3 Points to Keep Top of Mind for a Top Triathlon Experience

If you’re still early in your triathlon experience (and even if you’re not), there are three key points to always keep top of mind in trying to create a positive race day experience:

1. Open Water Swimming is Different than Pool Swimming

Understandably, many new triathletes find open water swimming to be intimidating. When you go from a defined lap area with clear water and a solid black line for guidance to murky waters with hundreds of others around you, it’s bound to rattle nerves in even experienced triathletes. 

One of my biggest pieces of advice to new triathletes: Practice open water swimming.

It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how many athletes begin an open-water swim triathlon without ever swimming in open water. Many triathlon clubs offer opportunities to practice open-water situations.

Attending these sessions can allow new (and experienced) athletes opportunities to become comfortable swimming with others around them, sighting for the buoys, and practicing swimming in a straight line – all skills which can adversely affect time if not handled effectively.

2. You Don’t Need Top-of-the-Line Gear

It’s tempting for new triathletes to purchase a top-of-the-line wetsuit, a sleek bike, and an aerodynamic helmet.

However, dropping high dollar amounts on new gear to participate in a triathlon early in your career is not necessary.  In fact, I discourage new athletes from making large purchases to compete in their first events. 

I completed my first triathlon event without a tri suit, wetsuit, or tri bike, and had no clips on my bike pedals. My apparel included old volleyball shorts and a running tank top for the swim, bike, and run portions and my tennis shoes for the bike and run legs. 

My “big purchase” for the event was Yankz shoe laces so that I wouldn’t have to tie my shoes after coming out of the lake.  It was still an amazing experience. Later as I continued in the sport, I gradually upgraded my gear. 

For every athlete, whether it be their first or fifteenth event, I encourage them to focus their energy and attention on the “engine.”  Your body is the engine that powers you through the race. 

Certainly the advancements in triathlon gear offer an edge to the detail-oriented triathlete looking to drop a few minutes off their personal best. But even the best gear cannot overcome a lack of training and preparation. 

I have seen a well-prepared athlete without all of the expensive “bells and whistles” pass athletes who “looked the part” but were underprepared. The gear is nice and the gear is fun, but ultimately, it’s not about the gear.

3. Practice Your Transitions

I’ve seen it too many times: Triathletes enter the transition area on race morning and immediately become lost puppies.  They look around to see what everybody else is setting out, and have not had one prior thought to the layout of their gear for T1 and T2. 

The triathlon transition is sometimes referred to as the sport’s fourth discipline.

They require planning and practice. 

A prepared athlete will practice their swim-to-bike and bike-to-run transitions so they’ll not only know how their body reacts to the changes from discipline to discipline, but will also be prepared for the required gear changes. 

Keeping these three points top of mind can improve a new triathlete’s event experience and, in the process, avoid breaking the bank!

It’s hard to top that!


TriDot Takeaway: A coach can help ease the mind of new triathletes and answer questions about preparations for a positive first race experience.


Elizabeth James is an Ironman, a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach, and a TriDot Coach. She made the transition from running marathons to triathlon in 2012 and has completed sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and full Ironman distances. She and her husband, Charles, live in Garland, Texas.

U.S. patents pending. Trademarks of Predictive Fitness, LLC include TriDot, TrainX, RaceX, EnviroNorm, and IronIndex.

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