How to Prep for Your First Triathlon

So, you’ve taken the big step, and put down the cash for the registration of your very first triathlon. While thinking and dreaming about it—before there was any real commitment involved—was easy and fun. Now that it’s become real, and the days are steadily evaporating until race day, you are starting to feel the rising knot of doubt and fear.

After all, training for a bike race is difficult. Training for a running race is difficult. Training for a swim race is difficult, too. But trying to train all three simultaneously so that you don’t unravel like a $3 sweater on the race course? Downright intimidating.

Here are some things to remember on your way to completing your very first triathlon:

1: Pick the right race. Okay, so you watched Kona on television, and it got the gears turning in your brain. Lava fields. Gorgeous scenery. And the gold standard of triathlon races. Perhaps start out with something local and not ending with a full-length marathon? While it’s tempting to want to dive into the big races immediately, get some practice in with the local races. As you will see, training for a triathlon is remarkably different from the actual racing experience itself. Experienced triathletes will tell you that the pacing and strategy that happens in training often goes out the window when you dive into the water on race day, so get some valuable racing experience under your belt as often as possible, and don’t pass up the smaller races simply because they don’t seem “serious” enough for you.

2: Choose your gear. Triathlon is unique in the sense that you need essentially three sets of gear for training and competition. You have got your swim suits and swim goggles for the swim portion, bike, shoes and running gear for the pavement. When choosing clothing for race day make sure that you pick stuff that you can get in and out of easily. Conversely, pick out a triathlon suit that allows you to go seamlessly through parts of your race.

3: Crush your strengths, but don’t avoid the weakness. As a former competitive swimmer I’ve always been lucky to have the first leg be my strongest. “Lucky” is relative, of course, as I often end up getting passed by triathletes stronger on the bike and on foot. What I’ve seen all too commonly with new triathletes is that they will spend all their time on one leg of the race (where they are strongest), giving up valuable time working and improving upon the softest leg of their race. The reality is that you should absolutely continue working on your strong leg, but consider this: will the added time spent on your strong leg result in the same amount of improvement as taking that time and energy and focusing in on the weak leg of your race?

4: Have fun. Seriously. It can be hard to stop, take a breath and remember to enjoy the process of pushing your body beyond its limits. But its not just the final result, placing, or completion that is the reward. It’s the daily hard work, the messy laps, the missed intervals, its getting up to complete that run even though your warm, cozy bed was beckoning you.

Olivier Poirier-Leroy and Alex McLeod are both former national level swimmers. They do swim training consulting for triathletes over at WinBikeRun.com.
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