Triathlon Newbie 101- By Jeanine Gardiner

Triathlon Newbie 101- By Jeanine Gardiner

“As you cross the finish line, an immense feeling of accomplishment and great personal achievement overwhelm you!”

It’s race day!  You’re staring at the water (pool or 1st open water), you’re buffeted by hundreds of other participants in various states of nerves.  Your mind is reeling!  “What was I thinking?”  “How the heck am I supposed to do this!?!”  In an effort to calm your raging mind, you think, “Just remember your training.” 

Self-soothing words of confidence begin to  build up your waning enthusiasm.  You run through your race day in your mind for the hundredth time.  “I’ve eaten my good, healthy breakfast 2 hours ago.  I’ve gotten my race numbers and age marked on my calves and arms.  I have my timing chip securely fastened on my ankle.  I’ve set up my transition area nice and neat with everything easily accessible.  I have my goggles and swim cap on (and wet suit if open water).  I’ve got my tri shorts/shirt on (much less bulky than regular biking shorts).  Maybe I’ll try one of those one-piece triathlon suits that I’ve heard about some day.  I know I can swim this distance.  I’ve done it hundreds of times.  So what if I’m ‘swimming upstream with  hundreds of spawning salmon’.  And if my goggles get knocked off or I get a well-placed, unintentional elbow in the face, I’ll just have a great story to add to my adventure.  Anyway, I’ll just do the best I can on this swim.  One step at a time or one stroke at a time at least on this swim part.”

 “Next, I’ll run from the pool (or lake or river, etc.) to transition, retrieve my extra towel (after taking off my wet suit for an open water) for a quick wipe-down, quickly put on my biking shoes set nicely on my 2nd towel next to my running shoes, and put on my sunglasses, and helmet set on the handlebars of my bike (making sure I strap my helmet on before leaving transition), grab my bike off the rack, and speedily make my way through the transition area.  Boy!  I’m glad I checked out where all the ins and outs were in transition–bike in/out, run in/out–before heading to the pool.  Those maps on the race web-site were really helpful.  And, I’m really glad I studied the bike route online where I put the info in at then drove/rode it– that gave me additional information that was helpful.  I know they have volunteers to guide me, but I feel a lot more confident knowing where I’m going and I’m glad I know there’s a big hill at mile 4 (or whichever mile on your particular race).  I’ll be ready for it since I’ve trained a lot on hills and the rewarding downhill will be nice to pick up some speed.  I just need to remember to keep at least four bike lengths between me and the cyclist in front of me and take no more than 15 seconds to pass someone.  I don’t want to get a penalty or worse–get disqualified!  And, I need to remember to pass on the left and ride to the right.”

 You picture yourself coming in from the bike and think, “I’ll dismount at the line (Oh! And make sure I unclip before then!  I’m glad I’ve practiced with my new clip-in bike shoes)!  I’ll run with my bike back to my well-organized transition area.  I’m glad I remembered to make note of where my transition is.  Someone has hung a balloon at the end of my rack and another person sprinkled baby powder at the end of the row.  That will help me find it easier.  I’ll have to remember something like that next time.”

 “At my transition, I’ll hang my bike back on the rack, take my helmet off and place it on my handlebars, put on my running visor, quickly take off my biking shoes, put on my running shoes and put on my  running belt with my race number as I head to the ‘run out.’  I won’t bother with socks just like the pros do, I’ve been running sockless in my seemless interior running shoes and I actually like it better that way.  Less restriction on my toes and less time in transition.  Plus, it’s not easy putting socks on wet feet.  I really like these tri-specific running shoes, too.  They are so light!  I’m glad I looked up the map for the run and had a chance to run it pre-race last week.  There’s a sort of satisfaction and comfort that comes from having already run and biked this course.  I know I can do this, because I’ve already done it!”

 It’s just 15 minutes before race time.  You’re still nervous, but excitement is replacing previous trepidation.  It’s time to take your pre-race nutrition.  There are many options–Gu, Hammer Gel, Carbo Pro, Shot Bloks, etc.  (I’ll put a plug in here for my favorite tri store, PowerTri in Lehi.  They have a great selection and reasonable prices; and for my personal favorite–Gu Chocolate Outrage–guilt-free chocolate!  How can you go wrong with that?  Just practice with the different kinds and find what works for you).

 Your swim begins and everything goes just like you had planned it all out in your mind (keeping in mind that it doesn’t always go smoothly; but like I mentioned earlier, if it doesn’t, it’s all part of the experience and provides a great story in the end).

 As you cross the finish line, an immense feeling of accomplishment and great personal achievement overwhelm you!  “I can’t believe I did it!” repeats in your mind over and over.  You are exhausted, but you’ve never felt more alive!  You enjoy the various foods they offer post-race and relive your experience with other racers and with those who have come to cheer you on, as you wait for the official results to be posted.  Everyone is so nice!  You’ve never met a friendlier group of people who were all just competing moments ago.  It hits you, that this really is a personal sport–you may be competing with hundreds of other people, male and female, but this is really about improving yourself and proving to yourself just what you’re made of.  Come to think of it, everyone was so nice during the race, too.  You had cheers and words of encouragement from other competitors from those you passed and from those that passed you.

 The results are up now.  “Wow!  I didn’t do too badly!  In fact, not  bad at all for my 1st race.  I can’t wait to look through all the results when it comes up on my computer at home.”

 At home, the results are found and studied.   You think about how you held back some because you wanted to make sure you paced yourself, never having done all three together in a race.  You bet you can improve your time here on the swim and perhaps here in transition one.  Your bike might have been a little slower than you did it last week and the same for your run.  You just need to keep training and trying and you’re sure you’ll be placing soon.  And if not, it sure is fun just enjoying the entire process.  You think, “I only need to shave a minute (or insert time here) off my time and I’d be at least top three in my age group. Or, at least get a PR (personal record).  I might even try a longer distance.” 

All right, you face it–you’re hooked!!!

 When it’s all said and done, you  never realized just how much mental preparation goes into preparing for a race.  You knew you’d be spending time training:

• At the pool practicing proper swimming techniques and getting used to swimming the distance;

• On your bike enjoying the great outdoors or on your trainer when the weather wasn’t playing nicely;

• Running indoor and outdoor working on speed some days, putting in distance other days, working on a good, steady pace and heart rate on other days, and running right after a bike ride on the remaining day (also called a “brick” work-out since your legs feel like bricks when you first start your run after biking as your muscles adjust to the differing motion);

• And strength training at least twice a week to avoid possible injury by strengthening your muscles and getting them to work together as a whole.

But just as important as that, you need to develop a mental toughness so in those moments of weakness (and let’s face, we all have those), you won’t let it defeat you.

 In order to find the proper balance and train most effectively, it is highly recommended to find a good triathlon coach (and here I will mention my favorite coach–Keena Schaerrer.  Not to discount other coaches.  They are all fabulous!  I just happen to train with her).  That way you will know your training is heading toward a good, healthy race day; and not only that, toward a good, healthy and rewarding lifestyle.  Plus, it is great fun training with other athletes.  What a tremendous support group with just the right amount of camaraderie and competition.

Yep, it is definitely a great decision to do triathlons.  For myself, I thought I’d just do the training to learn proper technique, get myself in better shape and lose weight.  I never dreamed I’d actually race.  Yet, here I am 2 ½  years later, still loving every minute of it.  I may be a jumble of nerves heading into race day, but the underlying excitement is almost palpable and the rewards are never ending!  The immense self-satisfaction compares to few other things in life.  So, get out there and do it!  You’ll be glad you did!