I remember my first race back in 1992 like it was yesterday.
It went something like this:
Swim: No wetsuit for my first open water swim experience and I wore my swim suit.
Transition 1: I had a bath of water to rinse the sand off my feet. I sat down in a lawn chair to put my socks and running shoes on before I mounted my bike.
Bike: I rode a $200 mountain bike, wore my mom’s gigantic helmet with a baggy La Palozza t-shirt and cotton stretch pant shorts. I got passed by someone every mile along the 12-mile course.
Run: My first-ever “brick” run, the first time I ran after biking, 4.5 miles on a trail.
Finish: first in my age group, age 19, 4th overall.
I was hooked, and spent the next month searching for a road bike. A friend advised me not to purchase the first road bike I demoed, which, to this day, is my advice to athletes getting into the sport of triathlon. My first road bike was a purple Miele steel frame.
During training, I never drank energy drinks or consumed gels. My first exposure to GU was in 1997 at the mile 2 aid station as I was running my first marathon at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. I learned everything by experience and articles I read in Runners World and Triathlete.
Fast forward 20 years later. With countless books and the internet full of triathlon advice, preparing for your first race can be overwhelming. Plan to practice what you will do race day in training.
Most of us complete a sprint distance (1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) as our first event. Many others with some experience will swim, bike or run as their primary sport may try an Olympic Distance (1.5k, 40k, 10k) as their first triathlon. Very few jump into a Half (1.2 mile, 56 mile, 13.1 mile) or full IronDistance (2.4 mile, 112 mile, 26.2 mile), although there are some athletes that can do that, I do not recommend a long distance (Half or Full Ironman) as your first triathlon. Whatever the distance you signed up for, below is a list of most commonly asked Q and A that will help you prepare for your first event.
How many weeks/days and/or hours a week do I need to train?
These all are determined by your experience, your strengths and weaknesses, what distance event you are registered for and of course how much time you have to train.
For a sprint: I recommend two swims, two rides and two runs a week, with one run done after you bike. Total time each week 4-6 hours for 6-12 weeks
For an Olympic: I recommend 2-3 swims, 3 bikes and 3 runs per week. Total training time 6-12 hours for 12-16 weeks
For a Half of Full IronDistance: I recommend 2-3 swims, 3-4 bikes and 3-4 runs. Total training time for a Half 10-15 hours, total training time for a full iron distance 10-20 hours for 16-24 weeks
How long should my longest swim, bike or run be in training?
Often, if you are new to the sport, less is more, meaning you want to do the minimum to complete the event healthy and strong. Your number one goal for your first one, is to complete your event. Afterwards spend some time assessing your goals, maybe to go father or get faster, then create a plan to reach your goals for future races. This time, consider hiring a coach.
Below are my general guidelines to build a “longer” swim, bike and run into your weekly training plan. At the minimum you should be able to complete the distance for each sport.
For a sprint: 1/2 miles, 12 miles, 3.1 miles. If you are ready to go longer and have more time, the longest swim can be a mile, longest bike 20 miles and longest run up to 5 miles.
For an Olympic distance, 1 mile swim, 25 miles bike and 6 mile run 6. I often have experienced athletes build up to a 2000 meter continuous swim, a 40 mile ride and 10 mile run.
For a Half Ironman distance Build up and be comfortable swimming continuous 2000 meters, biking 60 miles and running 15 miles.
For a Full Iron distance be comfortable swimming 2.4, biking 112 and running up to 18 or more miles as their longest run
What type of gear do I need?
As previously mentioned, less is more. I recommend for any distance race you are start with are the basics and build your collection of gear and swag if triathlon is something you will continue to pursue.
For the swim: Very few triathletes wear “speedos” anymore. Most of us invest in a triathlon tank top and tri shorts or one piece triathlon suit to wear for the entire race so we do not have to fiddle with changing or putting on clothes over a wet body. Of course a swim cap and goggles, maybe a wetsuit if you will be competing in open water.
For the bike: Either a new or used (road or tri frame) that fits, helmet and maybe cycling shoes if you have clip-less pedals. Otherwise ride wearing your running shoes.
For the run: A descent a pair of running shoes designed for your type of running gait, hat or visor and sunglasses.
Nutrition: Water bottles, energy products or food (to be determined with training)
The transition area is secure, you do not need to lock your bike. No NUDDITY, you will be disqualified. Therefore , recommend wearing the triathlon suit or having a top and short to pull on over your suit.
Know your ins and outs (where you enter from the swim and exit on the bike and run). There will be tons of volunteers to help answer your questions. T1 and T2 will look different from when you set up your area to when you actually run in and out with your bike mainly as to t2coaching many bikes are still left when you exit the water. I recommend noting a landmark, adding something like a bright towel, or balloon, even mark some colorful tape on the ground to guide you to your space.
Your transition area will be the size of a small towel with your run/bike shoes, socks, hat/visor, maybe some water bottles or nutrition and a racing belt. Often athletes pin their bib number to a racing belt for easy access since you must wear your bib number on the front of your body when you cross the finish line.
You did it!! You want a nice photo finish so be sure to finish with a smile and arms up in the air and save all your medals and photos so 20 years later you can reflect on how much triathlon has directed your mental and physical wellness. Most importantly, enjoy your experience. There is a reason I have been doing this sport for 20 years and plan to enjoy the next 20 and beyond.
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