Tips for your first triathlon

Words by David Hicks

on 30/08/2018 15:52:07

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Article by Mike Greenshields. Mike is a Graphic Designer at our Head Office and keen road racer taking his first steps into triathlon.

If you're a confident cyclist but have always fancied giving triathlon a go, where do you start? One of our staff team, Mike, is setting out to tackle his first few triathlons and convert his bike form into a multi-sport environment. Here, he shares his top tips for making the transition...

Coming from a road racing background, I had the usual roadie prejudice against triathlons, that a good ride should never be ruined by a swim before and a run after it... blah blah blah.

Putting that aside, I've always wanted to become an Ironman, a finisher of an Iron distance triathlon. For those that are unfamiliar with this, it is 2.4 miles of swimming, a 112 mile bike ride and then a marathon run, in that order and without a break. Sounds nuts right? Yes, really nuts. Nevertheless, I set myself the goal of completing one, and the first step to achieving this was to enter into a short distance local tri.

My first triathlon was at the Hever Castle Triathlon Series in September 2017, where I raced in the Sprint Plus distance consisting of a 800m swim, 40km bike and 8km run. I entered online a couple of months before the race, and then began trawling through plenty of tri forum threads to familiarise myself with what was required for me to be ready for race day, picking up some tips and tricks along the way.

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Where to start?

I think it's fair to say I was overwhelmed with all the different aspects to triathlon, and the best way to approach these, but in hindsight it was very simple. Make sure you have the right kit, organise it for transition, and practice!

I'd found out some tips and tricks online and from talking to other triathletes which I put into practice. I applied plenty of chamois cream as you would do for a regular ride just to keep it all smooth down below. I made use of a tub of Vaseline by applying it to my wrists and ankles before putting on my wetsuit, which would help me to slide it off quickly in transition. With the temperature being cool, I made use of a jersey to keep me warm and work as storage for my food, gels and tools. This saved me from taping food all over my bike or using a saddle bag.

Being a road cyclist the bike leg was always going to be my strong point, so I focused my training on the swim and run, and used my morning turbo sessions to tick over on the bike. Swimming in open water wearing a wetsuit was a totally new experience for me, albeit a very enjoyable one. I knew I could swim the distance fine having done so several times in training, but that was in a swimming pool and I was yet to find out what it would be like in open water. Initially, it was incredibly daunting walking down to the edge of the lake about to jump in. But it wasn't so bad after I had regained my composure from the shock of the cold water and began swimming, I remember thinking to myself 'you know, this is actually quite fun!'. The most difficult section of the triathlon for me was about 10 minutes into the run. I'd been warned to be ready for dead legs when you jump off the bike and start running. To combat this I eased off the pedals towards the end of the ride to give my legs a bit of a brake before the run. I found this helped and the legs turned out to be ok!

What kit do you need?

I would advise investing in a high quality tri-suit as this is what you will be wearing for the duration of the race, and being comfortable throughout is important. If you have a poorly fitted suit made from low quality fabrics you may find yourself becoming uncomfortable on the saddle and worst case chafing on the run! I will be using the Castelli All Out Speed Tri-Suit, which gives elite level aerodynamics and a good level of compression without being uncomfortable. Opting for sleeves to keep that roadie look, the tri-suit includes a sanremo style front zipper that can be undone if the conditions get a little bit too hot! Racing in the UK this is usually not too much of an issue, but for those racing in warmer countries this is a feature to look out for. Anyone who has ridden in Castelli bib shorts will know that they have a great reputation for a reason, and the seat pads are some of the comfiest out there on the market. The KISS Tri pad is used in the All Out Speed tri-suit, and I can confirm that it's just as comfy as its road equivalent!

Shop Castelli clothing >

Swim kit

  • Wetsuit (worn over your tri-suit)
  • Swim cap (usually given to you on race day)
  • Goggles

Run kit

  • Trainers
  • Socks

Bike kit

Mike's kit

The transition process

The transition area can be quite manic with people and bikes running in all directions, but if you remember exactly where your bike is, and follow the following steps, it's simple. As soon as you have finished the swim and exited the water, start jogging to your bike while unzipping your wetsuit from behind, remove your arms, and pull it down so the top half is around your waist. Then remove your goggles and cap.

When you arrive in T1 at your bike on the rack, fully remove your wetsuit and then start preparing for the bike leg. I decided that wearing socks for the ride and run would be beneficial for comfort reasons, so I began by sitting down, putting my socks and shoes on. If you don't want wet feet a bit of talc will work wonders! I then put my jersey on, with the gels and tools already prepped in the pockets. Next on is the race belt, for the ride portion of the race the number must be positioned facing backwards. Then on goes your helmet, remove your bike from the rack and run to the transition exit to begin the ride.

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When you return from the bike leg you will enter into the next transition stage, T2, where you will need to remove your cycling gear, and prepare yourself for the run. Start with racking your bike, then remove your helmet, shoes and jersey. Slide your feet into your running shoes and tie your laces, ensuring they are done up correctly. While you run to the transition exit, twist your race number so it's at your front. Sounds like there is a lot going on, but if you practice this a few times and get the process clear in your mind then you should fly through transition!

What's next?

Fast forward to today and I am just over four weeks out from competing at IRONMAN 70.3 Weymouth, and reaching the halfway point in my ironman aspirations. A half iron distance triathlon, consisting of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile half marathon at the end it is going to be one of the toughest things I've done yet, and I can't wait.

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Regardless of the pain and suffering that I will experience throughout the event, it will all be for a good cause. I am raising money for the Will Houghton Foundation who work with UK charities to help 14-24 year olds reach their potential through education and sport, set up in memory of my friend, and fellow roadie, Will Houghton. At the heart of the foundation is the wish to keep his shining spirit alive and inspire a new generation of young people to be their very best.If you would like to support the Foundation you can do so by donating on my Just Giving page, below.

Find out more information about the Will Houghton Foundation, and how they help young people within sport and education, here.

Sponsor Mike!

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