Your First Triathlon: How to Really Prepare
So you’ve registered for your first triathlon, put in some training time, and are likely nervous and excited. There’s been a lot written about how to properly train for a triathlon, but I want to share some advice that will help make the whole process easier.
Training and Equipment
If you’ve been in a bike shop lately, or maybe even a dedicated multisport store, you’ll notice there’s a lot of fancy and expensive equipment dedicated to triathlon.
Ignore it all.
Is the water temp for your race likely going to be in the mid 70’s? Don’t bother with a wetsuit. If the water is going to be colder, then rent one. Many places that rent wetsuits will allow you apply the rental fee to the cost of purchasing the wetsuit if you really like it.
Do you have a road bike in good repair? Great, don’t buy a new bike. Even a mountain bike with flat handlebars will work for your first race. Yes, there will be people with aero helmets and TT bikes flying past you, but the goal here is to get through your first race and to enjoy it.
You should stick with your existing running shoes if you find them comfortable. The hardest part about your first race is transitioning between multiple events, and expensive equipment won’t help you with that.
The best thing you can do in leading up to your race is train and work up to some brick workouts. The better your training and endurance is on race day, the happier you’ll be.
The other thing you can train your body for is how to go #2 when you first wake up. Ever had a training run cut short because you really have to go? It’s so much worse during a race. Your home bathroom will always be more pleasant than a port-a-potty. You won’t have to wait in a long line either.
That being said, it’s okay to use the port-a-potty during the race. Losing 20 seconds off your finishing time because you have to go pee is far preferrable to having to try to run while you have to go pee. You’ll likely gain that time back because you can actually run without having to worry about it.
The Night Before
Your main goal the night before your race is to pack, eat, and get some sleep. Ideally getting everything done the night before means all you have to do in morning is have small breakfast and drive to your race.
Find an open spot and lay out all your gear the same way you would in transition. This should make it easy to figure out if you have everything. Don’t forget to include any snacks you plan to eat during the race. Sun block is one of those things people forget as well, and is really helpful. Once you pack your gear set it by the door or in the car if you have a secure garage.
If you have a garage I’d suggest loading your bike the night before as well. It’s really nice to not have to do these things at 4am.
Does your car or phone have navigation? Get directions to the race programmed in now. These things are much, much harder in the dark at 4am when you’re still not fully awake.
Try to get everything into a single backpack. Sometimes you’re going to have a decent walk to transition. It’s much nicer roll from the car to transition on your bike when you’re a half mile away with all your gear on your back. It also makes it easier to setup in the tiny amount of personal space you’ll have at the bike racks.
As for food (i.e. carb loading), I’ve had great races where the night before consisted of homemade pizza and a beer. I’d suggest just eating a relatively healthy dinner and not stressing about it.
Hydrate the night before. If you try to hydrate yourself the morning of your race all that will happen is needing to pee every 10 minutes, including while you’re on the bike in the middle of the race.
The Pre-Race Morning Routine
Waking up at 4am sucks. You probably haven’t slept well. The best thing you can do is eat a light breakfast and get moving. Once you get your body moving you’ll also hopefully get to enjoy the comfort of your own bathroom. Let me reiterate that the port-a-potty lines at transition are not fun.
Since it’s your first race I’d suggest getting to transition at least an hour before race start. It gives you plenty of time to deal with parking challenges and get set up at a relaxed pace.
Congratulations, now you get to enjoy yourself! You’re set up in transition, ready to go, and are making your way over to the swim start.
First go stand in the port-a-potty line and try to go one more time. (Ignore this if you’re comfortable going in your wetsuit before your wave starts.)
All you really need to know about your first race is: relax.
Swim relaxed, bike at a steady cadence, and save all that nervous energy for the run. Once you hit that final mile on the run feel free to go all out. It’s pretty awesome to have enough energy left over to really push it across the finish line.