Conquer Your First Triathlon

Do you enjoy swimming? What about biking? And running? If you said yes to all three, you should already be signed up for a triathlon this summer. But let’s say you only enjoy running and biking but can barely swim; should you still do a triathlon? Absolutely. Not everyone who does a triathlon is a pro at all three portions of the race. If you’re only good at one (or let’s face it, none) it’s still an excellent opportunity to learn some new skills and get fit along the way.

If the thought of competing in a 3-part race seems scary or too intense, keep in mind that triathlon is easier on the body than say a marathon because you aren’t continually hitting the pavement for hours at a time with the same motion. Instead, you are allowing your body to work in a number of ways to get you from the start to the finish line. After my first triathlon, I was expecting that I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day but was shocked (and very happy) to wake up with very little soreness, as compared to when I ran a half marathon and hobbled around the office for a full week post-race.

Preparing for a triathlon is also awesome for your body because you’ll be completing a variety of workouts, resulting in full-body fitness. Here are a few beginner triathlon tips to get you started on your tri journey:

Start Small

An Olympic distance triathlon consists of a 1-mile swim, 26-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run. Seem like too much? You don’t need to jump into this distance. Start off with something smaller, like an indoor triathlon or a sprint triathlon which is approximately half the length of an Olympic race.

Get Ready to Spend

Triathlons are a pricey hobby. From the outfit to the bike, to the entry fees, expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand to get to the finish line. While you don’t need to go out and buy a $5,000 bike for your first race, you should invest in a good road bike. If you enjoy biking and can see yourself getting a lot of use out of your bike, I recommend spending about $800-$1,200 on your first road bike. It’s brutal to be in a race riding a rickety old bike, pushing super hard and seeing people effortlessly fly by you. However, if you’re just starting out and you aren’t even sure you will enjoy it, opt for a used bike (check Craigslist, then make sure to bring it to a bike shop for tuning & a safety check) or a more basic road bike like the Schwinn Prelude ($250). You will need a wetsuit ($100+ or you can rent one), a tri-appropriate outfit (which is important since you wear it all the way through from the swim to the run so material matters- good brands are Sugoi and Zoot) plus other items like a flat tire repair kit, biking shoes, running shoes, sunglasses, etc. The start-up cost for a triathlon is quite pricey, but if you enjoy it you’ll get a lot of use out of the pieces and they will last you for years (and many races).

Have Time to Prepare

Pick a race about 3-4 months out so you have time to train and prepare. If you are particularly weak in a portion of the race, make skill growth a priority. Seek out triathlon clubs, teams, or even just a group of friends who can help you hone in on those skills.  If you need extra support, sign up for swim lessons or consult a private coach. Triathlons are no joke; safety-wise you need to be prepared.

Practice Transitions

So you’ve perfected your freestyle stroke, you can ride a bike like a pro and you sped up your run pace. Do you think you’re ready for the race? Not quite. A big piece of triathlons are the transitions. Going from the swim to the bike and the bike to the run can easily add precious minutes onto your race time. Practice changing out of your wetsuit (insider tip: I spray my body with PAM Cooking Spray pre-race to help my wetsuit go on and off easier. Gross- but it works!) and see how fast you can get your shoes changed. When you set up your transition zone before a race, be organized and prepared. Make sure your shoelaces are untied, your helmet is unclasped, your socks are right side out and so on. These little edits will make a big change in your time. During your training make sure you combine your bike ride and running into one practice (called a brick) so your body knows what it feels like when you jump off your bike and take off running (hint: it’s hard!).

Have Fun

Triathlons are tough, but they are also a really fun race. Especially if you are doing it with friends, it’s an exciting and challenging experience. For your first race don’t get too caught up in your time, just have fun and safely get to the finish line. From there you can see which portions of the race you can improve upon for your next go at a tri. Once you finish the race you should be really proud of yourself so go out to a fun brunch and celebrate your accomplishment.

Shortly after your race, run home and sign up for another triathlon because trust me, you will get hooked!

If you’ve ever witnessed the finish line at a triathlon —especially a long-distance triathlon race right before the seventeen-hour cutoff  — you were probably exposed to a wide range of raw human emotions.

Once past the finish line, some athletes are in a state of euphoric jubilation, and others are crumbled in intense agony from putting their body through something that it was not necessarily meant to do. The long-distance format of an Ironman consists of a 2.4- mile swim, 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run. This event is not for the faint of heart. (Don’t worry: there are many races below these epic numbers for the beginner triathlete!).

Spectating a race could cause you to catch the triathlon bug, envying the experiences of the athletes as you witness them finish the race in a heap of emotion. If you are moved to compete, jump in with two feet and start your journey! To help you on your path, we asked an eight-time Ironman champion who will be competing in her 55th full Ironman.

Study weather conditions

Nothing can derail your race faster than a weather forecast you were not prepared for whether it is extremely hot, cold, rainy, or windy. Cold hands and body can lead to an early exit as well as not being prepared for the sun. You need to know the temperature of the water because if it is too hot, you will have to wear a skinsuit and if it is too cold, it will be a wetsuit legal swim.

Practice nutrition and hydration

One of the things that you tend to forget yet are imperative in a triathlon race is your fuel for the body and what you drink. This means carefully mapping out what you are going to eat in the days leading up to the race, the morning of the race, and during the event itself. You need to practice in your training with everything you are going to consume in order to prevent any potential GI issues. Whether it is Red Bull on the run or gels on the bike, make sure you are using them to simulate race-like conditions in practice.

Transition 101

Transitions are daunting so it is marquee to keep it simple! Only take what you are absolutely going to use into transition so that going from the swim to the bike and bike to the run is a thoughtless and poetic process. As always, practice your transitions before the race. Take off your wetsuit, mount your bike, dismount your bike and put on your run gear; do this over and over again until you are efficient at it all.

Lists are your friend

Between the nerves and the anticipation, race week is organically a bit stressful no matter what! Try to avoid any unnecessary stress by being extra organized with a tidy list of everything you will need for the race weekend. Although you want to keep things as simple as possible, in triathlon, you are trying to get better at three distinct disciplines so there will understandably be a lot of gear, nutrition, clothes, etc…Prepare a list and double-check it twice before heading out on your race adventure – even if a little tedious at first, it will become a routine!

Enjoy the day

Triathlon is a journey and you are constantly learning and evolving – EACH day, EVERY race. The race itself is a culmination of all your hard work, dedication and gumption to reach that pivotal point. Training and preparation breed confidence and calmness. To be human is to have butterflies though if you have put in the time and the effort, you should be very chi and at ease. Put all of the waves that you have experienced on the journey in your back pocket and as fuel to the finish line! The highs and lows in one race are immense and this – PRECISELY – is the challenge that drives us triathletes to try to conquer!