DISTANCES -- There are four race distances. Sprint: 0.75-kilometer swim, 22-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run. Olympic: 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run. Half Ironman: 1.2-mile, 5.6-mile bike, 13.1-mile run, Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run.

GEAR -- One of the great things about triathlons is that beginners don't need to buy a lot of fancy gear. All you need is a pair of running shoes, a swimsuit and a bike: A road bike is the best, but if all you have is a mountain bike or hybrid don't let that stop you.

SEASON -- 100Triathlon season begins in late spring in the Washington area, which includes a series of low-key sprint and Olympic distance triathlons perfect for the beginner. Race dates haven't yet been finalized, but the best source of information on multi-sport events, including triathlons, is the non-profit Triathlantic Association. They will begin posting next season's races in December at www.triath.com.

COACHES -- Troy Jacobson can be found on the Web at www.coachtroy.com or 410/583-8957. Jacobson trains a group of triathletes in Baltimore, but the bulk of his business is done over the Web with individual triathletes. For $60 to $250 a month, depending on the program, he e-mails triathletes weekly workouts and follows up with a phone call.

Jacobson's Triathlon Academy also offers roving one-day, weekend and weeklong training courses around the country. See www.triathlonacademy.com. Neil McClaughlin is another popular running and triathlon coach in Reston. He charges $50 a month and can be reached at www.personalbestrunning.com or 703/435-9446. A cheaper option than a coach is "Triathlon 101: Essentials for Multisport Success," by John Mora, (Human Kinetics, $16.95) a great book on training for your first triathlon.