Welcome to the Fourth installment of a 5 part Beginners Series.
In case you’ve missed the other posts, so far I’ve covered: Is Triathlon for me, Picking Your First Race, and Training for your First Triathlon. Next, I’ll cover Race Day!
Being new to Triathlon you will more than likely be overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” you need for Race Day. Swim stuff, bike stuff, run stuff. I always recommend to my Athletes to make a Packing List. As the Race Day nears your nervousness will probably grow. A great way to help counter the nervousness is to create a list of everything you will need on Race Day. Each time you review the list you’ll probably think of something else to add. This is a great way to get it out of your mind and onto paper. Then the night before the race you’ll have a great list to check off as you pack things up.
There is another list that I recommend you create. It’s your Race Morning Itinerary & Transition Check List. This is a list and itinerary for the morning of your Race because there is a lot to do. Included on this list is what time you’ll get up, eat, leave for race, arrive at race, packet pickup, body marking, transition setup, transition walk through, put on wetsuit (if applicable), get to start area, Race Start. Also on this list is what you need to setup in transition. Examples could be: rack bike, hydration on bike, race number on bike/helmet, bike shoes, socks, running shoes, race belt w/ bib number, timing chip/strap, etc.
I find that lists are a great way to calm the nerves on race morning. You can focus on checking things off the list instead of trying to remember everything. Make sure to buy one of those cheap headlamps that you can pick up at a home improvement store. Most Triathlons start very early in the morning and it will be dark. The headlamp will allow you to have both hands available while setting your transition area up.
Triathlon Races are just like most Running Races as there will be a Packet Pickup. The Packet will generally contain your Race numbers, promotional T-shirt, swim cap (color usually corresponds to swim wave start), Timing Chip, and other freebie stuff. Many times there is Packet Pickup available the day before the race. I recommend picking up your Packet the day before if you can. If the early pickup is at the race venue then it will give you an opportunity to see the transition setup in the daylight and make race morning easier as there will be one less thing to do on your list.
Make sure you have the exact address for the race venue. Enter it into whatever GPS app/device the day before the race to be sure it finds the address correctly. Give yourself plenty of time to drive to the race. The bigger the race, the longer it will take to get parked and make your way to the transition area. You should have practiced your transitions during your training, so you should know about how long it will take for you to setup. Make sure to leave time for Body Marking and one last stop to the Porta-John.
Once you have your transition area setup, take the time to walk/jog through the transitions IN’s and OUT’s. Start by walking from the swim exit to your transition area. Make sure you count which isle and how many rows it is to your bike. Then visualize your transition to bike. Then walk to the Bike exit and find the Mount Line. You’ll have to be on the other side of this line when you mount and dismount your bike. Next walk back to your transition area (again counting isles and rows) and visualize transitioning to run. Now walk to the Run Start to familiarize yourself with it. Walk through this sequence again if you have the time and/or had any trouble visualizing any part of the transition.
You’ve done a lot of work to get to Race Day, so Race Day should be about celebrating all of that hard work. Make sure to Have Fun! Remember to smile. Enjoy your accomplishment.
It’s your first triathlon and there’s a chance that it won’t go perfectly. But that’s ok because every race is an opportunity to learn. Embrace the successes and learn from any mistakes. I’ll cover this and more in “What’s Next?”, the final installment in this 5 part series.
Welcome to the Third installment of a 5 part Beginners Series.
You’ve decided you want to do a Triathlon and you’ve picked out your first race. So now it’s time to start training. Just like all the variables in picking out a race, there are just as many variables in setting up a training plan for your race. What is your athletic background? Do you have a cardio base already? What distance race are you training for? How many weeks until your race? How many hours a week do you have available to train? These are just a few of the questions that a qualified Triathlon Coach will ask.
Obviously, I recommend you get a coach. There are so many things to learn about in the sport of triathlon. A coach will help teach you just the things you need to learn to get you trained for your first race. Then as you are ready, your coach will help you progress in the sport. A good coach will help keep you motivated, accountable, healthy, and get you prepared physically and mentally for your race.
Having a plan is one of the most important components of successfully training for your first Triathlon. By plan, I’m referring to a schedule of workouts written out for each week of your training. Do not expect to “make it up as you go along” and then have a successful race. A proper training schedule will include a Base, a Build, and a Taper phase. It will include workouts for swimming, biking, and running. Ideally, you’ll be working with a coach that will supply you with a weekly schedule that is designed specifically for you. It will take into account your current fitness level, work schedule, available hour to work out, etc. If you have chosen to train without a coach, you can find generic training plans online for various distance triathlons. Try to find a plan that best fits your life and triathlon goals.
Whether you decide to hire a coach or not, look around for a local Triathlon Club. Many clubs will offer group training for members. Clubs are generally very helpful to new triathletes. Club members can offer helpful insights into training and racing. If there are no local Triathlon Clubs available then reach out to friends or co-workers that have experience in Triathlon.
Remember you don’t need a bunch of new equipment for your first race. Many athletes get caught up in wanting new gear that they lose sight of the goal… which should be to have fun and complete their first Triathlon. So, make sure keep it simple for your first race. Concentrate on the training and not so much on the gear. That being said, try to train with what you plan on using for race day.
Make sure to train your weakness. Triathlon is 3 sports and many new (and veteran) triathletes make the mistake of neglecting the sport they like the least or aren’t the best at. Sure, if you’re a runner it’s easy to spend more time training for the run. But you will be better served by training for the sport that you are the weakest in. Most (not all) runners aren’t good swimmers and most (not all) swimmers aren’t good runners. Point is, it’s really hard to be great at swimming, biking, and running. So spend more time training for the sport you can make the most gains in.
Practice transitions. This is often over-looked in generic training plans. It doesn’t matter if you are competitive or not, transitions are an important part of Triathlons. Poorly executed transitions are a waste of time, energy, and can be stressful. Having to transition from swim to bike and then bike to run will be something completely new to the beginner triathlete. You can practice transitions just by setting up in your driveway, out of your car in a parking lot, or just about anywhere with a little open space.
I also recommend to all triathletes to train on the race course when possible. But new triathletes especially can gain a lot of confidence by swimming, biking, and/or running on the race course during training.
While training for any race isn’t (and shouldn’t be) easy, you should make sure to have some enjoyment and fun. Triathlon can be a very rewarding endeavor. Embrace the challenge and the journey. Good luck with your training! Stay tuned for the next installment, “First Triathlon - Race Day”, post 4 of this 5 part series.
Race Report by Athlete Brian K.
White Lake Fall 70.3
It was a strange week leading up to race day, I was calm. I wasn’t nervous, the taper wasn’t even bothering me. I was confident. I felt strong. For the first time in as long as I can remember I was going into my “A” race healthy and mentally prepared. I didn’t think I was going to have a good race, I KNEW it! As my coach, Jay Hamvas, says “You put in the hard work and suffering into training and race day becomes a reward”. He was right, there was plenty of hard work leading up to this race and I knew I was set up for a successful day.
Race morning, we got to White Lake and it was chilly, 58 degrees or so. Water temp was in the mid 70’s. I remember saying I couldn’t wait to get to the swim so I could warm up. Pre-race went smooth, plenty of time to check in and set everything up. Jay and I did a walkthrough of all the transition entrances and exits to be familiar with them come race time. The overall atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. I was ready.
Swim time! I got into the water a little early to do some warm up strokes. The wind was blowing pretty good and the lake had some chop to it. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, that will change shortly. There were 3 swim waves and each one was small. That makes for a nice and easy mass start. The gun goes off, we start and then the wheels fall off. We start on the 2-loop course and it is directly into the chop. I made it about 100m before I start to panic. I got kicked and a couple face fulls of water and I’m frozen. I can’t swim, hell I can barely breathe. I immediately turn over and float on my back. So many negative thoughts are shooting through my head, I know one of them was to call over a support craft.
Then something happened. A random guy stopped his swim and asked if I was okay. He didn’t know me, and I will never know him but that one sentence was enough to pull me out of my dark place that I had put myself in. I put my face in the water and swam. After a few strokes and a couple successful breaths I started to get into a rhythm. When I got out of the water I wasn’t tired and overall, I felt good. My time wasn’t what I wanted but considering where I was 50 minutes ago I was satisfied.
The run to T1 was long but I was able to get on the bike in only a couple minutes. My plan on the bike was to take the first 10miles easy and slowly ramp it up from there. Here comes the wind! I started fueling and hydrating early and often. It was good to be on the bike after that swim. I’m comfortable on the bike, it’s my strongest leg of the race. Miles were flying under my wheels, I only looked at my speed a couple times. I held to the race plan. My HR and perceived effort were my focus. Coming into the last few miles of the bike I took some time to assess how I felt. One word: Amazing! I couldn’t wait to get on the run.
T2 took a little longer than I wanted. I had so much dirt on my feet from T1 and I needed to get that cleaned off or I knew I would pay for it later on the run. I left on the run and I was shocked to see that everything was lining up perfectly. Pace and HR were exactly where they needed to be. Legs felt strong. I had this…or so I thought. The aid stations were spaced very far apart, too far for me and it was getting hot. I was able to tick off my first 5k in 27-28 minutes which was perfect for my race goal. Then I tried to eat my gel and my stomach said “NO”.
I really don’t know how I made it through the rest of the run. It was horrible, I was in pain. I was hot and more importantly I was disappointed in myself. I got to the turnaround at mile 7.5 and looked at my elapsed time. With some rough calculations, I figured that I could run 12:00 minute miles and still make my 6:00 hour PR goal. I had this, nothing was going to stop me from that. I put my head down and just ran as hard as I could. I would go from traffic cone to traffic cone. The last mile was the most painful I have ever run.
I was so happy to see the finish line. I can’t believe that I snuck in under 6 hours with a 5:52:30. I will take it! Looking back, I would like to think that I would’ve pushed myself that hard on the run if I had gone through all the training alone, but I didn’t. My coach had just as much invested in me as I did and I would be damned if I was going to let him down that close to my goal. I know that without his help and preparation I wouldn’t have been able to be in the position to have 2 of the 3 legs of my race go horribly wrong and still get a PR. I knocked almost 24 minutes off my old record! That folks is a good ending to a very hard and trying day. I went to bed happy that night….at 7:00PM.
As a #coachthatraces I know how hard tough races can be as an athlete. But I was a little surprised at how hard it was waiting for one of my athletes to cross the finish line. I started getting worried when Brian hadn’t finished when I expected him to. I started second guessing all of his training. Wondering if I had done something wrong and could have done things better.
Ultimately every race is an opportunity to learn. For the Athlete and for the Coach. There are no bad races. Only learning experiences. So here are a few Coaches notes and my takeaways from Brian’s race.
Positives: Great T1 and T2 times. Transitions are free time if you use them properly and Brian did. Awesome bike split. We had a plan for the bike leg and Brian executed it perfectly. All the training in the world can’t always perfectly prepare you for race day. Things happen. He had things go wrong in his race but he dug deep and gutted it out. That in of itself is a huge Win. Plus a new PR! Congrats.
Things that need to be addressed: I should have encouraged Brian to do more Open Water Swims. The swim was very choppy and I didn’t prepare him for that. We should have done more “worst case scenario” mental training. Practicing visualizing how things might go wrong, and how you would handle them, really helps on race day when things go sideways. We need to address his nutrition on the bike and run. Even though he felt good coming off the bike, it’s possible he was already behind on calories. Better heat acclimatization and fueling on the run will also be addressed and perfected before his next race.
Welcome to the Second installment of a 5 part Beginners Series.
So, you’ve decided you want to do a Triathlon? I recommend picking a race as the next step. As I discussed in the previous post in this series, there are a lot of options to consider when deciding on a race. But once you decide to do it, pick the race, add it to the calendar, then it will give you the motivation to start training for it.
With so many variables in picking your best “First” Triathlon, it will really come down to individual choices. I’ll cover some of these variables in no particular order because only you can decide which of these are most important to you.
Are you ready to take on all 3 sports? If not, there is nothing wrong with joining a relay team and just doing one leg of the race: swim, bike, or run. Doing so will allow you to experience the race without having to train for all 3 disciplines. Not all races have the relay option so make sure to research that. Some races have Facebook pages and people will post that they’re looking for another member for their team. Or form your own team with friends or co-workers.
2 out of 3 ain’t bad! If you aren’t ready for all 3 sports then consider doing a Duathlon, Aquabike, or Aquathon. Not all races offer these options so there might be fewer races to choose from, but these are a great alternative to doing the full Triathlon. Duathlon is run-bike-run. Aquabike is swim-bike. Aquathon is swim-run. There are many different lengths and combinations available so do your research and find one that fits your needs.
Swimming is probably the biggest reason many athletes don’t get into the sport of Triathlon. It can be intimidating and scary for cyclists and runners. The reality is, swimming is probably the best cross-training sport a cyclist and runner can do. The low impact nature and buoyancy in the water make swimming the perfect rehab and active recovery exercise we can do. But swimming is also the most technical and hardest sport to master of the 3 disciplines….. unless you grew up swimming. In which case, you can skip this paragraph LOL. There are 2 options when choosing a race with regards to the swim leg of a Triathlon, Pool Swim or Open Water Swim. Both have their pros and cons. Pool swim races offer a clean, clear environment and lane lines to keep you swimming straight. But pool swim Triathlons can be crowded and often result in waiting in long lines to start the race. Open water swim (OWS) races are more challenging when you have a fear of water or what lives in the water. But there are also different types of open water swims available, like rivers, lakes, ponds, waterways, and ocean. Many of the OWS races have wave starts that reduce the amount of people starting at once, hence reducing the amount of bumping and melee.
Have a mountain bike? Great! There are Off-Road Triathlons available. XTERRA is the best known off-road triathlon organizer. They offer races all over the world. And like Ironman, XTERRA offers a chance to qualify for the World Championship held in Hawaii. All XTERRA races are open water swims but many are in quiet rivers and lakes. Another option is riding the mountain bike for a regular on-road Triathlon. Some smaller local races offer a “fat tire or mountain bike” division.
Pick the distance of the Triathlon based on your strengths and previous athletic accomplishments. Many Triathletes do start with the shorter Sprint distance, then over time try doing the longer Olympic/International distance. But there is no rule that says you “have to” do it that way. I know several athletes that did an Ironman distance as their first Triathlon. I don’t necessarily recommend doing that, but my point is that you should pick the distance race that you feel motivated to train for and complete.
Another thing to think about when choosing your first race is the location. I generally recommend picking a race that is close to where you live. There are several reasons for this. First, it’s best if the terrain you will be training on matches the terrain of the race. Training in the flat and racing in hills can make for a rough first triathlon experience. Secondly, traveling to your first race adds other logistics that can make your first race experience more stressful. If you choose to (or have to, due to race availability) travel to your first race then book accommodations early and as close to the venue as possible. Consider picking a race in a town where you have family or friends that will come out and cheer you on.
If you are lucky enough to live in or close to an area with a Triathlon Club, many times the club may sponsor a local race. Typically, these races are very beginner friendly as most Triathlon Clubs love to help foster the sport and encourage new athletes to the sport.
Here are a few websites to help you find available races.
www.setupevents.com (North and South Carolina Races)
Whichever race you choose, make sure to have fun going into this new challenge. Stay tuned for the next installment, “Training for your first Triathlon”, post 3 of this 5 part series.