5 Ways to Ruin Your First Triathlon.

I like this post over at EveryMan Tri — The Top Ten Ways to suck at your first race of 2011.

I’ve seen and experienced a few of these. Their number 6 was “Race on Tubulars”, and though I’ve never ridden on tubulars, I did see the unfortunate aftermath at St. George last year where a potential Kona-Qualifier, Jeff Rhodes, rolled a tubular tire and broke his collarbone with just two miles left on the bike. That’s enough to make me want nothing to do with them, ever.

But, I doubt many first-timers will be rolling tubulars anyway. So here are a few mistakes I think you might be tempted to make on your very first triathlon:

1. Give into the fear of being under-trained by cramming in the last weeks.

Yes, I know. Those last minute projects and family obligations really put a number on your training schedule.
Now, the race day is coming right up in a few weeks and you’re nowhere near the level of fitness you’d hoped to achieve. Nothing that some late night long runs in the last week won’t help right? Wrong. This is probably the very last thing you should do. Here are the potential outcomes:

  1. You get injured. You went out and did something you weren’t ready for and instead of “catching up” you’ve injured yourself by pushing too hard. I did this last year leading up to St. George. Way behind in my running training I went out and did a 20 miler, and gave myself a case of shin splints only cured by 6 weeks of NO RUNNING.
  2. You get worn out. It is far better to go into a race under-trained than over-trained. Now that you know you won’t have that Adonis or Athena body you were hoping for, just commit to going into the race feeling healthy, relaxed and rested. If you do that you may actually surprise yourself with your performance.

2. Not doing any kind of race taper.

Doing a taper in your training as you approach a race, means reducing the volume of your training in some way. You need to give your body a chance to recover a bit. Recovery time is when your body actually builds the muscle, bone and sinew that is going to power you during your race. You need this time to perform well.

There are lots of different philosophies on tapers — how long, how much, what you should and shouldn’t do. But, the main point is you are taking that foot off the gas pedal and giving your body a chance to catch up.

I was amazed last year to see how many people were out running and cycling at St. George the day before the race! If you are Chrissie Wellington, sure maybe you need a little tune up ride. If you are an average age grouper the best thing you can do is to rest up!

3. Rushing around race morning.

You’re already going to be a little stressed out today. The best thing you can do in my experience is to make sure you have everything laid out carefully the night before. Put it all out where you can see it and picture in your mind the course of the race — you have your bike helmet, your bike and run shoes, your sunglasses etc.

Then, pick it all up and put it in bags for each leg of the race. Swim gear in one, bike in the second, and run in the third. I like to put these all in the car the night before.

That way all you have to concern yourself with in the morning is getting up, getting something to eat, and getting to the race.

4. Eating a huge meal the night before the race.

For Sprint and Olympic races you really don’t need to load up on calories prior to the race. Eat a normal meal the night before (nothing too spicy) and a light breakfast with plenty of time before the race begins.

Trying to carbo-load the night before with a huge pasta dinner can leave you with a painful stomach (or much worse GI distress) on race day.

If the race is on a Saturday, I like to eat a little extra for my Thursday night meal if I feel I need to top off the tank. Then the meal the night before will be as normal.

5. Starting out way too hard on the swim.

I confess, I’ve been doing this for the last four years. Just last year I finally had a local tri-star tell me to start off nice and easy in the swim–and what a difference it made! I went from mentally dreading the swim start, to actually looking forward to it.

With all the excitement, confusion and adrenaline of a tri swim start you’re going to be tempted to just go like gangbusters for that first 200 meters. Don’t do it. Start off easy, don’t get winded. It will make it much easier to deal with any bumps you might get from fellow competitors, and you can build your pace over the swim as your confidence improves and your muscles warm. You’ll get the added fun of later passing all those swimmers who went out too hard at first only to slow dramatically halfway through.

What are your tips for first-time triathletes?

Those are five things to avoid in your first race. And, five things I did myself when I first started. If you’ve got your first race coming up I hope you have a fantastic experience and keep coming back for more!

For the more experienced triathletes out there, what were the mistakes you made at first that you wish you’d avoided?

3 Responses to “5 Ways to Ruin Your First Triathlon.”

  1. Suzanne March 23, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    In my limited experience of having only done a few sprint tris, I think your tips are spot on! I’ve seen a few of these things happen to people. I personally feel much better when I’m organized the day before and know I don’t have to worry the morning of the race. Thanks for putting this out there!

    • Chris March 23, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      Thanks for your comment. And, good luck with your training and racing this season!

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