It was the night before my first triathlon. Though I was still riding an emotional high after completing my first mud run earlier that day, I realized I didn’t feel remotely prepared for what I’ve come to think of as the tapas plate (mini) tri the next morning.
The swimming (250 yards), biking (4 miles), and running (1.5 miles) portions weren’t what worried me, at least when I considered them individually. I had trained in each of those areas, but I had never put all of the pieces together with no breaks in between.
It was the transitions, and the whole spider web of logistics that comes along with a tri that I was clueless about.
With my husband and kids out for the evening, and with a mere 11 hours (most of which I hoped to spend sleeping) before the race, I sat down with a big bowl of carb-loading pasta and did a Google search on “how to do a triathlon.”
As I clicked on advice articles for first-timers, I realized that I had only focused on the big picture (how to not drown in the pool; how to work the gears on my bike; how to force myself to keep running when I just wanted to curl up in a ball).
Why hadn’t I considered the plethora of smaller details involved in this race?
Pangs of anxiety twisted in my stomach. I figured I had only two choices: 1) panic, or 2) start making lists. I chose the latter.
Stuff to Do the Night Before the Tri
- Shower off remaining dirt from the mud run
- Shave legs (like those Olympic swimmers and Tour de France cyclists)
- Make list of tri supplies
- Attach “Inspire” shoe charm (a gift from Joann, my fitness instructor) to my triathlon-ready elastic shoelaces
- Pack supply bag
- Lay out race clothes
- Load bike into car (not recommended if you’re staying at a hotel with a lot of other triathletes, my online research told me–too juicy a target for bike thieves)
- Print out–and READ!–race instructions (including maps of the bike and run courses; this was when I learned that the swim would be a “snake” pattern up and down ten lanes of the pool, with swimmers ducking under each lane marker–hadn’t practiced that!)
- Set alarm for 4:30 a.m.
Triathlon Supply List
- Bike shoes (I hadn’t gotten around to switching the clip pedals on my bike, so I would need to change from bike shoes to running shoes–a huge time suck)
- Running shoes
- Tri shorts (bike, swim, running shorts all in one!)
- Tri top (bike, swim, running top all in one!)
- Bathing Cap
- Calories – bananas, electrolyte gummy snacks, Gatorade (swimming leaves me famished, and I was particularly worried about how I’d do with no snack break)
- Hat (for the run portion, to contain wet, floppy hair)
- Towels (one to set up my transition station, one to dry off post swim)
- Hair tie
- Flip flops
Lists made, the supply bag packed, and the bike loaded into the car, I hit the sack.
6 Lessons From My First Triathlon
- Morning routines make a difference. Stick to your normal morning rituals, even if it means getting up a little earlier. For me that meant not skipping my 20 minutes of meditation and eating my usual breakfast of oatmeal, blueberries, walnuts (for protein), coffee, and water. The 4:30 a.m. wake-up seemed daunting the night before, but I left the house feeling grounded, alert, and relaxed since I had stuck with my time-tested program.
- Body art (even if it’s just numbers) is empowering. Event organizers wrote our race numbers on our arms and thighs, and our ages on the backs of our calves. The power I felt from those numbers reminded me of the jolt I got from the temporary shamrock tattoos we applied for our St. Paddy’s Day Race. What’s the deal with that, anyway?
- No matter how slow you think you are, there will always be somebody slower. I was most worried about the swim, but, up until race day, I had only had my Michael Phelps-channeling training buddy and fitness instructor, Francine, as a comparison. Then I saw the guys (yes, mostly men) who put themselves at the start of the swim line-up. When you register for a tri, your estimated swim time determines your place in line. I was in the middle of the pack, and watched as big, overly confident men started to dog paddle after the third lap. I actually passed a couple of swimmers!
- The little moments in between make a difference. A triathlon isn’t only about the splashy swim, bike, and run performances. It’s about whether you opt to run with or without socks (precious seconds are lost putting socks on, but I did it anyway). It’s about whether you can jump with wet feet right into your bike shoes already clipped on to the pedals, and not fall over in the process (a technique that had never occurred to me until I saw the bike next to mine set up for this–no, I did not attempt it). It’s about mindful awareness of process and little details.
- Don’t try anything new on race day. Everyone tells you this, I know. My mistake was stuffing a bunch of shark-shaped electrolyte gummies into my mouth during the swim-to-bike transition. I wasn’t even hungry. I was just worried I might get hungry. I bit down on the gummies and they cemented my teeth together. I was seriously worried I’d pull a filling out if I wrenched my jaw open. So I rode most of the way trying to breathe through my nose, which was still a little clogged with pool water, resulting in odd snorting sounds that I’m sure were intimidating to the other racers.
- Flaunt your age. After being initially apprehensive about the age advertisement on my calf, I flaunted my “49” as I left a few lower numbers in the dust along the way. Having said that, a 64-year-old woman beat me thanks to her awesomely fast transition times, and a 12-year-old girl was the fastest female overall. Humbling (but admirable) at both ends of the spectrum.
I almost cried when I saw Francine waiting for me about 20 yards out from the finish line, running down the sideline, yelling encouragement, somehow making me run faster just when I was about to curl up in a ball on the ground. Instead, I crossed the line to the announcer’s cry: “Congratulations! You’re a triathlete!”
I waited for him to add “sort of,” but it never came.
So how did I do? I placed 66th out of 144 people, and 5th out of 9 women in my age group. I was perfectly happy with that result. The real shout-out goes to Francine, who was the fastest women in her (our) age group, the 3rd fastest woman at the race, and the 16th fastest competitor overall.
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