Let’s be honest. When most of us hear the word “triathlon,” we think of hardcore Olympic and Ironman contests that are designed for the elite… or (again, let’s be honest) the crazy.
We need to think again.
While there are plenty of Olympic, Half-Ironman and Ironman events around the world for those who have trained extensively for world-class competition, you also can find a slew of sprint and even super-sprint triathlons that prove to be excellent entry-level contests. (Pictured here is yours truly at the TriBellas Sprint Triathlon at Cherry Creek State Park near Denver.)
A sprint triathlon is usually a third- to half-mile swim, a 10- to 13-mile bike ride, and a 5K run (3.1 miles). Super sprints are even shorter: a quarter-mile swim, a 6- to 8-mile bike ride, and a 1.5- to 2-mile run. The sprint distance is actually the most popular in the sport. And while many triathletes will choose a sprint tri as a get-into-the-groove first event of their busy triathlon season, a sprint is the first-ever triathlon experience for countless newbies.
The best part: Not only are you sure to find outstanding triathlons near home, you also can find them in your favorite vacation destinations. Simply choose the event that appeals to you and make a training plan. You can prepare on your own, with family members or friends, or with a local triathlon training group.
Whether you’re planning to do your first tri close to home or on an eagerly awaited racecation, make sure you’re prepared on race day with these key tips:
1. Don’t be a weekend warrior. If you’re reasonably fit, you can survive a sprint tri. But this should be about fun, not survival, so train for your triathlon. Practice swimming, biking and running. Build up your endurance. Join local triathlon clinics. Make sure you can comfortably complete the distances the tri will require of you. You can work on speed later; in the beginning, just focus on endurance and crossing that finish line.
2. Consider triathlon-appropriate sportswear. You can swim, bike and run in your swimsuit, or in a regular tank top and pair of workout shorts, but you’re not going to be happy. Consider purchasing a triathlon top and shorts; not only do they fit under a wetsuit, they’re comfortable for swimming, they dry out quickly during the bike ride (including the seat padding in the shorts), and they won’t chafe during the run.
3. Try an open-water swim before race day. You don’t want the race to be your first open-water swimming experience. If you trained in a pool, as I did, plan a practice open-water swim prior to race day. And if you’re going to wear a wetsuit, wear it on your practice swim. Make sure the suit and the open water both feel comfortable and familiar before your race.
4. Get to your triathlon site early on race day. That way, you can explore the transition area and choose the best spot for your bike and gear. You’ll also avoid the inevitable stress that comes from running late and trying to arrange your gear, get the lay of the land, lube up with sunscreen, and make that last critical visit to the porta-pot before it’s Go Time.
5. Be considerate of your neighbors in transition. Protocol is to rack your bike, then put your towel underneath it; that’s your staging area for all your gear. Make sure you rack your bike in opposing orientation to those next to you, with saddles facing each other. You should be able to fit six bikes in a rack. Maintain a conservative footprint beneath your bike by folding your towel in half. There should be plenty of room for everyone’s stuff.
6. Organize gear in the order it will be used. You’ll already have your swim cap, goggles and wetsuit (if necessary) on. In the transition area, have your bike helmet, sunglasses, socks and shoes ready to go. Behind them, arrange a sun hat or visor and your running shoes (if different from your bike shoes). This is also the spot for your Camelbak and any mid-race energy snacks or drinks.
7. Don’t try anything new on race day. Sample new energy snacks, gels and drinks during your training to see how your body reacts. You don’t want unpleasant surprises during the race. Trust us on this.
8. Walk the race routes. Once your gear is organized, walk from transition to the water entry. Then walk back to transition, find your bike, and scout your routes to the bike exit/return, the runners’ exit, and the finish line. This is another benefit to arriving early: You’ll know exactly where to go and won’t have to figure it out mid-race.
9. Listen to the announcer. He or she will provide pre-race instructions and likely also will host a quick pre-race meeting at the water. Make sure you’re clear on your starting wave and start time; also, listen for any specific bike instructions. In my most recent sprint tri, for example, we had to walk our bikes from transition to a specific mounting area.
10. Think post-race comfort. Bring along a change of clothes and a pair of sandals or sports slides for after the race. You’ll be delighted to strip off your damp, sweaty, dirty race clothes and comfortably celebrate alongside your fellow triathletes. Because that’s what you are!