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Tips for Your First Race

first triathlonBy Beth Atnip

Getting nervous about your first triathlon? Don’t worry! It is natural to feel a little anxious before your big race, especially during the last few weeks leading up to your race. As a new triathlete, there are so many things to think about before the race actually arrives. There are questions like "what do I wear," "how do I transition from the swim to the bike," and "what do I eat the night before the race?"

As a beginner triathlete, there are so many ins and outs to learn about the sport of triathlon. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed and almost scared about competing in your first event.

I know that during my first triathlon, I must have asked my husband a thousand questions leading up to the big day. I did my training, but was not really sure about anything else. I have to say that I was nervous before the race, and wished that I had asked even more questions before I competed in my first race.

Through my experiences over the last seven years as competitor, coach and a race director, I have talked with many beginner triathletes and really listened to the questions and concerns they had as a newbie! I wanted to share some of my thoughts for all those new triathletes just getting involved in this wonderful sport. Here are some basic triathlon training tips I would like to share with you before your first big race arrives:

  1. Set a goal for yourself: You should set a personal goal for yourself before race day. Your goal can be as simple as completing the race or finishing the race in a particular time. Try to avoid setting goals that seem unattainable in order to avoid disappointment on race day. This goal is YOUR goal, not your friend’s or your training buddy’s. This will help you focus during your training sessions leading up to the race.

  2. Have a nutrition plan in place before race day: Before you compete in any race, you should have a nutrition plan in place. You should train with foods and liquids you plan on using race day. You need to know how your stomach will react to certain foods and drinks while you are training. For a shorter race, such as a sprint distance event, most competitors should be able to get through the bike portion of the event with about 20-24 ounces of fluids while taking in small portions of water/sports drink during each mile of the run course. Gels, bars and sports drinks are all things that you can experiment with during your training to find what works best for you.

  3. Give yourself extra time race morning so you do not feel rushed: You want to make sure you have plenty of time race morning. Arrive early to the race site. This will give you plenty of time to park, get your equipment situated and hopefully prevent any additional stress race morning. This will give you plenty of time to set up your transition area without feeling rushed or anxious. This will also provide you with extra time in case you have to make any last minute adjustments to your bike or other race gear.  

  4. Avoid overtraining: You want to make sure that you are giving your body enough time to recover between workouts. As a beginner, your training is going to be different from somebody who has been doing this for years. It is best to start out with one workout a day, and grow from there. If swimming is your weak spot, you want to make sure you hit the pool more than once a week. Proper recovery from your workouts is just as important as the workout itself. If you are totally lost about developing a training schedule and do not have access to a local triathlon club or group, hiring a triathlon coach would be your next best step.

  5. Focus on yourself, not others around you: You are competing in this event for yourself!  If you start to worry about winning or beating others in your age group, you will start to lose focus on what you are trying to accomplish. There is always going to be someone who is faster, stronger or more experienced. It is not worth your time worrying about others around you. You should have fun and enjoy the experience of triathlons!

  6. If you have questions, just ask: You are going to have multiple questions during your first race. Feel free to ask other athletes around you, or the event management team to help you with your questions. If you don’t ask, how will you ever find out the information you need? I know I constantly asked questions during the first few years competing in this sport, and I still ask questions now! There is always somebody out there who can help you with questions about training, bikes, gear, nutritional questions, etc.

  7. Know your personal limits: You have to be careful to stick to your training plan, and not get caught up with what your buddy or other local triathletes are doing. For example, if you are only used to running three days a week, you would not want to jump right into running five days a week. You are the best judge of how your body feels and how hard you can push yourself. Especially during the really hot days, you should use extreme caution and make sure you stay hydrated and workout more in the mornings and evenings to avoid the heat of the day.

  8. Go through all of your race gear a few nights before the race: You are already going to be nervous for race day, so try to eliminate as much stress as possible before the event. A few nights before the race, start getting all of your race gear together, and make sure that you have everything that you need. That way, if you find out that you need to purchase an item for the race, such as gels or bars, or new goggles, you will have time to run to the store before race day. Then, the night before the race, you can put everything you need into your gear bag and have it ready for the morning. I have learned that waiting to the last minute to get your gear together can be quite stressful!

  9. Don’t try new things on race day: This is very important for any triathlete! This includes drinks, food, gels, new socks, new shoes, etc. If you plan on using something race day, make sure that you practice with it in your training. One of the biggest mistakes a beginner triathlete can make is trying a new gel or bar on race day, which can lead to an upset stomach and make for a bad day! Having a race plan ahead of time is the best way to approach the race. 

  10. Relax and have a good time: We are in this sport to have fun, so make sure you enjoy your race! You have done the training, and have put in the time, so now is the fun part of competing! Your family and friends will be there to support you at the finish line, and there will be plenty of volunteers to answer your questions. Try to stay as relaxed as possible before the race by giving yourself extra time race morning to get everything set up in transition.

Good luck and have fun!

    Coach Beth Atnip is a USAT Level II Certified Coach, a USAT Certified Race Director and a NSCA Certified Personal Trainer.  She is the co-owner of Mideast Multisport and is dedicated to helping athletes at all levels achieve their fitness and competitive goals. She is also the race director for the Susan Bradley-Cox Tri for Sight, a sprint triathlon/duathlon in Lexington, KY. Visit her website at www.mideastmultisport.com.


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