Advice for a Newbie Triathlete

As most of you know, when I get an idea in my head, I have to learn as much as I can about it as quickly as possibly. Maybe it’s because I like to be informed; maybe it’s the OCD. Either way, I researched countless websites and watched tons of YouTube videos to prepare for our first triathlon. I wanted to compile all of my advice into one handy location. This information may be a bit overwhelming, but it’s better to have everything all in one place instead of having to waste time searching all over creation for the answers to your questions. So, here’s your all-in-one newbie triathlete guide for the day before the event and race day:

The Day Before:
Most likely, your bike drop-off and packet pick-up will be scheduled for this day. Make sure that you’ve gotten your bike tuned-up at the local bike store BEFORE today so that you’re not rushing to get everything accomplished on time. Pump up your tires to their prescribed pressure, even if you’ll need to check that race morning. Also, if you don’t have two water bottle cages on your bike, install them now. Trust me – you’ll need both of them during the race!

On the way to drop-off your bike, drive the bike route (if you have not already driven it) so that you can determine if there are going to be any tricky curves, potholes, unstable terrain, difficult hills, or fast and flat straightaways. My husband and I did this, and it really put our minds at ease… especially since we found out that there was a 90-degree turn at the end of a long downhill stretch.

Once you get to the bike drop-off area, get ready to say goodbye to your bike. Make sure that you’ve placed your number on your bike and that it’s completely ready to go. Scout out a place for your bike that’s easy to find. I heard horror stories of people running through transition and with the adrenaline rush, not being able to find their bike.

Especially in sprint triathlons, each second is key, so it’s important to not waste time during the transition. Walk the transition areas, both from the swimming area to your bike transition and then from your bike to the running transition. Do this several times to train your brain where to go and to put your mind at ease.

In the afternoon, get out all of the items you’ll need and lay it out on the floor or counter. Use this REI Triathlon Checklist or a similar one to help you prepare. Make sure you do this early enough so that you have time to run out to a local sporting goods store to stock up on anything you may have forgotten. Go ahead and attach your race number to whatever suit you’ll be wearing during the biking and running portions. You will probably also receive a shoe timing attachment, so prepare that tonight, as well. If you’re using gel “fuels,” put them either on your bike with some tape or inside your back pouch on your jersey.

In order to keep your drinks (both water and some type of sports hydration drink) cold for the biking portion of the race, you’ll want to freeze a little over half of it overnight. Then, pour the rest of your drink into the water bottle in the morning. A hot drink is not as refreshing, for sure.

Transition Advice:
Swim to Bike (T1) – This transition point will be the most awkward. You’re still slightly wet from your swim, which makes it difficult to get ready for the bike portion. If you are using a wetsuit, start taking off the top portion of your suit as you run to your bike. Your feet will probably be super dirty from running through mud or grass, so make sure you bring an extra water bottle to rinse off your feet. Also, bring two towels: one to stand on and one to use to wipe off your feet as you rinse them off. This will help prevent any potential blisters from dirt or gravel caught in your shoes. After putting on your shoes and your race number, put on your glasses before your helmet. This will enable you to simply take off your helmet during T2. Walk your bike to the transition point and watch out for others – it can get hectic at this point!

Bike to Run (T2) – This should be a super speedy transition. If T2 is the same location as T1, find the spot you chose. If it’s a point-to-point race, simply find an open area to place your bike and all of your things. This location doesn’t matter as much since the next time you see this area will be after the race. Once you choose a spot, place your bike on the rack, take off your gloves and helmet, and change into your running shoes (if you use cycling clips). Make sure you have a hat or visor that wicks away sweat. The last thing you want to be doing during the final leg of the race is wiping sweat out of your eyes every few minutes. Once you have everything you need, make like a tree and leaf!

NOTE: Practice BOTH of your transitions – it will save you tons of time.

Race Day:
Once race day is here, wake up early enough to have a good breakfast that will fuel you through the morning. This is not the time to try something new – enjoy something that is proven to not make you sick. You’ll already feel nervous about the race, so a stomach ache is not something you want to have on top of that!

Get to the race location early. You may have to ride a bus to the starting area if it’s a point-to-point triathlon, so give yourself enough time to set up your transition areas if you have to do this. In the T1 area, spread out a towel to stand on and place the second towel on your bike. Set out your extra water bottle for rinsing to the side and put the two water bottles you’ll use during the bike ride in their cages. Place your shoes next to the towel and put your socks inside your shoes. This may sound odd, but make sure your socks are inside-out. Since your feet will be slightly damp, this will help you to put on your socks more efficiently. You’ll also probably want to lay out your helmet with your sun glasses inside and your gloves on top of them.  You won’t need to set-up much at T2 other than your hat or visor and your running shoes (if you use cycling clips).

Depending on the triathlon rules, you may or may not be able to listen to music as you run. Check with your race coordinators before assuming that you’re allowed to use it.

Just remember – don’t lose your focus, but have fun! It’s not worth putting your body through so much stress if you don’t enjoy the experience. Even if you’re dead last, you’re still learning something about yourself and your abilities.

Hopefully I didn’t leave anything out. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below, and I’ll be happy to answer them!

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