The 6 most important tips for your first triathlon

[00:00:00] Maybe you were just a runner or maybe you were just a swimmer. Maybe you were just a cyclist. But now you want to combine all three. You’ve been tempted to try a triathlon. So today I want to give you some of my tips for beginners for your very first triathlon.

[00:00:26] I’m Jesse Funk, the founder of Solpri.com and the host of this show Runner’s High, where we talk about everything running and endurance related. Now, today, obviously, we’re going to be talking about triathlon. And the reason I bring it up is that there are a lot of people that don’t make the crossover, but I think it is worth the effort. If it’s tempting to you to make the crossover and give it a go, see how it goes.

[00:00:52] Do you enjoy it? Do you like the other things? I was what I consider a runner by trade, and it took me a long time to feel like I was a triathlete, despite kind of pursuing it at the elite amateur level, trying to make it to the professional ranks. I spent a lot of time just feeling like, “Oh, I’m just a runner.” Until eventually I felt like I’m a triathlete. And the sport offers a lot of camaraderie and opportunities. I think you don’t necessarily get in running because they become longer and bigger events where it feels a little bit more like a community effort at the races in particular.

[00:01:35] That doesn’t mean you need to start with one of those long ones. So that’s really tip number one today. And that is start short, start of the sprint, start of the super sprint. There’s something in your neck of the woods. Maybe it’s wintertime when you’re watching this, an indoor triathlon, there’s something in your neck of the woods that is short and requires very little training. You can get your feet wet, both figuratively and literally, by trying something short because maybe you’re not confident at swimming.

[00:02:07] If, like me, like because I came from a running background when I started, I couldn’t swim 25 meters, one length to the pool. I couldn’t swim one length to the pool with my face in the water. I just I couldn’t do it. I had sinus problems. I just just couldn’t do it. Eventually, I worked that out, but in the beginning, it can be daunting. So go short. Number one, just get in there. Get it done. You don’t need a fancy bike for a short one.

[00:02:38] If you like it and you want to go get a fancy bike later, great. But pull a mountain bike out. It’s okay. I’ve seen plenty of people pull out their old bikes as they’ve been riding their kids and doing it. Will that make the race a little bit tougher? Yes, but with the caveat of you just trying it out, you don’t want to sink a bunch of money into a new hobby and then go, well, I hated that. And now I regret that I spent this money on this stupid bike. So go short. Just try it out. Don’t sink a lot of money in time. Just see what you can do.

[00:03:14] If you’ve got some running background, you can probably make your way through on the swim doggie paddle if you need to breaststroke, you start in the back of the pack. But that’s really number two. Start in the back of the pack for the swim because if you start in the front or you start farther ahead than you are comfortable with or confident as a swimmer, you are going to get swam over.

[00:03:43] This is unfortunately a natural reality of open water swims. I have been dunked and kicked in the face and swam over and I’m sure I’ve swam over people. I remember a race I accidentally ripped goggles off this girl. So sorry to you. If you see this back out of the dam, try. It’s just the nature of the beast. But to avoid that, sometimes your race will have, like, a final wave. It’s like the “Don’t swim on me wave”, basically, where everybody that just wants to be a little more chill on the swim can go together.

[00:04:23] But if they don’t have that, just hang back, let everybody go, and then get in the water at your pace. If you’re not competing for a podium spot, which if you’re going shorten, this is your very first one and you’re not sure about swimming, that probably isn’t you. Then you’re going to have a better time if you stick to the back and then are able to, if you do feel good on the swim, swim up and pass people rather than get trampled by them.

[00:04:51] Tip number three, you need less things in transition than you think you do. There are admittedly a lot of things to bring to a race as compared to a running race. This is one of the big things that I had a hard time adjusting to post collegiately where you used to running races, you bring some shoes, you got your uniform, some socks, you’re good to go. Triathlon is a little different.

[00:05:18] If it’s cold, I need a wet suit. You need your dry suit. You need your bike. Your helmet, your bike shoes. You need running gear. You need running shoes, you need your belt, you need the bib number, all the things, right? But you don’t need to clutter your transition area with all the extra things. If you want to have a towel to dry your feet off, that’s probably fine though I would say unnecessary.

[00:05:47] If you’re going to a bigger race, it actually can be useful to mark your spot in transition so you know where you’re running to. Which kind of leads me to tip number four, and that is practice your transition both before the race and the day of. So before the race you want to practice getting out of the water or if you’re just in your backyard, if you have a wetsuit on taking the wetsuit off at bigger races, they’ll have people called wetsuit strippers. No they’re not there to tantalize you. They are there to help you get your wetsuit off with assistance.

[00:06:25] So practice taking wetsuit off. Typically, if you want to do this the fast way or the pro way, you’re going to be unzipping your back, taking your sleeves off, running with the sleeves down, with the legs still on as you go into transition and then as you get to your spot, you’ll get rid of the rest of the wetsuit and step out of it. If you do not have to worry about if you don’t want to worry about your time and you want to take your time with it, then you don’t need to be taking your wetsuit off as you’re running because it can just slow you down.

[00:06:56] So get to transition, take it off, but practice it at the day before or days before, not the literal day before you want to practice it. And then I personally like to develop mantras, little things that I say to myself so that when my brain is fuzzy because I’ve been in the water for however long, 25 minutes, a half hour for me on the Olympic distance.

[00:07:24] And then I’m heart’s racing and I’m trying to get into transition and I’m trying to figure out what do I need? Then I develop little mantras. So with T1, so going from the swim to the bike, it’s been a couple of years now. So if I can remember my mantra, something like “Sunglasses on, helmet on, grab the bike, go.” My shoes were attached to my bike. You might want to put them on. So you might go, you might say if to what to race, “wetsuit off, helmet on, shoes on, grab the bike, go.”

[00:08:06] You want to try to develop your own little cadence and practice saying this during the days that you’re practicing transition beforehand. Same thing for T2. I would say “helmet off, wreck the bike, shoes on, go.” And that’s all I would need. I would keep my bib number on a race belt underneath my shoes. So I would grab that after I took my shoes off and I would put that on while I was running. You do not have to do that. 

[00:08:35] But that’s basically the basics of practicing transition the day before or days leading up to the race, sometimes weeks leading up to the race. So you can kind of get that down. But then the day of you don’t necessarily know where you’re going to be assigned in transition or if it’s open. You might just have to pick a spot, in which case you need to look at “Where am I coming in from T1?” So where do I come in from the swim and how many racks is it? Is it ten racks? Is it 12 racks? Some races are nice. They’ll have them labeled a row, B row.

[00:09:10] And then the same thing for T2. When you’re coming back from the bike and going to the run from that direction, which side of transition is your stuff on? How many rows? Count them out. Those are going to help you stay with it. Keep your wits about you as you come in and transition and not lose time doing that. There’s a lot of nitty gritty you can get into with triathlon because there’s a lot more technicality to the sport than there is running.

[00:09:36] Running obviously has some technique to it, as I’ve talked about good running form in the channel before. Subscribe again, see that video. But with swimming especially very technical, heavy biking can be very technical heavy if you want to, but as a beginner you don’t really need to worry about it.

[00:09:55] So I have two last tips for you. Number one, get your nutrition in order. This means if you’re going to be out longer than an hour, depending on your race. So you kind of have to estimate how long have you going to be out. Hydration is important. You can use any number of products, but if you want to personalize your nutrition, personalize your hydration, in particular, we have a series called SYNC.

[00:10:20] It is a series of sports drinks that are personalized to your needs based on. How much — How many electrolytes you lose in your sweat? Because everybody loses a different amount of electrolytes. You can check that out. Solpri.com/shop. The other portion of nutrition is making sure you’re fueled.

[00:10:39] So I like to fuel my carbs two days before race, which doesn’t mean just like chow down and tons and tons of carbs, like the classic pasta party mentality, but eat a few more carbs maybe two days before the race and then the night before, eat something that is going to be easy on your stomach.

[00:11:02] My pre-race meal is rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes and applesauce. So I get some starch, I get lean protein, so I’m not having fat upsetting my stomach. And then applesauce is good for digestion. In a matter of fact speaking, it makes your poop come out in more solid form, which is good on race day when you’ve got nerves, it’s also another source of carbs, easy digest carbs.

[00:11:31] Other people say so like former pro Barbara Lindquist, she talks about her pre-race meal was a cheeseless, pepperoni pizza. That’s what you would get no matter where in the world she was because she knew that she could get that. And that was her pre-race meal she knew wouldn’t upset her stomach. So pick something in your regular diet. It’s going to be lean protein, easily digested carbs, those kind of things the night before. Don’t try to cram in extra fuel.

[00:12:00] And then the last and very most important tip I have for you as a beginner. Have fun. I know it sounds glib, but that’s the point, right? That’s why we do these run races or we go out and do triathlon or we do any of these things. We’re finding things in our lives that we enjoy, that we’re having fun at.

[00:12:22] Like there are obviously pros that are very serious about it. That doesn’t for the majority of us, there’s no money on the line, I guess, unless you made like a side bet or something with somebody, which even if that’s the case, number one, don’t bet more you can lose. But number two, have fun with it. Just have fun with it because ultimately it should be fun.

[00:12:48] If you have questions for me, leave them down in the comments below. I love to talk running. I love to talk triathlon. We don’t get to talk triathlon enough on this channel, so maybe I’ll do some more triathlon videos if this one goes well. Again, if you want to get your hydration personalized so it’s just for you, check out our SYNC Drink series on our website, Solpri.com/shop and I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.

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