So you’ve signed up for your first triathlon or you’re thinking about it. But now what? How does this all actually work? In this post we’ll go over everything you need to know for your first triathlon.
If you haven’t even started training, the5krunner has a list of some free triathlon training plans. So go over there and pick one up.
Then it’s on to your race preparation. Some key points to think about are: What will you wear, what will you eat? And what is your goal?
If you can, do a recce of the course, this isn’t always possible – some waterways or roads are not safe – so be smart here. Try to get in the water where the race is, a day or week beforehand at the time of your start. Having a swim at the same time will give you a feel of the water conditions but also will give you navigational points. You wouldn’t be the first to try to aim for a church at the other side of the lake, only to find out on race day that the sun is right behind it and you can’t see it at all!
If you can ride the bike course, have a look at the climbs and descents. Sometimes special notes are given by the organisation on dangerous turns or situations, but having seen or even experienced these will make your day a lot easier, especially if you are not confident with you bike handling skills. You can also see where you will get new drinks and nutrition at aid stations on fully supported races. This will help you out as you will know you’ll get a new bottle. The same goes for the run: is the course technical, extra hard or easy? Take this into account when planning goal and efforts on the bike!
A good thing to buy is a race belt. This simple little thing is valuable but cheap (you can find them at Wiggle or Amazon for as little as $15). It will hold your race number and you put it on before you get on your bike so your number is on your back. When you start your run, you twist the race belt around so your number is on your front. Some have little bottles and loops to hold gels or other nutrition but for a full supported race that’s a bit much, so we’d suggest to but a simple one. Less is more.
Depending on the organisation and scale of your event, transitions can be set up quite differently. Some have T1 and T2 in the same location, and some have separate locations. But you can basically divide them in two:
1) different transition bags for T1 and T2 or
2) one place for you and all your stuff.
If you have bags, think what you need in what stage of the race and put it in the appropriate bag. Some races have a box for your stuff where you have to put everything in (anything outside leads to a penalty!).
A helpful tip is to visualise your transition. Before the race, walk the transition and visualise taking off the wetsuit, walk to your bike, put your helmet on and run yourself over the other things you want to do. Choose a marker for identifying your spot on the bike rack. Tip: do not choose the flashy bike next to yours as your marker – it may be gone by the time you reach T1! Look for a flag, a tree etc. as your point to run towards. Then walk out of transition, do the same for your T2. We’ll run you through the details now.
Swim to Bike (T1)
You wouldn’t be the first to collapse when coming out of the water. As you swim the last 100 meters or so, a little tip is to start kicking your legs a lot harder. This will get some blood in your legs and they’ll respond a lot better that way. Then it’s on to your bike. Strip your wetsuit down to your waist while you’re running and as you stop in either the changing tent or at your bike take it off. Then, before you touch anything else, put on your helmet and close your chinstrap. Now you may continue doing other things. (You will get a penalty if you so much as touch your bike first!). Put on your race belt and optional your bike shoes.
Some athletes choose to have their shoes on the bike and slide in to them whilst riding. This takes a bit of practice, but if you decide to do so, you can save more than a few seconds on your transition time! Remember to practice before the race, not during :)
Only get on your bike after the mount line. This should be a clearly indicated line, usually near a timing mat. If you hop on your bike before, you will get a time penalty.
Tip: If your race has a box system, take out your running shoes and put your wetsuit at the bottom so your shoes stay dry!
Bike to Run (T2)
In the last kilometer of the bike, switch to an easier gear to get your legs flowing more freely. Make sure you get off your bike before the dismount line or, again, you’ll get a time penalty. As you come off the bike you have to ask yourself if you leave the shoes on your bike and slip out of them or unclip and run to your spot. Leaving your shoes on the bike takes a bit of practice but it will again save you some seconds and will make the run a lot easier and safer. Only unclip your helmet after you’ve racked your bike.
Now the big question: socks or no socks? It comes down to personal preference. If you’ve trained without socks and you don’t get blisters, then you’ll save a few seconds by not having to put them on. But if you have a tendency to blister, those few seconds spent putting your socks on is time well spent! Put on your runners and off to the run you go. Don’t forget to turn your race number so it faces to front now.
The answer on what to wear is simple: a tri-suit. Tri-suits, either a one or two piece, are made to be worn under a wetsuit, have padding for cycling and are comfortable when running too. There are many options and you can find them for as little as $70 here. But maybe you don’t want to spend money here. You could technically do it all in cycling clothing but the chamois is not optimal for running. And if you want, you can bring clothing for each leg. We’ve seen people strip down to butt-nekkid-ness and change into whatever they felt comfortable in.
Have you thought about what you will eat and drink? When are your moments? Try to find out what the aid stations are handing out, and try to train with that. You don’t want to find out they serve banana flavour when that makes you feel sick, or that they’re serving gels containing gluten when you’re gluten intolerant. Do be smart about what nutrition you actually need – at a race below 2 hours, you probably don’t need any nutrition apart from a little bit of water. Just because they’re handing out gels, doesn’t mean you need them!
Setting a goal for yourself will help you in your preparation, don’t just add your training times together, as you’ll do everything consecutively and have transitions in there as well. Try to set a reasonable goal. You can bring a watch to the race and keep your pace! Alternatively, some triathletes – including some pros – race without a watch, solely on how they feel.
Your first triathlon
The first rule of race day: never try anything new on race day.
If you have racked your bike the day before, walk through transition and inspect your bike, maybe overnight your tired deflated. Add your last minute things like sunglasses and nutrition. Have a good look at where your bike is, look at marks to recognise, not other bikes, maybe a trashcan or a banner, all this will help you find your bike amidst the hundreds of others.
Now get in your wetsuit and make your way to the start area. Read our swim start tips and you’re off!
After the race
Sign up for your next one! Soak up the atmosphere and cheer on athletes that have not finished yet. And of course, drink, eat and stretch to aid your recovery.
Just a note about the “links to buy” in this article, as they are sponsored. I do look for the lowest price I can find at the time of writing in a handful of stores, but by using the links I earn from qualifying purchases made through these links.