Five years ago this month, I started training for my first triathlon with a cheap Wal-Mart bike, an old pair of sneakers, leaky goggles, a borrowed wetsuit that was way too big and a whole lot of determination. I may have not had any idea what I was doing as I followed my “make-it-up-as-I-go” training plan but I believed that I had what it took to finish a triathlon and I worked hard to reach my goal.
Although I had a few bumps along the way, I ended up finishing my first triathlon with a smile on my face and nothing can compare to the incredible feeling of crossing that finish line knowing I had accomplished something awesome.
I firmly believe that with some hard work and a good training plan, anyone (yes, even YOU!) can do a triathlon (or any other race)! Looking back, many of the challenges I faced and mistakes I made could have been avoided if I had asked for advice or talked with an experienced triathlete. So if you are inspired to start training to swim, bike and run your way to a healthier you, then here are 7 things I wish someone had told me before my first triathlon:
1. Pace Yourself – It may have been the adrenaline rush of hearing the starting whistle, but I started off my swim in an all out sprint. After about 30 seconds I was completely exhausted and realized that I should slow down if I wanted to finish the rest of the swim and still have energy to bike and run. The moral of the story is that slow and steady is the way to go. This is also important to keep in mind during your run. Your legs will be tired and other runners may pass you, (It happens to me all the time!) but don’t let that discourage you. This is YOUR race. Swim, bike and run at YOUR pace and be proud of it.
2. Practice Your Transitions – The transition is the time when you “transition” from the swim to the bike and then from the bike to the run. Basically it’s when you change your gear and clothes. But why would anyone need to practice that? Well, because I forgot to put my shorts on over my bike spandex… that’s why. Being a spandex newbie I was absolutely mortified to run in those things! That may sound silly, but I was so uncomfortable with wearing spandex that I was distracted and actually ended up running much slower then my usual pace. So practice your transitions—it’s so worth it to have your routine down so you don’t forget anything during the excitement of the race!
3. Don’t Try Anything New On Race Day – The day before my race, I saw a picture in a magazine of what a particular triathlete’s transition area looked like. I figured that person probably knew what they were doing so I copied it. That meant that I had a sugary sports drink, an energy bar and a packet of goo. I had never even tasted any of those specific products, much less tested them out in my training. After taking a few bites of the energy bar and a slurp of goo (yuk), I ended up getting a horrible stomachache in the middle of my run. Trust me on this one… test it out first and don’t try anything new on race day!
4. Don’t Use An iPod – I LOVE to run with music. In fact, I never run without it. So naturally, during my race, I grabbed my iPod and arm strap and started running. Well, as I was running, I was simultaneously fumbling with my tangled headphones. Once I finally got the apparatus on my arm, my iPod wouldn’t turn on. Thank God I spotted my family and handed them my iPod. It just wasn’t worth it. The crazy thing was that I was SO happy I didn’t have it because I could actually hear the fans cheering me on and that was so much better than my playlist!
5. When You Train Makes A Difference – Most races have an early morning start time and are well over with by noon. My triathlon started at 7:15 AM. However, while training for it, I was working the evening shift as an ER nurse and I didn’t get off work till after midnight. That meant I didn’t start any of my workouts till after noon! On race day, my body wasn’t used to waking up and swimming, biking or running that early because I had never worked out in the morning. So, if your schedule allows, try to train around the time your race starts. Even if you workout in the morning just a week or two before your race it will make a big difference in how you feel on race morning.
6. You Will Gain Confidence – Training for, and completing my first triathlon changed my life. I gained so much confidence and I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish. In fact, as a result of my newfound confidence and sense of adventure, I moved across the country, met my husband and landed my dream job. I’m not saying that doing a triathlon will make all of your dreams come true, but it can definitely enhance your life and inspire you to start taking steps towards making your dreams become a reality.
7. Have Fun – Even though doing my first triathlon was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, it was also one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had! I literally could not stop smiling! If I had known how much fun it was going to be, I would have signed up to do a triathlon much sooner. I also would’ve invited more friends and family members to come join in on the excitement and fun. And whether you’re racing or just watching, seeing people of all ages and fitness levels completing a triathlon—or any race for that matter—is incredibly inspiring and empowering.
Fast-forward 5 years and lots of races later and I am still learning from every new experience… especially from my mistakes. (I also still don’t like running in spandex, See #2).
So don’t let what you don’t know or the fear of making a mistake hold you back from trying something new or from training for that race you’ve always wanted to run. Who knows, you may even be able to use your own experience to inspire others!