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10 Lessons Learnt from my First Triathlon

At the end of July, I took part in my first novice triathlon. I trained for just over two months for it, but even with all that, I found that I wasn’t properly ready for my first triathlon. The experience was much harder than I expected it to be, but I’m so proud that I finished! What an accomplishment!

After going through the gruelling 1h52mins it took me to finish it, I can now look back and say I learnt a lot from the experience. The biggest fear I had going into it at the beginning of the day was the unknown. This was my first race of any kind and it was both exciting and nerve-wracking. It was comforting to read afterwards that most people find their first race daunting and realise how ill-prepared they were. I’m not alone, phew!

With the perspective, I can definitely say that I know how to better prepare for the next one. Yes there will definitely be a next one!

Here are 10 lessons learnt from my first triathlon:

1. Dress for success

I didn’t want to invest too much money not knowing if I would like triathlons but this is one of my regrets. Not dressing properly enough.

1a. My first advice would be to definitely get fitted properly for a wetsuit. The summer has been nice in Scotland but with a storm the night before the triathlon, the water dropped to 13 degrees so wetsuits were compulsory. Both my friend and I had bought the same wetsuit from Sports Direct and while it did the job, it was definitely too big. If anything, you definitely want something a bit tigher as it loosens a bit in the water. Dragging water doesn’t help swimming performance.

1b. Invest in a trisuit. This isn’t mandatory but it helps. I’d swam in sports underwear under my wetsuit. During transition 1, I took the wetsuit off and put on a sports t-shirt and shorts. To be fair, it rained nearly the whole time, but the front of my t-shirt was drenched about 5 mins into my cycle. (It was from water coming from my bra/swimsuit, a problem men don’t have.)

1c. I would also invest in a tribelt (which is only like £4 in Decathlon). It makes it much easier to change your race number in transition 2.

2. Include strenght into your training plan

This was by far my biggest mistake. Throughout my training plan, I’d have some strenght sessions planned but they often felt too much. I didn’t want to do a leg day at the gym if I had cycling or running planned the next day. This was a huge problem. As most of our cycling was uphill, I found that my legs weren’t ready for it. My thighs need to become stronger.

3. Study the course

If you can, try to head to the course in the weeks prior to the triathlon and see what to expect. One of the other big mistakes I made was not being ready (or even aware) of the kind of terrain we were going to have to cycle through. If I had known, I would have prepared differently.

4. Practice the open water swim

I’m so glad I did this one! Open water swimming can be a shock – especially in Scotland. On a blog post I read somewhere, they mentioned how many people who haven’t practiced open water swimming will get a shock at the beginning. And it is true! The first open water swim we did at Loch Venachar, I actually panicked a bit and lost my breath. It’s the cold water shock mixed with the fear of deep water since in most lochs in Scotland you can’t see your feet or what’s below. While it took me a while to swim on the day, I found it really enjoyable in the end!

5. Practice brick sessions

Brick sessions are sessions where you cycle and head straight into a run afterwards.

The first few times I biked and then went off on a run, my legs felt like a ton of bricks. This is apparently a very real thing and the more you practice the more your legs get used to the change of motion. A friend of the family advised me to start off my run with small quick pace until my legs feel better and I can head into a normal pace.

6. Eat appropriately

Halfway through my training I switched to a high protein low carb diet and I saw a change in my performance. As I felt less sluggish, I felt usually more up to training and had more energy.

On the morning of the race, I regretted trying to swallow some tasteless porridge. I was so nervous I could barely eat any. So I did the race with a few spoons of porridge inside of me. In retrospect, I think I should have had a toast with peanut butter and a banana to start the day well. (Thanks for the recommendation, dad!)

Depending on the time of the race, and the set up, there may not be a lot of water or snacks available so bring everything you need with you. I had some peanuts before the race which really helped and had water during each transition (but not too much!). I did hit the one water station during the run as I was really struggling at that point. You also may want to guzzle a whole bottle up after the race.

7. Read the triathlon rules

There are pesky rules like not touching your bike until your helmet has been clipped on, that you should be aware of. Read the rules and respect them and your fellow athletes.

8. Have a tidy transition space

You only reasonably need a few things for transition. Set them up neat and logically. A water bottle, towel, shoes, socks, helmet, protein bar, tribelt with number, and any change of clothes. Because it was announcing showers during our race, I brought my rucksack waterproof cover, which meant I had dry shoes to put on when I got to transition.

9. Sign up to a club or get a training partner

The best thing about a triathlon for me was the camaraderie. Athletes were always ready to help each other. And I know I was able to manage to finish the race thanks to my training partner who supported me throughout!

If you want more help and more structure, you can also join a triathlon club. In Scotland there are triathlon clubs everywhere so it’s easy to find one if you need.

10. Enjoy yourself

This one is easier said than done. I struggled so much during the cycle that I cried and felt broken. So at that moment I found it tough to enjoy myself, not gonna lie. But I really enjoyed the swimming and the run. My mom said I looked very happy in all the photos and that’s because I was supported in those moments, with the crowds and the Brit trying to record this event. But I had to remind myself that it was a great event and it was done to push myself and have fun!

I look back at the event with fondness already. I achieved something big and I didn’t give up!

I hope this post was useful if you want to be prepared for your first race. Hope you enjoyed my 10 lessons learnt from my first triathlon!

Have you ever taken part in a race? What was your best advice?xx

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