Breaking Down Your First Triathlon

Our 4 key tips for each section of the race:


  • If you're a bit worried about everyone crawling over you start at the back.
  • Go easy! The swim is designed to blow your race. Swimming is a hard full-body sport. Relax, find a rhythm and go. You're pumped up, you're excited, you will likely go too hard. Try and relax. Swimming too hard will have you hyperventilating in three minutes or less. Focus on form and breathing.
  • Keep moving. You're going to contact other racers, they are going to contact you, and it's ok, this is what happens when hundreds of people all need to get around the same buoy in the same few square feet. Just keep swimming.
  • Look where you're going every 3-5 strokes. If you get a good feel for going straight go longer (5-10 strokes) before looking.


  • Make sure it works and is safe. Are the tires in good shape and pumped up? Do the brakes work and is everything is tight and in order?
  • Pay attention! If another rider does something dumb and you crash down it's still your fault and it's your road rash. Take responsibility! Watch for dirt on turns, other riders, glass in the road, cars, pot holes, rocks, and more. Just like you do every other ride. Take responsibility for yourself!
  • Stay steady! YOU dictate your pace, not the road. Don't ride too hard on hills and in head winds. These elements will be harder than the flats but stay steady. Conversely go easier on fast sections; down hills, tail winds, etc. and recover a bit. Keep your cadence up, use all the gear on that bike. Don't sprint out of turns and up short hills.
  • Fuel up! Remember, you still have to run. It's easier to eat and drink on the bike and fluids are most important here. Just keep a steady, consistent flow in regards to fueling.


  • Relax! The first few minutes will be the hardest. Your legs will take a few minutes to adjust. Go slow and stay positive. Find a sustainable rhythm. Find a pace you know you can finish. If the fastest 5k you have ever run is an 8 min/mile pace, don't start at 7:30. In fact don't start at 8 min/ miles. You will likely lose 7 percent, maybe more on your run from a standalone running race.
  • Focus on form. Keep your head up, smile, keep a short stride and quick cadence. Stay light on your feet. If you start plodding along and hammering the road you'll just make it harder on yourself. Run forward, not up and down.
  • Keep cool with water over your head, on the legs and in the system! You may be only a few miles from the finish but it's going to take much longer than the last few miles on the bike, way longer! Stay hydrated and cool. Water in the system and over your head will help keep your core temperature down.
  • Walk for 30-60 seconds before you blow up completely. Don't push yourself to the brink before you compromise your pace. Walking through feed zones is a common practice. Relax, get your water and/or calories with ease and less stress, catch your breath and then get back to work. You're almost there!

So remember this is YOUR race, your day. Don't get sucked into trying to catch the dude with the disk wheel on his/her bike. Don't let a few people bumping into you on the swim ruin your whole day. Be ready for it. Stay relaxed but ready. Be in the now. Look and think about where you are and where you're heading in the next 30 seconds to a minute or so. If you're on the bike, don't worry about the run...yet.

Remember to have fun, smile, and enjoy your accomplishment. You're doing it! Don't forget that feeling.

Eric is a full-time triathlon and cycling coach. He is the owner of EK Endurance Coaching and works with athletes of all levels. To see EK Endurance Coaching's highlighted results and learn more about what they can do for you go to

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