Saturday, January 5, 2013

Advice for the New Triathlete

It's January and as you can tell from the ads on television for gym memberships, diet and smoking cessation products, it's also resolution time.

Given the number of people who randomly wander by my blog, I wanted to offer some advice to anyone who may be considering or has even decided to do their first triathlon in 2013. While there's a plethora of advice out there on training, equipment, races, etc., I wanted to paint with some slightly broader strokes. So here, based on my own experiences, is my list of advice for any new comers:

10. It's normal to be intimidated. Just don't let it overwhelm you or scare you off. Any perusal of the interwebs, magazines or even a visit to your local bike shop (LBS) can make you feel inadequate and not equal to the task of finishing your event. Don't let it! Despite what a few unfortunate douche bags may say and do (and we do have our share of douches) this really is an all-comers sport. This guy is not representative of the overall group:

9. Swimming is harder than you think. Unless you're already someone who swims a lot or has been swimming most of their life, this really is as hard as you hear. I got faster swimming when I stopped worrying about how much power I was putting into it and focused entirely on my form. Seriously, I got faster when I stopped worrying about being fast.

8. Equipment is fun, cool and exciting, but ultimately not what it's all about. On my way back from an open-water swim one day last summer, I saw a guy on his bike. He was "kitted out" with some major name-brand or another and his back pockets were bulging with nutrition packs. He was struggling to get across the street on his bike because in one hand he had a CUP OF STARBUCKS! Cyclists (and triathletes) refer to a guy (or gal) with all the equipment but none of the motivation as a "Fred." Don't be one! Now, to be clear, I love my tri bike, my Garmin 910, and my Rudy Project helmet and sunglasses. The thing is, I don't compete in this sport just to have the stuff. The stuff just makes it more enjoyable. I also don't give a damn what other people think of it. This is for me.

7. Have a plan. You don't necessarily need to go out and buy a formal training plan--especially not for your first race. Online are plenty of plans that will prepare you and there are always a lot of great books on the subject as well. A decent plan will balance out the disciplines you need to improve to complete your first race. It also gives you a good way to identify milestones. Reaching these as you make your journey from new comer to veteran provides an innate sense of satisfaction. It also helps you plan the rest of your life.

6. Track it. Be it an online service like Run Tracker or Daily Mile, a spreadsheet program or a legal pad, keep some kind of a log of what you're doing. You may want to review past successes and failures so that you can avoid repeating them in the future. Your training history also provides a good foundation for setting up a new plan when that time comes. Finally, you're once again rewarded with some tangible evidence of your efforts.

5. Your biggest obstacles are mental, not physical. Yes, there will be those times when you are winded and not sure if you can go on. You may also have sore muscles, an upset stomach or, ahem, digestive issues. But the biggest threat to your success is that little voice each of us can hear that keeps saying "QUIT." It may be more subtle and say things like, "just take today off--it's only one day." Or, "hey, most people aren't athletes, you shouldn't feel bad about not being one either." Ignoring this voice when you get home after a long day at work and would rather plop down in front of the TV instead of going for a run will make you successful. The voice is persistent. Your challenge is in being more so.

4. Find a balance. Training and competing are fun and rewarding things to do. But, like any hobby or activity, they can take over your life. Never forget the balance between your other obligations like a spouse, kids and a job. Triathlon is supposed to be a positive thing. Don't let it be the thing that ruined your life. Also remember, the sport is a lot more fun if your friends and family are out there cheering for you on race day.

3. Start small. Sort of like dipping your foot in the pool before you jump in. Yes, arguable the most prestigious events in the sport are the Ironman series, but they are no place to begin. A sprint, consisting of a swim of usually no more than 750 meters, a bike of no more than 20 miles and almost always a 5 kilometer run is a great place to begin. If you find the experience addicting (and most do) you can always set out for something more after that. And don't listen to the aforementioned douche bags who speak of sprint events with disdain. They are triathlons and a great place not only to enter the sport, but to tune up at the beginning of each season.

 2. Be prepared for the unexpected. Two days before my first race, the swim was canceled due to high ecoli levels in the lake. A year later, at the same event, the swim was on, but the wind created huge swells that totally messed up my swim time. I've had the bike course shortened due to security concerns (it was going to go through a Navy base on the tenth anniversary of 9/11) and an entire event threatened due to smoke from a forest fire. Logistically, organizing and successfully executing a multi-sport event like a triathlon is very tricky. Things can and do go wrong. Be ready for it and roll with it.

1. Have fun! If you're not enjoying yourself (despite some tough work outs or grueling races) then you're missing the point. All of us who do this sport and keep coming back year after year do it because we like it. We enjoy it. We would miss it if we didn't do it. Smile, take in the scenery and enjoy it.

Congratulations on your decision to join the ranks of triathletes. It's a big step but one you'll be glad you took. There's lots of great stuff to read and many places to seek inspiration, information and ideas. Go forth and conquer your fears and inhibitions. This step may change your life!

Thanks for reading


  1. Where can I get an outfit like the one pictured below #10?

    1. Check at any place that sells women's athletic clothing 8-|