You’ve entered your first triathlon - congratulations!
You may have watched a friend compete in a triathlon before. But competing in one is a very different experience from watching one. You’ve never had to worry about where to go and what to do on race day.
Let’s walk step-by-step through the process so you can line up at the start of your first triathlon feeling relaxed and confident!
Do the training - especially for the sport you like the least!
You probably have one sport you don’t enjoy as much as the others (or perhaps you’re even a little scared of it). For you, it might be swimming. For others, it might be cycling or running.
Some people make the mistake of neglecting their least-favourite sport (this is a mistake even experienced triathletes make!). But what happens in the swim will impact on how well you ride and both combine to impact on how well you’re able to run.
So focus on all three sports in your training; not only will your performance improve but you’ll enjoy it more too!
Recognise your stories
Pay attention to your thoughts and stories you’re telling yourself about your upcoming race.
Avoid using overly dramatic language (“I’ll drown, I’ll finish last”) because it feeds into and magnifies your fears, anxiety and nerves especially on race morning.
On race day
Race morning can seem chaotic and confusing which can add to your nerves and anxiety. But there are only 2 things you need to do before your race:
1. Go to registration, and
2. Set up your bike and gear in transition.
The easiest way to find it is to follow the crowd!
In most races, you’ll collect an envelope containing:
- a timing chip (for your left ankle),
- your race number (for your shirt or race belt) and
- stickers (for your helmet and bike).
You may also have your race number written on your arm and leg. The people at the registration desk will tell you if this is needed - and the people whose job it is to do it are normally pretty good at hunting you down! (Hint: it comes off easily in the shower with nail polish remover).
Next, go to transition
With your helmet on, clasp done up and stickers on, take your gear and bike into transition.
There may be designated rows depending on your number, age group or event so check the signs.
Once you find a spot, it’s time to set up your gear. This can seem overwhelming but here’s an easy process - think about the order you’ll need your equipment in the race.
Put a towel on the ground. Leaving enough space to wipe your feet on it, put your bike gear - shoes, socks, race belt/number, sunglasses, helmet - towards the front of the towel and your running gear - shoes, hat etc - towards the back.
Loosen your shoelaces and open up your shoes to make them quick and easy to put on. Place your helmet upside down on the ground with the straps laying flat out to each side. This helps you put your helmet on without the straps getting tangled.
This level of preparation might seem unnecessary but the more organised you are, the faster you’ll be. Besides your heart will be pounding and adrenaline will be pumping each time you come into transition. If you stumble, fumble, get tangled, hesitate or forget something, you’ll feel rising panic and stress.
Finally, walk through transition. Literally, walk through it. Some women skip this step because they worry about what people think. But it’s an important process that helps you have a smooth transition and keeps your stress levels down and your enjoyment levels up!
Where do you come into transition after the swim?
Walk from there to your bike, counting the number of rows you pass. Look for landmarks like bins, signs and light poles that indicate where your bike is located along the row. A bright towel can help too. The transition area might look very different when you come in after the swim or the bike so don’t rely on surrounding towels or bikes.
Next walk to the bike exit so you know which way you need to go (remembering you can’t mount your bike until after the mount line at the exit).
Go through this process for T2 as well. Where do you re-enter transition after the bike leg? Again, count the number of rows back to your bike and finally walk to the run exit. Then say goodbye to your bike; you’ll see it again soon!
By now, your nerves will be building so here is an exercise that will help.
Find a quiet spot for a few minutes.
Picture yourself staying calm and relaxed in the water. See yourself finishing the swim and getting out of the water feeling excited, even ecstatic, knowing you’ve done it.
You hear the cheers of your family and friends as you run smiling to your bike. It takes a little while to get your breathing under control once you’re on the bike. But when you do, you feel happy. Rather than feeling anxious when you’re passed by another competitor, you draw energy from them. Likewise, you inspire those who you pass.
At the end of the bike, you feel relieved to get off the saddle (we all know this feeling!) and are ready to run. You’re tired but happy - you’re doing something you never thought you would! You thank the volunteers and random strangers who cheer for you and high-five the kids who line the run course.
Finally, see yourself running down the finish chute - you’re exhausted but excited, proud and happy. Hear the announcer call your name and the cheers of your family and friends as you cross the finish line with your arms raised in celebration above your head - you’re now a triathlete.
That’s it - you’re ready! Good luck and, most importantly, have fun - you only get to experience your first triathlon once!
Originally published in Women's Running Australia - May/June 2016