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Six Things Every Beginner Should Know

Okay, so maybe there are more than SIX things here…

Wear One Thing On Race Day

The biggest triathlon mystery is not how to run. It is what to wear on race day. (I’m kidding…sorta). Race day clothing is a nightmare!  Run screaming into the night right now, I tell you. Okay, seriously. What in the world do you wear on race day? I have tried everything out there. Okay, maybe not everything.

But here’s the secret: find one thing to wear. Put it on before the swim. Then swim. Then bike. Then run. Then take it off when you get home. Are you confused yet?

What NOT to do.

What NOT to do.

In a race you should aim to wear a one-piece triathlon suit or a two-piece triathlon kit. A “kit” is usually a top and bottom combo that looks fancy. Regardless of whether you have a suit or a kit, your race day clothing is designed to be worn in all three stages of the race. In other words, you do not take it off! Magic!

With the exception of the wetsuit (if needed), you need not put on any other piece of clothing. This also means that you need not take off any clothing. You wear your wetsuit (again, only if needed) on top of your triathlon suit/kit. After the swim, you strip off the wetsuit, put on your helmet and cycling shoes and are ready to go. You should never (ever) show your goodies in transition area. Ever. Ever. The best way to avoid showing others your stuff is to keep your clothes on.


Wearing one thing is the name of the game in shorter distance races, up to a half Ironman. Once you are in Iron distance territory, all bets are off – I have been told you wear whatever in the world will get you to the finish. In longer distance races (think: Ironman), there are changing tents – but that is because these races last from about 12-17 hours. You will not need to change clothes for a 2-3 hour event. Go here to read this post about what to wear on race day.)

Interested in Taking a Spinning Class?

Don’t forget to read the Spinning Class Etiquette…Part I ….and Part II. 

It’s a little satirical… but not that much.

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Be Smart. Become a STUDENT of Triathlon.

One definition of “smart” is to be “mentally alert.”At all times during your training, you should practice mental alertness. You must be cognizant of your surroundings, your body and your mind. (And the crazy clothing).

Part of the challenge, especially as a beginner, is to keep tabs on your technique, your energy levels and your health. Make sure that you are feeling okay during your training sessions. At the same time, you must be smart and remember that hard work is the only path to success in your triathlon goals. Does it really hurt, or are you just uncomfortable with the heat and the sweat? Can you push through and finish that last half-mile? Be smart and know your limits, but at the same time, give yourself some credit and do not let your mind tell your body “I can’t” when it certainly can.

….Everyone can ride a bike, right?

No! Wrong!

Really? Yes, really. Go to a beginner triathlon and you’ll see what I mean. You may think, I can’t do a race because I can’t ride a bike. Unfortunately, that has not stopped some people. And I do not mean that in a good way.


It is fine if you cannot ride a bike today. You will learn. But you should not go to your first triathlon if you cannot ride your bike comfortably and safely (see below- LEARN TO RIDE YOUR BIKE)…

I am a firm believer in becoming a student of triathlon. Even though I ran out and did my first tri pretty quickly, I had absorbed and read a ton of books, blogs and magazines beforehand. I had ridden that evil bike in the past.

I knew how to pump my tires, change a tube and fix a dropped chain. I was bad with clipping in and out of my pedals, but only to my own detriment (stopping and going). Once I was in the pedals, I knew and followed the rules. I knew that you must stay to the right of the road, not draft and pass within so many seconds (that was not my concern…passing), and announce “On Your Left!” when passing.

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…Remember to read the USA Triathlon rules for sanctioned events and spend some time devouring articles on swim starts, bike handling and race courtesies.

It’s simple: just read, learn and absorb the safety measures and rules. Even when you may not be fast or close to it, you will at least be a good student of triathlon and you’ll be on your way. Your family will thank you—because you’ll be around to see more days of racing. And your fellow racers will thank you. More than you know.

Learn to Ride Your Bike

You should learn how to ride your bike.  The swim is dangerous, yes.  The run is tough, yes. But the bike is the most dangerous component… because your bad behavior can cause harm to not only yourself—but others.
Learn how to use your gears and how to climb hills.  Go here to read this post if in doubt. Do not show up to a race if you have no clue how to ride. Beginner is one thing… but be a student (see above) and be respectful and be smart. Practice clipping in and out of your pedals in your driveway, your living room… not on a crowded trail or a busy intersection. Finally, accidents do happen. Period. We just all need to try to be as safe as possible.

Keep Your Perspective.

Sometimes training sucks. Sometimes races suck.

Still, keep your heart open and grateful—stay positive that you are able to move forward (no matter how slowly!).

Start each workout and each race with the proposition that you are blessed to do it.


And on race day… (Never try ANYthing new on race day, by the way!) … as you stand at the swim wave start with your race swim cap on your head and your goggles pulled down over your eyes, take a look around you.

Then take a deep breath.


Remember: while you are taking part in a competition, competing is not the main goal. Remember that this race is the start of something wonderful in your life. Look at the others around you, but do not compare yourself to them. Look at your fellow racers with the realization that they, too, are nervous and anxious about their race. Remember that this is your race. Be thankful.

Take another deep breath.


Look to the sky. Say “thank you” to your God for letting you stand on that beach, dock, boat, deck or grass. Embrace a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness as the national anthem is played (or if it’s not your country’s anthem, hum your own and be thankful anyway). Be humbled by your working body, your strong body that is going to get you across the finish line. Be thankful that you had the opportunity to train for the race. Realize that you have worked hard and you are ready for it. Thank your body for the hard work it is about to take on. Thank your mind for believing in you. Thank your soul for carrying the dream through.

Carry the feeling of gratefulness during your entire race. Be strong between your ears, and that will keep your body strong. When you feel that you can’t go on, then tell yourself, Just keep moving forward or use a mantra that you have used in training.

The FOUR Most Important Rules of Triathlon

Rule #1
Believe in Yourself.

Rule #2
Ignore Others Who Do Not Believe in You.

Rule #3
Know when to Stop.

Rule #4
Most Importantly, Know when to Keep Going.
(a/k/a —-Just Keep Moving Forward)

– Excerpted from Triathlon for the Every Woman


  • Jacky

    March 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Awesome! Thank you so much! Just completed my first marathon ever no Sunday and I’m aiming for a half ironman distance triathlon in 2014… will keep this info in mind 😀

  • Emily

    March 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    I didn’t get a tri suit or kit for my first tri. I just wore a one piece with compression shorts over it for the swim, and pulled on some mesh shorts over them for the bike and ride (to cover the wobbly bits). So, you certainly can pull something ON during a race, but never OFF! 😉

    • Swim Bike Mom

      March 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm

      Of course you “can”…. but it’s not a good use of precious time or energy—-putting on DRY shorts on a wet body is an event in itself. 🙂

  • Jess

    March 20, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Great post! I especially like your tip on keeping perspective and being grateful. It’s so easy to focus on what’s going wrong in my training or what hurts or what I can’t do. I think that gaining perspective, embracing the suck and appreciating how amazing our bodies are for being able to train for and compete in triathlons is key. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Mary Beth

    September 2, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    I just signed up for my first triathlon today. This was great advise. I need to work more on clipping in and out. It is the hardest thing for me. Thanks for the tips! I have 5 weeks to go before my race so, some practice time is needed.

  • Rita Paladino

    September 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Great tips.. thanks…. I did my first Olympic distance this August took 4 min ok T1.. bc I was scared of riding without my biking shorts, it was an adventure to out those in all wet and all …. hahaha

  • Jennifer

    September 8, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Last month, I decided that I was going to do a triathlon. Up until 3 weeks ago, I thought all triathlons involved running 26.2 miles at the end. My knees can’t take that anymore! So I met a personal trainer who enlightened me to the fact that there are OTHER distances. YAY! So maybe triathlons are a new endeavor for me. So I’m planning on doing the Sprint distance Esprit De She (atleast so far), if it’s in Naperville in 2015. In doing all kinds of research online, I stumbled on this site. I love it, love the humor, love the advice, and love the honesty. I’ll be paying lots of attention to this site on a regular basis! Thanks! : )


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