Nothing does more for your ego than competing in your first triathlon. Completing a triathlon is a testament not only to your fitness, but to your endurance level—both mental and physical. Think about it: At minimum, you take a 500-meter dip and follow it up with a lively 12-mile bike ride and a spirited 5K run.
People who have never competed in such an event probably think we’re all gluttons for punishment, which, to some degree, is probably true. But it’s an exciting and exhilarating experience all the same. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s an experience I’d recommend to almost anyone—with proper preparation, of course.
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Preparation is key to your first triathlon. It’s also key to avoiding rookie mistakes. I’ll take this opportunity to offer a few kernels of advice:
1. Slow down and think
This may be the biggest mistake novice athletes make when competing in their first tri. They get caught up in the idea that they’re “racing” and rush through the entire race. Then, adding nerves to the equation, they’re bound to make more mistakes. Instead of going full throttle, slow down and work through each phase of the race thoughtfully and intentionally. In the long run, it’ll save you time.
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2. Familiarize yourself with the course
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen athletes get out of the water and have no idea where to go to grab their bikes. Take the time to stop by each transition point and get the lay of the land. Again, it’ll save you time and cut down on the nerves.
3. Swim some open waters
Athletes train in their own designated lane in a swimming pool. In a lake or ocean, you don’t have a straight black line to follow. Mix up your training by hitting open waters prior to a race.
4. Devise a swim strategy
“Shock” is the best word to describe a first-timer’s reaction to the sea of competitors. There can be hundreds or thousands of athletes in a race, and odds are good that you’ll get bumped, kicked or slapped by other swimmers at the outset. Figure out how to avoid the chaos as much as possible.
If you’re a strong swimmer, get up front to skirt the crowd. Slow swimmers may need to hang back or start off to the side. It will feel like you’re losing time by choosing a wider line or starting in the back, but I can guarantee that getting kicked in the eye or the nose will slow you down even more.
5. Treat transitions as the fourth sport
Rookies have a tendency to overcomplicate transitions. I remember one first-timer eating what looked like a full picnic lunch while moving from bike to run. Switching from swim to bike and bike to run requires few steps. Treat transitions as a fourth event, and simplify them as much as possible.
Mistakes are inevitable, and even experienced triathletes make them. I was once transitioning from bike to run, and I couldn’t for the life of me find my transition space, which meant no running shoes. It reminded me that you can’t take anything for granted.
Make sure to prepare mentally, physically and even emotionally. You have plenty of time to finish a race. Don’t get ahead of yourself, and don’t forget your strategies. They’ll buy you time in the end.