Your First Triathlon: Eight Must-Knows about Daring to Tri

By Samantha Bingaman, University Recreation & Wellness, Group Fitness Instructor

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My first triathlon was a by-product of forced family fun. I was 10, and my dad thought it would be a great idea for the family to bond through sport. I was less than thrilled when he chose triathlon, otherwise known to 10-year-old-me as a formidable conglomeration of swimming, biking, and running.

But after that first triathlon, I was hooked. Something about putting the three sports together – plus intermixing transitions of madly ripping off wetsuits and replacing them with helmets or running shoes – is fun. It’s rewarding. It’s addicting. And it should be the next feature on your bucket list.

 It’s not just a select few that enjoy the sport – triathlon is gaining traction nationwide. The NCAA recognizes it the newest Emerging Sport for women; Gwen Jorgenson won the first gold medal for triathlon for the USA in Rio; youth programs throughout the States are growing exponentially. Millions of people are joining in with the triathlon movement.

Ready to join in, but don’t know where to start? Use these 8 tips to help you crush your first race.

1. Start small and build up.

Your first tri doesn’t have to be an Ironman (140.6 miles – eek!). Sprint-distance races abound. Go for these shorter distances first and gradually work your way up.

2. Don’t be overwhelmed by the pizazz.

Whether it involves ogling at the newest Cervelo – a really, really nice bike – or rolling up in a logoed bodysuit, triathletes like to be frilly. But you don’t need fancy equipment to do well in a triathlon. If you have the basics – goggles, a bike, and running shoes – then you’re set.

 3. No bike, no problem.

This is similar to #2. You do not need a bike that costs as much as your tuition to do well in a triathlon. If it has two wheels and you can pedal it from point A to point B, then it counts. If your friend has said vehicle, ask nicely and borrow it.

 4. Get acquainted with open water.

Some races involve open water swimming, which can be a scary experience the first time. If your race involves a lake, ocean, or pond swim, take a few practice swims before race day.

 5. Practice transitions.

The time in between the swim, bike, and run in which you change out your gear is known as a transition. There are two in a triathlon, and they are the most underrated parts of the race. The goal is to put on as little gear in the fastest time possible, which can be overwhelming the first time. Practice a few while you train.

 6. Learn about race nutrition.

One great thing about triathlon is that it is a SPORT in which you can EAT during the race. Proper nutrition prevents a mid-race bonk, which is never fun.

Active.com has great, concise reads on nutrition.

 7. Get to know other triathletes.

Reach out to other athletes – it’s a fun community in which you will find support from some ambitious, silly, and all-around great people. Many places have a neighborhood triathlon team, including here at Maryland (insert shameless plug for the Maryland Triathlon Team here.)

 8. Enjoy yourself.

Have fun. Is it cliché? Yes. But is it true? Yes. Whether you are in the middle of a tough training session or powering through your first race, take a moment to enjoy yourself and truly appreciate what your body and mind do. Smell the roses, smile, high-five someone – do whatever you have to do to make your time worth it.

These tips can help you through your first triathlon, but ultimately, it is your willpower that will get you to take the first step. Triathlons can be difficult, but they are not impossible. The reward of crossing that finish line is worth every ounce of effort, so go for it. Push yourself. Defy your limits.

Do as we say in the triathlon community: dare to tri.

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