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.