With the 2023 triathlon season well underway, you may have watched and been inspired by some of the recent performances achieved by UK athletes on both the world stage and at grass roots level. It got us thinking, if you’re new to triathlon, where do you start? We asked one of our British Triathlon Age group ambassadors, Kate Hutchinson to give her perspective.
Over to you Kate
Racing in your first triathlon can be incredibly daunting. Not only is there the worry about completing it, but there is also the anxiety about bringing all the correct kit for three disciplines, the concern about correct fuelling, and the worry about adhering to the many rules and regulations unique to each event. In the weeks leading up to my first triathlon in Leeds in 2021, I had regular nightmares about things going wrong. In one particularly colourful dream, a forgotten bike led to me completing my race on horse-back, resulting in appalled spectators and a lifetime ban from triathlon. Obviously, that didn’t happen, my first race was nowhere near as frightening as I’d imagined, and the dreams have got fewer (and more mundane) the more experienced I’ve become. However, there are certainly a few things that I would have benefitted from knowing beforehand. There is a sea of voices out there telling you what you should and shouldn’t do when completing a triathlon, and it can get a little overwhelming. I’m here to cut through the noise and give you my advice, based on my first-hand experience.
You’ve booked your race, it’s in your calendar, and you have an idea of the training you are going to get in between now and your race. So, what do you need to do next?
Get your bike checked over. First, ensure that your bike is in excellent working condition. Having a full service will give you the confidence that your dream of completing a triathlon is not going to be jeopardised by a mechanical fault. Just be aware that the summer months are not only when most triathlons are, they are also peak time for bike mechanics, so get booked in as early as you can.
Decide what you are going to wear. When preparing for my first tri, the clothing situation baffled me. For avoidance of doubt, most people choose to wear a tri-suit (with sports bra if necessary), but it is also okay to wear a comfortable shorts and vest combination. The wetsuit will go over this. If you have a race-belt, you can put this on when you come out of the swim; if you are using safety pins, you will need to put your number on your clothing under your wetsuit prior to your race.
Dress rehearsal. Take your new goggles to the pool and make sure they don’t leak; have a swim at your local pool in your wetsuit (and clothes you will wear underneath) so you get used to the feeling on your body. If you can, have a swim outdoors so you know what to expect when you plunge into open water for the first time in the race. Test whether you can run in trainers without socks or whether you will need to put some on in transition.
Check the details of your event and plan accordingly. If your race is over an hour away in the car or your start time is very early (as they often are), I would always recommend staying somewhere local. Choosing a hotel or Air BnB close to the event may mean that you can avoid driving and can cycle there: it’s better for the environment, a good way of avoiding road closures, and an opportunity to warm up your legs. If you do decide to drive there, make sure you plan your journey carefully in advance, as Google Maps may try to take you along closed roads.
Read the handbook. Race rules can vary from event to event, so read your event guide and the FAQs carefully. Be aware that some events require you to register the day before, so make a careful note of when registration opens and closes. You may even want to pre-order spectator tickets to prevent as little on the day stress as possible for your support crew too.
Check out your race routes. Since the pandemic, a lot of race organisers now provide online race briefings days or weeks in advance where they go over the course. This is great for those of us who are particularly geographically challenged (I have a deep-rooted fear from my school cross country days that I am going to go the wrong way in every triathlon). Ensure you know how many laps of the swim, bike and run you must do and revisit this right before your race. If you are there the day before you might even want to go to the venue to visualise the course or do a course recce (if it is safe to do so).
Register your intent to qualify. If the event you have entered is a qualifying event for the GB Age-Group Team, why not throw your hat in the ring? Stranger things have happened than people qualifying in their first race. You can find out how to do this here: https://www.britishtriathlon.org/age-group.
What to take with you on the day
-A rucksack with all your kit in that you can then leave either at the side of transition, with a supporter who has come with you, or in a designated lock-up
-Your favourite tri-suit/shorts and tri-top you will wear throughout your race
-A race belt/safety pins for your race number
-Anything you require to ensure you can ride your bike: a pump for your tyres, a spare inner tube and CO2, chain lubricant, an Allen key
-Cycling shoes/trainers you can cycle in if you’re not clipping in
-Bottles for hydration on the bike
-Gels, bars or fruit for fuelling during the race
-Warm clothes for afterwards
Nice to have:
-Bobbles for battle braids or a hat or visor to keep long hair out of your eyes and keep you aerodynamic
-Spare stuff – it’s always nice to know if you rip a cap or snap your goggles, you don’t need to panic
-Lubricant so that you can take your wetsuit off speedily
-A small towel to put next to your bike in transition to dry your feet when you come out of the water
-Talcum powder for your cycling and running shoes
-Socks (if you feel that you need them for blister prevention)
-Elastic laces for a speedy transition
-A spare pair of trainers often comes in handy so you have something to warm up or walk around in after you have left your racing shoes in transition
-Your bike computer so you can count down the KMs
-Any snacks that you might want before you race (squares bars, sweets etc.)
-Anything that might help you warm up if you can’t get a run or swim in beforehand (Therabands / skipping rope etc.)
-Elastic bands if you’re going to brave a flying mount. Note: they look great on TV, but if you’ve not mastered it, they can go horribly wrong and add to your stress. Putting your cycling shoes on and then doing a static mount after the mount line is the safer, frequently quicker, option.
On the day:
-Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to register and rack your bike. It always takes longer than you expect. Ask for help from the people around you – triathletes are lovely!
-Eat your breakfast two-three hours before you race. Don’t eat anything too fatty or that you know will not settle. Additionally, don’t eat anything that you wouldn’t normally. If you struggle to get anything down so early, don’t forget to take some snacks with you.
-Don’t forget your ID, QR codes, and British Triathlon membership number as you will generally need these to collect your registration pack. This usually includes your race number; stickers for your helmet, seat-post and bag; and your timing chip.
-Put your stickers on your bike and helmet BEFORE you enter transition. Generally, you won’t be allowed to enter without them on and when you get stopped, you will cause a hold up in the queue and be left trying to balance your bike with one hand and put everything on with the other. Awkward and annoying.
-Fasten your helmet before you enter transition.
-When you set up in transition, visualise the event, step by step. I always do a ‘run through’ in my head (and sometimes even act out what I will do in T1 and T2), just to ensure that I have everything I need.
-Make sure you are 100% sure of where the swim exit, bike exit and run exit are. You could rely on following others, but you never know, you might be out first and need to lead the charge!
-Take note of where you’ve racked your bike – use a landmark to help you.
-Don’t use your phone in transition, as it’s usually not allowed. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting told off for taking selfies. Do however ensure that you your support crew are snapping your success as you go around the course (and don’t forget to tag @brittri @yellowjersey!)
-Put your timing chip around your left ankle and ensure that it is on tightly enough that it won’t come off in the water or when you take off your wetsuit. Leave it on for the entirety of your race.
-Try to have a poo.
-When you put your wetsuit on, put some lubricant around your ankles and wrists so that it slips off a little easier. Put some talcum powder in your shoes so that when you come in with wet feet they go on a little easier too. Once your wetsuit is on, don’t do it all the way up in case you need the toilet. When you do get it on, pull the suit into your armpits and crotch, so that you get rid of as much air as possible.
-Make sure you have a plan for fuelling, especially if you are doing a Sprint distance and above.
-Wear sun-cream, even in England.
-Treat everyone with kindness. 99% of the people you see are volunteering their time. Treat competitors, fans, marshals and the environment with respect (don’t litter!)
-DO NOT panic at any point of the race. Things will go wrong. You might go the wrong way on the bike course, you might drop a bottle, you might run out of transition with your helmet on, you might drop your chain: these things happen to professional level triathletes (they have all happened to me) and they may happen to you. It’s how you respond to them that’s important.
get Insurance cover..
Competing in triathlon is on the whole, fairly safe, but there is always a risk of falling off and damaging your bicycle and kit. Yellow Jersey provide insurance designed to cover your bicycle and kit for crash damage whilst competing anywhere in the world. You can get a quote for triathlon bike insurance here.
Additionally, if you are travelling abroad and need cover for emergency medical expenses, trip cancellation, repatriation and a whole host of other benefits, check out our triathlon travel insurance
Don’t forget, British Triathlon members can get up to £75 off your annual bicycle insurance. For any queries, just ask our support staff on 0333 003 0046