Breaking Down Your First Triathlon

As mid-summer approaches there are many of you about to take on your first triathlon. You might be apprehensive or simply downright nervous and there is no shame in that. It can be overwhelming at times. Swimming is fairly intimidating for many folks, especially when you add a few hundred other people getting in your way!

Here we'll discuss a few ways to keep your day in perspective and avoid the mistakes that are so common that could ruin your day.

Overall Strategy and Pacing for Race Day

Even for the elite athletes you will find that in triathlon there are far more things to do wrong then right. What I mean is whether you're finishing your first triathlon or winning Kona, it's more about not messing up or not making a mistake rather than being super tough or "pushing through the pain" or mustering up some magical effort on that day. So, let's talk about the big picture.

Don't do something you haven't done before. You've probably seen a few people come off the bike into T-2, leave their shoes on the pedals, swing one leg back over the seat and hit the ground running right as they arrive at the dismount line. It looks like a very easy, fluid motion. Stay away from this! Unless you've done this 100 times in your every day rides stay away!

Some other things to avoid include:

  • Don't ride up a hill harder than you have in training
  • Don't take a turn faster than you have before or are comfortable with.
  • Don't grab your water bottle with a different hand.
  • Don't eat or drink something you haven't previously consumed during or before training.

Race day is about executing the skills you have on that day as well as possible, not thinking of something else at the spur of the moment. You will also notice that all of the things listed will not gain you much time. And if it's your first time, don't try to set any records.

Let's break the race down:


"You can't win the race here but can certainly lose."

You're not racing to win today, but the same ideas apply here. Take your time, relax, catch your breath, try to recover a bit from the swim or the bike, and focus on not making mistakes. And most important of all, breathe.

Before you leave do a double check. Is your helmet on and buckled? Got all your water, anything else you need? sure? Ok, now go. Keep things simple. Organize your gear by your bike in a small area. Less is more here. The less "stuff" you have to deal with, put on, take off, buckle, strap, flip over, the better.

I put the transitions section first because I see more errors and mistakes here than anywhere else. At every single race I hear about or see someone bolting out of transition to the run at mach 3 with their cycling helmet still on. Don't be that person!

And if you are, it's OK. Just laugh because it's pretty funny.


When you're done with set up, walk down to the beach or wherever the swim start is, walk over to the swim exit, then walk up to the transition area (like you will in the race).

Take note of everything. How far is it? Look around, do some visualization. I am going to come out of the water, WALK up the beach, take the top of my wet suit off, into transition here and my bike is... ummm where's my bike?

See why we do this? Finding your bike is easy when there is no one else there and you're right next to it. Finding it when you come into this huge transition area from another direction with hundreds of bikes around and water in your ears is a completely different animal.

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