triathlon women sports health

10 Survival Tips For Your First Triathlon!

Look at me posting about triathlons after just one. LOL. But if you’ve ever had the thought, “I want to do a triathlon” and watch it get shut down with a bigger thought of fear, I’m here to tell you – JUST DO IT!

What kept me from doing it? The thought of swimming in an open body of water with arms and legs of strangers flailing next to me. Well, it wasn’t so bad.

Maybe you’re like me and the swimming thing scares you. Or maybe you don’t really ride a bike, even though you know you could if you had to. Or maybe you’re like a few of my friends who just “don’t run.”

Rarely is anyone in love with all three events. The Tri forces most of us out of our comfort zones. Hopefully this post can help a few of you say YES, and cross over to the fear-conquering side of TRIATHLONS!

Here are some of my survival tips:

1. No Question Is a Dumb Question. My Tri veteran friend belly-laughed at me on our first day of training when I asked, “Wait! Do we wear the bathing caps the whole time?” First of all, who calls them bathing caps? Second, that was pretty much the dumbest question ever. But no question is a dumb one so ask away. Ask the internet forum people, your friends, people at the bike shop or gym. Just ask whatever you need to know. It’s all good. 

2. Try to Train at the Venue. I had 2 weeks to prepare and, on race day, I cherished those “dry runs” in the lake. Familiarity helps ease the nerves. If you can’t get to the venue, try to get to know the course before race day through Google map or reading about other people’s experiences. Winding Trails is unique, with its lake and hilly trails, so I was happy to have seen the scum on the lake bottom, and to have tripped over 50 tree roots on the trails before the big day.

3. What to Wear! I opted for Tri shorts and a top purchased at a bike shop versus the Tri suit. Even though no one actually unzips to pee (most people, it seems, pee all over themselves during the race), the thought of having to unzip myself to use the bathroom gave me anxiety. I liked the two-piece outfit, with its lightly padded bottom and wicking, fast-drying material. Lots of women had wet suits. As appealing as it was to have the advantage of extra flotation in the water, the whole unzipping out of it freaked me out. Plus, the water was 75 degrees.

4. Know Your Equipment. I initially trained on a trail bike. Big mistake. So I jumped on Craigslist and found a good road bike match for my body size and pocketbook. But doing that so late in the training game required me to go out a few times, clipped in, to test the gears and flow. If you’re borrowing equipment, I highly recommend training on it. I bought a pair of swim goggles the day before the race. Fail! Foggy vision the whole way, I threw them at a friend when I finally got out of the water. Also, my bike helmet didn’t fit so well with a high ponytail. It would have been good to know that before race day.

5. Packing Your Stuff the Night Before. Write a checklist. Lay it all out on the floor as if you’re at the transitioning station. Imagine yourself each step of the way, and what you might need. At the last minute, someone recommended an extra water bottle to wash off my feet after the swim. When I arrived that morning, I saw many women with foot buckets they filled with water to dunk their sandy feet into after the swim. I panicked, but a squirt water bottle worked just fine. Bring that extra towel, too. One to lay on the ground. One for drying off your feet. Make it a colorful one! It perked me up to see my pink towel lying there, and it also helped me find my station.

6. Don’t Eat Unless You Practiced Eating. I ate a banana with almond butter at around 5:00 AM. The race was at 8:00 AM. I cramp easily so that worked for me. If the race was longer, I would have brought along food, but this was a Sprint Tri. Not necessary for me. If it was a hot day, I might have worked some electrolytes into my water bottles, but PRACTICE with the food and beverages before race day. You never know how your body will respond.

7. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others. I finished the swim more than 6 min after my good friend, Linda. I knew she was long gone, but I had to stay in my own zone and have my own race. I flew past a hundred people on the bike and I wobbled through my run passing a few and being passed by a few. All that will happen unless you’re in an elite group. It’s fun whether you’re first, last or middle of the pack. Try not to compare. 

Here's a pic of another 50+ woman passing me at the finish line. I didn't appreciate that. Did not pay for this picture -- for obvious reasons.

8. Hydrate. All around good advice before any race, but I appreciated this reminder from a friend the day before.

9. Three Legs. Three Numbers. Mark up! My transition times were poky. One reason was that I forgot my running bib and had to go back and get it. I even stuck it in my running shoes, with safety pins attached! But the pace is fast and we sometimes forget. Your arms and legs will be marked with your number. For the swim, you’ve got the cap for ID. On the bike, you’ll paste your number. And, for the run, you’ll have a bib.

10. Smile. This really helps. I don't know why it helps (there must be a scientific explanation), but it does. I was gagging for oxygen for the majority of the 99 minutes it took me to finish. But when I smiled? It gave me great energy.

The biggest piece of this Tri success for me (so should be #1) was being surrounded by Amazing Women who helped me train and get through it all.

That was the best part. 

Find Your Herd! Play Hard!

Good luck!