YOUR 1st Triathlon -- Tips & Tricks to ensure you have FUN & finish strong

by Susan Otcenas

1-3 days Pre-Race

  • Just like a Girl Scout, you should BE PREPARED. Lay out & organize everything you will need for your event. Group your items by what will be needed in each stage of the event (swim, bike & run) to ensure that you don't forget anything.
  • Give your bike a once-over for any mechanical issues. Make sure your tires are properly inflated, your chain is lubed, and your equipment is in working order. Race day (or the night before when the bike shops have already closed) is not the time to discover you have a bald spot on your tire or that your front derailleur will not shift properly.
  • Get plenty of sleep for several evenings. You may find yourself unable to sleep well the night before the event, so being well rested in general will help.
  • Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids for 24-48 hours before the event. Your urine should be pale to clear.
  • Avoid heavy or overly spicy foods the day before the event. Even "iron stomachs" can get the butterflies or feel queasy on race day. Stick with easily digestible foods.
  • Set your alarm early enough to allow extra time for any unexpected delays on race morning. Traffic jams & dead batteries happen.

Day of Event Pre-Race

  • Eat breakfast 2-3 hours before the event. Stick with simple, easily digestible foods. Oatmeal is a pre-race favorite among triathletes of all abilities!
  • Arrive at the event at least one hour before your swim time. Pick up your race packet (it will contain your race numbers, along with lots of "schwag" and the coveted race t-shirt), then find a spot on the rack for your bicycle.
  • Try to leave at least a foot or two between your bike & the next. Use this space to organize your gear. Unlace your run shoes so you're ready to hop into them. Organize bike shoes, sunglasses, race belt (with number affixed) & gloves together so that they are ready and waiting for you when you exit the swim. If you use a bike computer and want to time your ride, be sure to zero-out the computer so it's ready to record when you get started. Make sure your bike is in an easy gear to start in & that your water bottles are full and in your bottle cages. Having a small towel handy to dry your feet will help speed your transitions too.
  • Walk around the transition area. There will be designated entrances and exits for each leg. Observe where you will be coming from after the swim, in relation to where you have racked your bike. Find the bike exit, so you'll know where you'll need to head. Find the run exit too. And if you forget in all your excitement, plenty of race officials will be on-hand to make sure you stay on the right track.
  • Remember that being excited, nervous or even anxious is something that many triathletes experience, whether in their 1st or 31st triathlon. It's natural to feel this way. Keeping busy with your race preparations will help eliminate some of that tension. Having family & friends around will help too. Take lots of pictures (flexing your biceps always helps) and let them document your big day!

Susan, Molly, Abra and Renata having a bit of fun pre-race.

Racing

  • Swimming - Many people are most nervous about the swim portion of the triathlon. Try not to go out too hard, or you'll quickly find the adrenaline surging and yourself short on breath. Relax and try to breathe deeply. If you find yourself out of breathe, relax and modify your stroke until you find yourself back in control of your breathing. Remember that you trained hard for this and that you KNOW you are capable of doing the distance.
  • Biking - Your legs may feel funny after the swim, so pace yourself. Give yourself a mile or two to warm up before going at race pace. The first mile or two is also a good time to drink some fluids. If the weather is cool, you may feel a bit chilled in your wet clothing, but you will warm up and your tri apparel will dry quickly. Remember to thank the volunteers on the course. And it's always a show of good sportsmanship to encourage those cyclists you pass - remember it might be her first race too. A sincere "Good Job!" or "Looking Strong!" just might giver HER the emotional lift to keep going.
  • Running - Many triathletes say their legs feel like lead weights when they transition from the bike to the run. Again, give yourself a chance to warm up to the new activity, and pace yourself for the run. It's not uncommon to have your first mile be your slowest. Enjoy the run, knowing that you're headed for the finish line! All triathlons will have an aid station with liquids along the way - usually every mile or so. Make sure you stay hydrated. And again, remember to thank the volunteers along the way who make your day possible.
  • Finishing - Smile for the cameras! You made it! It always helps to walk around for a few minutes after the run. Have something to drink, and be sure to take some time to stretch out your legs. You will feel less sore the next day if you remember to take this step.

Post-Race Recovery

  • Make sure to re-hydrate and refuel your body. Your body will need electrolytes. Most events will have sports drinks and water available near the finish line. Continue to hydrate post-race until your urine runs pale to clear.
  • If you don't feel well, seek medical assistance from race officials. Particularly in long or very hot events, some triathletes may get over heated or overly dehydrated. If you feel nausea or dizzyness, don't ignore it.
  • Ice is a great anti-inflammatory. Putting ice packs on sore muscles when you get home will help relieve some of the soreness. Massage works wonders too! To celebrate your race, schedule a massage for the next day, to help work out the kinks and soreness.
  • Finally, remember to thank your friends and family for their support. Many of us sacrifice time with our loved ones for an endeavor that may cause them to think we're nuts. Letting them know we appreciate them is always a good idea!