It was Father’s Day 2013, the start of my third season competing in triathlons with TriOneOn Sprint in Port Washington, NY, 750 meter swim, 11.5 mile bike, 3 mile run. Time to shake off the cobwebs and try to take advantage of my year round outdoor cycling, a May 25K trail run behind my belt, swimming with my team Open Water Swim/Tri Global Coaching and even a few open water swims which were downright chilly.

It was then when I started thinking about this blog post, on the bike course to be exact. It was a tight course with a field of about 700 extremely experienced, middle of the pack as well as new folks. It could have been a recipe for disaster and fortunately as far as I know, everyone was safe. But riding head down about 16-20 miles/hour veering out of the way of potholes and staying out of the Zipp tire tri bikes way, I knew I wanted to write this post with heart and sole. I want to recruit more to the sport, safely.  Hence, I want to share my top 10 things a first time triathlete has to know.

1.    Practice makes perfect, not necessarily all the best gear, components and bike. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle.  Take time to break the race down in your head. Practice transition even if it is in your driveway and your neighbors are wondering what the heck you are doing.  Practice swimming, cycling and running on a consistent schedule. The first time triathlete needs to find a comfort zone to finish well.  Your road bike with a good tune up will do you just fine if you train well, hard and frequently on road. As mentioned above, potholes do not occur in spin class. Take it outside safely with a friend or a group your pace to experience all the outdoor factors including cracks in the road, wind, hills and gear changing. I even asked my team assistant coach, Richard Caiazza for his best words on what the first triathlete needs to know. He seems to agree…

“The best advice I can give for an unseasoned triathlete, is to take the advice of people in the know!  Investing a bit in the right things will save you tons of money in the long run!  While those race wheels look sexy, they’re only as fast as the motor pushing them! $2000 for race wheels can pay for an entire season of coaching, or a nutritionist that will give you bigger benefits and keep you healthier!” Richard Caiazza, Assistant Head Coach Tri Global Coaching

2.    You trained with your goggles, your helmet, your sneakers, and your nutrition/hydration supplements. Pack all of these things along with the rest of your transition needs such as Glide, towel, race belt and hat the day before and double check so you have YOUR stuff on race day.  Well organized races will have a few extra goggles to hand out, but they will never replace the feeling of having your own. It never hurts to spend a few extra dollars to keep an extra pair of goggles in the car as back up.

3.    Swim: Glide up!  Neck chafing is not pleasant in general so try to avoid it at all costs for your first race. Put it all around your neck area where your suit would close. Also place on your wrists and legs for easy pulling off.  Also, get in the water before your wave starts and get into a rhythm. Figure out where the buoys are and what direction you will be sighting and breathing with current changes. Calm the nerves, calm the heart rate.

4.    What’s a Brick? Bricks refer to training on two disciplines during the same workout. Hopefully you incorporated your cycling and immediate run workouts in your training.  It is quite a unique feeling getting off the bike, scrambling about to get your shoes on and then taking off. Knowing beforehand helps so you don’t get a fear of “Legs don’t fail me now!”

5.    Nutrition and Hydration: Learn how to take water in on the bike while riding and eat your favorite supplement that you trained with here as well. Now I will make one small recommendation for a purchase here: a “bento box”. This is a small sack that sits on your frame in front of you for easy access. Cut up a Luna bar or stash your Gu in here. Nothing new on race day, so only stash what you have had before in training.

6.    Training: A flexible routine that is interchangeable and fits your schedule is a good training schedule. You will feel it on race day if you come to the start line unprepared. Make it more enjoyable by sticking to your weekly commitments even though Tuesday’s Brick is switched by Thursday’s swim because your buddy was available for a ride.

7.    Get comfortable being wet, messy with the occasional chafing.  ‘Nuff said.

8.    Transition: a passage from one stage to another. Don’t treat this time as rest, this is time for you to get your tools for the next job quickly.

9.    The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There are many takeaways from Chrissie Wellington’s book: A Life Without Limits. One being that a triathlon is one sport, not three.  At first, I didn’t understand. I focused in on being a poor swimmer, ok cyclist and experienced runner. Wear your first season triathlete badge proudly rather than worrying about the weakest link. You will get better with practice and in time. At the end, your official time is one time.

10.     Embrace the moment. At the finish line be proud for your accomplishment. It is a physical and mental challenge to finish a triathlon. Wear that medal proud and enjoy looking at your race photos. Congrats, you are now a triathlete.

I hope this helps you in your first time triathlon journey.  There will always be lessons learned and individual goals to aspire to which takes time and dedication. For me, this is the year of the Olympic distance, 1 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 10K run. Next year I am all signed up for the big one… 2014 Ironman in Lake Placid.  I have big goals and I want to crush them. But I also know it starts with one step over that timing pad and into the water.


Constance Korol resides on Long Island with her ultramarathon runner husband and two very active Jack Russells. You can follow her on Twitter @ConstanceK and her blog

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