If you can't swim in open water before race day, get some friends to share a lane with you at the local pool. This can help simulate the craziness of the swim start of a triathlon. It's often described as similar to being in a washing machine with the bumping, hitting, kicking, and grabbing that occurs as racers jockey for position within the pack.
If you're uncomfortable in the water, start at the back and off to the side of the group on race day. Even consider starting 30 seconds after the gun goes off to minimize the chaos and make for a less stressful swim.
If you find yourself in distress during the swim, switch to sidestroke or backstroke and give yourself a chance to catch your breath. Take a few moments to breathe deeply and relax as best as possible. When you're ready, continue on your way.
If you're nervous about swimming in open water, look for a race that offers a pool swim. These races tend to be very beginner-friendly, and you don't have to worry about wetsuits or water wildlife.
More: 5 Secrets of the Triathlon Swim
You don't need a fancy bike to do a triathlon. Unless you know triathlon is definitely something you want to pursue, use any bike at your disposal for your first race. Whatever you have in the garage, basement or attic should do the trick. Or borrow a bike from a friend. Just be sure to get your bike tuned a few weeks before race day, so it's in proper working condition.
You'll also need a helmet. This is where you should invest your money to ensure you have one that's structurally sound and fits properly.
More: 8 Items for Your Triathlon Gear Bag
To get ready for race day, schedule some runs immediately following your rides. Your legs will likely feel quite heavy and uncoordinated at first, but the more you practice running off the bike, the easier it becomes.
Slowly increase your mileage until you can comfortably complete each of the race distances at some point during your training.
Two to three weeks out from race day, do a dress rehearsal. This will give you a feel for what to expect on race day and help you work through any issues that may arise.
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In this workout, do 75 percent of each discipline as a dry run for what race day might feel like. For a sprint-distance triathlon, swim 550 meters, bike 9 miles, and run 2.25 miles. For an Olympic-distance triathlon, swim 1100 meters, bike 18 miles, and run 4.75 miles.
During this race simulation you should practice your fueling and pacing strategies, too. Also wear what you plan to wear on race day to make sure you're comfortable in your race kit.
With these tips, you will be on your way to becoming a triathlete in no time. Good luck and have fun!
More: 6 Newbie Mistakes to Avoid
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