9 Tips for First-Time Triathletes
The fear in anything you do for the first time, whether it is your first triathlon or your first day in a new job, is the fear of the unknown. So how do you get over that fear? In my opinion, sometimes you just have to accept it and keep on going! POKERFACE!
Doing your first triathlon is amazing, so amazing! Just like your first kiss, you’ll never have another one quite like it. My goal here is always to keep it fun and cover some of the basics that might be sources of stress, so your first experience can be a positive one.
Keep in mind, the whole point of all of this: Enjoy the journey!
DISCLAIMER: For every tip there is an exception. Some rules are meant to be broken—and, at the very least, if you do happen to break them, everything will still be just fine!
1: IT’S NOT ABOUT ANYONE BUT YOU
There are so many reasons to “Try a Tri” for the first time: Because you want to challenge yourself in new endeavors, you want to be healthier, you want to heal from a dirty breakup, you love to move your body or simply because you want to—and triathlon does that in three totally different and cool ways. Whatever your motivation is, it has to be about you because you are the one doing it. You are the one putting your body through intentional discomfort for something bigger—and that something bigger is you! It is your fulfilled mind, and soul and body. And that’s a pretty great thing!
2: DON’T LET YOUR MIND PLAY TRICKS ON YOU
Many newbies will vacillate, and put themselves down as a defense mechanism. You’ll hear excuses left and right and I guarantee at some point you will end up rolling your eyes standing in the excessively long line for the porta-potty as you hear a fellow athlete selling themselves short.
But NOT you! You won’t do that, because you’ll know better. The famous Henry Ford quote fits well here, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.” YOU are in the driver’s seat. You can control your thoughts, stay positive and you WILL do this race.
3: GO SHORT BEFORE LONG & FOR THAT, IT DOESN’T TAKE AS MUCH TRAINING AS YOU THINK
I find this area a huge source of stress for first-timers. “How do I train? What training schedule do I follow? How many hours do I put in each week?!” Sometimes, we get so tired thinking about scheduling the work out, we can’t even motivate to get the workout done. There are hundreds of training plans out there, but for me the most important thing is simply to swim, bike and run. Just get out there and start doing those things, because they are fun! That’s what I did when I first started. I bought a simple entry-level bike and I started riding 3.3 mile circles around Prospect Park in Brooklyn where I live. Round and round I went. Sometimes, I would try to go faster; sometimes I would try to go slower; sometimes I would push it up the hill and sometimes I wouldn’t. I tried to go as long as the race would be. I didn’t even really know how to change my gears at first. Each time I would get on the bike I would have to think about it, until it finally became second nature—and that took me longer than I will ever admit.
I also got a membership to the local family Y, where there was a three lane 20-yard pool that was heated to 86 degrees, and felt like baby pee bath water. Doing flip turns was like taking a ride in the laundry machine. You could never get in without a wait. Admittedly, it was not ideal. But those were my stomping grounds and that’s where I humbly became a triathlete.
Running was always my thing ever since I was a little girl, so I had that going for me—but it was still a totally different beast doing it after swimming and biking. The legs I knew, the legs that were mine, were never mine after the bike. They were wobbly and unsteady and weak, not MY legs.
There is no perfect training plan for your first triathlon. The important thing is to do your best and enjoy the journey of figuring out how to swim, bike and run and figure out how you like to do it best. How many days can you actually train per week? To start, try to run, bike or swim twice per week. See how that goes and go from there.
4: “NUTRITION” ALSO KNOWN AS: FOOD
For me race day is simple. 2-3 hours before the race: toast or bagel with peanut butter, sliced banana and honey + coffee.
15 min before the race I take some kind of energy gel with caffeine (some come with caffeine others don’t) and do so every 45 min of racing. This can and does get more complicated especially as you surpass the Olympic distance.
It’s always a good idea to practice with your nutrition before race day. Whenever you work out for longer than 50-60 minutes, practice your nutrition plan during your workout, as well as before and after. You will want to find out what foods, energy supplements and protein powders, etc. work best for you.
This philosophy applies to hydration too! Get to know your body and how much hydration you typically need for the duration of time you will be racing. Don’t forget to factor in the weather and the humidity!
5: TRY TO CHILL! THE SWIM STRESSES MOST OF US OUT!
For most beginners, the swim is the toughest element mentally and physically.
Chill at the back, take it easy at the beginning and as you get into the groove perhaps you can pick up the pace. I have back-stroked, breast stroked and flat out stopped to catch my breath—that happened to me in a 400-meter race and two months later I swam a full distance IronMan without a pause or hiccup.
Practice sighting---don’t make the swim harder or longer than it is. Depending upon conditions you may have to sight every three strokes to make sure you stay the course. Practice in the pool (even if it looks a little silly) and in open water whenever you get the chance.
Another little tip: goggles under the cap can help prevent them from getting kicked off during the flurry and scurry at the start!
6: GEAR IT UP!
Make sure you are in the right GEAR for the course (this time, I’m not referring to fashion).
Some courses are flat and others have steep hills right out of transition. Make sure your bike is in an easy gear, so you are not having to crank too hard right out of the gate. It’s much easier to start easy and shift into harder gears than the reverse.
In the NYC Tri, there is a very steep hill right out of transition---you see people stalling out and falling right and left. You do not want to be one of those people, so eye the course ahead of time!
7: ROCK THE TRANSITION & KEEP IT SIMPLE
Transition zones are not rest stops. The goal of transition is to spend the least amount of time in there as possible. Go into the race with that mindset. You will need to be organized, calm and swift (the first two make the third one easier).
T1: Swim to Bike
(Make sure bike is in the correct gear for an easy start)
- Wetsuit off
- Helmet on
- Glasses on
- Bike Shoes on
*Hydrate and eat on the bike (I tape an energy gel to the bike) & SUNSCREEN before the race!
T2: Bike to Run
- Race belt (a must) with BIB on
- Running shoes with SPEED laces on
*Don’t be caught tying your shoelaces in transition! Get the ELASTIC kind and you’ll save so much time! Socks are optional, but make sure you try it out first so you don’t get blisters.
TIP 8: TAKE IT TO THE START LINE
When race jitters hit (also fondly known as PRSD—Pre Race Stress Disorder), the mind can cloud and remembering what you need to take to the start line can seem overwhelming. These are my standards:
- Timing Chip
- Body Marked?
- Energy Gel (Nutrition) & Small Water
TIP 9: MAKE YOURSELF A PACKING LIST
Write yourself a list of all you’ll need to pack for the race. This will help for your very first triathlon and for every race thereafter. There are so many pieces to the puzzle and even seasoned athletes forget very important items… like a helmet!
I realized half-way up to my first race this season I didn’t have my helmet packed. I lucked out and a buddy of mine loaned me his super aero helmet. BONUS!! He promptly told me the story of when the same thing happened to him—and at that point he had done at least 100 races!
If you get these 9 tips down, then you will have no problem kicking butt at your first triathlon. Remember Rule #1: It’s all about you. So, have fun!