Your First Triathlon: Compete For Fun, Work Like A Winner

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Your First Triathlon: Compete For Fun, Work Like A Winner

You thought about this a year ago. You trained, changed your diet, read books and websites and picked the brain of every competitor you know. You signed up, paid the fee and bought all the proper gear. And now...

Your first triathlon is here. What were you thinking?


You were thinking like an athlete ready to step up: putting three sports together as one, while your friends and relatives marvel at your ability (or wonder at your insanity). How do you get from "I'm doing this?" to "I DID IT!!"?


  • Start slowly: If a triathlon crossed your mind, you are likely running, cycling, and swimming now. If not, start with short sessions on separate days, building each week. Have a written plan to add time and distance gradually. As your stamina increases, combine two disciplines in a single day and acclimate to the rigors of the longer competition.
  • Work your strengths, but concentrate on your weaknesses: You have a strong swim and a decent run, but your cycling skills are subpar? Don't skip the swimming and running, just give preference to time on the bike until your performance improves.
  • Cross-train outside the triathlon triangle: Do yoga, walk and lift weights to work different muscle groups and prevent boredom.
  • Schedule your workouts: Don't look at the calendar and think, "Oh, I have a lot of time to train for this," and slack off a day or two. A day or two becomes a week or two. Write out a plan and post it where you see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Remind yourself daily why you get up and grind out the miles.
  • Practice the transition: First-time triathletes find the transition confusing and hectic in the heat of the race. Practice setting out your gear on the mat in the order you use it, and perform trial transitions.
  • Force yourself to get adequate rest: Don't train beyond pain and think too much training is not enough. The body needs recuperation time; schedule a rest day one day a week, and dial back the clock on your go-to-bed time.
  • Get your gear in order: Buy a bike in the correct size, shoes that fit and a helmet that's up to current safety standards. As for the "kit" or triathlon suit or jersey/top combination, try on different brands and wear what's comfortable.
  • Know the rules: Most triathlons operate under USA Triathlon rules. The rule book is extensive, but the must-know basics include drafting, passing, wetsuit use, helmet rules, mounts and dismounts.
  • Choose your first race: The ideal location is close to home, to avoid exhausting and expensive travel, the added expense of a hotel stay and food. Most first-timers choose a shorter distance, the supersprint or sprint distance.
  • The course: go flat or head for the hills?: If you train on hilly terrain, a first triathlon with elevation changes is fine, but the adrenaline rush at the beginning may push you too fast too early, resulting in a difficult finish.
  • Enjoy this one: Concentrate on finishing strong, avoiding disqualification, and celebrating an athletic accomplishment while most of your friends are sleeping.