10 Tips for Your First Triathlon

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There are plenty of tips out there for shaving time off your transition, improving your stroke, and finding the right shoes. But let’s face it, when it’s your first triathlon, the goal is to not drown and finish. Also, a lot of the tips to improve speed can be a little overwhelming and complicated to a first-time competitor. Sure, strapping your bike shoes to your pedals with rubberband saves 30 seconds but getting them flipped off without falling takes practice. Here’s a few triathlon tips to save you some trouble and help you survive.

10. Even though you might be used to working out without eating, consider eating something before your race. Between driving to the race, setting up your transition area, and waiting for your wave, it could be hours between when you wake up and start the race. Practice eating a few different meals during training to make sure you don’t cramp up. My favorite meal is a whole wheat English muffin, peanut butter, and some apple slices.

9. Try on your helmet before your race. This is especially is important for women who do their hair without thinking about how tight it’s going to be to put on a helmet over a thick braid.

8. Tuck your timing chip under the leg of your wetsuit. At my first triathlon, I left it over my wetsuit and got stuck with my suit almost all the way off. I took the chip off, then forgot to put it back on. I lost four minutes in that transition.

7. Warm up in the water; I can’t stress this enough. A lot of first-timers don’t want to waste extra energy because they’re nervous about the swim. When the starting gun goes off, the shock of the cold water hits, the adrenaline kicks in, and you find yourself gasping for breath. With your heart racing, it’s easy to panic. Breathing becomes much more difficult if you’re cold and scared. Go out in the water about ten minutes before and take a few strokes. Pull your wetsuit back and dip in the water, filling your suit with water. Then get out and the water will flow through your wetsuit. Your body will warm up the water, givin you additional insulation and breathing room.

6. During the swim, stop every ten strokes and check your position. I’ve watched people swim the opposite way oblivious to everyone around them. Stay to the back when the gun goes off unless you think you can lead the swim. If you’re a little slower, you’ll have people swimming over the top of you. If you find you’re gasping for breath or struggling, flip to your back and focus on your breathing.

5. If the tri will require you to run through sand, keep a small bucket of water in the transition area to douse your feet in. Wet sand does not rub off.

4. Experiment with energy supplements during your training to find out what works for you. Some people tape energy packets to their handle bars and rip the tips off. I’ve tried this but mine always fall off. I’ve also given up on liquid packs because I end up sticky all over and waste way too much time trying to wash my hands off with my water bottle while trying to bike. Now I use the chewy energy blocks.

3. If using bike shoes, bike with no socks. It’s too difficult to put dry socks on wet feet. But while we’re on the subject of bike shoes, unless you’re actively training with them, don’t bother. I’ve biked with and without them and, at 12.4 miles for a sprint, I don’t see much of a difference. It’s one less worry during the transition.

2. Remember the worst part of the run is the first half-mile when your body still thinks it’s on a bike. It does get better, just keep moving. During hot runs, I carried a water bottle and doused myself with it.

1. Last of all, don’t make a decision about your next tri the day of your first. Eventually the pain will fade and you will want to do it again.

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7 thoughts on “10 Tips for Your First Triathlon

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  1. You are so good at trying new things, but I am extra impressed at this one! Once I helped interpret for the foreign athletes at a World Cup Triathlon in Okinawa, Japan. I was so, soooo impressed by everyone that could get through it, let alone at those amazing speeds.

    The main thing holding me back would be the swimming section and getting so cold in the water!

    p.s. Great tips. I heard similar tips from the athletes in Japan (although not about the sand – I never considered that!) Although their top tip for pre-race food was udon.

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    1. What a cool opportunity. I’d love to have picked their brains. My ability to try new things is all wrapped in my willingness to look foolish 🙂 Don’t worry about the cold—that’s what wetsuits are for. Plus, being wet serves you well in the next legs.

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  2. As a spectator, my eyes have just been opened to some of the struggles triathloners deal with! I would have never considered some of these things, great tips! I like that you mentioned how sometimes tips from experienced triathloners might be cumbersome and not really worth it for beginners. I see this with hiking as well – the veterans often try to give really specific tips about how this tent (or whatever it may be) is .000001% better than that tent, and when you’re just starting out that just seems nit-picky and like an extra layer of confusion weighing on your mind that you don’t actually need to deal with.

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  3. These are great tips! I don’t think I’ll ever be participating in a triathlon but it sure does seem like quite the experience. I liked the tip with the bucket of sand. It sounds like a great idea for running in the sand!

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  4. Wow, very impressive! I’ve never done a triathalon. I love your final tip (#1), don’t make a decision while you’re exhausted and may still be in pain. That’s something I would do!

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  5. These are such great tips! I haven’t done a triathalon but i have done an adventure race that included kayaking, trail running and mountain biking. I was woefully unprepared and could’ve used several of these tips! Are you ready for your next tri or is it still too soon? 🙂

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