The 6 Things Every Beginner Triathlete Should Know

By Dave Noonan
I remember my first triathlon. It was the Coronation Triathlon in Edmonton, Alberta in 1998. It was the week after my stag. My fiancée (now my ever supportive of my tri-addiction wife) was thoughtful enough to pack some running gear with my golf clubs. I would like to say I was committed enough to get out for a run but I was barely in good enough condition to walk a straight line and speak coherently let alone go for even a short run. Nonetheless, the weekend after I was standing on the Coronation Pool deck to start my first race ever. I’ve been racing ever since. I’ve learned so much about being a triathlete: how to pace myself, how to shave my legs and how to pee without getting off my bike. Here are a few more things I’ve learned:

Ironman is not triathlon. When I tell people I do triathlon they automatically assume that means I’ve done an Ironman. I’ve done four, and will never do another, but you don’t have to do an iron distance race to be considered a triathlete. One of our country’s greatest triathletes, Simon Whitfield, has never done an iron distance tri. Heck, to a beginner triathlete, a sprint distance race might as well be an iron distance race. Long distance tris are tough even if you take your time but sprints and Olympic distance are totally doable! Do the race in the morning and you still have all afternoon to play on the beach with the family.

You do not need a $10 000 fully aero bike. A road bike will do just fine and they’re a little more versatile. Try showing up to a group ride on your tri bike and see what kind of looks you get and you’ll know what I mean. You can tweak a few things on a road bike to make it a little more tri specific without emptying your wallet. My first bike was a Celeste green Bianchi that I bought from my friend for $200. I did my first half iron on that bike. I have since upgraded to a Trek tri bike but I wish I had hung in to that Bianchi.

Spandex is not a crime. It took me a while before I bought my first Speedo for swim workouts. I resisted for so long because as a former college football player, it was just plain wrong. However, dressing for triathlon is very much function over fashion. Swimming in surf shorts is like swimming with an anchor around your waist. Bike shorts? I showed up on my Bianchi for me first three hour ride in workout shorts, t-shirt and running shoes. I was the one who looked like a total dork. I don’t think the feeling came back to my, er, well, you know…down there for 3 days. What I did feel was three hours of riding a skinny road bike saddle without bike shorts on. Getting the right gear will make training and racing much more enjoyable!

Join a Masters swim group. Swimming is the most technical part of the sport and you really need an outsider’s view. I swam on my own when I first started but I had no idea what I was doing. I remember my first group swim workout. What a nightmare! I almost had a head on collision because I didn’t know how the flow of traffic went. We did a kick set that just about killed me. But I kept going back because I learned so much about swimming from the coach on deck. I learned so much that I went from the slow lane all the way to the fast lane.

Calories are your friend. Training for three different sports requires fuel. You need to eat! That doesn’t mean that you replace all those calories you just burnt off with cheeseburgers and beer. Nor does it mean that you eat like a rabbit so you can look like some of those iron distance pros who resemble moving skeletons. You need to have a balance so you can have enough fuel not just to support your training but also carry you through your daily grind of getting kids ready for school, work etc. Not eating leads to bonking. What’s bonking? You know you are bonking when the Oreo cookies that you are daydreaming about suddenly start slam dancing and you look like the walking dead. I had a bonk so bad that I had to knock on a friend’s door and ask for a Coke and a ride home.

Why do you call it a “brick”? In tri speak a brick is a bike ride followed immediately by a run. Do I need to explain why you would do that? There are many theories where the name “brick” came from. Some say it’s because Bike/Run/ick. Get it? Or it’s because that’s what your legs feel like when you try to run after a bike ride. On my first brick, mine felt like lead. I had to watch the scenery pass by (very slowly) just to confirm I was actually moving. My favourite theory is that these workouts are “another brick in the wall”. Brick workouts are sport specific and so important in building that “wall” of triathlon fitness. Now, during a lead up to a race, I try to brick once or twice a week.

Like I said, there are lots of lessons to be learned. You don’t have to shave your legs (I guess that goes for the ladies too) or risk peeing all over your right leg and bike shoe to be a triathlete.All you need is a pool, a bike and essential bike gear (helmet), some running shoes and a little bit of commitment. Maybe some guidance from a certified coach.

Triathlon is a great sport and totally worth getting involved in. You may even learn something about yourself.

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