As a competitive triathlete, I’ve learned quite a bit about triathlon over the past five years. Here are some of the things that I wasn’t told prior to my first event. Discover what you should know before race day, so you don’t get caught by surprise. Be well prepared and your first experience will be a good one.
You do not have to be an endurance athlete to compete in triathlon. There are several triathlon distances. The Super Sprint (quarter mile swim, 6.2 mile bike, 1.5 mile run) is the shortest. A typical fitness enthusiast can reasonably complete this in less than an hour. Once I decided to compete in triathlon, I strategically started with a sprint distance (which is twice the distance of the super sprint), and worked my way up to a half Ironman distance (70.3 miles). Your comfort level and confidence will increase with each race. Start with the attainable.
Don’t expect to be competitive on a mountain bike. You probably won’t finish in the top percent of your peers if you don’t have a road bike. It can be frustrating having to work twice as hard to keep up, while those on road bikes whiz past you effortlessly. I have been competing in triathlon for four years, and I still feel sorry for all of the newbies who look so tired and frustrated trying to race on mountain bikes. I could not afford a road bike for my first race, so I borrowed one. If that is not an option, consider renting.
Transition times count. Although time spent training should be your priority, keep in mind your transitions (movement between each event) can make a huge impact on how well you place. If you are concerned about your finish time, prepare accordingly. Making smooth and effortless transitions requires practice. This is a skill that I am still learning.
Excitement levels are high in triathlon. One of the unique aspects of triathlon is that it attracts athletes with drastically different levels of experience to the same race. It is not uncommon to find elite triathletes competing in local races. This can be unnerving. A high percentage of triathletes seem to have type A and extreme personality characteristics. This can lend itself to a lot of nervous energy and elaborate set-ups of race equipment. If you find yourself feeling insecure among all the fanatics that surround you the morning of race day, just walk away. Use the port-a-potty, hydrate, stretch, or jog. Despite having competed in dozens of triathlons, I still find myself getting the jitters at big races. No need to absorb the energy of those around you. Find a way to remain centered.
Practice makes perfect. Don’t get overwhelmed by the demands of preparing for a triathlon. If you start well in advance, you will alleviate anxiety. When I decided to compete in my first triathlon (which was a sprint distance), I prepared for at least six months in advance. I placed third in my age group.
Keep it stupid simple. After reading all of the checklists and articles on triathlon preparation, I honestly felt inadequate and ill-prepared prior to my first race. Five years later, I still struggle to tune out the distracting methods of others and tune in to my own needs. We are all different. Life goes on whether you forget your goggles or not. You have a challenge to overcome. Minimize the complications, and focus on getting the job done. My best race of 2012 started with everything going wrong, including oversleeping, and arriving to the race with a flat tire. I almost gave up and decided to go back home, but at the last minute decided that part of being a triathlete is overcoming the odds and finding solutions.
It isn’t cheap. Triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports and also one of the most expensive. You can easily expect to spend $1,000 or more in your first season. You will not only need to pay for pricey race registration fees, but gear for three distinctly different sports. The costs add up quickly. If you are on a tight budget, think outside the box and consider buying quality used merchandise or borrowing from friends.
Have fun. One of the many joys of triathlon is that you get to do the three things most of us spent our summers doing as children: Swimming, biking, and running. Enjoy the race.
Wishing you Health and Happiness,
Staff Writer: @hollylowejones