Ready for Your First Triathlon?

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Tri-ing out my new swim gear for the first time!

How did you spend your last runner vacation?

I did a triathlon.

I kept the Tri the Heights sprint triathlon under wraps until after the race (called a sprint triathlon because of the distance, typically a shorter swim, 10-15 mile bike, and 5k run). I hadn’t trained much (okay, at all), and I wasn’t sure if I’d even finish.

It was a valid concern. My pre-race training consisted of 2 spinning classes, 1 17 mile outdoor bike, 1 1000-meter pool swim and a marathon or three. I wasn’t worried about the run, but the swim and the bike on the other hand…

The race was the Tri the Heights, which consisted of a 400 meter pool swim, 10+ mile bike, and a 5k. I swam competitively throughout middle school and high school, so I wasn’t super-worried about the swim – I figured that I could side stroke through it if I needed to, but I was worried about the bike. Beyond my lack of training, I’m also rocking a heavy mountain bike with a front brake that constantly rubs against the wheel, and no real understanding of how to optimize my shifting. Most triathletes at a road race use road bikes, which are lighter and faster. But I decided it was worth giving this triathlon thing a try. I’d treat it like a workout and have some fun.

And I did. My swim and run were at the top of the times for my age group. The swim felt amazing – I was strong, and passed swimmers every lap to cut seven minutes off of my expected 400 meter time. 400 meters is pretty short in the competitive swimming world, but it can be pretty daunting to the new swimmer, even if it’s in a pool! I got out of the pool feeling amazing.

In “Tri” language, the first transition time is called T1, and refers to the time spent drying off and changing into cycling gear and getting on the bike.ย  My T1 time was slow while I figured out how to put socks, shoes and clothes over my damp body, but I was still feeling good as I headed out of the transition for the bike portion of the race. Feeling good, that is, until I found the first big hill.ย  Tthe first seven miles of the bike were literally up a mountain, and I started getting passed by everyone. At mile two, I made a poor shifting decision and had to walk my heavy, old and now chain-less bike up the mountain. It took me a good ten minutes to get the chain back on the wheel, for a mile two split of 11 minutes. Ouch. By that point I knew I wouldn’t place in my age group, but resolved to finish strong.

I finished the bike, and had a quick T2.ย  Transitioning from the bike to the run is almost always faster than T1, but for me it was much faster since I’d biked in running shoes! The first two miles of the 5k were uphill, but I felt strong and finished the run with the second best run time in my age group.

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It was pretty awesome, and unlike the half-marathon I felt energetic post-race. I’m still a runner at heart (and a bit of a swimmer) but I think I’ll schedule a few more sprint triathlons this summer. However I’ll definitely train some more between now and then too, find a road bike, and learn some basic bike maintenance. These are a non-jarring way to get my racing fix in without running my body into the ground before my next marathon!

If you choose the distance wisely and you’ve done some swimming/biking cross-training along with your running, then give it a tri!

Are you ready for a Triathlon? Have you considered it?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Pinhoti FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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12 comments

  1. Am I just old and stodgy? I tend to think multisport, while probably fun, is counterproductive to achieving goals in one sport. Does anyone have personal experience one way or the other (i.e. multisport helped your improvement in running or multisport held your running back)?

    1. So far (no races yet), I’m finding that it’s vastly improving my recovery. In fact, one of my nagging injuries is finally recovering, I think because I’m not running as much and allowing my legs more recovery.

  2. Well, this is not very scientific research, but I can say that all my running PRs came after I got into multisport! Not sure if that just means I needed to run more before or it’s a result of the cross training. I do believe the cross training keeps me from getting injured and burned out like I tend to do when I am only running.

  3. I was really excited to read this post because I may have committed to my first triathlon in a couple of weeks. I haven’t been swimming in ages so I am super nervous about that portion. The bike and run don’t worry me. I just don’t want to drown first! I dug my bathing suit out last night and I plan on heading up to the gym tonight after hopefully nobody is at the pool and see what I can do. I think the event website said that it was a 1200 foot swim. I still can’t believe I am actually registered for a triathlon. I specifically selected the one that I did because their will be a lot of first timers there. I don’t wanna be the only newbie!

  4. I’m intrigued by triathlons. I watched the finish of an Ironman on Sunday, and have a co-worker that tri’s and often tries to convince me to try it. Two problems:
    1) I cannot swim (other than a dogpaddle) and am terrified of open water (seaweed, ugh)
    2) I do not have a bike and don’t want to start another sport that’s known for being a money suck.

    1. Cycling IS expensive. I lucked out and found a bike on Craigslist, but it is definitely an expensive sport.

      Now swimming, I think anyone can do! Some Sprint tri’s are in pools, so maybe you could do that?

  5. This post is so timely. I have been wanting to try one triathlon, but just haven’t pulled the plug yet. Running would be my strength. I have no “road” biking experience, but LOVE spinning. I love to swim, but really only for leisure. I have never competed in either swimming or biking. So, I am a little too nervous right now to sign up for one, especially one that would have a swim in open water. I do have a thought, though, about Salty’s question. I strongly believe that swimming and biking greatly helps my running. Both swimming and biking are challenging in each of their own ways. I think swimming definitely helps me find a rhythm to my breathing in a race and I think biking (well, in my case, spinning) has helped to strengthen my legs and increase my endurance. Right now in my training, I am just adding swimming and spinning to my cross training and I am focused on marathons. But I had this same desire to try a triathlon last summer. My plan is a fall and spring marathon, and then a full year off of the 26.2’s. So, I am going to focus on a triathlon for sure next summer:)!

    1. Great points – I think they are good as crosstraining on their own merits as well as for a triathlon. I think Salty is wondering if focusing on them as training detracts from a focus only on running.

      Honestly, it might, but I’m not sure right now. Time will tell!