There aren’t many things I remember from my first triathlon, other than the “Hey, I just did that!” feeling of accomplishment. One of them was my husband sidewalk chalking all over the course. (This was in the days pre-children before he was corralling munchkins who want nothing more than to scamper out in front of the cyclists.) I must’ve encountered ten or twelve “Go, Suzi, go!” markings throughout the 5k run, including at the finish line. At one point I heard another racer ask her run buddy, “Who the hell is Suzi?”… just at the moment I was passing her. Second:
Ain’t no shower like a post-race shower. Washing all the swim gunk off (from Philly’s Schuylkill River) was heaven. The two other things I remember have to do with what I didn’t bring to the race.
So with these and a couple of other inspirations, here are the four things you should bring to your first tri…but might not know you need.
1. Goggle defogger: It was my first open water swim ever. Arms and legs were flailing. And I couldn’t see. Before my first tri, like many of you, I wasn’t a swimmer. I loved to swim, but that was in a lake, as a kid. Goggles and a swim cap were foreign to me. I’d grown accustomed to the fog in the pool where there was no chance I’d go off course, but when I ended up foggy in the churn of triathletes, I got a little distracted. A swim start is confusing enough. Do yourself a favor: apply a little defogger the day before, so you can at least, as the song says, see clearly now.
2. Nutrition: You don’t truly need to take in any calories and carbs during a sprint tri. But after my first race, man, was I hungry. Actually, I started to get a bit peckish even after the swim. I recommend having a small breakfast before you get to the race site. I usually go with a PB&J and a cup of coffee, which are both easy to make ahead and take in the car. If you’re staying away from home the night before the race, bring a granola bar or another easy breakfast. Then during the race, have a couple of nutrition gels ready to go. The gels come in small packets that you can pin to your race number or in a pocket if your bike jersey has one. The flavors vary from fruit to creamy flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and caramel. Some of them contain a small amount of caffeine. There are other kinds of in-race nutrition, but I like gels because they are easy to ingest while running or biking. Make sure to buy a few extra (they cost a couple of dollars or less) and practice using them. Basically, drink a pack (it takes a few swallows) and wash it down with water.
3. Flat kit – and practice using it: Fortunately, I’ve never had a flat on race day. The first time I had a flat on a training ride, I ended up by the side of the road watching tutorials on YouTube. I got as far as removing the tire and inner tube before I swallowed my pride and called my husband to pick me up. That afternoon, I practiced a few times in the relative comfort of my shaded porch. If you end up with a flat during your first tri, you don’t want to DNF (did not finish) because you’re not prepared for a flat. For a basic kit, you’ll need a spare inner tube and patches (with glue and a file), a couple of levers, and a pump or CO2 cartridges. Your local bike shop will be able to show you what you need. While you’re there, see if they have a fix-a-flat workshop, or just ask if someone there will walk you through the process.
4. Plastic bag: Your gear is going to be pretty grimy after your race, and you’ll be clearing out of the transition area quickly. Make it easy on yourself and bring a garbage bag for your wet and sweaty things.
There are plenty of other things you’ll need to have, and lots of good checklists online. But these aren’t necessarily at the top of the list, and can make a difference in helping your first race to go smoothly.