Top 10 Things I Learned From My First Triathlon

1. Races are effing expensive.

You go in thinking – exercise is free! The entry fee is only $80! This will be easy! Haha, sucker.  I’m kind of afraid to sit down and figure out my total spent on travelgearnutritionapparel, and incidentals for the Portland Triathlon. I know it was upwards of $500. Ouch.


2. It’s just as much mental as it is physical.

People are always telling me how awesome I am for doing a triathlon (and in the past, a marathon). Here’s the secret, though: if I can do it, anyone can. It really doesn’t matter if you’re fat, out of shape, have never done anything like this before, whatever.


I want to read this book – she seems like my kind of lady!

Even elite athletes who win races had to have a first time. All you need is the outlook that you can do this, and voila: self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s nothing to being a triathlete other than swimming, biking, and running; who hasn’t at least tried all of those?  You don’t have to be fast, or good, or have amazing form. You just need to DO it… and you can!


3. This is where your number (and for that matter, your sports bra) goes.

Don’t put your number belt on for the swim (or you will have weird stomach-nipples like I did) 


Seemed like a good idea at the time.

They’ll body-mark your hand, and that’s how they’ll ID you in photos. Put your number belt on at T1, with the number on your back, and then flip it around to your front during T2. This may seem elementary to a lot of people, but I did not know and I looked dumb (and had to dig through the event photo website’s “lost and found” for my bike pictures). Also, ladies who do not have the traditional female triathlete build (aka stickbug):


put your sports bra on under your swimsuit. Seems weird, but don’t worry, you’ll forget it’s even there.


4. Preparation is personal; do what YOU need to.

What really made me feel ready for the race was doing a ‘mockathlon’ two weeks before the event. I got to the pool right when it opened at 7am and did 7.5 laps. Then I got on my bike and did a 20k route I’d mapped out ahead of time, and then did the same thing with the run. I just needed to know how those distances were going to feel, back to back, and get an idea of generally what kind of time I should expect. I also tried out swimming at the venue in my wetsuit the day before the event, and I rode my rental bike a few miles to get a feel for it. Again, it’s mostly in your head, and you know yourself, so do what you personally need to do to feel ready (even if that’s some ritual other people might find silly, or something you want to do that isn’t in your training schedule).


5. You don’t need fancy gear.

More words of wisdom from my dad: “if you have a swimsuit, a bike, and running shoes, you’re good to go.” Of course, expensive tri suits are nice, and sure, I’d be faster if I had those clip-in shoes instead of flat bike pedals.  But, especially for your first one, there’s no point making huge investments in unnecessary gear.


6. Be present.

I’ll admit I rolled my eyes when I first heard about the USAT ban on headphones. But you truly don’t need the distraction of music when you’re present at the race, enjoying the scenery and your fellow triathletes.


7. Don’t worry about your time.

Easier said than done, I know. If you’re the type of person who wants to challenge yourself with a triathlon, you’re also the type who can’t help being a little competitive (even if it’s only with yourself). Do your best to let that go and just enjoy the experience.


8. Don’t attach your timing chip too tightly!

On race day: “I’ll attach this band at its tightest loop so that it won’t go anywhere!”
Almost two weeks later: “This is going to scar, isn’t it?”

Remember that your foot is going to be flexing up and down quite a bit as you bike and run, and chafing is not your friend.


9. Everyone feels out of place. Don’t let it get in your way.

I was amazed to hear multiple people echo my feelings of being out of their comfort zone, or anxious, or feeling like they didn’t belong among the other participants. If you paid your entry fee and you showed up, you belong. Push past those feelings, it’s well worth it.


10. Bring a snot rag.

Ah yes, I saved the best for last. Ever hear of vasomotor rhinitis? Yeah, me neither. It’s the tendency for your nose to run while you’re exercising. I find that for me, it’s exacerbated by cool temperatures (and possibly swimming 750 meters). I spent a good part of the bike leg looking behind me to see if anyone would see me if I blew snot rockets, or wiping my nose on my hand and then my hand on my pants. SEXY. So either stuff a handkerchief in your pocket or look into nasal spray (I’ve heard Afrin works but there is also a prescription version that’s said to be even more effective). I know I will next time!


Overall, the best advice I can give you is to just do it. Train, believe in yourself, and have fun!


10 thoughts on “Top 10 Things I Learned From My First Triathlon

  1. I LOVE this post!! Sadly, snot rockets are here to stay. With practice, your skill in this (undocumented) aspect of triathlon will improve right along with the three main events. The biggest danger is to yourself; make sure your rocket clears your upper arm/shoulder. Your sleeve is a BAD place for rocket landing! 🙂

  2. Loved the new post! Thank you so much for your insights and encouragement. #3 was a little confusing to me, though. As someone who’s never done a triathlon, I don’t know was T1 and T2 are. Maybe some clarification for those new to the terminology? Thanks!

    • Absolutely! T1 and T2 are the transitions; transition 1 is when you come out of the water and prepare for the bike, and transition 2 is when you return from the bike and get ready to run,

      As for the number belt: basically, in a typical race you attach your number with safety pins. But in a triathlon, you want your number in the back for the bike portion, but in the front for the run. To reduce your transition times, you can use an elastic number belt that you can just pull around to the other side of your body when it’s time to switch disciplines. Does that make sense?

      Here is a great video that Alex actually found the day of the race when we were trying to make sure we were affixing my number to the belt properly:

  3. Good things to think about. My first triathlon is next year, I am looking forward to reading some of your earlier posts about your experience. I might not have to worry about the sports bra though!!!

    • My first which will be in March is a sprint, then in April I am going to travel to my company meeting and do a super sprint right before, then a week later I am looking at another sprint. I want to try an olympic possibly by the end of summer, but it really depends on how good of shape I feel. Of course I am now fund raising for the Tour De Cure a diabetes fund raiser and ride that I am gong to try to ride a century for. So not much at all.

      • Definitely good luck. I have my first 5k in two weeks and I am looking forward to that. That is where it all started, the goal to do a 5k. Which turned into a triathlon, turned into a season of triathlons, which now added a century. All from the basis of lying on my couch back in May. I look forward to following your adventures.

  4. Great post and some great advice for us new to triathlons. I did my first back in August and even lost my bike during the first transition and had to wander around with a confused look on my face for 5 minutes before finding it…

  5. Pingback: Book Review: Slow Fat Triathlete | The Game Plan

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