Monday, July 9, 2012

What I Learned From My First Triathlon

After all big races I like to document what I learned from my training and race experience so I can make progress in the future.  The General Smallwood International Triathlon was one of the hardest days of my life and even though I didn't meet my goals due to the heat, it was a great learning experience.

1. Safety always comes first.
With record setting temps all weekend and a heat index of 112 on Saturday it was hardly a good idea to be out doing strenuous activity. Around 50 people didn't finish the race because of the heat and three people were even taken to the hospital. Nine people in the state of Maryland died due to heat related illness. Yes, I would have loved to race my heart out on Saturday. No, it was not a smart idea when my body is nowhere near acclimated to that kind of heat. There will always be other races.

2. It is okay to walk.
Along those same lines, it is perfectly okay to walk when you need to. I was embarrassed when I first started walking because I thought it meant I was a quitter. Then I looked around and saw that nearly every athlete in sight was also walking. I absolutely hated walking but given the circumstances it was the right thing to do and I am no longer embarrassed by it. I'm just proud that I finished.

3. Don't be intimidated by all the people with fancy gear.
When my dad and I first pulled into the parking lot all I saw were athletes with really nice tri bikes. I instantly felt inadequate, like I didn't belong there. Not only do I not have a tri bike, but I don't even have a road bike;I have a hybrid. I am saving up to get a nicer bike but besides the bikes the majority of the people there had fancy, expensive gear. As the day went on I realized that I am as much of an athlete as everyone else despite my lack of a couple thousand dollar bike.

So many nice bikes!

4. Make a small rip in nutrition so it is easier to open while riding.
My hands were wet from the swim and then sweaty from the heat, which made ripping open my honey stinger waffles nearly impossible. I tried using my teeth but had no luck. Note: this only works for more solid nutrition options. Don't do this with a gel or you will have a sticky mess everywhere.

5. Start at the beginning of the swim pack.
I tried to start middle to front of the pack but ended up having to pass a lot of people. I am a strong swimmer and need to take advantage of my swimming background. This is the one place in a triathlon where I am one of the fastest. Time to own it.

6. Wear a tri top or a bike jersey without a sports bra built in.
I swam in a two-piece training bikini top and then put on my bike jersey during transition. The problem was that since I was wet the shirt rolled up and took forever to put on. The built-in sports bra only made things worse. I ordered a tri top a few days ago so hopefully I can just swim in my tri top and shorts and not worry about clothes during transition.

7. I suck at transitions.
Speaking of transitions, mine are awful. Like slowest ever. I set my transition up well but there are still things I can do to cut down on my times, like putting my hair into a ponytail before the swim, wearing a tri top, skipping socks, and speed laces.

8. Bricks are an absolute must in triathlon training.
I only did a handful of bricks during training and had I not been forced to walk a lot of the run due to the heat I probably would have struggled on the run regardless. Running with fresh legs and running after biking are two completely different things. Practice accordingly.

9. Always expect more hills.
I thought the bike and run courses were supposed to be flat. Nope. There were quite a few hills during the beginning of the bike and the run was mostly hills. I can handle hills on the run but the hills on the bike really took a lot out of my legs. Hills are no joke and need to be practiced if I ever want to get better.

10. Put sunscreen even in the places you don't expect to need it.
I sprayed my chest, arms, and legs with sunscreen before the swim and that was it. During the run when I felt like I was baking out in the sun I wanted to take my jersey off and just run in my bathing suit but I hadn't sprayed my stomach or back. I am the type of person who burns extremely easily so that was not an option. A quick two minute spray would have probably helped keep me cool on the run.


  1. Glad you made it through your 1st triathlon, I couldn't imagine doing it in those temps!!! It all gets easier with time I promise. I've being doing triathlons for over 20 years and I still feel like a beginner. Remember some of those people with the fancy gear are just trying to look the part it doesn't mean they know how to use it :-)

  2. so much congrats for finishing!!! And THANK YOU for sharing your experience/tips - I've been scouring for ANY tri related posts for what to expect/what to do etc.. so THANK YOU for this post :) :)

    Again - congrats times a million on finishing!!! You're AWESOME (especially in that awful heat!!) :D

  3. You did a great job on your first tri - in the heat! Never worry about other people's bikes, just focus on yourself. Also a trick I do, is unwrap all my honey stinger waffles and chews and but them in snack size zip locks. That make it mush easier to open. Also, I might be the only person who likes socks on with my bike shoes, so I turn my socks almost inside out up to the toes. That way it is easier to slip your wet feet into them out of the swim. I also stalk all elevation charts before a race, that way I know what to train for :)

    Sorry I missed you out there on Sat.