Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the First Time Triathlete

As I sit to write this blog I can clearly remember my first triathlon; the decision, registering, training, doubt, trepidation, mistakes, race day, enthusiasm, camaraderie, fatigue, exhilaration, medal, sense of accomplishment . . . addiction. That was decades and more than 100 events ago. Today as a coach and race director I find my greatest enjoyment is in seeing others finish their "first" triathlon. At the finish line I have witnessed smiles and cheers, silence and tears, and even cartwheels. Amidst all the emotions I have observed I have never seen disappointment. No one who finishes a triathlon, who swims, bikes, and runs the entire distance under their own power, is ever disappointed.

For those who see 2010 as the year they will do their first triathlon we would like to offer you a few tips:

Begin Short

Triathlon events come is four standard lengths, Sprint, International/Olympic, Half/70.3, and Ironman. There have been some who have chosen a "long" race as their first simply because the name of the shortest race in our sport is titled a "Sprint". Keep this in mind, the average finishing time for the first time sprint triathlon participant is in excess of two hours. Triathlon is an endurance sport and the goal of anyone in their first season should be to finish their chosen event and enjoy, no . . . relish, the experience.

Choosing to do a shorter event will allow you the greatest flexibility in training and allow the greatest opportunity for success. This of course will only serve to build your confidence and give you a solid foundation for future success.

Register Early

With the unparalleled growth in the sport of triathlon we have seen the addition of quality races in our region explode. Several of these races have courses that allow first time triathletes to experience the full breadth of the sport, swimming, cycling, running, and transitions, while offering them the best chance at success. These races all have limits as to the number of participants they allow so we recommend you register early. This has several benefits. First, you will know what race you are training for and you can make your training specific to the course you will be racing on. Second, your goal will be in front of you so on the days when doubt or fear creep in you will be motivated to keep with it. Finally, a few races offer early registration discounts and saving a few dollars is always great.

Make Your Training Specific

You should establish a solid foundation in all three disciplines (sports). To do this you will need to focus on endurance, force (power), and speed. For your first triathlon your endurance base in all three sports is the most important with force playing a part and speed a bonus. Focus on your sport mechanics as experienced racers will tell you that a well-practiced triathlete tends to perform more calmly and efficiently on race day.

Prepare for Your Race
With many races including course information on their websites, with a few including course profiles and GPS data, you should obtain as much information as possible about the course you will be racing on. From there you can find water, roads, and/or trails to train in/on that are similar to the course conditions. Also, if the weather will play a part on race day, i.e., cold, heat, wind, then you can plan to include similar conditions on days that you swim, bike, or run.

You will also want to prepare for your race by using the gear and nutrition in training that you will use on race day. Remember: "If you have not used it prior to race day, DON'T use it on race day!"

Always check the weather report in the days leading up to your race day.

Plan Race Week

Each day of race week is important.

The days before your race you want to be sure to allow your body to properly recover from your training so you are ready to go at the starter's horn. You will want to be careful with what you eat so your digestive system and metabolism are in perfect working order. You will want to have clear directions to the race locations and know the timing for your travel to and/or from locations. As a first timer you will want to attend all the pre-race meetings. Check and recheck all your gear, nutrition, and paperwork.

During the days leading up to your race mentally take yourself through race day.

  • What will be your routine when you wake up?
  • What will you eat?
  • How much stretching will you do?
  • When will you arrive at the transition area?
  • How will you set-up your transition area?
  • What will be your warm-up routine?
  • What will calm you if you begin to be nervous?
  • How will you start the swim?
  • What will help you remember how to swim steady and strong, and to breathe?
  • How does your wetsuit come off?
  • What will you do in T1?
  • What will you do as you start the bike?
  • How do you transition off the bike?
  • What will you do if your legs feel like lead at the beginning of the run?
  • What will you say to yourself when it gets tough or you want to quit?
  • How will you feel crossing the finish line?

There may seem like a lot to think about and there is. So to be successful, mentally run through and think about them before race day so when they happen you already know what to do.

On race day you will want to have a schedule and a list. The schedule is remind you where and when to be places. The list is to remind you what to do, and or bring. Remember, if you are two minutes late for the start or have forgotten your bike helmet YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO RACE! You will want to be early to warm-up and calm yourself.

Following the race you will want to allow for recovery. What you eat and drink, and how much rest you get, in the hours following the time you cross the finish line will make are real difference in how you feel in the next few days.


Yes, there may be a lot to think about as you approach your first triathlon but nothing is more important to remember than this:

You can do this!

We believe in you. . . Believe in yourself