Over the years I’ve done my fair share of triathlons, starting with a sprint and progressing to Olympic: 1500m swim, 40K bike ride and 10K run.
I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes (and observed a few along the way), but have always pulled through. When it’s your first triathlon, you don’t really know what to expect or what you should prepare yourself for. So I thought I’d share some of my experiences to help you along your way. Here’s to your winning triathlon! Hoorah!
Before you start training, make a plan
Start your training programme at least 12 weeks before the big day. If you’re completely new to fitness then you may require longer so that you start by building a base level of fitness.
You’ll need 2 training programmes:
• An endurance programme that helps you build stamina for each discipline and then practice in putting it all together.
• A strength programme, to be done 1-2 times at a gym (ideally), focussed specifically in building strength in key muscle groups that will help you with the movements required in the swim, bike and run.
Practice, Practice and Practice!
In my first triathlon, I had a total panic attack because I hadn’t practiced open water swimming enough. So find your nearest open water venue. I’m not talking a lido where you can see the bottom, I’m talking a lake or river and ensure you have a few sessions where you can learn to ‘sight’ as well as swim with others in the water.
Swim in your tri-suit and wetsuit before the big day
Make sure your kit is comfortable to wear for the race. This may seem really obvious, but (and I hate to admit this) I bought a wetsuit once and decided to wear it for the first time on race day. BIG MISTAKE! It was too tight for me so half way through the swim I came to a grinding halt and had to undo the wetsuit so that I could breathe. There you go folks…ever heard the saying ‘All the gear…no idea’ – yep that WAS (not anymore) me…
Find a triathlon training day
Before my first triathlon I went along to a training day where we were taken through all the disciplines and given guidance on what to expect on the day. If the organisers of the triathlon aren’t putting one on, then search locally as these days are so helpful.
Get your bike serviced
Always make sure your kit is in good shape – that includes your bike. I couldn’t believe it when my client rocked up for her first triathlon with completely flat tyres…after the many laughs we were so glad that there were experts on hand to pump the tyres up, otherwise she would have been going nowhere!
What to eat before, during and after the race
Your muscles have around 2,000kcals stored as glycogen (energy), and if you’re like me, you have fat reserves – this is saved energy when you’re body hasn’t been able to burn it. So you have all this energy already stored, there for the taking.
On this basis, and in my own personal experience, there’s no real need to ‘carb-load’ the night before a race by chowing down on pasta or pizza. It can actually make you feel quite heavy the next day. I usually have a piece of salmon, veg and plain rice – nice and clean and full of goodness.
I have breakfast about 3 hours before my race, especially as nerves can get the better of me – the last thing you want is to be standing in your wetsuit ready for the off and suddenly find you need to go…say no more…
My go-to breakfast is overnight oats and plain rice soaked in almond milk with added vanilla protein powder. Sounds a little grim but I’m not concerned about a Michelin starred meal beforehand – I’m wanting to ensure I am fuelling my body in the right way. This is very plain but hits the spot in terms of protein and carbs. I also realised that caffeine isn’t good for me as it heightens my nerves so I steer clear.
Because I’ve had a good breakfast I don’t need to eat during the tri (unless it’s more than 3 hours before I’ve had my last meal) – if you decide you want energy gels or the like then try them during your training programme to make sure they sit well in your stomach. I’ve seen people being sick on their run because they’ve decided to consume a new energy gel on the day.
I opt for an electrolyte drink that I glug on the bike at each 5km mark so that by the time I get off I’m hydrated. However, the drink isn’t sitting in my stomach to potentially bring on a stitch when running.
Post-race, I immediately have something like a banana, a protein shake and plenty of water. Then in my view it’s time to celebrate your great achievement, so it’s usually off to a local restaurant for steak, chips and salad…and perhaps a cheeky glass of vino too. After all you’re human and you’ve earned it!