Surviving your first triathlon

Tips every triathlete needs for their first triathlon event

Getting ready for your first triathlon may seem a little daunting but the good news is that it's all in the preparation, so work out how well you want to perform, find out what you have to do to achieve that and prepare for how you wish to perform.

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.

Don't let a mechanical problem ruin the day

You've paid the entry fee, invested hundreds of hours in the preparation and finished all the hard work. Race day is supposed to be the easy bit and your time to shine, so limit the chances of a simple thing like a mechanical issue ruining the day.

Get a mechanic to look over your bike, and in particular make sure the gears and breaks are tuned (to reduce the chance of crashing). Probably the most important thing is to check your tyres are fresh because this is usually the first thing to take you out of the game. My team, UplaceBMC, think it's so important to have the bike working perfectly that they take a mechanic to every race all over the world.

Always double check everything else, so I’d recommend you lay out all the gear the night before a race, so that you know you have everything you need and that it works properly. For instance, is the wetsuit zipper working? Will the goggles snap? Have you got the right number of shoes?

Familiarise yourself with the course

It's always your responsibility to know where you’re going. It seems simple but you can't always rely on the marshals and sometimes the organisers fail to mark the course properly. I've been a victim to this numerous times, even in big races. Make sure you drive or ride the course before the race. For a start, you don't really want to race further then you have to, and you'll never know how you'd have placed if you stayed on course. It's an easy way to ruin the day and it happens all too often!

Transition set up

Transition set up can save you a lot of time. Imagine how you’d feel if you could knock two minutes off your run or swim time? I think most people would be very happy with that! Well transition is all part of the triathlon. The clock doesn't stop between disciplines and it really can save you that couple of minutes or more.

It's definitely worth practicing this part of the race in training so that when it comes down to it you're lightening fast!

One way you can improve your transitions is to have your bike shoes on your bike, held up by elastic bands. Your helmet should also be easily accessible, with straps facing outwards. Keep your race number under your wetsuit so you don't even have to worry about it and keep your run shoes open so that they are ready for tired feet. Perhaps most importantly, know where your bike is! You can have anywhere between 500 to 5,000 bikes (London Triathlon).  Pick a landmark like a flag, tree, or lamppost. When you’re dazed and confused coming out of a choppy swim, instead of looking aimlessly for your bike, all you need to do is locate that landmark.

Pace your race

It seems obvious but if you're a beginner then you'll lack the experience to pace yourself. I'd advise being conservative rather than over ambitious, especially in a long race. Too much power on the bike or at the start of the run will come back to bite you in the last 20 per cent of the race and you'll be doubly slow compared to the time you gained by being too strong at the start. Try to build each discipline so you always have that feeling that you can push on.

Also it’s good for confidence because nobody likes blowing up. Remember... bike for show, run for dough! Meaning you can show off all you like on the bike, but more often than not you'll win on the run.

Eat your way to success  

This becomes more and more important as the distance gets longer and longer. Nutrition is one of the most popular complaints for failing to finish a race. As a rough guide I'd recommend taking a 750ml bottle of isotonic an hour on the bike, and two energy gels every hour. Going into a race with just water is asking for trouble and you're likely to blow up if you're not fuelling yourself properly. Practice everything you do in training so you know you can stomach what you're using. The more 'pro' you get the more you'll be using products like salt tablets, beetroot juice and caffeine gels. 

Enjoy it

Remember the reasons why you got into it in the first place, whatever they may be. Smile, do a cartwheel or high five everyone when you cross the finish line and remember to give back to the people who have supported you! My podium flowers will always go to my wife/mum first (alternate) and if there is no family around, then they always go to a lady volunteer ;) 

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