Signing up for your first tri – whether it was a moment of madness with a group of friends, a drunken bet, or a considered action in an attempt to get some fitness or lose some weight – suddenly seems very real when you find yourself preparing to head to the event itself!
Hopefully, you’ll have read some guides to training, and have put in a few miles in the pool, out on the pavements, and in the saddle by now…
“what should you expect as you arrive at your first tri?”
Every event is slightly different, so do take time to read the pre-race info, as there may be a specific requirement that you need to pay attention to, but the majority follow a fairly standard path. This is written assuming that you have entered a super sprint, sprint or olympic distance event. The longer stuff, of 70.3 or full Ironman, have somewhat different builds up, so won’t follow the path below.
Getting parked up… find where you are guided to, get yourself parked up, and leave your stuff in the car. Your first task will be to go and get registered. Here they will provide you with a couple of race numbers, some number stickers (usually one for your bike and one for your helmet), a timing chip for your ankle and often (but not always) a wrist band. You’ll need ID at most races to register. Some races will also give you a goody bag up front, and even getting your finishers T shirt isn’t unusual!. You’ll also, probably have your race number written on your hand and/or leg in a marker pen.
Now you can head back to your car, and get your transition kit ready. You’ll need to put your bike, and everything you need for it, including bike shoes, helmet etc together, plus all your needs for the run leg. In order to get into transition, you’ll need to have your race number and/or wrist band, plus have the sticker provided placed on your bike. Most races aren’t too fussy about where the stickers go, but common practice is on the head set just below the handlebars. They’ll tell you if they have specific requirements. You’ll probably also need to be wearing your helmet as you enter transition, so that the officials can check it fits and does up properly and safely. I find, as do most others, that a decent sized bag to carry everything as you wheel your bike in is the easiest approach. But be aware that many races now follow official rules, and won’t let you leave a bag in transition, so you’ll need to take what you require out and bring the bag back out with you.
Once inside transition, find your bike location. Bikes are kept on long sets of scaffolding poles, and you just need to locate your number, which will be stuck on the horizontal bars. Hook your saddle over the bar and thats it. One thing to know is that the bikes go ‘one facing in’, ‘on facing out’ so that there is plenty of room. This confuses old hands and officials as much as new triathletes, with a main topic of conversation in any transition area being ‘which way round should I have my bike?’, or ‘ere, look, I reckon Fred has his bike the wrong way round!’… don’t sweat it. If its a problem, the officials will turn them round in my experience, but usually its just fine. Now set out all your stuff next to your front wheel ready for the two transitions, taking some time to think about what order you’ll need to grab stuff in. Unless you are intending to win your age group, then frankly, for your first tri, its not too big a deal.
I then take a mental walkthrough the transition to check i’ve left everything I need….. Out of the swim and run into transition, wetsuit off (if its open water, and you are wearing one), number on, bike shoes on (with socks?), helmet on, gels in my pocket (or already on my bike?), gloves if I want them, and perhaps a jacket if its cold, grab bike and off we go….. back into transition after the bike…. rack up bike, helmet and gloves off, jacket off too?, bike shoes off, run shoes on, turn number round if i’m using a number belt, or perhaps stick a different top on with number pinned on (no nudity allowed in transition!), and off we go to head towards glory!
walk through this several times to be confident…. its best to do this now, rather than worrying about what you might have forgotten 2 minutes before the races starts.
You’ll nearly always have been given timings for transition being open as part of the race briefing. If not they are usually open from about 90 mins before race starts, and they usually closes 10 or 15 minutes before the race starts… my advice is to get your racking done nice and early… no need to be rushing and putting yourself under pressure… I am usually all racked up and out of transition at least 45 mins before the race starts.
Last thing to do in transition is to make sure you know where you are running in from the swim and how to get to your bike…. (its a rare event where you don’t see people hunting around trying to find their bike in the middle of the race…. you have enough pressure as it is, without that!…) and then where to head out on your bike… and the same from the bike leg back to your rack, and off out onto the run.. take your time to get this sorted in your head… its your race, your entry fee, don’t feel pressured to get out of transition!
Then, back to your car, and into your swim kit… most events have changing facilities of some kind as well, often pool changing rooms for example… I wear my race suit under my wetsuit, or swim in my race suit in a pool based event… some like to use a swim costume, and then put bike or run gear over it… either is fine, just do what is comfortable for you. Put your timing chip strap on your left ankle, where it will be away from the gears on your bike.
and that’s it… head over to the swim start. If its a pool based event, you’ll be directed to a specific lane at a specific time (often arranged around a target swim time you provided when you registered), and you’ll be herded like a sheep… which is a good thing in this case, as it makes it easy… you’ll be given a swim cap (if there wasn’t already one handed to you at registration)… it’ll be colour coded to reflect your category, often as simple as just male/female, but for some bigger events, different colours for different age groups, or distances being raced. At small, low budget events, they may even ask you to leave the cap at the pool side after your swim for reuse by later swimmers, or next year… at open water events, you’ll have a swim start time…announcers will guide you, as will the movement of everyone in the same coloured swim hats… there will be a count down, and off you go!
You will see a couple of things that ‘may’ cause you to question your sanity and/or whether you deserve to be there, the so called, imposter feeling… this is a VERY common feeling, so
“don’t feel that you are the imposter… YOU ARE NOT”
The first thing you will see are a number of perfect bodies… yes there will be some fast people with physiques to match, but there will also be gym bunnies in attendance… all too often, they are there to be seen, and not to race hard… don’t be put off… you’ll soon see many many more ‘normal’ body shapes and sizes, and discover things like the large bloke in his 50’s who has just come out of the water in 3rd place overall because he is a superb swimmer, and that has very little to do with hours in the gym…. triathlon performance is very much more than skin deep….secondly, you’ll see people wheeling space age bikes into transition that are quite obviously worth as much as a small family car…. some of the owners of these bikes are seriously good cyclists, but many aren’t… its fun to overtake someone on their £5k bike!…. I once did a long distance triathlon in France, and on a particularly steep hill, right near the start, a Dutch guy rode past me on a Boris bike… its the rider that counts, not the bike!..
And for the final thing, and the most important thing of all…. ENJOY IT!… its a wonderful, life affirming thing to finish a triathlon. It isn’t easy, but that’s what makes it so special… don’t forget to remind yourself of what a great time you are having, smile, laugh, wave at the crowds, and HAVE FUN!
All you old hands out there…. have I missed anything?