10 things I wish knew – or was GLAD I knew – before my first triathlon

It’s now spring and traditionally this is the time when mentoring begins for another crop of excited new triathletes heading into their first season. The Saint Louis Triathlon Club Mentoring Program recently asked the members for “what do you wish you knew before your first triathlon”. Here is my list, which is expanded to include the important things that I was fortunate to actually have known beforehand (see #1)!

  1. There are resources around you!
    Join a local club, join a store-sponsored “first triathlon” training program, do an indoor triathlon or two! I joined the Saint Louis Triathlon Club before I had done any sort of multisport event, and approached it with a brain like a sponge. And I took part in the Saint Peters Indoor Triathlon Series, which gave me the chance to do many firsts – first time I did an endurance activity that took more than an hour, first time I did transitions between sports, first time somebody put a stopwatch on me while swimming.
  2. Shoelaces that you don’t have to tie are a good thing.
    Shoes with tieless lacing

    My first grownup running shoes, with a tieless lacing system (Yankz)

    Why let the clock keep running while you are tying shoes, when you can convert your running shoes into slip-ons with products such as Yankz.

  3. Triathlon shorts are an amazing thing.
    I had already made the commitment that I was going to get into this sport “for life”, so it was worthwhile having the amazing triathlon shorts that can be worn throughout the entire event. They are not required but certainly seemed to me to solve all kinds of problems in transition. It is amazing how well they compromise between the need to be hydrodynamic in the swim, the need to have a bike pad, the need to dry out, and the need to not bunch up in the swim. Besides, if you decide you don’t want to stay with multisport, you have a pair of shorts that can be used in your single sport, be it swimming, biking, or running.
  4. Bodyglide.
    After my first indoor triathlon, the insides of my thighs were like hamburger. Since then I have applied Bodyglide to that area, around my neck, under the armholes in my tri top, and on my feet. I have never had a blister or irritation since. Ever.
  5. Your body needs something called “electrolytes”.
    I carried water on my bike and drank water when I ran, on what turned out to be the first hot day of the year. For a sprint triathlon, it was fine, but for the rest of the day I got cramps in leg muscles I didn’t know I had. I suggest Nuun if you are looking for an electrolyte that is just that (no sugar or other carbs.)
  6. There is a slick way to tape gels to your bike.
    Gu packets taped to bike.

    Tape down the bottom one, then tape the upper one just a little bit forward so they lay flat.

    My neighbor, also a triathlete, showed me this trick. You tape the pull-off tab to your bike center frame; when you pull of the gel pack, the tab stays with your bike. Then you you overlap them  as shown so they stay out of the way of your legs. Rule of thumb: one gel for sprint, 2 for Olympic (and after that is gets complicated). And one more for a spare.

  7. You don’t need fenders to ride a bike in the rain.
    My first triathlon was on April 1. I got my first road bike at the end of February. In March, it rained and rained and rained. I was wondering, do you put fenders on your road bike to ride in the rain? Answer: no. You just get wet and muddy. There. Now you know.
  8. Know the USAT rules.
    If your race isn’t USAT sanctioned, it probably still uses the USAT rules or a modification of them. You might as well learn them now, not because a 2 minute penalty is going to ruin your first triathlon, but they are there for your safety and for the fairness of the race. This is the time to learn to do it right. USAT even lists the most frequently violated rules. If you concentrate on learning those, you will be in good shape. Also, remember that triathlon is a young sport and so many of the rules are based on the mistakes of others. No headphones (you’ll find that a race is different, you really won’t miss them) and no littering anywhere.
  9. Open water swim: find landmarks on the shore.
    In the St. Louis area, it’s not likely that your first triathlon will be open water, but when you do your first open water swim, you need to be aware that those buoys that seem so easy the see when you are standing on the beach are hard to see when your face is down close to the water. Be prepared to find a landmark on the shore or beyond: a building or a tree, for example.
  10. Know how to repair a flat tire.

    Me at flat repair class. Another thing: lose the reflectors that come with the wheels. They are only there for the lawyers. Fell free to put them back on after the race if you like.

    Knock on wood, I have had only one flat while riding, so far. It was on the 14th mile of my new road bike, but at least it was before my first race. I was carrying it back to my car before a friendly cyclist rescued me. Take a class and get the stuff you need, then practice.

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