About a month ago, I competed in my first triathlon. Generally, I’m pretty relentless when it comes to researching something I’m about to seriously commit time and energy (and sweat and tears) to. When I trained for my first marathon, I read books, talked to experienced athletes, made friends with my local running shop, and otherwise drowned myself in any and all marathon knowledge. My foray into triathlon was different in only one respect: I researched even harder.
My mom is a pretty amazing athlete herself. She competed in her first half marathon this summer (having had very little prior running experience besides her training and coming away injury free- something I can’t boast at 23). Now, she says (and I plan on holding her to it!) she’s up for racing in the Finger Lakes Triathlon with me next year. So this list is for you, Mom! And anyone else who’s bold enough to tri.
First things first:
Triathlons aren’t as intense as they seem. Not that you have to tell your friends and admirers that. I don’t mean to say that the race won’t push you to your limits (and beyond, if you let it), but that the triathlon community is actually very encouraging and supportive. There is nothing more relieving than sharing your pre-race jitters with a fellow athlete. And most are willing to relate. I got quick bike maintenance advice from a veteran Ironman and embarrassing wet suit tips (yep, I was the girl who tried putting her wet suit on inside out) from a group of young women triathletes. Nobody is there to judge you, and if you make it to the start line, you can be sure that you’ve garnered a whole hell of a lot of respect from everyone of those wet suit-glad athletes around you.
From inspirational to super practical, these books were some of my best reads to jump start my training.
Triathlon 101 by John Mora
This is a great read for beginners as it breaks down just about everything you would need to know to race your first tri. It also has fairly detailed training plans for the most common tri distances, which is why I picked up the book in the first place.
Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling by Selene Yeager
I recommend this book to my girl friends who are considering buying their first bike but don’t know where to begin. The author provides a great quiz and lots of details to guide you on the big purchase. She also gives lots of useful information on cycling in general (particularly with women in mind). I enjoyed reading a women’s-specifc book because, as a petite women, I felt like there might be some logistical things (like finding the right sized bike) that a more general cycling book wouldn’t provide.
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
An inspirational true story of a long-hidden tribe of ultra runners and the crazy American ultra champions who decided to race them. I’ve heard this book (rightfully) called the runner’s bible. It’s informational, inspirational, motivational, and reminds runners that as focused as our sport is on the individual, we are all part of amazing community.
Eat & Run by Scott Jurek
Another inspirational non-fiction read about ultra marathon champion Scott Jurek and his experience with running…and you guessed it, eating. Jurek is a vegan athlete whose dedication to personal as well as physical and athletic health is inspiring. So inspiring that I immediately went on a six mile run after finishing the book.
The most difficult leg of the race for me (mentally, anyway), was and still is the swim. Unlike running and cycling, swimming requires you to focus relentlessly on technique and efficiency. Not that technique doesn’t matter for the other disciplines, but you can’t just expect to put hours and hours in the pool and see speed and endurance results. Swimming takes careful focus on techniques, a large part of which is breathing. I recommend taking lessons if you aren’t a strong swimmer or joining a local swim club. Even having an experienced swimmer friend analyze your stroke is worth it!
Open Water Swimming & Wet Suits:
It’s a good idea to practice at least one open water swim before race day. During the course of my research, I read horror stories about the massive difference between pool and open water swimming. It freaked me out considerably, since swimming in a pool was hard enough for me. I managed to squeeze in one open water swim with my wet suit in before the race and one thing I noticed: yes, open water is different, but you can do it because let’s be real, swimming in swimming. You might battle more waves, more people, and no guiding lap line in the water, but take heart that if you stick to your swim training you’re probably going to be just fine. If you can’t manage a practice swim during your training, I suggest trying to get a quick dip in the day before your race at the starting point. It’s a massive relief on the nerves to test out the waters!
And what about wet suits? My best tip: use one if you can! Wet suits provide more buoyancy in the water, which helps in swimming (obviously). It was also a relief to me to know that if I panicked in the water (which I did by the way), I could simply turn over on my back and float. I chose a sleeveless suit for my first race because I was using a rental and wanted the security of knowing I’d have free range of movement in my arms.
For my first race, besides drowning in the swim leg, my second worst nightmare was getting a flat tire. My local bike shop offered a class on changing a flat, during which I could change the tire on my own bike. It was the best research I could do, but I also reviewed some great informative videos to keep myself up to speed.
How to fix a flat tire
How to inflate a bike tire with CO2
Ok, now some straight up inspiration:
Seriously, you can do it.