How to not be embarrassed at your first triathlon

BY Will Murray

From USA Triathlon

Fear of swimming in open water? Nope. Fear of falling off your bike? Not that either. Fear of serious injury? Not even. Let’s face it. Most of us are more afraid of embarrassing ourselves, of looking stupid or clueless, than anything else. Never fear. There are ways to avoid all that in your first triathlon.

There are some tricks to having a fun and fulfilling, and yes, smooth and even elegant first triathlon. How do I set up my transition area? What’s this bodymarking all about? What time should I get there? Where do I exit the transition area with my bike and where do I bring it back in before the run leg starts?

If you are a runner or cyclist or swimmer and have never done a race with all this other stuff in it, how do you figure out the flow of the day, what to bring, where to put it and how to manage all this? Fortunately, there are ways to learn how before your first race.

Volunteer at a couple of races before you race your first one. You can learn a lot by volunteering. Volunteer for bodymarking to see how athletes arrive and get set up. Volunteer also for the transition area. Study how athletes lay out their gear. Walk through transition to experience how the athletes come into transition from the swim, how they exit with the bike, return with the bike, and leave transition on their run. Notice how athletes find their location in the transition area when they come in from the swim and bike. This is a key skill. If you’re in the transition area during a race, you will see a few athletes lost and bewildered as they scan the area for their gear. Learn how not to be one of them. Notice also how much camaraderie there is in the race. Everybody is cheering for everybody. Spectators and volunteers are cheering the athletes. Athletes are cheering the volunteers. Athletes are cheering each other. Triathlon might be the most positive, encouraging and friendly sport on the planet.

Attend a local triathlon club meeting. Many triathlon clubs have occasional evening events, group rides and runs and swim workouts. Try one. Show up, introduce yourself, explain that you are thinking about or signed up for your first triathlon, and then receive the love. Lots of folks will get you connected by introducing you around, inviting you to join them for workouts and open right up to get you what you need. Everybody remembers when they were first starting out and has empathy and advice. USA Triathlon has a club listing that will help you find your tribe.

Practice your newfound skills. A few weeks before your first race, do some transition practice. Set up your bike on a trainer and practice riding, jumping off, removing your helmet (yes, wear your helmet and sunglasses on the stationary bike), getting out of your bike shoes and into your running shoes and running a quarter mile. Do five or six repetitions until you can get off the bike and into your run in less than 15 seconds. Also, set up a situation where you can exit the water (pool or open water) and get on to your bike, and do five or more repeats to get smooth and quick. This will help you get used to the feeling of running out of the water, as the sudden shift from wet and prone to upright and running is not something you experience in everyday life. Triathletes talk about brick workouts, when you go straight from the swim to the bike, or straight from the bike to the run, simulating race day. Do some. Imagine now trying to figure out all this for the first time in your life on race day. Give yourself a break and come to the race prepared to transition.

You have a lot to do in your first triathlon. Fortunately, you can gain valuable experience by finding some other local triathletes who can help and encourage you, by practicing transition skills and by volunteering for a couple of races. You will get a good feel for the sport, meet some wonderful and helpful people, have a good sense of what to do on race day, and get ready for one of the most wonderful events in your life.

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