Whether you’ve done a running race or not, a triathlon presents a whole other set of challenges and unknowns (what’s transition? do I need a road bike? should I use a wetsuit? do I wear the bib during the swim??)!
I have to admit I was so nervous about doing a triathlon that I sort of flirted with the whole idea of it for almost 2 years before I actually took the plunge and registered for my first one (or first three technically since I registered for the whole summer series!).
Once I was committed I began searching for as much “Triathlon 101” information as I could find so that I’d know exactly what to expect come race day.
Having recently completed my first sprint triathlon (and lived to tell the tale!) I thought I’d pass on some of the tips that helped me before, during and after the race and some things that I wish I had known! I hope this is helpful to any of you thinking about doing your first tri and if you have any other questions please feel free to ask!
**Please keep in mind that these are tips for your first triathlon coming from someone who has so far ONLY completed that first triathlon! I’ll add more tips after I do my next one as well!**
In case you missed them, here are my previous triathlon posts:
Hyannis Sprint Tri: Before the Start (this post also has a lot of tips!)
Hyannis Sprint Tri: Swim, Bike, Run
Before the Race
Choosing the Right Race
I chose the Hyannis Sprint Tri for my first triathlon for 2 reasons – first, it was on Cape Cod. I LOVE Cape Cod and we have a place up there, so I’m familiar with the area and I’d have a place to stay, so no real travel necessary.
Second, from reading their website the race sounded very beginner friendly. They offered plenty of detailed information on the race itself, plus it offered a “first timer” swim wave! On race morning they made sure to go over all the rules and course information and even offered white swim caps to anyone who was nervous about the swim, lifeguards knew to keep an extra eye on anyone with a white swim cap! I’d say that was a nice touch for anyone doing their first race that was a little nervous about the swim!
I’m not going to offer any concrete advice on training since I admittedly didn’t really follow a specific training plan to get ready for the tri. The only thing I will say is do some research, there are plenty of great resources for training plans out there! And definitely do some “brick” workouts (a “brick” is doing 2 of the sports back to back in training to simulate race day – a 3 mile run may not sound hard, but do it after biking and your legs will tell you otherwise!).
What to Wear & Gear
Not knowing how I was going to feel about the whole triathlon thing, I went into this wanting to spend as little money as possible on anything “triathlon specific”. I did buy a new swim cap and goggles when I began swimming, but really the only other thing I spent money on was renting a wetsuit.
If you want to do a triathlon with the bare bones here’s what you’ll need (trust me, you could potentially have A LOT more stuff!):
- Swim – bathing suit, goggles & swim cap (wetsuit depending on the water temp)
- Bike – bike (don’t worry if you don’t have a road bike, a lot of people didn’t!), helmet
- Run – sneakers
Everything that was packed in my race day bag:
(My race day essentials bag, swim cap and goggles, towel, tank top with bib # pinned on, bike #, socks, sunglasses, visor, long sleeve shirt for post race.)
A month or so ago when I posted that I was going to be doing a triathlon I mentioned I didn’t know what I was going to wear for the actual race. I got a lot of great feedback and here’s what was ultimately under my wetsuit:
I wore a sports bra and a pair of spandex shorts. I decided not to invest in a pair of triathlon shorts since a) I didn’t know how many triathlons I’d really end up doing and b) I did my training rides without tri or bike shorts so I figured I’d be fine! When I peeled my wetsuit off after the swim I just threw on a tank top that had my bib already pinned to it, socks, sneakers and I was ready to go!
During the Race
If you read my race recap you can probably guess that my #1 tip here is DO AN OPEN WATER SWIM BEFORE RACE DAY! Also, if you want to avoid being kicked/ elbowed/ head butted by your neighboring triathlete swimmer start a bit off to the side and away from everyone else – the swim portion can get quite hectic!
Have everything you will need to go from swimming to biking laid out on a small towel ready to go (I kept mine organized in my bag since it was raining out). I know it helped me to run through a quick mental checklist of what I needed as I was running from the swim to the transition area.
**Put your bike helmet on before you even touch your bike or you can be disqualified!**
I’m not the one to offer any real words of wisdom on the bike since (in theory, open water swim panic attack aside) it’s my weakest leg of the triathlon, but I will say don’t worry if someone passes you!
Remember you MUST walk your bike in and out of transition and mount/ dismount your bike at the designated areas (there are usually signs and volunteers telling you when you can mount/ dismount).
Also be sure to give your bike a once over before race day (or have someone who knows what they’re doing give it a once over!), nothing like getting ready to head out for the bike portion during the race and realizing your tires could use some air (I’m looking at you Pat!).
Rack your bike BEFORE taking your helmet off or risk being disqualified!
My only advice here is to give your legs some time to transition from biking to running. For about the first half mile my legs felt like dead weight and I really thought I was going to struggle on the run, but once they sort of shook off the bike ride I felt great and was able to pick up the pace. (This is why it’s important to do some “brick” or back-to-back workouts!)
Last bit of advice – Finish with a smile!
You just finished your first triathlon, what’s there to not smile about!
Questions I’ve Been Asked
Was it uncomfortable to have to bike wet? – Honestly, not really, I barely even noticed I was wet! I did quickly dry off my feet before putting on my socks and sneakers, but that’s about it!
Will you do another one? – Well since I registered for the New England Tri Tour, a 3 race summer series I’ll be doing at least 2 more! 1 in July and 1 in September. After that, I’m not really sure.
Will you do a longer triathlon? – I have to admit my original thought when signing up to do a sprint triathlon was that it was sort of a stepping stone to do a longer one, ultimately maybe a half ironman. As of right now I’m not exactly pulling out my credit card to register for a half ironman, but I’m not ruling out a longer distance in the future…we’ll just have to see how the open water swimming goes with some more practice!
Here are a few of the resources that helped me:
Swim Bike Mom – Meredith’s blog is AWESOME, funny and honest. She has great resources for new triathletes and she knows what information first timers are looking for because she started out just as clueless as the rest of us (and has no problem admitting it!). She’s currently training for her second Ironman distance race so be sure to stop over and visit her blog!
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Triathlon Training – this book has plenty of beginner tips, training plans and everything in between!
FirstTimeTriathlete.com – A blog dedicated to the first time triathlete!
Wetsuitrental.com – Once I realized I would probably need a wetsuit for this race (water temps were expected to be around 63), I sort of panicked since I had no idea where to even start to find a wetsuit! Lucking wetsuitrental.com does all the work! You answer a series of questions and their magic wetsuit elves choose the perfect wetsuit for you! It’ll arrive a week before your race date and includes a mailing back and pre-paid label to sent it back after the race – it even offered the option to buy your suit if you just happened to fall in love with it! Seriously, couldn’t have been easier.
I hope these tips will help some of you thinking about doing your first triathlon – and please keep in mind that they are coming from someone who has ONLY done their first triathlon so far! I definitely encourage you to check out some of the resources I included above and do some of your own research so you’re fully prepared going into race day!
so you DO get on the bike all wet from the swimming part! This always baffled me–“where do the people change and dry off?”
Haha I know, I always wondered that too! Apparently at full Ironman’s they do have changing areas, but you know, that’s cause you’re out there for like 17 hours!
There’s a very small, very informal fundraiser tri that happens near me in the fall–the “Double Dip Tiny Tri.” You swim, bike, run, and then swim again, hence the “double dip.” My friend volunteers every year, and she’s lobbying me hard to do it. We’ll see!
Yay, you should give it a shot! Let me know if you decide to do it : )
These are great tips. I’m thinking about doing my first tri next June. I grew up by the ocean and have been swimming my whole life, So I’m not as nervous about the swim but I am terrified of the bike…. Also all the gear can be daunting. I’m glad to see it’s possible to do it without a huge investment. (btw. Congratulations on your first tri!)
I was the same way going into mine, I was much more nervous about the bike than the swim. Apparently despite having spent a lot of time in the ocean I never realized how dark it is when you open your eyes underwater!
And yes, totally possible to do without spending a ton of money, especially for a sprint distance. Good luck if you decide to do it and let me know if you have any other questions!
Great tips! I did my first “real” tri at Wildflower in May and definitely used these methods!
Some good tips, thanks for sharing! One thing you can do to help with jelly legs starting the run is to get into the easy gears the last mile or so of the bike…it lets the legs loosen up a bit!
Great tip, I’ll be sure to try that next time, thanks!
I’m still so torn on this! I would love to do a sprint tri but I’m still sooooooo scared of the swim part. Anyway, if I ever do register, be prepared to be hounded by me and my tons of questions! 😛
Is there a Y or something near you where you can take swim lessons?? And when you do decide feel free to ask away! : )
They make a product called a “Swim-it” which is basically an approved floatation device you wear on your leg for those of us who need the extra confidence. I use mine for my long solo open ocean swims during training. Not really necessary in most races as safety is always a priority but you most certainly can wear it if you want to. Cost is about $100 and it is reusable. Check it out and you can do it! Thanks for the tips!
Awesome, thanks for the suggestion! I’m actually in general a pretty strong swimmer (I lifeguarded and taught swim lessons for 8 years), I think the panic attack was more a result of claustrophobia from the wet suit and darkness of the water!
This is SUPER helpful! Thanks for sharing your tips. I’m definitely still afraid of the swimming aspect of it all, but I’m actually looking into lessons to help become a stronger swimmer. You’ve totally inspired me to seriously consider tackling this challenge! 😀