Tips for First Time Triathletes?

Last week I found an article on Active.com about Training Tips by Peter Reid for triathletes and it got some traction and conversation.  These tips were great for those that were further along in their triathlon career and not for those that haven't even tried the sport just yet.  I was thinking about what I would tell the person who is just getting into this sport for the first time. How would I describe what they needed to do?  Would I go into the 'just enjoy the first race' or would I tell them they had to train for it and really be committed to it?  I would not want to scare anybody off because I think this is a great lifestyle.  I enjoy testing my limits and finding out that those limits are further away than I can imagine. I love the idea that food is not for comfort because I am stressed or bored but it is fuel for the fire that burns inside to keep me moving on that last 1/4 mile of a tempo run.  The ability to push ones mind into darkness so you can embrace the suck (thanks Chris McCormack.) Maybe I point out the ever ongoing conversations via Twitter, Facebook, Text, Email and smoke signals to learn from and help out your fellow triathlete.  It is an ongoing lifestyle that for me is hard to describe but if I had to I would say it in one word:  AWESOME. So how do you translate AWESOME into tips for first-timers?  I haven't got a clue but Active.com does and they laid it out nice and neatly for me.  This article was written by Paul Taylor for Toughman Triathlon.  Once again I lay out my thoughts as best I can without just saying AWESOME.

10 First-Time Tips From Everyday Triathletes

You have a job. You have a family. You signed up for a triathlon. You want to get a great time and still balance other important parts of your life. How do you manage it all? There's no better way to find out than by talking to those who have. We found six age groupers who have not only balanced the demands of life and the sport, but have succeeded at them all. What's the common thread? The Toughman Triathlon in Westchester, New York, offers the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run while recognizing the time constraints of everyday life. Many finishers of the Toughman have plenty of advice to pass on to newcomers. "Our race is intentionally designed for age-groupers," said Richard Izzo, event organizer. "We attract time-pressed athletes looking for a half triathlon their whole family can enjoy." What did they have to say? We spoke to them and walked away with 10 tips for success this year: Get a Plan: Ann Williams, age 46, family physician and faculty member at Columbia, placed second at last year's Toughman in her age group. She tells everyone to find a plan. "If you can't afford a coach, find a program and stick to it. Don't just wing it." Ann fell into the sport as an injured runner looking for exercise. Today she says, "Anything you do well at is a lot of fun."
  • This goes without say.  While you want your first one to be fun and enjoyable you also don't want to bonk or you will wind up hating every stroke, pedal push and step.  There are a number of free plans out there so download one and get started.  It might not be the perfect fit to start out but it is better than just saying I will run for 3 miles on Tuesday and 5 miles on Thursday, then swim on Monday and Friday.  Inevitably you will not be prepared for the race and can risk injury.  If you are injured you will not enjoy the sport the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
Train Consistently: "Train an hour and fifteen minutes on some sport every day," advises Michael Begg, former Penn football player and current account manager at Presidio Network Solutions. Michael, 42, lost over 60 pounds training for the event last year. "Results are measurable." Begg, from Trumbull, Conn., likes the sense of empowerment he gets from the races. "It's something the whole family can enjoy."
  • I don't agree with this because unless you are only planning on swimming for 1h15, cycling for 1h15 and running for 1h15 then how will you be fit enough to conquer a 3hr bike ride?  I found out the hard way that you have to actually swim farther than the race distance to be prepared for the race distance.  For my first triathlon, a sprint with a 250y swim, I swam exactly 250 yards and got out of the water.  Come race day I was able to swim 200 yards and walking nearly 50 yards in the pool.
Know the Course: Christine Dunnery, age 42 from New City, New York, holds the race record. "Preview the course. In the case of Toughman, preview the bike course, if even by car." Christine, age 42, is a seventh grade English teacher and track coach when she's not raising the bar for the rest of her competitors. She likes triathlons because she like pushing her limits and "leading a healthy lifestyle."
  • I think this goes without say.  You can formulate a proper strategy for when to go hard, when to change gears, etc.  Now some courses you won't be able to do that with but look at the elevation maps and correspond them with aerial maps so that you can see where you are on the course and what you need to do.  On the swim know if you are going clock wise or counter clock wise so you can setup your angle for going around the buoys.  There is more to a triathlon than just racing it and knowing the course is a big part of that.
Eat Right Before the Race: Williams willingly offers a good prescription for food. "Prerace nutrition starts at least a week before the race...eat what you normally eat when you train. Find a routine and stick with it."
  • I couldn't disagree more with this.  One week is not enough time to fuel your body properly.  You should make this a lifestyle commitment even if you decide not to pursue the sport of triathlon.  Eating food that is wholesome and not processed should be a lifetime commitment and it will help support you in anything you decide to take on.
Get Plenty of Rest: Mimi Boyle, age 38 from Greenwich, Connecticut, placed second overall this year at the Toughman. "Don't underestimate the amount of sleep you need." Mimi is an account director for a package design company. Mimi stays passionate about the sport because, "I want to always try to go faster...I honestly feel better, eat better when I train for a race."
  • Rest days are vital to recovery.  Your muscles don't get stronger while you are pushing your body to its limits.  They get stronger when they are rested so do not overestimate the necessity for rest.  Your body will tell you when it needs rest but you should also plan a rest day in your training.  I train at the wee hours of the morning so that my body has 24 hours to rest and recover before the next mornings training session.  I believe that this has helped me get to where I am today compared to where I started.
Pack Everything the Night Before: Begg advises people the night before to, "Pack all your essentials. I have one big bag, and three smaller bags...[ones for] swim, bike, and run."
  • To me this is a no brainer.  This removes any chance that you might skip a workout because you are running 'late' trying to look for gear. Pack it all up the night before and be prepared for that next morning's training or even that session you have planned after work.  If you remove any obstacles in your path you will have no excuses to miss a session and don't look for one either.
Visualize Success: Mimi Boyle encourages other athletes to prepare mentally as well as physically for the race. "Do a little bit of visualization. Imagine a relaxing swim. Visualize yourself executing a perfect race."
  • I always visualize me crossing the finish line of the race or pumping my fist when a training session goes well.  Success is like a virus in that it breeds upon itself.  Once you taste that satisfaction of a successful race or workout you hunger for more.  You want to keep momentum on your side and it starts by visualizing the positive to your race or session.
Pace Yourself: Don Henry, age 45 from Pound Ridge, New York, says it is critical to, "Pace yourself. The swim is always the swim. Understand the hardest section of the course and don't blow up. At Toughman, the first 25 miles of the bike are the toughest and the ones to do carefully." Don is a financial adviser in Westchester County. He used to play golf and weighed 20 pounds more than today. Why does he love the sport? "Being part of the community and enjoying the camaraderie of fellow triathletes," he said.
  • If you have trained properly then you should be able to know your approximate finish time of each discipline.  Take a look at Jeff Irvin's pre-race predictions and then read his race report and see where he fell in line.  Had Jeff not trained properly he would not have known how to pace himself for success in accordance to his plan.  There is a simple correlation here.  Proper training = expected results on race day.  Can you have a day that is worse or better?  Of course, but you can eliminate a lot of that from happening by being prepared for the race.
Don't Panic: Scott Harrison, age 56 from Darien, Connecticut, took second place in his age group at the event last year. The general contractor for a commercial/industrial construction firm tells fellow athletes, "Don't panic. The swim is daunting for first timers." Scott used the sport to beat addiction. Today, triathlon is his lifestyle. "I travel with friends to events. This is what we do."
  • The swim is always going to be daunting and that is because it comes first so your pre-race nerves/jitters are right there.  If the bike were first or the run first then that is where the jitters will occur.  Either way know your capabilities and find a rhythm.  Discover your breathing patterns and stick to your plan.  I cannot stress enough how creating a plan and sticking to it will help ease the burden of any panic that might set in.
Don't Let One Problem Ruin the Day: Christine Dunnery wants everyone to expect that something will go wrong. "Don't get caught up on a single thing that happens during an event -- like a flat tire." Get off the road, fix it, and know that you will finish the race.
  • I really like this piece of advice.  The best way to say it is to expect the unexpected.  Anything and everything will happen on race day, but if you have planned and trained and visualized then these setbacks will not affect you as much as if you were not prepared to race.
  For me these tips are excellent but they all boil down to one thing:  Preparation.  Failure to prepare is preparing to fail as the cliche goes.  As questions and listen, then apply those answers to your training and racing.  Triathletes are some of the most friendly people I have met.  We are all competing against each other but there is a brotherhood in the sport and we will work with each other to help each other out as well.  

What are your tips for a first-time triathlete?  First time marathoner?

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Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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