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7 Things You Need To Know Before Your First Triathlon (From An Ironman Champion!)

Meredith Kessler
10X Ironman Champion By Meredith Kessler

In the past 10 years, the sport of triathlon has grown in regions all over the world. More and more countries are represented by athletes at the biggest races of the season including the Ironman Kona World Championships, Challenge Roth, and the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

The draw of a triathlon race is the challenge of trying to master three distinct disciplines, swimming, biking, and running. You may be sitting there thinking, How can I get into triathlon racing as someone who has limited or no experience in the sport?

As an athlete looking for a new sport, straight out of college, I was once in your shoes. I toiled away for 10 years as an average age-group athlete competing in events but with no specific plan or proper regimen. Today, I have competed in 50 full Ironman races all over the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Here are a few tips based on my trials and tribulations on how to approach and jump into the enriching sport of triathlon!

1. Join a training group.

Do your research and find a triathlon training group near where you live. Trying out a new sport is easier when you to seek out motivation and helpful advice from others. Although triathlon is an individual sport when racing, the support of family, friends, and training partners makes the journey that much more rewarding.

2. Ask questions.

This seems obvious yet individuals fail to do so in key instances that could help reduce the time it takes to reach their goals. How do you take off your wetsuit? How do you clip into your bike pedals? What do I wear? These are all things I wondered at one point in time. Even as a professional I still ask questions because you cannot always absorb and know everything about the ins and outs of the sport.

3. Find a coach.

After you get comfortable with the basics, seek out a coach with a proven track record of putting athletes in positions to achieve their triathlon goals. I toiled for many years as a chronic exerciser, but I was not training for triathlon with a purpose; there is a huge difference! Even if it is just a weekly plan, it gives you something to follow and then evaluate at the end of the year.

4. Learn what you need for nutrition, fuel, and hydration.

In a triathlon, knowing the difference between your everyday food intake, what fuels your training, and hydration needs can mean the difference between a successful race or a disastrous march to the finishing chute. Practice what you are going to do in a race before the big day. I incorporated Red Bull into my training before using it on the bike and run during a race. The vitamins and caffeine contained in Red Bull are much better than sugar water and helped to propel me to the finish line. It was imperative that I made sure to try this through practice and more practice.

5. Remember: it's a marathon, not a sprint.

A triathlon is a journey that, for some people, can last a lifetime. You learn something new every time you race. Start off your racing with a sprint triathlon with friends and ease into the sport. As the triathlon bug grows bigger, tackle longer-distance races!

6. Practice balance and moderation.

With anything in life, you need to balance what is important with your extracurricular activities. Yes, it is important to train and prepare for your race. However, don’t miss out on that friend’s night out or family get-together because of it. Remember what is dear to you and your life. Triathlon will always be there.

7. Enjoy the ride.

The sport is filled with intense highs and perplexing lows. This is part of the reason so many athletes are overcome with emotions as they cross the finish line. They have invested a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears into their particular journey. They have exuded ample pride, gumption, dedication, and drive in their approach to the start line. If you want the opportunity to feel human and persevere through a range of emotions, you will enjoy the ride through your own triathlon journey!

Photo courtesy of the author

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