From one beginner triathlete to another
At the request of Tam over at My Infinite Balance, here are some tips I wish someone had given me before my first mini-triathlon. I just noticed we’re both married to guys called Kevin. How random is that?
I apologise in advance if this is all common sense to you. But as “they” say, the thing about common sense is that it’s not very common and all of these tips – bar one – are things I’ve discovered the hard way.
My second apology is that these tips are all over the place. I was hoping to put them in the order you would need them (or categorised into swim/bike/run/transition) but the formatting went all over the place when I tried to cut and paste. The end result is this numbered but unordered list.
- I’m certainly not a glamour girl but hair style is important. At 6am, it’s easy to go for whatever your default “do” is. Depending on the style, this could be a big mistake. You need to choose a style that will be easy to get a swimming cap onto. The most obvious answer(to me) is a bun. However, I don’t know many people who can fit a bike helmet properly over a bun.
TIP: I find a plait or braid works best.
- Speaking of swimming caps. Don’t stress. Just stick your hair up under it any way you can. I pull it onto my forehead first, then hold it there will I flick it down around the back. Then simply shove any bits of hair wherever there’s room. It doesn’t have to look pretty. In fact, it’s never going to look pretty. Besides, everyone will be wearing one.
TIP:I leave my ears out of the cap. For some reason I get disoriented, unsteady, clammy and light-headed with my ears tucked in. Do whatever YOU are comfortable with.
- In the swim, don’t be afraid to stop and rest or to switch to breaststroke, or sidestroke even. Be warned, if you’ve never swum in a group, it’s a totally new experience. There are hands and feet to worry about instead of just kicking, breathing and moving arms. If you’ve never swum with goggles before, it’s a totally new experience. Those hands and feet look a heck of a lot closer when wearing goggles. My first two triathlons I think I almost had panic attacks when caught in a group. I was more worried about hitting someone else than I was about being hit or kicked.
TIPS:Swim your swim. Relax. It’ll work out. I didn’t hit anyone when I relaxed – but I bumped several when I was all worked up.
- If your swim is in a pool, you will most likely (in my experience) enter from the side. This is going to be slippery and wet.
TIP:Watch the people before you and decide before it’s your turn, whether you will jump in feet first or try to dive sideways without slipping and losing your footing.
- Test your goggles. My last two triathlons (my second and third ever), I have had to stop halfway down the first lap to let the water out of the left eye bit of the goggle. (Does it have a technical name?)
TIP:If you need to let water out (of your goggles), just do it. Don’t suffer through it – it’s not worth it.
- No matter how silly you think you’ll look or how self-conscious you think you’ll feel, once you’re out there, you’ll be so focused on staying upright and getting to the finish line in one piece, you won’t be worried about what you’re wearing and what you look like. Everyone else is hot and sweaty too. At least the ones who’ll be finishing with you anyway. At a Triathlon Pink event, there are so many people in fancy/fun dress and costumes that pretty well anything goes.
TIP:Wear something comfortable. Even if it’s lycra!
Confession time: yes, I did buy an icecream from Mr Whippy.
- For transition, take the biggest, brightest beach towel you can find. Spread it right out on the ground and put your bike in the rack so the front wheel sits in the middle of the short side of the towel. Make sure about 20 cm of the towel sticks out past the wheel into the “aisle” so you can find yours in among the 100s of bikes that are there. Better yet, if you’re participating in a Pinkie Triathlon use a bike with streamers on the handlebars, or a basket on the front.
TIP: Also take note of which aisle you’re in and try to find a landmark (tree/lightpole/sign) that lines up with how far down the rack you are.
- Racking the bike. The helpful people in transition at my first Pinkie Triathlon gave me this tip – I can’t claim it as my own. Hang your bike by the seat so the handlebars are on the side of the rack you’ll be standing on. This means, if you usually mount from the left side of the bike, you can simply face the bike, unhang it and wheel it forwards toward the mount line. No need to reverse it out then change direction and get tangled up in pedals.
TIP:Practise walking/running beside your bike. In my most recent triathlon we had to walk/run/jog/trudge about 200m from the transition area to the mount/dismount line.
- Make sure you can easily spot the difference between the front and back of your bike helmet. I learnt this the hard way… It took me (what seemed like) ages to get my helmet on in my first ever transition because I was trying to put it on backwards. I’ve since noticed the inside of the helmet actually has a sticker with arrows pointing to the front.
TIP:Practise putting your helmet on quickly – and remembering to do it up.
- If you’re wearing the t-shirt you want to ride/run in, make sure you remember to leave it in the transition area. The same goes for sunnies. And shoes. You’ll need to leave your sneakers/joggers in transition. Take some thongs or sandals to wear until your race is called.
TIP:Decide now: do you want to wear sunnies for the race or while waiting. Both? Buy yourself a cheap second pair for the “waiting for the race to start” time.
- If you’re as uncoordinated as I am, you will probably want to invest in one of these SPI Belts. Again, if you’re doing a Triathlon Pink day, SkirtSports are likely to have a stand and they’ll be selling them on the day. It means you don’t have to fiddle with safety pins attaching your race number.
TIP:The race number is usually waterproof but ask on the day whether they are required for the swim or not. I thought they were but not many swimmers were wearing them last week.
- DON’T FORGET TO APPLY SUNSCREEN.
TIP:A picture says a thousand words:
- It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of water at transition in case you’re thirsty on the way through (or you swallowed too much chlorine and need to clean your mouth). Don’t guzzle though or you’ll be sloshing as you run and looking for a loo instead of the finish line.
TIP: Place the bottle in as much shade as possible unless you particularly enjoy drinking almost-hot water.
- If you have had to remove your front wheel to fit your bike in the car to get there, don’t forget to reattach your brake cable. This is NOT something you want to realise as you hit the first curve on the bike course.
TIP:Stick a reminder on the bike if you have to. Or, invest in a rack that allows you to travel without dismantling the bike.
- Practice turning around in the pool, as if swimming around a buoy. I had practised swimming 200m without pushing off the ends of the pool each time but I was still swimming to the end of the pool, touching the end of the pool, standing up, then going again for the next lap. Thinking about it now, I was probably pushing off the bottom of the pool at the start of each 25m lap. Swimming 200m without touching the sides, ends or bottom of the pool was somehow a lot more difficult than I imagined. I knew it would be harder, but not how much harder. Also, I had only ever swum in straight lines. My first try-a-tri was 150m straight at the Penrith International Regatta Centre (ewww, weeds in the water – but no waves thankfully). I didn’t have to turn at all. Then, all of a sudden, I was turning 180° around buoys in a pool and I didn’t know how to swim and twist/turn at the same time.
TIP:If there’s enough room in your pool, try turning around at the end of each lap while still swimming.
- No list of triathlon tips would be complete without mentioning nutrition I guess. Think about how your body likes to be fed and how often. The length of the triathlons I’ve done so far have not required any kind of “on course fuel”. No energy bars, not even energy drinks. Water is enough to rehydrate. However, if I have breakfast at 6am and my race doesn’t start until 10.30am, with staggered swim starts (which they are for Pinkie Triathlons), I’m not likely to finish until close to midday. That’s a long time for me to go without food. I sip water all morning and choose to eat a muesli bar shortly before the briefing commences. This puts a bit of fuel in my tummy but doesn’t mean I’m swimming on a full stomach (and I’m not getting into that debate). I do recommend avoiding gassy softdrinks just prior to a swim though. They bloat me and make me even less streamlined in the water than I already am.
TIP:Make sure you’re not ready to pass out when you cross the finish line. You will have earned your finisher’s medal and you should be upright and conscious long enough to enjoy it!
- If your transition area is in the middle of a fake grass stadium, there are likely to be lots of little black pebbly things. You will have bare feet that are wet from the swim leg. They will get in your socks and shoes. I promise.
TIP:Take the time to wipe off as many as you can on your towel. You will know about it if you have a number of them in your shoes – more so during the run than on the bike.
- At my level of competition, not many people have a separate pair of shoes for the bike and the run. You might like to consider it though – something easy to slip on and off for the bike (with no laces to get caught in the chain) – and your regular sneakers for the run.
TIPS: If you do this, I recommend taking a second pair of socks so you’re not trying to put dripping wet socks inside your dry sneakers.
Check out these lacing systems too. They may or may not suit you. I have bought both but have only tried the Yankz ones so far. I found them a bit fiddly but I had really thick laces. I just haven’t got around to trying out the other ones yet (still in their packet 12 months later).
- Running to transition after a swim is hard. It’s okay to walk. Besides – you’re about to wipe out your legs on the bike and you still have a run to do after that. If you really want to run, practise swimming and running. All the books and articles I’d read suggested “brick” training sessions (combining two or three disciplines in one session eg swim/bike or bike/run) to prepare your body for it.
TIP:If you’re focused on your time and not the fun and exhilaration of simply finishing, do some brick sessions. Whatever floats your boat.
In summary, if your primary goal is to challenge yourself but have fun doing it, forget about the brick training sessions, walk when you need to, run when you can, forget about everyone else. Take a support crew or cheer squad (they come in handy for looking after the things you need after setting up transition but before your event starts). Without my support crews for the last two triathlons I wouldn’t have had any photos to include with this post. Thanks Kevin. Thanks Gillian.