Your first triathlon event.
16/ 6/ 2008
Firstly it does help to come from a background where swim squad training was your daily routine, but it isn't essential. Many of the top triathletes to date are coming from backgrounds that didn't involve swimming/triathlon type disciplines until their late teens and even early 20's. Hamish Carter an olympic gold medallist in triathlon come from a background of competing in rowing until his late teens for example.
I recommend starting with a shorter triathlon to begin, say a sprint triathlon which is typically a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run. That is try to be a little selective in the first event you do.
Go along and watch a couple of events up close taking note of how the triathletes prepare and what they wear in the swim particularly.
The sport of triathlon is not as straight forward as many other sports. The swim which is most often in open water and as part of a group is certainly worthy of some prior consideration.
It is advisable to get along to a swim squad for at least a few swims to get used to other swimmers in close proximity. You will no doubt get a few useful pointers on technique also.
Two of the first triathlons I did started with a pool swim. If this option is available it is a good starting point. Otherwise in an open water swim make sure you do a swim at the events location prior to hitting the start line. If the water is reasonably cold(say below 22 degrees), then a wetsuit will probably be compulsory. Even after many years of swimming in open water and one Summer of swimming almost exclusively in open water I still managed to run into some minor difficulties in an open water swim. It was due to a combination of factors but could have been prevented by doing a practise swim at the location a day or two prior to the event.
So for your first triathlon in open water I recommend:
- swim the whole course or at least parts of it in the days before the event,
- start out wide away from the crowds; the last thing you want is to have other swimmers swimming over top of you.
- buy or even borrow a wetsuit if the water temperature neccesitates it.
- make sure you have spare goggles/swim caps for the event. I always wear 2 swim caps when the water temp feels cold to me(below 20 degrees).
Aside from the swim there are obviously a couple of other aspects to completing your first event successfully. In an area with many people doing triathlons it is unlikely you will go out and win first up regardless of your background. So try to enjoy your first triathlon without that burning desire to cross the line first. Am not saying to lower your expectations completely, but rather to focus on being consistent across all 3 disciplines and keep it all flowing well.
If you have a strong background in all the disciplines and are a very competitive type I still recommend not going 'all out' in your first event. Instead you could focus on being smooth/time saving in your transitions. Read around on how other triathletes prepare and go through the race in your mind; when will you put your cycle shoes on, and what order will you go through in the second transition. Doing a longer event for the first time will require further knowledge and skills such as food intake during the event.
Enough said, but remember to keep it simple to begin and enjoy the first one or at least hold back to what seems like about 80% of your maximum.
If you don't come from a cycle racing background then hold back a bit on the cycle also, especially at the bends and downhills.
Here is a photo of a young man competing in one of his first triathlons in about 1990. Oh yeah the water was very cold.
Even the best professionals started from the same position of not having previously done a swim, run and bike with a bunch of eager people all around.
No shame in even doing a practise triathlon in training before your first one competing against others also.
It will be more enjoyable once you start going to a few events and get to know a few other competitors. Many triathletes meet during the swim sessions so make sure you get along to a few of these which have a triathlon group.
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