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Triathlon 101: 7 Tips for Your First Triathlon

Triathlon–why do one sport when you could enjoy three! It’s an incredibly fun, challenging, and engaging sport for people of all ages. But, it can also feel intimidating and overwhelming–especially when preparing for your first triathlon. There’s a lot to learn, practice, and understand!


There are loads of great resources geared toward first-time triathletes. It can be overwhelming to discern which tips and resources are right for you. I rounded up seven of my favorite tips for enjoying and thriving at your first triathlon!


1. There’s no “one size fits all” in triathlon

This reality can be applied in so many ways. There’s no single nutrition plan, hydration plan, training plan, pre-race ritual, or anything that will work for every triathlete at every level. This can be freeing and quite overwhelming as everyone seems to have their own strategy, solution, or best practice.


Feel free to ask for insights and opinions. Also, find what works best for you and stick to it. This will likely require some experimenting, especially if you’re training for longer-distance triathlons. That’s part of the triathlon adventure!


Finding an experienced coach can significantly reduce the “trial and error” part of the process of finding what works best for you–especially when it comes to your training and nutrition plans. While there’s not a single strategy that fits every athlete, a coach can direct you to starting points and best practices that suit your current fitness levels and goals.


2. You don’t need the latest and greatest gear to be a successful triathlete

Triathletes are often (and probably rightfully) pegged as “gear junkies” who love to have the latest and greatest in swim, bike, and run gear. Whether it’s the latest helmet design or the newest super-fast running shoes, you’ll probably see it all at every triathlon.


While having quality gear is important, having the newest or most advanced equipment and technology is not essential. Many successful triathletes train and race with just the essentials that work for them.


Invest in quality equipment that is comfortable, abides by USAT triathlon rules (especially helmets, bikes, and wetsuits), and that you feel confident using.


Ride the bike that you have and feel most comfortable riding. Feel free to skip the wetsuit if you’re more comfortable without it (as long as water and air temperatures allow). When you look around the triathlon community on race day, you’ll notice athletes from all backgrounds with all kinds of gear. That’s one of the beauties of the triathlon world.


3. Know the rules of the triathlon event

While we’re on the subject of gear, knowing the rules of the triathlon you’ll be completing is critical. Some of those rules will address gear regulations. For example, not all wetsuits meet the USAT or IRONMAN requirements. Not all helmets have the correct safety ratings to wear while racing.


Take the time to read the rules and athlete guide for each race. It offers a wealth of information about what is and isn’t allowed and what to expect on race day. Many of the rules will be the same for all triathlons. Still, there may be some variations that are specific to a particular event.


These rules are designed to keep you and all the athletes, spectators, and volunteers as safe as possible so everyone can enjoy a fun and fair racing experience.


4. There is no “just” or “only” in triathlon–any goal is a good goal!

The beauty of triathlon is that it’s a place for all kinds of goals! Whether your objective is to finish the race within the time cutoff or win your age group, any triathlon goal is a good goal. Don’t feel intimidated or be concerned that your goal isn’t big or impressive enough.


Don’t let anyone tell you it’s “just” a sprint or that you “only finished.” There is no “just” or “only” when you’re setting challenging personal goals and pursuing strength, progress, and growth.


5. Find a balance between training and life

When you hang out in the triathlon world long enough, you’ll realize that there’s always someone training harder and longer than you. There are always those athletes logging overwhelming training hours and miles, leaving the rest of us wondering how they accomplish anything else in life. This is especially true if you’re working toward a long-course triathlon (like a 70.3 or 140.6-mile distance).


It’s tempting to wonder if you’re doing enough, training enough, and covering enough miles. Unless you’re a professional triathlete or working toward winning high amateur awards, finding a sustainable balance in your training is critical. Rest assured that finding a balance between your training and the rest of life is crucial for your long-term success and sustainability in the sport.


Triathlon is meant to be enjoyable and add value to your life. Of course, there will be days when you just don’t want to wake up early to get to the pool or put in your running shoes after a long day at work. There will be times when it takes grit, commitment, and mental fortitude to continue working toward your goals. But, overall, a healthy life is a balanced life–and that’s true for triathletes, too.


A good coach will take the time to get to know you and understand your goals and life rhythms. They’ll help you find that sustainable balance in life that keeps triathlon enjoyable and rewarding.


6. Consistency is the key to training success

While balance is critical for sustainability, consistency is the key to success. Life happens, and things come up; that’s to be expected. But following your training plan as consistently as possible from start to finish will set you up for long-term success.


Successful triathletes follow a training plan as closely as possible to steadily gain fitness and prevent injury or burnout. Experienced coaches design training plans with consistency and your unique training capacity in mind.


7. Don’t skip the nutrition plan

Since I mentioned nutrition a few times already, you probably guessed it’s pretty essential. Nutrition is sometimes called “the fourth discipline of triathlon.” Hydration and nutrition plans outline how much water, sports drink (electrolytes), and fuel (carbohydrates, sugar, etc.) you plan to consume throughout the race and at what frequency.


This is often a highly personalized plan that evolves as you find the products and strategies that work best for your body. After all, some people are more susceptible to things like GI distress than others. All athletes have different sweat rates. Some athletes are salty sweaters, meaning they lose more electrolytes than others. You get the idea. The key is to start experimenting early in your training. Try different bars, gels, or other products you’re interested in using to find what you like and work well with your body.


The bottom line is that triathlon is an amazing adventure. It will challenge you in ways you didn’t imagine, but the rewards are great. The key is to embrace the journey and make it your own.

 

Gregg Edelstein is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, an IRONMAN University Certified Coach, and a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach based in the greater Boston area. Gregg offers his athletes insight on the principles of exercise, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention, working to make them well-rounded and engaged athletes that share his passion for sport. Gregg can be reached at Greg@TeamMPI.com

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