Triathlon is a fun sport; it allows people of all abilities and fitness levels to push themselves to the limits. In some events Triathlon even gives you the chance to ‘race’ on the same course at the same time as the professionals. However if you have never tried the sport before it can be a little daunting to begin with, just keep in mind everyone had a first race once. Below is an example of some of the questions I have been asked by clients over the years – and my attempts at answering them.
What distance should I do?
If you have never done a triathlon before and have no history of endurance sports entering a long distance race might not be for you, you should perhaps look at a sprint or Olympic distance event to test the water. If you do have a history of long distance cycling, marathon running or competitive swimming then perhaps a full distance event could be for you. The British Triathlon Federation has a search function where you can search all race by distance and location. You can find an event suitable to your ability and goals.
What kit do I need?
The minimal equipment needed for your first triathlon is a road worthy bike and helmet. Both will be checked by an official to ensure they are in working order prior to bike check in. You will also need running shoes and suitable kit for the swim, bike and run aspects. Rules of triathlon state you must have your chest covered at all times once on the bike and run, you are also required to have your race number displayed at all times whilst cycling and running. You can simply pin these to your shirt, a race belt is preferred by most.
Many competitors will use a triathlon specific kit, which will cater for all three disciplines but is by no means required. There are then additional pieces of kit, which you may want to use, goggles, sunglasses, and cycle shoes, elastic laces, bike computers, GPS watches etc. The more triathlons you do the more kit you will suddenly deem very necessary.
When should I turn up?
This usually differs from race to race. Once entered race organizers will email you details of the race day/weekend well in advance so you can plan ahead. Sprint triathlon will allow for registration and bike check-in on race day, whilst longer races will usually ask for this to be done the day before. You can always email the organizers before entering if this affects your travel and accommodation plans.
Do I need to carb load before the Triathlon?
Simply put NO – not for a sprint race. As long as you have eaten a healthy balanced diet in the proceeding days and have eaten 2-3 hours before your start time you will be fine, although on extremely hot days dehydration can be a issue so keep drinking. If you have a very early start time then eating 2-3 hours before can be tricky and not very appetizing. I would suggest a slightly bigger meal the evening before, for example an extra bread roll or an extra spoonful of pasta. Nothing ridiculous!! Then in the morning a snack-sized breakfast would be sufficient, e.g. banana or 1 slice of Jam on toast, fluids can offer calories also. Fruit Juices are a good way of consuming calories without feeling too full.
However, if you are doing longer distances then Nutrition plays much more of a factor and I would recommend some expert advice.
Is open water swimming scary?
It certainly can be. If, the first time you swim in open water is in a race it can be very unsettling and nothing like swimming in the relative safety of a pool. There are no lines to follow, its often very dark, and can taste awful – If it is in the sea you my also have currents and waves to contend with. Be sure to scout out a lake, river or beach that allows you to swim under the watch of a lifeguard in the weeks leading up to your event. Even if you are comfortable in open water you have the other triathletes to contend with, mass swim starts can means hundreds of swimmers all aiming for the same turn point. If it is your first event or the swim is not your strongest discipline there is no shame in hanging back a little and finding some clear water.
Will the course be marked for me?
The race organizers will send you a map of the course prior to your event. Some races will be done on closed roads whilst others will not. However in any event you must adhere to the highway code of the country you are racing in. Some races will mark the bike course out in the days leading up to the event so you can drive/ride the course in the days beforehand if you wish. There will certainly be signs and marshals to help you throughout.