Your First Triathlon
As mid summer approaches there are many of you about to take on your first triathlon. You might be apprehensive or simply downright nervous and there is no shame in that, it can be overwhelming at times. Swimming is fairly intimidating for many folks, especially when you add a few hundred other people getting in your way! Here we’ll discuss a few ways to keep your day in perspective and ways to avoid the mistakes that are so common and could ruin your day.
Over all strategy and pacing for your race day.
Even for the Elite athletes you will find that in triathlon there are far more things to do wrong then right. What I mean is whether you’re finishing your first triathlon or winning Kona its more about not messing up, not making a mistake rather than being supper tough or “pushing through the pain” or mustering up some magical effort on that day. So, let’s talk about the big picture.
Don’t do something you haven’t done before. You’ve probably seen a few people come off the bike into T-2 leave their shoes on the pedals, swing one leg back over the seat and hit the ground running right as they arrive at the dismount line all in, what looks like, a very easy, fluid motion. Stay away from this! Unless you’ve done this 100 times in your every day rides stay away! Some other things to avoid include:
- 1) don’t ride up a hill harder than you have in training
- 2) don’t take a turn faster than you have before or are comfortable with.
- 3) don’t grab your water bottle with a different hand.
- 4) don’t eat or drink something you haven’t previously consumed during or before training.
Race day is about executing the skills you have on that day as well as possible, not thinking of something else at the spur of the moment. You will also notice that all of the things listed will not gain you much time. And if its your first time, don’t try to set any records.
Lets Break the race down.
Transitions/pre race: “You can’t win the race here but can certainly lose.”
You’re not racing to win today but the same ideas apply here. Take your time, relax, catch your breath, try to recover a bit from the swim or the bike, and focus on not making mistakes. And most important of all, breath… before you leave do a double check. Is your helmet on and buckled? Got all your water, anything else you need? OK… you sure? Ok, now go.
Keep things simple. Organize your gear by your bike in a small area. Less is more here. The less “stuff” you have to deal with, put on, take off, buckle, strap, flip over, the better.
I put the transitions section first because I see more errors and mistakes here than anywhere else. At every single race I hear about or see someone bolting out of transition to the run at mach 3 with their cycling helmet still on. Don’t be that person! And if you are its OK just laugh because it’s pretty funny.
Visualize: When you’re done with set up, walk down to the beach or wherever the swim start is, walk over to the swim exit, then walk up to the transition area (like you will in the race) take note of everything. How far is it? Look around, do some visualization. I am going to come out of the water, WALK up the beach, take the top of my wet suit off, into transition here and my bike is… ummm where’s my bike? See why we do this! Finding your bike is easy when there is no one else there and you’re right next to it. Finding it when you come into this huge transition area from another direction with hundreds of bikes around and water in your ears is a completely different animal.
Our 4 key tips for each section of the race:
- 1) If you’re a bit worried about everyone crawling over you start at the back.
- 2) Go easy! The swim is designed to blow your race. Swiming is a hard full body sport. Relax, find a rhythm and go. You’re pumped up, you’re excited it’s the beginning of the race, you will likely go to hard. Try and relax. Swimming too hard will have you hyperventilating in 3 minutes or less. Focus on form and breathing.
- 3) Keep moving. You’re going to contact other racers, they are going to contact you, and it’s ok, this is what happens when 100’s of people all need to get around the same buoy in the same few square feet. Just keep swimming.
- 4) Look where you’re going every 3-5 strokes. If you get a good feel for going straight go longer (5-10 strokes) before looking.
- 1) Make sure it works and is safe. Are the tires in good shape and pumped up? Do the brakes work and is everything is tight and in order?
- 2) Pay attention!! If another rider does something dumb and you crash down its still your fault and it’s your road rash. Take responsibility! Watch for Dirt on turns, other riders, glass in the road, cars, pot holes, rocks, and more. Just like you do every other ride. Take responsibility for yourself!
- 3) Stay steady! YOU dictate your pace, not the road. Don’t ride too hard on hills and in head winds. These elements will be harder than the flats but stay steady. Conversely go easier on fast sections; down hills, tail winds, etc. and recover a bit. Keep your cadence up, use all the gear on that bike. Don’t sprint out of turns and up short hills.
- 4) Fuel up! Remember, you still have to run. It’s easier to eat and drink on the bike and fluids are most important here. Just keep a steady, consistent flow in regards to fueling.
- 1) Relax! The first few minutes will be the hardest. Your legs will take a few minutes to adjust. Go slow and stay positive. Find a sustainable rhythm. Find a pace you know you can finish. If the fastest 5k you have ever run is an 8 min/mile pace don’t start at 7:30’s. In fact don’t start at 8 min/ miles. You will likely lose 7%, maybe more on your run from a standalone running race.
- 2) Focus on form. Keep your head up, smile, keep a short stride and quick cadence. Stay light on your feet. If you start plodding along and hammering the road you’ll just make it harder on yourself. Run forward, not up and down.
- 3) Keep cool with water over your head, on the legs and in the system! You may be only a few miles from the finish but it’s going to take much longer than the last few miles on the bike, way longer! Stay hydrated and cool. Water in the system and over your head will help keep your core temperature down.
- 4) Walk for 30 sec. -1 min. before you blow up completely. Don’t push yourself to the brink before you compromise your pace. Walking through feed zones is a common practice. Relax, get your water and/or calories with ease and less stress, catch your breath and then get back to work. You’re almost there!
So remember this is YOUR race, your day. Don’t get sucked into trying to catch the dude with the disk wheel on his/her bike. Don’t let a few people bumping into you on the swim ruin your whole day. Be ready for it. Stay relaxed but ready. Be in the Now. Look and think about where you are and where you’re heading in the next 30 seconds to a minute or so. If you’re on the bike, don’t worry about the run… yet.
Remember to have fun, smile, and enjoy your accomplishment. You’re doing it! Don’t forget that feeling.
See you at your second race.
Written by Eric Kenney