I’m a big believer in setting goals. They become milestones in the longer journey to some of those big audacious goals that seem out of our reach, until they aren’t. My foray into Triathlon began in a spin class. I didn’t own a bike, but had spent the winter indoors discovering the pleasure and the pain of the bike. I didn’t know if the energy I found doing this indoors would translate outdoors, and I recall being crazy intimidated by any thought of perching on top of a “skinny tire” bike. I was skeptical about any long term investment in outdoor riding until I joined a beginner riding group. Led by a seasoned rider (Jane McKeown) we learned the basics of group etiquette and experienced the quiet joy that comes from outdoor riding. I’m forever grateful for Jane’s guidance and encouragement when I first hit the road.
Now that I knew I loved this, much like running, I decided to start setting some goals to find out if I could transition into Triathlon. I found out about the Hampton Ladies Triathlon the first year they held this event. The race was an exceptional start to my journey in Triathlon. I attribute the great experience to the warm and welcoming approach of the volunteers and the other participants. I found myself immersed in a a sea of “newbies” all trying to figure out what to do. The energy was so much fun. Many of these faces have since become familiar and each year I count on reconnecting with these women as they pop up at some of the same races and carry on their own journey. They remind me of the great connections I have made and the openness within this community that I was originally so intimidated by.
If you are new to Triathlon and starting to seriously consider an event, you might be in that place of “you don’t know what you don’t know”. That was the case for me, so I thought it would be fun to think back to some of the first lessons I learned in Hampton and share them with you. The learning never stops in this sport, which is one of the things I love about it.
- The Pool Swim – Be realistic about your swimming. If you are brand new to swimming or haven’t been in the water for a long time, ask the organizers what lane is appropriate for you. If you haven’t been in a pool in years, but feel pretty certain you are a great swimmer- err on the side of caution, particularly if swimming in a lane with lots of people is new to you. It’s also no time to downplay your strengths. If you are a strong swimmer, identify yourself as such. If you underplay your abilities, the lanes are too narrow and crowded to do much passing. Do your best to have an idea of what your 25m pace is and listen closely at the pre race meeting to the instructions they give you around the swim.
- Girl Gear – I was so distressed about this in the days leading up to the event. I just didn’t know if I was supposed to wear a bra under my bathing suit, and if I did, I wondered how I would change it? It never occurred to me that you would swim in the same outfit you would do the other 2 sports in. I wasn’t really sure who to ask about this one either, I was new to this and didn’t really have any friends in Triathlon at this time. Live and learn- I wore a bra under my swim suit and pulled shorts and a shirt on after the swim. Thankfully I now have a great group of friends to explain what’s obvious to those with experience. Make sure when you plan your race day gear you’ve practiced in it. Go swimming in your race gear and see if you’ve got the shoulder mobility you need. Test out how quickly it dries and how it feels to be on the bike with it right out of the water.
- Transition – I have learned so much over the years by hanging out in transition before races. These days I take my phone in and take pictures of how people set up, or gear that I think would be useful to me. I know I won’t remember all this post race, and I love looking back at the tips and tricks of others. And talk to people in transition. It helps calm nerves and it gives you some friendly faces to connect with out on the course. When I did the Hampton race I learned that it would be helpful to have a towel to wipe my feet off with. I didn’t know what to put my stuff in or how to organize it in transition. I now use a small rubbermaid container that I keep all my transition items in (not my shoes or helmet), and I lay a towel down under it if its not raining. Right now I’m using a 19L Sterilite container.
- Hydration – I definitely underestimated how much I would need to drink. This isn’t a long distance race, however nerves on top of a lot of hard work makes water or sports drink crucial. The bike is the easiest of all events to get fluid into your system. Make sure your bike is well equipped with water bottle cages, and practice drinking on your training rides. Getting comfortable moving around on your bike takes practice.
- Gear – If you don’t know how to change a tire (make this your next goal) and you wouldn’t change it on the course, consider if you really want to take a kit with you. Gear can create distractions. In Hampton my tire kit that hangs under my seat was unzipped (I had probably checked it 20 times in transition), and I hit a rough part of the road. My CO2 cartridges started falling out and I panicked thinking my bike was collapsing. It freaked me out until I saw a canister roll by me and I realized what it really was.
- Shoes – Make sure your bike shoes and running shoes are undone and ready to have your feet put into them. I always have a change of socks in my transition box. Happy feet matter to me, particularly in longer distances. If its a wet day, or the course is wet and you get off the bike with wet feet, the run can be excruciating. Over time you’ll get to know how to keep your feet happy, it relaxes me a bit when I’m worried about racing in rainy conditions to know some little comfort awaits me in that box.
- Sunblock – No matter what the weather looks like, if you are going to be outside for any amount of time in June you want to make sure you’ve got sunscreen. I remember in Hampton someone offered me some in transition, it was a hot morning and I remember thinking on my bike how thankful I was to have my shoulders and face protected. Don’t underestimate how important this is.
- Directions – If you are on the bike or run and you aren’t clear what direction to go, ask a volunteer. I’ve always found them to be so great for pointing out the way. Sometimes when I am in “go” mode, my thinking function isn’t quite as strong and I find myself without someone in front of me to follow (not because I’m leading the way) and I don’t trust my intuition as much when I’m racing. In Hampton I found myself alone on the running course and I wasn’t clear what way to go at one point. I found the nearest volunteer and confirmed what to do. It was a good move, I was about to make a big wrong turn off course.
- Positive Self Talk – Feed off all the positive energy around you in a race. When you are digging deep, think about how much courage and effort it took for you to show up at the start line. When you get off that bike and hit the road for the run and wonder if you can find your way to the finish line, remember how you found your way to the start line. When I hit a low point, I try to connect with someone on the course. Sometimes I thank the volunteers, or I cheer on someone passing me, or I find someone to run with who looks like they could stand to get out of their head too. When that positive voice gets too quiet, I need some strategies to ensure it finds its way to the forefront.
- Stick Around – If you can take part in some of the celebration after the event, make sure you do. The post race debrief is one of the rewards of the all the effort you just gave. Connecting with others to hear their stories, and sharing your own story is part of the celebration. Get some nutrition, share a story, and start thinking about your next goal.