Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Preparing for your first triathlon

Daniel was one of the first people to reach out to me on slowtwitch when i started this blog.  Since i first only reached out to people in Chicago, it took me a while to realize he lived in Australia!!!  {i did wonder why he would email me in the middle of the night and thought .. "he is one of those guys that trains at 3 am"}  But considering our motto (for the moment) is to Connect Windy City Triathletes with the World, it is only fitting to connect us with someone on the other side of the world.   At any rate, I have asked Daniel to write some articles for the site covering topics for newbies to seasoned vets.  He is able to coach remotely and with Skype/Facetime, i figure Australia is just as close as Valpo. 

Preparing for your first triathlon   
By:  Daniel McTainsh 
Let me first off start out by saying that I’m stoked to be writing my first article for Whilst I’m not from the area (I’m about as far from it as you could think!) I’ve been invited by Nicole to write some articles for you folks.

Sooo.. Preparing for your first triathlon. Casting my eye back to my very first triathlon, it’s about keeping it simple, getting the basics done and having a good time. So let’s break it down into pre-race, swim, bike, run and post race.

Gear check. The very first place to start is making sure you have all your equipment. Nothing worse than turning up on race day without your helmet, or shoes. Just adds unwanted stress to the occasion. The easiest thing that you can do to avoid this is to come up with an equipment checklist. You’ll find a whole bunch of them on the internet but for your first triathlon, which I imagine would be an enticer or sprint distance, then the following list should be enough.

Tri suit

Floor pump
Spares kit
Water bottle


Pre race snack
Post race clothing
Race number belt
Entry confirmation paperwork
Money for post race beers or coffee.

Everyone’s going to have their own individual needs, however this basic checklist will be enough to get you through your first triathlon. A few other things you’ll need to consider pre
race is parking availability, factoring in time for a short warm up and where you’ll keep your gear bag (ie: wallet, car keys etc)

A lot of first timers who don’t come from a swim background normally find the swim the most daunting prospect of a triathlon. Face it, not many people swim in cold, murky open water for fun! (insert JAWS music here). So the best thing you can do is to do a bit of open water swim training in your training program. It’s something every triathlete needs to do more of. It really is the only way to gain more confidence and proficiency in swimming in the open water.

Some common problems in the swim leg are goggles falling off, getting kicked or hit in the face and general panicking. Let’s see how we can address these common issues.

Goggles falling off. Put your goggles on then put your swim cap on over the top. The swim cap will help secure the goggles a bit better and if they do come loose you’ll have the swim cap securing the strap in place and preventing them from coming completely off.

Getting kicked or hit in the face. Start on the fringe (side) of the group, at least that way you only have one side to worry about. Also sighting is important. In the initial stages of the swim it really is like a washing machine. So sighting regularly at the start will help you pick out clear water and also you’ll be less likely to run into other swimmers feet etc.

General panicking. This is probably the most dangerous aspect of the swim leg. The best of us and even pros (from time to time) get panicky in the swim. Take Alcatraz this year as a prime example. The worst thing you can do is panic! If you find yourself stressing out, the best thing you can do is stop, regain some composure, and tread water until you are ready to go again. Floating is easy, but once you start thrashing around, you waste energy and get tired and that’s when bad things happen.

As a first timer the bike leg is about ensuring you don’t fall off, you have a safe race and you don’t push too hard so that you have nothing left for the run.

Falling off. Now this really is about safety and not embarrassing yourself. As far as having a crash during a race goes, the only time this is really going to happen is if it’s your own fault. Most races nowadays are non-drafting which means you have to keep a certain amount of space between yourself and the rider ahead of you. Where you can stuff up and cause a crash is if you corner too fast or if you pass another rider in an unsafe manner. Whenever passing another rider always have a quick check behind you to ensure that there isn’t another rider coming up behind you, trying to do the same thing.

Cornering. Now remember you’re not in the F1 grand prix. Most of the time you won’t have the luxury of approaching a corner wide and then diving into and cutting the corner. This is largely prevented by congestion on the course. As a result you just have to take the corners according to the conditions. If there are a lot of riders coming into the corner around the same
time, then you just have to take your place in the line. You’ll gain a lot more time staying upright then you will sprawled out on the ground.

Lastly, on the bike don’t blow up! Remember you still have a run to do. In all triathlon distances the most time lost in a race is during the run. One of the main reasons people have a bad race is because they push too hard on the bike and end up having a horrible run leg.

Blisters, overheating and pacing. These are 3 common issues when it comes to your first triathlon.

Nic's Pic of Blisters.Gone.Bad
Blisters. If you haven’t run without socks and with wet feet, covered in sand before, than you’re most likely going to have some issues with blisters. The best way to overcome this is by hardening up your feet. For your first triathlon, which is most likely only going to be a 3-5k run its short enough that you can just “suck it up” and deal with blisters. Over time and consistent training your feet will eventually get used to it. If you must you can wear socks but even this won’t be a guarantee against blisters.

Overheating. This is one of the biggest issues when racing in the heat. And if not managed properly, will ruin your day. Here are some tips to help avoid overheating.
* Hydrate regularly on the run. At each aid station grab 2 cups of water and throw it down the hatch.
* Wear a mesh type material hat. You want a hat which is going to keep out the sun but at the same time, not lock in the heat.
* Keep your head, groin and armpits cool. Keeping these areas cool is critical to avoid overheating. At the aid stations throw water over your head and even better if they are supplying ice, grab the ice and chuck it down your pants. This will help keep your femoral artery cool, which in turn will assist in keeping the blood cool.

Pacing. The next thing I see a lot of people doing wrong is stuffing up their pacing. They come in to T2 and sprint out like nothing on the run leg only to hit the wall 2mins later. My tip is head out on the run leg at a comfortable pace and then build throughout the entire run so that you hit the finish line spent without having slowed down at all during the run.

Post race
Post race is quite simple. You’ve finished your race, you’re on a high, now it’s time to have some fun. Go and have brunch and a latte or share a beer with your triathlon club mates and family. Share some “war stories” then go home and have a sleep.  For those first timers out there, I hope these few tips help you in some way as you begin your triathlon journey. If you would like more assistance with training for triathlons you can find more details about myself at 

About the Author:
Tell us a little about your triathlon background and how you got into the sport?
I started competing in triathlon in 2004 when I did my first sprint distance at Airlie Beach in North Queensland.  I very quickly (a year later) did my first half Ironman at Canberra which really kicked off my passion for long c ourse triathlon.  Up to now I’ve done 9 x Half Ironman/70.3/long course triathlons, 2 x Ironmans and countless other Olympic, sprint and short course tris.  I’ve also got 4 x stand alone marathons under my belt.  My passion for long course triathlons lies in pursuing the continual development that an athlete can go through until he/she finds the key to their endurance vault.   And what I mean is that everyone has different endurance code and its about finding out what works for the individual to get the best performance.

How long have you been coaching and where are you based out of?
I’ve been coaching now for about 3 years where I coach for individuals from the Redcliffe triathlon club in Brisbane and I also provide private coaching for individuals.

What is your approach on coaching?  is it mostly remote-coaching or face/face?
I specialise in long distance triathlon where my approach is to basically make the distance look easy.  Essentially, I follow a 2 step process of first getting the individual to train beyond the distance and once that’s achieved they can then go on to do some speed work.  I’m also a massive fan of strength work in the gym.  My motto in the gym is, “If you ain’t squatting, you ain’t training.”  I provide a combination of remote and face-face coaching.  I have some athletes in Brisbane who I catch up with regularly and I’ll do a session with them or even just catch up for a social dinner.  Obviously, those who are further afar its mostly internet, emails and phone call contact.

What have you found are your strengths as you coach other athletes?
I find my strengths are in providing personalized programs that don’t burn out the athlete.  I’m always trying to get the athlete to undergo the right amount of training stimulus and then give them short bouts of recovery in an effort to get them to the next fitness level.  So I find myself always keeping in close contact with the athlete to ensure that even once I’ve published their program that throughout the program I’m making adjustments here and there to make sure th at they are not doing too little or too much.  It normally takes a few months to work out an athletes’ schedule of when they can and can’t take certain amounts of training.

1 comment:

  1. i just registered for my first sprint tri today. This is perfect! Thank you!

    Will def keep this in mind