Overcome common obstacles to success in your first tri
So you’re interested in doing a triathlon. Maybe you’ve seen a picture on social media of a friend standing by the finish line proudly brandishing her finisher’s medal. Maybe you’re looking for a new workout challenge. Whatever the reason, you think swim-bike-run might be for you.
Except that you don’t. Except that there’s all kinds of reasons the cautious, risk-averse part of your brain is telling you to dial it back a notch.
If you really want to try tri – if you want to be the one in the picture with the medal – read on for some common excuses and how to overcome them and shut down that part of your brain that’s telling you “no.”
I’m not a good swimmer
Many new triathletes have made it through most of their adult lives without dipping a toe in a pool. If the idea of swimming laps gives you heart palpitations, you’re not alone. If that’s you, consider hiring a coach at your local gym for a couple sessions to help you get comfortable and acclimated. And take it slow. If all you can do the first time in the pool is a few laps, do that, and gradually build.
Before you register for your first race, consider one with a swim in a small, fresh water lake. Some beginner-friendly races even have volunteers with pool noodles available if you find yourself floundering. Look for “swim angels” in the race description.
For race day, make sure to use goggle defogger. If you’ve never done an open-water swim before, getting jostled around the murky water by your fellow triathletes can be discombobulating enough. I learned the hard way during my first tri that it’s twice as confusing when you can’t see where you’re going.
If you really can’t stomach the idea of swimming, you can participate in a duathlon instead. A duathlon replaces the swim with a second run (run-bike-run). You will still get the race day experience – and that medal – and if you love it, you can always challenge yourself to try the swim next year.
I don’t have a bike
If you’ve read this blog before, you might know that I believe beginners don’t need a ton of gear. You shouldn’t go buy a top-of-the line cycle for your first time out, but you will need to get two wheels under you somehow. For your first race, just about any bike will do. I raced my first tri on a clunky hybrid I’d had since college. Look on Craig’s List, or find a cycling group in your area and ask around on their social media page. If you get a used bike or it’s been a while since you’ve ridden, take it your local bike shop for a tune-up. In a pinch, you can even borrow a bike.
In any event, race day should not be your first time in the saddle of your machine. As a cautionary tale, one of my tri-besties borrowed a bike for her first race. She hadn’t ridden it before race day, and didn’t have time to take it for a spin before the start. She ended up with a mean road rash from wiping out shortly after the bike start. A little advance preparation can get you comfortable and prevent this from happening to you.
I don’t have time
A sprint triathlon is a completely doable commitment. If you already exercise regularly, it should not be much of a bump up. If not, you will have to adjust a bit, but treat it like any other commitment. Choose a training plan for beginners. Beginner workout plans will start with fairly short workouts and build from there.
Erase any mental pictures you might have of toned super-athletes committing serious time to their sport. The sprint triathletes you’ll see at your first race are normal people, with jobs, kids, and other normal commitments. In other words, they are people like you. If they can do it, you can, too.
Write your workouts on your calendar or set reminders on your phone. It might take a week or so to get used to your new schedule, but keep on it.
It’s too complicated
The prospect of combining swimming, biking, and running within a single race does have its logistical challenges. Truthfully, this is one of the things I love about it, but as a beginner, it can seem like overload.
What bike should I use? Will I forget my goggles on race day? What if everything goes wrong? These are the things that will run through as you prepare. One of my favorite tools is a race-day checklist that thinks for you so you don’t forget anything. Prep the day before and arrive early.
And guess what? Things will go wrong. See above about my foggy goggles or my tri-buddy’s wipe-out. But just breathe and keep going, and at the end of the day, you will be a triathlete.
When you overcome your obstacles and finish your race, I want to see your finisher’s medal photo.