It’s not an exaggeration to say that during my first two years in triathlon, I made just about every rookie mistake possible. If there was a wrong way to approach triathlon, that’s probably the way I went.
I ate too many carbs before every race, I didn’t train enough, I didn’t train properly, I didn’t swim enough, I swam badly… my very first race was a try-a-tri that lasted a mere 39 minutes, and it was a full-on disaster. (Why did I keep going? Because, this sport sucks you in and doesn’t let go.)
Now that I’m a grizzled vet, it’s easy to look back and see what I could have done better.
Here are the top three beginner triathlon mistakes I made, that you should avoid:
- BUYING A FANCY NEW BIKE RIGHT OUT OF THE GATES
After that first try-a-tri, I decided I needed a brand spanking new bike so I went out and paid retail for an entry-level road bike. I figured I’d be a genius, all I’d have to do is strap on aero bars and I could go.
What I didn’t realize is that you need to take some time to learn what’s best for your body, and I bought that bike well before I had any idea what would suit me. In other words, I grew out of that bike in no time flat. And because the bike was just an entry-level bike it depreciated so quickly that just 18 months later nobody wanted to pay me much to take it off my hands afterwards.
TAREN’S ADVICE: For your first few races, even for your first entire year, just use what you’ve got! A mountain bike, a hybrid bike, a bike you borrowed from your buddy… as long as it’s got two wheels and a seat, it’s good enough to get started.
If you don’t have any of the above and need to buy something, don’t spend very much! And definitely don’t pay retail! Get on Kijiji or Craigslist or your local Buy & Sell, and just find a bike that fits you.
None of us are going to the Olympics in our first year. Get comfortable with the sport before you spend a whack of money on a bike. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of years to spend absurd amounts of money on new equipment as you progress.
2. I THOUGHT I NEEDED TO CARB LOAD… AND LOAD… AND LOAD.
When I started, I had this idea in my head that all endurance activities required carb loading.
(Remember Michael Scott on The Office, carb loading with fettuccine alfredo before AND during Dunder Mifflin’s 5K charity fun run? That was me, minus the vomiting.)
I loaded up on gluten free pasta the night before, gluten free bagels the morning-of, and gels on the course. And I cramped and felt bloated and gross by the time the races were over.
Guess what. You first race or races are probably only going to last between one and three hours, and that doesn’t require days of carb loading beforehand or the morning of the race. In fact, all of those extra carbs will only serve to make you feel heavy and uncomfortable.
TAREN’S ADVICE: You need a lot less food than you think! In reality, you probably only need 10% more food the day before the race than you’d usually eat on a regular day to fuel your body for a Sprint or even an Olympic.
Sure, have a piece of cake the night before the race because you’ll probably burn it off. But you don’t NEED to have a GIANT piece of cake or a salad bowl sized serving of spaghetti to be successful. Healthy protein, clean carbs like sweet potato and a portion of green, leafy vegetables on the side is a nutritious combination to take you into your race.
(But do feel free to have one nice big pig-out meal afterwards. You’ve earned it.)
Here’s a link to a video talking about how much to eat the day before and how little to eat the day of and during the race.
3. I DIDN’T DO ANY BRICK WORKOUTS (aka LEARNING TO TRANSITION)
You know how I mentioned above that I trained badly and not enough in my first couple of years? The biggest mistake on that front is that I didn’t do any brick workouts. I did zero. TERRIBLE PLAN.
A brick workout is one where you involve at least two of the disciplines. It could be a bike/run or a swim/bike. The point is to get your body used to going immediately from one sport to the next, and it’s incredibly important.
The moment when you hop off the bike and you have to start running, it’s the worst moment ever for any first-time triathlete. Your legs turn to jelly. You need to teach your legs how to turn over after getting off the bike, and that only comes with practice.
TAREN’S ADVICE: You absolutely need to do a lot of running, swimming, and biking on their own to be in shape for a race. But you also need to combine them in race order a few times to get your body used to the shock of going from one to the other. There are lots of great brick workouts you can do to develop that muscle memory, they’re easy to do and you’ll thank me when you get off the bike in your first race.