I paused, told her it was my first race and that I had no idea what I was doing. She looked up and smiled, then proceeded to give me a five-minute crash course on Triathlon for Dummies.
This was her 81st time toeing the line, and her invaluable last-second pointers helped me finish the race.
I've finished two IRONMAN triathlons and countless sprint- and Olympic-distance races since that less-than-stellar performance. While all triathletes are constantly learning, there are a few things I wish I'd known the first time I toed the line.
Practice transitions.1 of 17
While simple in theory, transitions are complicated and sometimes overwhelming when in a race situation. Practicing mock transitions before your big day will not only make them easier, but you'll shave precious seconds (or minutes) off your overall finishing time.
Run off the bike.2 of 17
This always hurts, but you can become more familiar with the pain and learn how to manage the first few miles more efficiently. Make sure you throw in a few bike-run workouts as you lead up to your race.
Body glide.3 of 17
It's the simplest (and probably cheapest) idea on this list, but chafing can seriously make or break your race. A simple application of Body Glide in problem areas can prevent major discomfort late in the race.
Triathlon-specific cycling shoes.4 of 17
Of course you can use your traditional cycling shoes during a the bike leg of a triathlon, but tri-specific cycling shoes have easier (and faster) closure systems, increased breathability and sock-free liners that increase comfort and performance on the bike leg.
Join a triathlon club.5 of 17
There's nothing more motivating than surrounding yourself with other triathletes. Plus, if you have any tri-related questions, your fellow members will be more than happy to guide you in the right direction.
Don't feel out of place.6 of 17
Unlike other performance-oriented sports, triathlon is extremely inclusive and welcoming. Fans, spectators and other athletes cheer harder for the last place finisher than the first athlete to cross the line. Finishing is all that matters—no matter your skill level, gear or pace.
Sunscreen.7 of 17
Believe it or not, a sunburn can dramatically affect your overall performance on race day. Make sure to apply before your race (or training ride/run) with enough time to soak in—otherwise it'll be washed off during the swim leg.
Pro Tip: Only apply sunscreen below your eyes—any sunscreen on your head or forehead will drip into your eyes as you sweat.
Comfort over performance.8 of 17
Even if your current [insert gear here] weighs 100 grams more than the upgradable option, always err on the side of comfort. Saving weight or increasing aerodynamics is valuable, but you lose those benefits when you need to constantly readjust or have some discomfort.
One-piece triathlon suit.9 of 17
Especially problematic for skinny lanky dudes like myself, a two-piece triathlon suit can lead to a plumber's crack when out on the bike leg and an awkward belly gap on the run. Save yourself from this triathlon fashion faux pas (and subesequent tan line) by going with a one-piece option. Bonus: It also creates less drag in the water.
Stretch, stretch, stretch.10 of 17
This idea is preached by every triathlon coach, ever. Consistently stretching for 15 minutes every day will help keep things in working order as you work towards your goals.
It never gets easier.11 of 17
Greg Lemond wasn't a competitive triathlete, but his famous motto rings true: "It never gets easier, you just go faster." No matter if you're a 17-hour finisher or a 9-hour finisher, everyone suffers.
Massage.12 of 17
You don't need to visit a massage therapist to work out tight areas or knots in your muscles. A foam roller is an invaluable tool in a triathlete's bag of tricks.
Listen to your body.13 of 17
There's a big difference between being sore and being injured, but the line isn't always clear. If you feel like something is hurting more than usual, take a few days off and see how it responds. It's better to take time to recover than causing a season-ending injury.
Focus on nutrition.14 of 17
Considered the "fourth sport" of triathlon, the idea of nutrition is especially important during 70.3 and 140.6 races. Spend time experimenting with different products on your training rides, and practice your nutrition plan before your big day.
"Off" days are normal.15 of 17
You won't always be on your A-game no matter how hard you try. Sometimes the planets aren't aligned, and you'll have a subpar performance. Chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.
Keep it fun.16 of 17
Above any PRs or podium spots, triathlon is fun, first and foremost. At the end of the day, it's just swimming, cycling and running—don't forget why you were drawn to the sport in the first place.