Thursday, June 9, 2011

What to Expect When You’re Triathloning (not a real word)

Amanda over at Diary of a Mad Fat Woman asked me to do a post on what to expect from your first Triathlon.  Seeing how I aim to please, I figured I’d take a stab at writing this post. 

Please understand I am no expert, but you already knew that right?  The perspective you’ll get from this post is that of a mom triathlete who is neither good nor bad, neither super fast nor super slow, and neither overly educated nor without some answers.  I’m definitely no expert, but I can tell you what a FIRST triathlon will be like.  If you’re looking for the likes of Chrissie Wellington, you’re in the wrong place. 

I’ve already talked about how I prepare my “stuff” the night before a triathlon here.  So go on over and take a look at that post, but today I’m here to let you know what to expect the day of the race. 


Expect an early morning wake up call. 

Expect to wear your age on your calf.  Some races will allow you to get marked the day before at packet pickup but some do it the day of.  Even though it’s not fun wearing a 29 36 on your calf, it’s good to know who is in your age group and thus who is worth passing.  Open-mouthed smile 


Expect that you NEED to be on time.  Transition areas close well before the start of the race and you need to be there in order to set up all of your gear.  The last thing you need on the day of a race is to be rushing and not have your gear set out properly.


Expect to NOT be able to find your bike.  Even if you count rows, and know EXACTLY where your bike is before the race, once you get out of the water and run to the transition area all those bikes and racks start to look the same.  I’ve seen a lot of people tie a crazy balloon right near their bike and that makes it incredibly easy to spot.  If it hadn’t have been for the that green caterpillar balloon (near my bike… not mine) at the rookie triathlon, I don’t think I would have found my bike.  You might feel silly carrying around said green caterpillar at 4:30 in the morning, but come T1 you’ll thank me. 

Expect to arrange your items according to how you’ll need them. 

T1:  From Swim to Bike


  • Towel
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves
  • Socks
  • Cycling shoes (if you have them)
  • Water bottles (put them in your bike bottle racks now)

Expect to bring a towel.  You’ll definitely be wet and undoubtedly dirty too.  Who wants (or can) put on socks over wet, dirty feet.  It’s nice to have a towel to wipe off your feet and get your shoes on quickly. 

Expect that transitioning from swimming to biking really isn’t so bad.  You’ve just started out, the adrenaline is still pumping and you’ve used a lot of UPPER body strength.  As long as you can control your heart rate, the transition from swim to bike is pretty easy. 

sdt swim2

Expect to bring your hydration.  The biking segment is the best time to hydrate during the whole race. 

Expect the unexpected while riding your bike.  Know how to change a flat or put your chain back on.  My chain popped off during the rookie triathlon, and thanks to me learning AHEAD of time how to deal with such things, I was back on my bike in less than 30 seconds.  If I hadn’t been prepared, my race would have essentially been finished. 

cleaning chain

T2:  Bike to Run


  • Hat (especially you ladies)
  • Running shoes
  • Race belt
  • Fuel (now’s a good time to grab a Gu or some shot blocks)

Expect your hair to be a mess.  Trust me you don’t have time to be brushing and readjusting your ponytail.  Just throw on a hat or a visor.  After all, isn’t all this about a GREAT race photo?  Oh it’s not?  My bad. 

sdt run1

Even with a hat, NOT a great race photo

Expect to save yourself a few seconds by having a race belt.  I have this one.  It’s nice to be able to just clip it on and not have to worry about having your number pinned on a shirt and having to pull that on. 

Expect your legs to feel like rubber after you get off the bike.  There’s no getting around it. 

Expect that your legs WILL start to feel better, but expect that you’ll still be tired no matter what. 

Expect that transitioning is never easy, and like any other part of the triathlon event, it takes practice.  I have some of the slowest transition times on the planet, but then again I’ve been known to apply Chapstick during transitions.  I do recommend while doing brick workouts that you practice the transitions as well.  Transitioning is not easy and can really make or break your race. 

Expect to do your best and as always…

Expect to have fun! 

sm lf sdt 2


tracey smith said...

Great summary- you covered it all!

Jess @ THIR said...

Oh, I have another one... after a long swim in surf, expect not to be able to stand first go!!! The jelly legs from the water get me every time :(
And if you wear a wetsuit, expect to fall over in transition...

Great post!

Rebecca Rawson said...

Awesome summary!! I also like to keep a recovery drink with a friend not racing because sometimes it is a while before you can get back into transition!

Ronald Obringer said...

GREAT post susan!! the transition is definitely the part that had slowed me down in the past too!! I think i may just have to try a sprint Tri this year!!

Amanda Schaefers said...

I never got to thank you for this. THANKS. I am so nervous. I keep googling "beginner triathlon" . I feel like theres a million things I need to know! Also, since I don't have a roadbike I'm totally doing this on my walmart mountain bike. Nervous Nervous Nervous!

Letty said...

Thanks for this information. I am a few days away from my first!!

Post a Comment