body. You need to put gels in your bike shirt and Gatorade in your water bottles. And you need to have all of it packed and organized to lay out in transition. It’s exhausting.

Indoor tri: you need a bathing suit and goggles, shorts and shirt, plus bike shoes (optional) and running shoes. That’s about it.

Transition area:

Outdoor tri: The place is usually muddy and crowded. It’s hard to find a spot on the bike racks, and once you do find a spot, you have to remember where, in that massive row, your stuff is.

Indoor tri: You get to use a lovely locker room. The only thing you have to remember is your locker number. There are fluffy towels, hair dryers, real bathrooms, and even a whirlpool.

The swim:

Outdoor tri: You run over mounds of goose poop into murky, smelly, icy water. People swim on top of you, kick you in the head, and knock your goggles off. You swim wildly off course, only realizing after several minutes that you’ve been going away from the buoys, not towards them. You wonder if anyone would even notice if you drowned. When you finally get back to shore, you have the pleasure of running barefoot through goose poop. Again.

Indoor tri: You swim in a clear, clean, highly chlorinated pool. There are easy-to-follow lane lines to keep you on course. Every 25 yards you can stop at the wall for a little break. No geese are allowed inside the facility. Afterwards you wrap yourself in a large fluffy towel.

Transition One:

Outdoor tri: You spend what seems like several hours running barefoot through the mud in transition looking for your bike. When you find it, you desperately try to get your wetsuit off, only to discover that somehow the damn thing is superglued on to you and you may have to wear it for the rest of your life.

Indoor tri: You wonder if you have enough time to sit in the whirlpool for a few minutes. You use an extra towel to dry yourself off. You change into fresh, dry clothes. You use the very luxurious ladies room (so you won’t have to pee on the bike) and not only do they have lavender-scented handsoap, they have moisturizer, too. You risk being a little late to the bike portion because hydrating is important. Hydrating your skin, that is, with the cucumber-and-aloe lotion. You grab another one of those fluffy towels, just for fun.

The Bike:

Outdoor tri: You attempt to ride while still getting your shoe clicked on to your pedal. Your foot keeps slipping off. You nearly crash. Your helmet is crooked and the water from your wet tri shorts collects in your shoes. Your feet get soaked.

Indoor tri: You hop on a spin bike, fire up some tunes and pedal for 20 minutes

Transition Two:

Outdoor tri: You can’t find your spot in transition. Where the hell is your stuff?

Indoor tri: You take off your bike shoes, put them back in your locker, and put on your running shoes. You take yet another fluffy towel and wonder if anyone will notice if you stick it in your bag to take home. You also freshen up with a little more moisturizer.

The Run:

Outdoor tri: You realize at mile 1 that you forgot to start your Garmin. You realize at mile 2 that you forgot to put on sunscreen. You realize at mile 3 that you didn’t fill the bottles in your hydration belt.

Indoor tri: You run for 15 minutes. At this particular tri, the run is on a track. So you run around. And around. And around. And around. And then you’re done.

The Finish:

Outdoor tri: You go under the balloon arch and feel proud of yourself for finishing. However, you know you’ll be in pain later from the severe sunburn on the back of your neck. You head to transition and you’re pretty convinced someone stole your bike because you have absolutely no idea where your stuff is.

Indoor tri: There’s no balloon arch. Not even a big banner than says “Finish.” But you get to sit in the whirlpool and then take a shower (using the health club’s invigorating ginger-scented shampoo and conditioner). You dry off using about ten towels. Because you can. Granted, using so many towels is frowned upon, but hey, at least you didn’t pee on the bike.


  1. Made me laugh. I don’t know of any indoor tris in my area. But I think I’m afraid of fluffy towels, so I’ll have to stay away from them if I do find one.

  2. It sounds like indoor tri is really the way to go. Noted. 😉 Great job powering to the aromatherapy-laden finish!

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