The Day of Your First Triathlon: What to Expect

You’ve spent months preparing for it, and those endless hours of swimming, biking and running have probably helped you achieve your fittest body ever. Your first triathlon is a few days or weeks away. Physically, your body is up to the challenge, but you’re definitely feeling some pre-event jitters. Knowing what to expect at the race can make it easier to feel prepared, relaxed and ready to meet your goal.

Before the race

Arrive at least an hour before the race. Few things are as stressful as arriving late at the staging area, and having to rush through preparations. An early arrival ensures that you have plenty of time to properly sign in and set up your transition zone. You may have to wait in line to pick up your race packet if you were not able to pick it up in the days before the race. The administrator who gives you your race packet may also provide you with last minute instructions. These people are usually friendly and well informed, so make sure to ask them any questions you might have.

Spend a few minutes reviewing the race packet before you set up your transition zone. Most of the information contained there will probably be things you already know relating to the course and the rules. Still, a last minute peek at these things can help your performance later, so it never hurts to take a look at this packet.

The transition area

The transition zone is the place where all of the athletes will establish their own base camp. Some triathlons will assign each racer a spot, while others allow racers to choose any available space. The most obvious component of the transition zone is the bike racks lined up within the space. You’ll stow your bike here in an upright and easy to access position. Along with your bike, you will also store any changes of clothes and shoes here. You may also place a water bottle, food and any other personal items here. If you are alone at the race and don’t want to leave valuables like car keys and wallets in the transition zone, then you can make use of the bag check service most races provide for athletes.

The transition zone is your base camp. It is the spot to which you return between each of the events. As you leave the water from the swim, you’ll go to your transition zone to make any necessary clothing changes and to put on shoes and socks. You’ll also return here after the bike ride to replace your bike before heading out on the run. Because you want your transitions to be smooth, seamless and quick, you’ll want to know exactly where your base camp is within the zone so that you can head directly there between each race segment.

When the start time approaches

As the start time draws near, you’ll grab your goggles and swim cap and head to the start line. It’s typical for an announcer to welcome everyone to the race and provide last minute instructions. This is where pre-race jitters are likely to affect you the most, but if you focus on the fact that you want to enjoy this experience, everything will work out.

Entering the water for the first time triathlete can be severely disorienting, particularly if all competitors enter the water at the same time. If your goal is simply to finish the race under your own power, then hang back a little. Avoiding the fray of other swimmers kicking and flailing in your space allows you to focus on your swimming, rather than being distracted by what other people are doing. The other competitors get less distracting as the race progresses through the three segments. Competitors can be widely spaced apart, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to simply focus on what you’re doing without being affected by anyone else.

As you cross the finish line, savor the moment, and be prepared for a party. You’ve just achieved a major goal. Your accomplishment is something that only a small percentage of the population will ever reach. All of those months of training are finally paying off.

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