First time tri-athlete - any hints and tips?
January 20, 2010 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I've just entered a fairly short triathlon - 400m swim (in Sydney Harbour, so not open ocean but not a pool), 8km cycle, 4km run. The route for the cycle and the run is fairly easy and my level of fitness is such that I could definitely do both of those individually with no problem at all. This weekend I'll be doing an 8km cycle followed immediately by a 4km run just to make sure, but I don't foresee any problems.

However, I'm not really a swimmer. I can swim a couple of lengths of a pool although I hate swimming in pools so I hardly ever do. I'm confident swimming in the ocean off Sydney (fairly strong surf and tides) but again, I don't do it very often.

So - what should I be thinking about in my preparations? The two main questions in my mind so far are:

1) I suspect most of my swimming practice will be in a pool. (I'll put up with it). In order to be able to swim 400m in the open water, how far am I going to have to able to swim in a pool?

2) What are the transitions going to be like? How can I prepare so that I can swim 400m, get out of the water, and then remain able to cycle and run straight afterwards?

Also, anything else I should be bearing in mind to prepare myself for it?
posted by infinitejones to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
400m in a 25 yard or 50m pool is only 16/8 laps (do you guys only do meters in Australia? In the US its 25 yard and 50 meter pools for whatever reason). This is pretty much a light warmup for most swimmers (and only like 5-10 minutes). I'd try to be swimming about 2-3 times that. For tri's swimming is the only leg where you pretty consistently practice at a longer distance then you'd be competing.

If your swimming isn't a strong suit I'd do this. Pick an amount of time 15-20 minutes might be a good start and do 1-2 laps at a time resting in between, then start to try to extend the number of laps/length of time. To switch this to an open water workout do the same thing but when you need rest practice floating on your back. Not sure the temp in the Sydney harbor or if this is something where you'll be using a wetsuit, but a wetsuit, while harder to swim in, will provide bouyancy to help taking breaks in open water.

Transitions are pretty easy - easier of course w/o a wetsuit. Take your time on the swim there's really no need to blow this part out (I'm a very good swimmer so in my first/last tri I tried to kill on the swim and ended up winded in tired without really picking up any real time, I should have just gone easy and been rested for the bike). Transitioning from bike to run is funky and something you need to practice. It's not necessarily hard but your legs take a couple of hundred meters to get used to the different motion of running as opposed to biking.

For your first tri be a completer not a competer. Take your time and just try to finish at a comfortable pace, you can always pick it up as you go if you feel good but bonking because you go out to hard sucks.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:52 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh just to reiterate after reading. The swim won't really take much out of your legs so the physical transition from swim to bike isn't too hard. The real difficulty is just how winded you'll be from the swim (again - take it slow)
posted by bitdamaged at 4:54 PM on January 20, 2010

Response by poster: "A completer not a competer" - I like that a lot. Thanks!
posted by infinitejones at 6:44 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

First and last time I did this, I think the super cold sea water water gave me an anxiety or asthma attack? Anyway, I was unable to put my head under the water and breathe properly, despite being an expert swimmer.

So yeah - practice the swim. Open water not like pool. Open water not like pool. Open water not like pool.

Have fun - you're going to love this, btw!
posted by jbenben at 8:05 PM on January 20, 2010

Cold water can induce asthma. Not sure about anxiety. Though people who have asthma attacks are plenty anxious about them.
posted by dfriedman at 10:04 PM on January 20, 2010

I did a sprint tri (400m pool swim, 18k bike, 5k run) a few years back and finished NOT LAST. The things I learned:
  • Beginner friendly tris have lots of variety. There was a guy there who seriously could not swim. Going really slowly, sculling on his back. I am guessing that - given the open water nature - the standard might be higher at your one, but maybe not
  • I did some "stroke improver" classes for about a month before hand which really helped my confidence. Swimming for an hour & doing drills certainly boosted my technique but I think the knowledge that I could swim for an hour was just as good for me. If you can't find classes, just try getting some floats and doing drills (you know, 4 lengths of legs only, 2 lengths of arms only). It's much less boring than just swimming lengths anyway.
  • A friend who does lots of tris told me to practice doing 2 out of 3 of the disciplines - so cycle to the pool and back, cycle to a park and do a run - even if you're not doing much of a bike ride the practice of doing both kinds of exercise really helps
  • They also told me to tape a gel-pack energy thing to your bike and down it just before the run. That was a good piece of advice.
  • Remember to take a towel. In the panic of getting ready and getting the bike in the van and driving to Derbyshire etc. etc. I clean forgot. I came out of the swim and had to dry myself on my socks. Not Ideal.
And yeah have fun, I had a fantastic time.
posted by handee at 12:04 AM on January 21, 2010

Just to echo what was said above, for the first time out, totally don't stress about your time. Just get out there, have fun, and enjoy the day... if you like it -- and I bet you will -- you can always come back for more. That's a great distance to start with, and afterwards you'll have a much better sense of what you need to work on for you.

Swimming in a group like that in open water is something that you really can't understand until you've experienced it. Of course, you'll do fine if you're in good shape and have experience swimming... but take care to hang to the back of the start so you don't get run over. Staying on course in open water is a challenge, so if you can get experience, do it. I bet if you poke around locally, you'll find that there are regular group swims, and beginners are totally welcome.
posted by ph00dz at 5:44 AM on January 22, 2010

There have been a number of questions about first triathlons here before.

Make some time to practice your bike to run transition. Biking 8k and immediately running 4k is not at all the same as doing those at different times. You'll be surprised the first time you try it.

Go through the bike route so you know where and how big the hills and turns are, and you know how far along you are when you do the race. I just drove mine last time, but ideally you'd bike it.

Some people like to do the swim without very much kicking so they don't wear their legs out. Maybe start kicking normally on the last lap or two (~50 m) to warm them up.

Bring your stuff to your transition station in a 5 gallon bucket. It's an easy way to carry all your stuff, and you can sit on it instead of on the ground to put your shoes on which helps a bit. This is fairly common, so you won't be the only one with a bucket.

Have a towel for your feet that you can put on the ground. Helps with getting your socks on.

Join the DailyMile group ;)
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:14 AM on January 22, 2010

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