Top 10 Tips for a Sprint Triathlon


Talked to a friend doing her first triathlon and what few tips I could offer in a few minutes at the side of the pool yesterday.  Thinking about it a bit more here is my top 10 tips for a sprint triathlon:

1     Relax in the swim and just enjoy it.  If it’s a pool swim or a wetsuit swim you have nothing to worry about.  In a pool if you get tight just stop for a second, stand up or grab the lane line.  In an open water swim with a wetsuit just stop and let the suit hold you up and float.  Biggest problem with the swim is just getting overly worked up about it.  By the way, get a wetsuit made specifically for triathlon that fits you.  Worth their weight in gold they are.

2     Practice transitions several times before the race.  The key to good transition from swim to bike and bike to run is simplicity.  Do as little as possible with an absolute minimum of equipment.  Run from the swim to the bike don’t just jog.  Have your helmet and sunglasses on top of the handlebars and put that on first.  Put your shoes on next and run the bike to the mount line.  Anything else is a waste of time and effort.  Putting on socks on wet feet is a slow frustrating process, so avoid it if possible.  The only time you need to sit is if you are having trouble peeling off the wetsuit; otherwise don’t sit down in transition.

3     When you setup your bike in the transition area, don’t be intimidated by other competitor’s equipment.   At almost any triathlon you will find $10,000 machines lined up and ready.  Keep in mind the motor is what makes the bike fast, and that just costs time and effort.  When you set your bike look around carefully to make sure you can find it during the chaos of transitions.  Look for specific things around it to make it easy to find.  Put your shoes in under your bike and remember to have only essential equipment in transition. 

4      Cycling makes up the longest section of almost any triathlon so if you over train for any of the 3 events make it cycling.  Practice riding in a smooth and predictable line.  You want to be able to pace the ride with a steady consistent effort.  Following close behind another rider is not allowed, nor a good idea.  It saves effort, but don’t do it.  When you finish the race you want to know that you did it on your own. 

5      One of the keys to cycling faster is steady cadence (usually 90 rpm) so an inexpensive cycling computer that shows cadence is a good investment.  Without it you tend to spin at too slow which often makes the run afterward harder.  Another good idea is to practice short hill repeats.  These are excellent for building strength and stamina.  Mix in hills and longer steady rides to make the most of your bike training time.

6     Bike to run transition is usually a challenge so it is good to practice this using “brick runs”.  That means learning to run just after cycling.  At first is seems like your legs are twice the weight they normally feel.  Preparing for this can make a big difference.  You don’t need to run far, just a mile or two works just fine.  You also don’t need to do this more than once a week. 

7       Have elastic laces in your running shoes so that you don’t have to tie them and can get them on quickly.  I have a dedicated pair of running shoes with elastic laces for triathlon that is ½ size smaller than usual.  Since I don’t wear socks in them I want them a little tighter than normal.  You need to find a pair with good insoles and comfortable uppers if you run without socks.

   Run training is much like proper cycling training.  Mix in short hill repeats with longer steady efforts.  Running is also the most likely place to acquire an overuse injury.  You just have to be careful about how often and far you run.  Build up to it slow and steady.

9     Most competitors in a triathlon are good natured and upbeat.  This is not a dog eat dog sport, so relax and make friends with your fellow competitors.  Much like a running race, triathlons have the feel of “we are all in this together so let’s make it fun” feel.  Everybody gets nervous before the start from world champions on down so just keep that in mind.  Relaxing and just enjoying the experience is hard, but give it your best to do just that.


10   Crossing the finish line in a triathlon is a great feeling of accomplishment.  Enjoy the experience and hang around the finish line and share the feeling with your fellow competitors.  Be thankful that have you have the ability to do what few accomplish.  
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