I'm a small-town Minnesota dietitian and triathlete.
I help endurance athletes reach their performance and body composition goals through a flexible eating style.
I’ve got nine years and 25 triathlons of experience under my belt. I’ve tried many different methods, clothing and techniques over the years. I’ve collected my best tips and created a detailed guide to help you prepare for your next triathlon. Ultimately you will need to do what works best for you, and regardless I’m sending you positive vibes your way for a successful race.
First and foremost, be familiar with the event’s race rules. Check out the USAT rules here. If the race isn’t USAT sanctioned, then research the event’s specific rules as they may be different from USAT. This is not only for your safety, but to avoid receiving a time penalty or disqualification.
Study the race course well. Be familiar with turns, up-hills, downhills, flats and aid station locations. Even though there are volunteers and signs on the course providing directions, it’s good to have a plan of attack for your race and make you more comfortable once you are out there on race day.
This is the most nerve-wracking portion of the race for most newbies, and for good reason. I highly recommend practicing open-water swimming before your event. The most you get out there the better off you’ll be. While there is truly nothing that will fully prepare you for your first triathlon swim, at least being comfortable in open water is a great start. There is no big blue line at the bottom of the lake, ocean or river guiding you where to go. Always practice open water swims with other people, experienced open water swimmers is preferred.
Focus on the following:
Practice open water swimming with and without a wetsuit. The weather can change water temperatures pretty quickly, and it’s good to have practiced open water swimming while wearing different gear so that you’re comfortable either way. Also, take practice taking off your wetsuit immediately after your open water practice swims. When you come into T1 at an event it’s normal to feel tired and wobbly so you’ll want to be familiar with how to get your wetsuit off.
The wetsuit zipper cord should have a piece of velcro at the very end. Insert that in the large Velcro flap at the back of your neck so keep it from tangling in your arms while swimming. This also makes easy access to grab the cord when you are ready to remove your wetsuit.
As I’m coming out of the water I unzip my wetsuit, slide out my arms and fold it down to my hips. Once I return to my bike I completely remove the wetsuit from my lower half and begin preparing for the bike portion of the race. It’s ok if you’re wetsuit ends up inside out, you can fix it after the event. I tend to hang it over the bike rack bar to keep it from being stepped on.
I’ve seen some triathletes at events that use a small tub of water to rinse their feet off. Since there is very little room in transition, I opt to use an extra bike water bottle to quickly squirt water over my feet then stand on a clean towel to keep them clean, and possibly take a few sips to begin rehydrating.
Trial what you plan to wear. I have an entire dresser drawer dedicated to triathlon clothing, and I think I’ve worn almost all varieties of options available at an event. Do you wear a two-piece tri short and top? Or the one-piece tri suit? Or do you just wear a sports bra and tri shorts underneath your wetsuit and put a top on at T1?
The most important aspect is that you will be comfortable. I have had success the past year wearing a two-piece tri top and shorts as it transitions from swim to bike to run well, and it’s easy to use when visiting the bathroom. My one-piece suit has worked well for shorter events when I skipped using a wetsuit during the swim, but it’s inconvenient to take on and off when using the bathroom right before your race. Also, keep in mind that having to put on clothing after the swim can be difficult when you’re wet and it can burn unnecessary time, so invest in a comfortable tri race kit.
For women (or men with long hair) – plan how you will wear your hair. This is a small factor that can save you time. When swimming, most women will wear a high ponytail or bun. However, when you reach T1 and try to place your helmet on you’ll have to adjust your hair to a low ponytail which takes times (especially when your hair is wet). I go with the French braid, and I’ve heard of other women doing two French braids. It will hold your hair in place and is no fuss during the event. When I place my swim cap on I ask someone to shove the tail of the braid up into the swim cap. Keep in mind the French braid will make your hair bulkier around the crown of your head, so always test out your bike helmet prior to the event and adjust so that it will fit your new do and is comfortable. During the run, I wear a hat to keep any flyaway hairs out of my face and to keep cool in the heat of the summer.
Don’t rely on the event’s bike mechanics the morning of the events. Take care of all bike maintenance the week prior to the event. Have your bike tuned up or checked over by a professional that you trust. You’ll have a better peace of mind traveling to the event knowing that your bike is in good working order. While I’m sure most bike mechanics at events are reliable and know what they’re doing I would rather put my trust into someone that I know and isn’t rushed the morning of a race with a long line of people in need of bike maintenance. Use them only in the situation of an unexpected emergency.
Practice mounting and dismounting your bike quickly and efficiently, especially after you’ve completed a hard bike training ride. This will help simulate what your body and legs will feel like during the race. Don’t attempt any new mounting and dismounting techniques during the race unless you’ve practiced it well, such as the flying mount and dismount. Seasoned triathlon spectators LOVE standing near the Bike-In and Bike-Out area to watch newbie triathletes. You don’t want to be that new Facebook video sensation taking a digger into the concrete while trying to get on and off your bike.
Practice transitions or at least have a specific plan. My goal during my first triathlon race was to simply finish the event, my T1 and T2 times weren’t a huge priority so I took my time to make sure I didn’t forget anything. You want the event to go as smooth as possible so it’s important to have a plan for transitions.
Here are some key tips for a successful transition:
Note: Prepare a separate bag with post-event clothing; shoes and keep it outside of transition with a friend or family member as you may not be allowed back into the transition area right away.
Things to Pack:
Optional, but a good idea:
Tip: Label your gear with your name and phone number. It’s amazing what people leave behind at events, if your name is on it the race crew can contact you to get it returned.
As a newbie, I rode in regular bike shoes with socks and I constantly battled putting socks on with wet feet. I could hear the seconds ticking away as I tried to place each sock on. After a dozen events, I finally figured out how to put socks on quickly. It’s a quick 3-step process:
1) Roll or fold the top part of the sock down so that it meets at the toe. Place the socks upright in each shoe so they are ready to grab when needed.
2) When ready, take the sock and cover the first half of your foot.
3) Roll or fold up the rest of the sock up your foot.
Unless you go sockless, you’ll need a quick way to put your socks on.
Again, feel free to comment below with any additional tips and suggestions. Hopefully, your first triathlon experience is a good one and will spark an addiction that eventually becomes an awesome part of your life.