Tackling your first triathlon might seem like the scariest and hardest thing ever. But don’t be daunted—you can do hard things!
by Meredith Atwood
In my first triathlon, I forgot my swim cap, fell over on my bike in transition and was the slowest runner out there. Guess what? It was awesome! I was changed forever that day—I could not believe how amazing I felt, the power that finish (no matter how slow) instilled in me, and the path that race put me on. Only one word comes to mind: epic.
Here are my top 10 tips/beliefs to help you get to that finish line—and perhaps, a little bit more gracefully than I did. (But don’t worry if you don’t do it gracefully either—great things can still be still in store.)
You can do hard things.
Most of us manage to survive life, work difficult jobs, commute in ridiculous traffic, take care of family and community—yet we have convinced ourselves that we cannot swim, bike or run from one point to another in a little race called a triathlon. Truth: if you can grocery shop on the day before Thanksgiving, you can do a triathlon.
For whatever reason—a life of klutziness, past history, someone told us so—it becomes easy to convince ourselves that something is too difficult, or we are too clumsy/slow/overweight/old/young to accomplish something. The first step is getting your mind straight.
“The words you speak become the house you live in.” – Hafiz
Choose carefully the words you are saying to yourself, because truly that is the house you are living in. Instead of “I could never do a triathlon,” begin to repeat, “Of course I can do a triathlon! I can do hard things! I do hard things all the time.”
If you do nothing but course-correct your negative thinking, you have made the first step not only to reaching your triathlon goals, but accomplishing even more in day-to-day life.
Decide to become a triathlete.
Instead of just setting out to “do” a triathlon, you are making a bigger leap. You are deciding to become someone—an athlete, an athlete who does three sports! Literally, a triathlete.
Deciding to become a triathlete is determining to align yourself with a group of individuals who pursue sport, compete, do hard things and (for the most part) live healthy lifestyles. It is important for us mere mortals to decide to do the same. In deciding to become a triathlete, you are deciding to make some big life changes that will spill into other areas of your life for years and year to come.
Tell someone (yes, really).
We spend a ridiculous amount of energy these days worried about what other people think of us. Between social media and the Joneses, it seems that we are in a constant state of competition with who knows who and for what. So I get it—it might feel impossible or hard to actually tell someone that you are going to do a triathlon, let alone become a triathlete.
See Number 1 (you can do hard things) and tell someone that you are going to become a triathlete. Of course, someone might say something snotty (they did to me), but that’s okay. People will project their fears and insecurities onto others; what they do isn’t your concern. What you do is your business.
Well, why do I have to tell anyone, then?
Because it’s important to speak this triathlon truth to someone (see Number 1, again). When you decide to pursue something, you have created a small amount of accountability in this declaration that you will.
Set your goals.
Goal setting can be daunting, but I recommend finding a goal you can tackle quickly—and then do it.
Whether it’s walking a 5K or taking those swim lessons you need, take action and make the first move. Every small goal you accomplish is drastic forward motion in the direction of your first triathlon.
Put your money down.
Go ahead and register for that first triathlon. Yes, it might seem crazy—but putting your money where your mouth is? Well, it’s another step in the right direction. You are betting in favor of your change and the possibilities that can happen with this brave and bold move.
Next, make sure you register for your USA Triathlon membership along with the race (even if it’s not sanctioned by USAT). Why? Because then you are part of the triathlon world—just by joining! And you will have access to resources and new friends—instantly. Do some searching on the internet and find some local clubs or online Facebook groups for support. IRONMAN U is also a fantastic resource for both finding a coach and learning the basics.
You will figure out what comes next (I promise) with some diligence, reading and resources—but go ahead pay for your registration. Again, this small motion sets your trajectory into further motion.
Consistency is key.
Depending on the amount of time you have until that first race, you want to swim, bike and run a few times a week. At a minimum, make sure you are doing each sport at least once a week—and your weakest sport two times a week. If you don’t know how to swim, the easiest way to get there is to get some coaching. If you don’t know how to ride a bike well, keep practicing. Yes, adults do these things too!
The important thing is to go at your pace! If that is a “slow jog” or a walk that’s okay! People walk on the run all the time. You need not “race”—this is bigger than a finish line—this is about changing your life (whether you realize it or not).
The key to getting to that race day is consistency—hitting your workouts, doing your training and showing up every day where you can and not allowing excuses to get in your way.
Find the humor in all the things.
Remember to find the funny in your training, the foibles and bloopers that will inevitably appear—even long-time triathletes have ridiculous adventures. Don’t worry about looking cool out there—no one (and I mean no one) actually looks cool in a wet tri suit. We are all just out there doing the best we can with what we’ve got!
Be smart, safe and a student.
Listen to your body, put safety first always and learn about triathlon (be a student) as much as you can. Listen to podcasts, read books, and join triathlon clubs or groups to help you. There are many seasoned triathletes out there who are more than willing to help you out with tips and tricks, best places to ride your bike locally and more. So tap into those resources.
Stop comparing yourself to anyone—including yourself.
Where you are, right now, is where you are. This does not mean you will stay there forever, but it does mean that you are you—and you go from here. Comparing ourselves to faster athletes or even a “better” version of our past selves is detrimental to moving forward and making the best progress you can. Stay in the moment, work towards your goals, and don’t waste time comparing your start to someone else’s finish.
Race with a happy and grateful heart.
This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received from my first triathlon coach. Recognizing that race day is a celebration of the body we have (no matter what it looks like, no matter what speed it goes) is tantamount to a long life in this sport. Starting race day with the recognition that everything may not go perfectly, but we can race happy and be grateful is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.