Photo courtesy of triathlon.org
This goes out to Rory, Trevor and Danielle, who said they would team up and see if they can beat their mom and me at the HITS Triathlon Series Olympic distance race! Good luck, guys, you're going to need it!
1. Remember, it's an endurance sport
Talk to your swimmer friends and tell them that the first triathlon race you are doing is called a "sprint triathlon," then tell them that the swim leg of that race is about 1/2 mile or 750m. Watch their faces as they look at you like you're crazy and say, "That's not a 'sprint'! That's a pretty long distance for swimming!"
Talk to your runner friends and tell them that the run leg of your "sprint triathlon" is 5 km. Watch, once more, as they look at you like you're crazy and say, "That's not a sprint! We call a 5 km run 'middle distance' in the running world. 100m, maybe even 400m, sure, those are sprints. But, how come you crazy triathlon people call 5 km a sprint?"
So, what does that mean to you, as you prepare for your first triathlon? It means that, no matter how short the distance of the race is, you can't sprint it the whole way. Treat the distances with respect, and train accordingly, as an endurance athlete.
By definition, triathletes are endurance athletes. Train and race like one...
2. Start moderately, get faster as you go along
You can't hammer it short, fast and hard the whole way. If you start each leg of the race out hard and fast, you will not be able to sustain that intensity for the full distance of each leg. You will get slower as you go along, and that is just going to mess you up, metabolically, physiologically and mentally.
You need to start out moderately, gradually build pace throughout each leg of the race. Aim to get faster as you go along. Even if you are doing your first race as part of a relay with other people, allow yourself to build pace throughout the leg you are going to be doing, rather than hitting it hard right from the start.
3. Start training as you intend to race
What clothes will you wear on race day? Is the swim an open water swim? Are you required to wear a wetsuit? Do you feel comfortable in the wetsuit? Start practicing now, as much as you can, wearing what you intend to wear on race day, and getting comfortable with all that.
What bike will you ride on race day? What shoes will you wear? Will you stop to dry yourself off thoroughly, put on dry socks, then set off? Do you know what it feels like to ride your bike when you are soaking wet? Have you looked at the race website to find out about the bike course? Will it be hilly? How comfortable are you taking sips from your water bottle while you are riding? If the bike is going to be longer than an hour, what will you eat to keep your energy levels up? Start practicing now to get confident and comfortable with everything.
What will you wear on the run? What will you drink? Is it going to be hot and sunny? Will you need sun cream? What will you do if it is raining that day? Start practicing now to get prepared for various eventualities.
4. A few cheap tricks
Palmer's Cocoa Butter Oil is an excellent, vegetable oil-based lubricant that is about six times cheaper than the omnipresent Body Glide lubricant. When you put on your wetsuit, put lots of oil around your neck, to avoid chafing, and then put lots of oil around your wrists and ankles, to make the wetsuit come off faster and easier in transition.
Stick with flat pedals on the bike or toe clips, instead of switching over to those high-tech-looking clipless pedals and cycling shoes, especially if you are still pretty new to this kind of riding. Flat pedals or toe clips will also mean that you have one less thing to change from the bike to the run, since you can ride your bike with your running shoes on.
Elastic laces for your running shoes can be an excellent way to speed up your transition from the bike to the run. Just make sure you follow the advice above and get plenty of practice training with them on your shoes, so that you are comfortable with them (your shoes may feel oddly loose when you first put them on, because the elastic laces may not hold as tightly as your normal laces).
A racing belt will make it easier for you to wear your racing number, and you can move it to wherever you feel comfortable. This particular model I have provided the link for also has little loops in it for carrying gel packets, which is very handy, too!
5. Race as you have been training
Don't go out and buy any new equipment or clothing the last couple of weeks, no matter how much faster you think it might make you. New equipment and clothing that hasn't been fully tried and tested comes with the risk of making you uncomfortable on race day, perhaps even risking injury, and that will more than negate gains in speed you might hope to make. Just stick with doing everything you have been doing in training, and put it all into practice on the day of the race.
6. Smile, cheer and encourage your fellow racers
It has been scientifically proven that people who smile and cheer other competitors on when they are racing perform better themselves. Happiness and camaraderie is what triathlon should be all about. Spread some of that around, and you will get loads of it back from your fellow triathletes.