It wasn’t too long ago that I was basically freaking out, having pushing the “Register” button on my first triathlon. I scoured the internet looking for tips for new triathletes. I read books. I read magazines. I read triathlon blogs. I read articles. I picked the brain of people who had done a triathlon before. I joined groups. I started this blog to document the journey.
I had always wanted to do a triathlon, but it seemed like the “Big Unknown” – it seemed complicated. I wanted to crack the mystery of how to train for a triathlon so I dove in head first reading all the tips for new triathletes. Now, years later, I’m not an “expert” or a triathlon coach, but I do have some solid experience under my belt after many sprint and Olympic triathlons, and five half Ironmans. And I’ve learned a lot through my many mishaps and bumps along the road. [Too many…]
So what are my top 7 tips for new triathletes?
1. Start From Where You Are. So you’ve decided to do a triathlon. Chances are, you’ve swam, biked, and/or run before – so you’re not starting completely from scratch – Yay! So start with what you’ve got – and build from there.
Each triathlete comes at it from a different experience level. Comparing yourself to others who have already put in time (and often money!) into this sport will only frustrate you. Focus on yourself and what you can do. Then work on improving each discipline – swimming, biking, and running – and then putting it all together.
Whether your goal is just to finish the race, or whether you have other goals, the whole endeavor takes a bit of hard work and an investment of time.
But it’s so worth it.
2. Break It Down and Build It Up. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the big goal looming ahead. I remember working towards my first sprint triathlon and wondering whether I could swim that distance, then bike that distance (because: hills!), and then run a 5K without falling apart.
Break it down into a clear training plan – you can find one online, join a group that provides a training plan, or you can hire a coach to get you to the finish line. Having a structured plan will help you approach it in a manageable way and avoid injury or burn out.
3. Get Comfortable With Brick Workouts. A “brick” is when you do two sports in a row – like first a bike, then a run. Even the most agile runners feel funky when it comes time to move their feet after a tough bike ride. Practicing bricks – even if it’s just a short run down the block after your bike ride – is a huge help in feeling good on race day.
4. Test your gear before race day. There’s a guiding principle of “nothing new on race day” in triathlon, but I like to think of it as “test your gear before race day” instead.
Test out your race day outfit, lest you find that it chafes in awkward places.
New goggles? Give them a whirl in the pool before you’re out in a lake swimming with 100 other people and find that they leak.
Thinking of wearing a wetsuit for your race? Try it out first!
5. Practice transitions. It was a surprise how overwhelming transition could be. The clock is still running, you’re thinking about what went right or wrong in the leg that just finished, and anxious about the leg ahead. And everyone is flying around you looking like pros.
Transitions are the time between each leg of the race. They’re called T1 (swim to bike transition) and T2 (bike to run transition). You’ll likely be given a small space by the wheel of your bike to lay out a small towel with your gear. So practice these transitions a few times in your training.
Lay your gear out the way you’ll have it on race day, and pretend you’re coming in from the swim and going out to bike.
Then from the bike going out to run.
Then on race day, you’ll be more relaxed and confident having done it once or twice.
For a big triathlon transition checklist, see here. I actually pare that down quite a bit now that I’m more experienced, but start with that and then I’ll update with a list of the “bare necessities” this season!
See also: 5 Triathlon Transition Tips
6. Try the Open Water. So you’ve been swimming in a pool for your training, but your race will be in a lake. No big deal? Well, maybe – it’s possible you’re a little fishy and can just transition right over to open water with no issues, and that’s fantastic!
But it’s a great idea to go for an open water swim practice before race day. The water may be colder, waves or chop may be a new dimension to your breathing pattern, and there’s no black line on the bottom of a lake or river bed. Again, avoiding race day surprises is a good thing, so get out to a body of open water before race day to try it out and get acclimated.
See also: Training for the Open Water Swim
7. Have fun! Breathe. Enjoy. Have some fun while training – work hard but still enjoy the moments and the miles. After all, this is our hobby, not our job. You want to get to race day feeling confident but not burned out, and then celebrate that journey on race day.
Many of my tips for new triathletes have a theme – practice and take away as many “unknowns” as possible to help race day go smoother. I’ve had my fair share of things go wrong in races, so taking away some of the unexpected is always a good thing!
Whether you’re planning on “one and done” or whether you choose to follow the rest of us down the rabbit hole into triathlon as a “way of life”, I hope these tips for new triathletes are useful to you. As I train for my first full Ironman, these things are still guiding principles for my approach today even after several years of tris, and I hope that they help you get focused for your first race.
Enjoy the journey!