I can’t wait for triathlon season. I actually started training this week for my first race in June. Here are a few tips for first-time triathletes:
1. Start with a shorter distance and work your way up. The first 2 triathlons I ever completed were sprint triathlons. This distance is great because it is short, quick and you get to learn the ins and outs of racing and transitioning from swim to bike and bike to run, plus, what exactly you need in order to finish the race. When it comes to triathlons, there’s a ton of equipment and it definitely gets confusing. It’s not like a 10K race, where you can show up with shorts, a shirt and sneakers and be ready to go. Also, by starting with a shorter distance, you will realize how much you need to train in order to get to the next level.
2. Get familiar with the course. For the first race, make it easy on yourself and choose an event close to home. If the event is within easy driving distance from your house, it helps reduce race-day stress and hassle. You can also do some of your workouts on the course, increasing your confidence and your familiarity with the race. One time during a 5K race, I accidentally made a left instead of a right because I didn’t know the course at all…I was actually in first place at that point and finished in 4th place because of that stupid mistake. Don’t let that happen to you! (unless your racing against me, then it’s fine).
3. A swim-suit and goggles is all you need. If you do not own a wetsuit, no problem! Most people think you need a wetsuit in order to compete but I can attest you really don’t…I am usually one of the few out there in just a swim suit and goggles and it works out well because I can find myself easily in post race pictures! Sometimes however, races do require a wetsuit because the water is freezing and in that case you can always rent one if you don’t want to throw down $300 on a brand new one. Good goggles however, are a must. I’ve tried to buy a cheap pair of goggles and ended up regretting it since the straps come loose and the lenses fog up which makes for a brutal swim.
4. Any bike is fine. Any working bike you have will be just fine whether it’s a road bike, mountain bike or hybrid. When I first started, I did my first 60 mile bike ride with my Trek mountain bike. Needless to say, I was the only one there with a mountain bike but who cares! It was definitely tougher on a heavy mountain bike but I still finished. Also, try and train on the bike you will be riding during the race rather than borrowing a bike on race day. It’s really important to be comfortable with the bike you are racing with. Make sure you know how to change a flat tire just in case!
5. Running sneakers are actually important. If you do not currently own a pair of running sneakers, you need a pair. Jackrabbit in Manhattan/Brooklyn is a great store that specializes in triathlon sports. They have treadmills in the store and can help you find the right sneakers for you. They should ask you questions about your feet, running history and watch your gait while walking and running.
6. It doesn’t take as much training as you might think. If you are in good running and biking shape you shouldn’t have a problem finishing a sprint triathlon. I’m not saying you’ll come in first place, but you should be able to finish. Getting to a pool is the main issue. Once you find a pool or lake to train in you should be money. You don’t need to be training 20 to 30 hours per week. You can be ready for a sprint-distance race on less than five hours per week of training. Most weeks are less than five hours.
8. Transition time actually counts. I was surprised by time it takes to change from swimming to biking and from biking to running (known as transitions, “T1” and “T2”). All of the time between the start of your swim and when you cross the finish line at the end of the run counts! Make sure you practice your transitions and have your transition area set up in a way that makes sense. After the swim, have a towel to dry off, make sure your change of clothes is in order, sneakers or bike shoes are open and ready to go and your helmet is on your bike. For T2, I am usually in the top 10 in this stage because I don’t have clips on my bike. It saves me almost 2-3 minutes because I literally get off my bike, take my helmet off and go! In a sprint triathlon 2 years ago I had a T2 transition time of 16 seconds- good for Number 1 overall!!
For your first race, try to keep things simple. Once you get hooked on the sport, you can look into ways to get faster or go longer. Once you do get hooked, there’s PLENTY of gear such as Garmin heart rate monitors, odometers and GPS systems, specialized triathlon bikes, and a ton more…If you do your first triathlon this summer, please be sure to let me know how it goes! (Thanks to Gale Bernhardt at active.com).