The latest in a series of posts about the writer trying to go from couch potato to triathlete. Check out previous posts here.
After a year of training, and pushing myself, before I knew it, the race had arrived. Check that - it’s more like RACE DAY IS HERE! My emotions were running high, and the entire week before I was so adrenalized I couldn’t hardly sleep.
In college, I was constantly told that the best way to deal with finals is to make them irrelevant. They’re made irrelevant by putting in the work during the semester, and triathlons are basically the same. Though the race will likely be the first time you’ve put all three disciplines together, it’ll seem easy because you’re prepared!
If you follow what I’ve outlined in previous posts, on your own timeline, you’ll be good to go.
That being said, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure your race experience is smooth and enjoyable, like a strawberry parfait. Check out these tips:
- Pre-race: HYDRATE! Most races start early (around 8am), and you’ll want to be there at least 90 minutes before to set up your transition area and get your wetsuit on. Drink water the entire time; you’ll need it as you hit the run and your body begins hunting for moisture to replace what you’ve sweated out. And yes, you’ll probably need to urinate early on...which is one of the reasons triathlons start in the water. Hey, EVERYONE does it, so there’s no shame in letting it flow, right?!
- Transition area: Making sure your transition area (or the space you return to in between disciplines to swap out gear/change clothes) is organized properly. Think in progressions: you’ll have you swim gear on to begin, so your biking gear (shoes, shirt, helmet, gloves) needs to be set out where you can easily access it. Underneath/behind the bike gear is your run gear. If your bike jersey/running shorts has pockets, then be sure to place your energy boosters in them, which conveniently leads to...
- Performance Enhancing Stuff: You’re not going to be on steroids like baseball players, but you can have some performance enhancers on hand to help you get through the race. I went to my local outdoor retailer and bought a pack of energy chews and a tube of electrolyte tablets. I gobbled an energy chew before the swim to kick my energy into hyperdrive since I didn’t sleep well the night before the race, then dissolved one of the electrolyte tablets in my water bottle for the biking portion. During the bike, I focused on keeping a moderate pace, while making sure I emptied my electrolyte-fueled water bottle. This hydration is what helped me finish the run in less than 28 minutes, while many of my peers cramped up and started walking.
- Swim tips: As I mentioned, my race was a river triathlon, with a current flowing around six MPH. I merely needed to stay afloat to finish...yet I struggled. My rhythm was thrown off from the outset, as I jostled with the other random limbs trying to get going in the water. I switched between a number of different strokes to get through it, which worked well. For instance, I found the breaststroke useful because I could catch my breath quickly, despite a heavier toll on my upper body. The bottom line: starting lines are chaotic, and swims are generally hard. Learn multiple swimming techniques so you can still finish and not wreck your body for the work to come.
- Bike tips: Before you even get on the bike, you’ll have to get out of your wetsuit. There isn’t much I can offer here, other than wiggling helps. You should wear your bike bib underneath, and have a jersey or shirt ready to go before you climb on. Once on the bike, sustain a moderate pace and drink your water. Don’t get caught up in chasing other bikers, instead focus on your own pace and don’t destroy your legs. You’ll need them for the run. Speaking of...
Before I started running, I ate another energy chew. As I mentioned in a previous post, my legs felt a bit numb from the bike, so my initial pace was slower until I felt comfortable (about 30 seconds.) From that point, I pushed as hard I could, knowing the finish line was coming. Most races will have water stations at each mile point, and I like to slow down, grab a water to drink, then walk about 10 feet. It’s brief, but it helps quite a bit.
That’s it. After all the buildup and months of work, I saw the finish line. I saw my wife and kids cheering me on. I was exhausted and sore, but I’ve never felt better. Everything was totally worth it.
Final tip: keep going! My new goal is to do an Olympic-length triathlon. It’s the same events, obviously, just longer distances. It’s taking me a bit more time, but I have the basics in place. I know how to run, how to bike, and how to swim. Beyond that, I want to make a triathlon a yearly goal.
I’ll get there, but the most important thing is I’ve developed abilities that I can rely on for years to come,without any kind.
And I really, truly think you can do the same.
One final note of encouragement: most triathlons will write your age on your leg, along with your number and which distance you’re running. I’m 32, and was passed by lots of people twice my age and more. I was definitely one of the youngest participants.
I saw old folks, teens, skinny people, obese people, people with limps and even a person without an arm. Anyone can do it, and so can you.
Are you considering pursuing a triathlon or another athletic goal? Let me know in the comments, and best of luck!