What did you wish you knew going into your first triathlon?
July 17, 2009 11:55 AM   Subscribe

What did you wish you knew going into your first triathlon?

I just registered for my first triathlon on Sunday. It's a sprint distance. Ocean swim. I'm a beginning swimmer, a fair runner, and a very experienced cyclist. I don't know anything about transitioning or any of the other aspects of triathlons. I'd love to hear all relevant tips and tricks.

If it helps, I'll be competing in atri suit, asics running shoes, and typical CF-soled cycling shoes. I don't have triathlon-style cycling shoes. I have a decent pair of speedo goggles.

Bonus points for anything that'll turn me into a better swimmer by Sunday morning.
posted by neilkod to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
How hard the swim is, especially if the surf is choppy. People are going to swim over you. That's an experience I'll never forget. I swallowed so much water I had to pull of the course. I did the rest of the race as a DNF.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:59 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, the first 15 steps of the run really, really hurt. I've never felt such reluctance in my body.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was going for a triathlon this summer, but injured myself a few weeks ago, so I won't be able to do it this summer. Take my advice as the blind leading the blind.

The advice I have been given is that if the swims are open water, and it sounds like yours is, they will be very different from the pool swimming you have probably done for training. You'll have to raise your head to spot the marker buoys while you deal with waves, low visibility, no guide lines at the bottom of the pool, and being kicked in the face by the other swimmers.

Good luck.
posted by 517 at 12:04 PM on July 17, 2009

I've not done one myself, but from reading about them, the swim start sounds like the worst bit. Think of it more as a brawl than a race start. Expect to be kicked from all directions and swum over, as said above, and generally knocked about until the pack thins out. If you've time between now and the race, get to a pool or better, the sea, and practice breathing on both sides if you don't do this already. Make sure your goggles are a really good fit, perhaps a touch tighter than you normally wear them, in case they get knocked - you won't be able to stand up and adjust them in a hurry! Make sure you properly de-fog them before you start - plenty of spit in there. Even on a calm day the rest of the competitors will create quite a chop, which will make swimming harder than in the pool, and you'll have to put more energy into twisting far enough out of the water so you can breath without taking in water. At least if you're prepared for this, you'll manage it better than if it's a total surprise. I think I got most of this from this book, which is a great read, perhaps for afterwards...

...and good luck - I admire you for entering.
posted by dowcrag at 12:11 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I rolled my socks so that when I went to put them on wet feet they rolled right on.

I wish I had marked where my transition spot was more clearly. I couldn't find my stuff when I got back from the bike portion.

I followed the girl's feet bubbles in front of me during the swim portion. This could have put me off course if she wasn't siting right but I took my chance and it worked out okay.
posted by collocation at 12:14 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I haven't done one myself but as a photographer for our local triathlon I can't tell you the number of people who fall down when they try to transition from the bike to the run.

One guy fell on top of his bike and slashed open his calf on his gears. Day over.

I have since been told that the bike-run transition needs to be specifically practiced to get used to the whole rubber-legs-don't-want-to-move thing.
posted by pixlboi at 12:16 PM on July 17, 2009

Just thirding the swim start, and how important it is to do it well. No one ever wins a triathlon during the swim, but many, many people ruin themselves during the swim, especially during entry and exit. I wrote a comment a while back detailing what I thought were important training components of the swim.
posted by saladin at 12:18 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, echoing the above, don't be discouraged by your swim time, because it will probably suck. You will do much better on the bike, but don't be lulled into a sense of "this tri thing is nothing!" because as soon as you start to run on your Jell-O legs, you will wish you had never gotten out of bed that morning.

Take your time in the transitions. You will not be allowed to ride your bike within the bike area, so be prepared to run with it for a bit. Dry your feet well. Bring a towel to stand on and a towel to dry with. Bring a balloon or flag (if allowed) to tie to the bike rack where your bike is (of course, everyone else will do the same, so get a distinctive flag.) Wear sunscreen (and BodyGlide on your nipples). Remember there is no drafting in a tri. Depending on the course setup, you may have quite a hike from the transition area to the swim area, so wear some sandals or flipflops that you don't mind leaving behind when you start the swim.

Have fun and good luck!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:21 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yup - the swim is the hardest part. It's like a giant game of water polo out there. The only way to prep for it is to train with a group that simulates it. The best defense for it otherwise is to be as strong of a swimmer as possible and to train in open water as much as you can.

The rest of it is just like any other bike or foot race. Don't fret too much about transitions and all that jazz - you can worry about getting faster once you have this one under your belt.

My one bit of advice for transition from swim to cycle is to have a towel to lay on the ground. Run in from swim, lay towel on ground, use a water bottle to rinse one foot, put clean foot on towel, rinse other foot, put other foot on towel then put on socks/shoes. Your feet will be all kinds of nasty from the run in from the swim and you don't want some stray bit of rock poking you in the foot for 20 miles or whatever.

Make sure you have a spare tire solution on your bike and your bike is tip top. Unexpected bike issue can seriously eat time.

The run is cake compared to the rest - except you are tired and going from cycling motion to running motion is funky. You can practice that and get used to it. Just go for a mile or so run after every training ride.

Finally - enjoy it! It is your first one and thus you will get a PR no matter what your time is. Don't get sucked in to everyone's hyper-competitiveness this go-round. Smile. Be nice to the water bearers and other volunteers.
posted by jopreacher at 12:22 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

i have done a lot of duathlons, so my advice may be less valuable. mostly i guess it is too late for a lot of it though! =)
you definitely have to practice the transitioning. for me, the run to bike was awful, my calves seized up. the bike to run takes a little getting used to but is not too bad.
i try to stand and petal the last bit, gets my legs stretched for the run.

practice unclipping one side, swinging that leg over and going right to a run next to your bike, unclipping the other pedal in one motion. tricky but saves momentum.

i'd get some speed laces, i like the all elastic ones, they definitely save time in transition area.

have your bike pretty ready, shoes open, velcro ready to be slipped into, helmet on the handlebars. i like to use mountain bike shoes as i can run through the transition area in them and get a running start on the bike. in a sprint distance, the little you will lose with heavier shoes is worth the better start.

the same with the run, have your running shoes ready to go, next to each other.

i hope you have aero bars.

have a bin of water to rinse your feet off with.

can't think of anything else. have fun! good luck
posted by annoyance at 12:30 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: everyone, some GREAT advice here, keep it coming.

I've been training in open water but haven't really been focused on navigation-just swimming to a certain hotel/condo and then back.

@annoyance I LOVE the comment about the mountain bike shoes-I didn't realize I'd have to run with my bike out of a transition area. I'll definitely give that a shot. I raced cyclocross in those shoes so I'm pretty handy on the dismount :D

I also like the comments about finding the bike in a crowed transition area using balloons,flags etc. again, something I never realized. Same with bringing a towel to transition on. Keep the tips coming!
posted by neilkod at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2009

Just for context, I've done about 10 Olympic distance triathlons. If you're a beginning (slow) swimmer, then start at the BACK of the pack. This will reduce the likelihood of other people swimming over you. Let the faster swimmers go, and you'll catch up to them on the bike.

Put your google strap UNDER your swimcap to help reduce the chance of your googles getting knocked off.

Bodyglide all of the ... um... regular areas but also your calves/ankles to help get the wetsuit off. Practice swimming in your wetsuit so you can find any chafing points so you can make alterations or know where to apply more Bodyglide.

Don't bother with biking gloves.

Get speed laces for your running shoes so you don't have to tie them.

Practice your transitions so they're fast, smooth, and efficient, this is especially important for a sprint distance because they're over so quick! I'd rather gain a minute on a transition than have to swim/bike/run faster to make up that minute. Glasses in the helmet, which is upside down and resting on the aerobars. For a beginner I'd recommend NOT clipping the shoes in ahead of time until you've practiced that.

And of course, have fun! You'll learn a lot on your first tri. :)
posted by jcmilton at 12:47 PM on July 17, 2009

Friend of mine who does triathlons wished he knew about gaiters for his shoes earlier (depending on weather conditions, this may or may not be relevant to you).
posted by illenion at 12:55 PM on July 17, 2009

Yeah, the swimming is more difficult than you might anticipate and wearing a Speedo is a good move. I didn't the first time but I had one for the second. Not only did this really allow me to swim more comfortably it sped up my time in transition from swim to bike as I wasn't taking anything off, only adding clothes/gear

Nthing the transitions, especially, as has been stated, the bike to run transition.

Good luck!
posted by geekyguy at 1:04 PM on July 17, 2009

I compete at all distances from sprint to Ironman and the swim is always manic. Just hang to the back and let everyone go off first, you'll most likely catch them up along the way. Don't forget to 'sight' every few stroke so you don't go off course.

Always check where you left your bike, you're likely to be disorientated coming out of the water and we've all had that 'where the hell is my bike?' moment. Stick it next to a tree, or end of a rack and you'll be fine. I'm not a balloon user - bear in mind lots of people will bring them which defeats the reason for doing it.

Lay everything out on your transition towel in groups -bike stuff, run stuff. Your helmet should be the first thing you put on and the last thing you take off - just the easiest way to avoid a DQ. Don't forget sunscreen.

If you have to ride out of T1 up a hill, set your gears for the hill otherwise you'll be in trouble.

Make sure to take in water/fuel on the bike. Bike is when you fuel for the run. Be observant on the bike - look behind you when overtaking as someone faster might be overtaking you - that's my own persona bugbear as a slower swimmer/faster biker.

Bike to run transition is tough, your legs will feel bad but that will shake out soon enough. Take it a bit easier first and then pick up once you feel better.

Beginner triathlete is a great resource.

Congratulations on your first race
posted by poissonrouge at 1:27 PM on July 17, 2009

As others said, enjoy yourself in your first triathlon. But if you get serious about it, practice and practice your transitions. You can spend months of training to take 30 seconds off your run time but smooth transitions can give you more than that for free.
posted by JackFlash at 1:38 PM on July 17, 2009

No new tricks.

You have no idea how many people I see either fall off their bike or waste a ton of time in transition trying to do some handy little trick someone told them about that they never tried before. Take the four or five more seconds to do it the familiar way. This doesn't mean skip all the advice in this thread, but if you've never put on your shoes while riding your bike, don't pick race day to try it out.
posted by advicepig at 1:47 PM on July 17, 2009

Oof, I really wish you'd been training longer!

Don't have too crazy a time goal. Everything is new; you have no basis on which to predict your time.

Get a pair of flip flops and leave them at the beach where you'll exit the water before you go line up at the entry point. Run right into them as you get out of the water on your way to T1. It sucks running barefoot over gravel, sand, grass, and rocks to your bike.

Before race day, practice biking and then dismounting and running as often as you can. Triathletes call this a "brick." Go from bike to run a few times. It gets easier as you practice... but it's crazy difficult. A body that has just been biking with all its strength does not want to run. You have to train yourself to do it. You can have a useful workout on this by just biking hard for, like, 20 minutes, then running for 10. It's not the duration that's hard, it's the transition point.

It's really hard to put socks on wet feet at T1. Stand on your towel and drag your feet to dry them before trying to put on socks.

Definitely go ask (or search) this question on Beginner Triathlete, linked above. I learned a ton from that site, and the community is great.
posted by Miko at 1:48 PM on July 17, 2009

One more for the swim. Prepare yourself mentally (since Sunday is really too soon to do any more real physical prep). The swim is utterly grueling!

I wore a "farmer John" wet suit (life saver) and started cramping up half way through. Spent much of my swim on my back, got my breath, flipped over on my stomach, kicked once or twice, cramped, flipped back over. It was as comical as it was painful.

And that was just a half-triathlon!

The bike seemed like a Godsend. And the run was great. I felt like a torn and shredded million bucks when it was all done.

Hope you have fun!
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 2:59 PM on July 17, 2009

Best answer: I have done two sprint-distance triathlons (Danskin)--not bad for a great big fat lady who is in no way a jock.

Things that helped me that haven't been mentioned:

Haul your transition gear in a big 5 gallon bucket. Lay your gear out around the upended bucket, which you can sit on while you're putting on your shoes, etc.

Some goggles are better for open water swimming than others, better field of view, etc. You might talk to someone at a good swim shop about them and try some out before the big day.

Stay hydrated during the race and have fun!

and finally--this really worked for me--the first time I did it, I just wanted to do it to see if I could do it. See first sentence of post. And I did! Train for it beforehand, just keep going on race day. Then the *second* time I did it, I got serious about it, tried to go as fast as I could and make transitions as efficient as possible. That took 40 whole minutes off my time from my first year...and that felt freaking AWESOME! So, I advise being a little philosophical the first time and planning ahead to kick ass the next time. :)
posted by Sublimity at 3:08 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

No new tricks.

Get your bike fixed at least 10 rides before the race. Don't mess with your bike again during those last rides, aside from MINOR shift cable adjustments and cleaning/lubing.
posted by randomstriker at 3:17 PM on July 17, 2009

I just asked a similar question recently.

Here's my take- being your first time, and a sprint distance triathlon, the swim might not be as crazy as people are saying it will be. My heat was all beginners and while I collided with a few people, there wasn't anyone trying to swim over me or anything super intense. People seemed to pass by altering course.

I had a really hard time sighting during the ocean swim, and towards the end was needlessly increasing the distance I swam just due to swimming a crooked path. Practice an open water swim beforehand to learn how to sight and how to keep water out of your mouth. My breast stroke to sight/overhand crawl to progress didn't work well, sighting while crawling seems to be key.

I didn't have triathlon style cycle shoes either, take care not to roll an ankle in the transition.

I was dying for more water on the run, there were only two stations with cups. My next race I'm going to run with a water bottle at my hip if it is allowed.

Have a great time!
posted by nowoutside at 4:44 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My first triathlon was a half-iron distance. I wish I would have known (well, it seems like commonsense now) that you shouldn't do a half-iron as your first tri.

I wish I would have known that the swim would have been the easiest part of the day.

Even though I consider myself a strong cyclist, I wish I would have known that I'd be spending the most time on the bike, and thusly should have spent the most time training for the bike.

I wish I would have known the heat index was going to be 103F, and I wish I would have done more runs in the heat of the day to prepare.

I wish I would have done more 20 minute intervals on the bike and less 80 mile rides. I wish I would have done more 4 mile intervals on the run and fewer 10 mile runs. I wish I would have done more 800m intervals swimming rather than 2000m swims.

More intensity, less endurance. I already had the endurance base and I needed more muscular strength and muscular endurance, and less long/easy training.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:09 PM on July 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, I should add that my biggest fear was being kicked in the ribs or punched in the face during the swim. Both happened in the first 200m, and it was really nice to get it out of the way. It's not a big deal. It's not nearly as painful as getting kicked or punched on land. It happened, I said ouch, and I kept swimming. No big deal. Start way off to the side if you're concerned about this, but honestly, it's not a big deal.

Oh, during the swim, LOOK UP EVERY 2 OR 3 STROKES!!!!!! Holy shit, I wish someone would have told me that sighting for a buoy every 10 or 20 strokes was a bad idea. I probably swam 2500 meters rather than the 2000 that I had to. I went way the fuck off course a couple of times.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2009

You're not going to win - start at the back of the swim. Don't be scared about losing a second or two or ten, swimming in a pack in a race can be scary first time round.

Don't stress about a second or two or ten in transistions either - be happy with putting on your cycle shoes in transistion rather than having them already clipped in.

Depending on what you will be wearing on the cycle, put vaseline on the sides of your saddle before the race. Salt from drying seawater + rubbing = bad chafing.

In the first kilometre or two on the bike take a drink, spit out the first mouthful to clear the saltwater. Since you are racing a sprint distance this will probably be all you need to drink, and if you do it later it will be sloshing around in your stomach on the run, which I never like.
posted by trialex at 5:48 PM on July 19, 2009

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