5 Beginner Lessons From “Newbie” Triathlete Alan Webb

Former professional runner Alan Webb shares the mistakes and learnings from his first season as a triathlete.

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Even though Alan Webb is one of America’s most accomplished runners and grew up swimming competitively, by most definitions he was a triathlon newbie when he dove into the sport this summer after retiring from professional running in February. Most newbies try a sprint or Olympic-distance race their first season, but Webb got on the fast track and started competing in the no-room-for-error draft-legal ITU racing circuit. Along the way, he learned some things the hard way just like the rest of us. Below, he shares the mistakes and learnings from his first season as a triathlete. (Look out for a full feature on Webb’s path to multisport in our February issue.)

1. Swim: You may get scratched in the eyeball. “Triathlon swimming is a contact sport. You will get pushed, pulled, hit, etc. Do not let this bother you. Accept this and move forward. Learn to enjoy the group setting and let the group help guide you (unless you are in the lead). Part of the challenge of triathlon is learning to use these situations to help you. I learned this the hard way when I scratched my cornea during the swim at the Kelowna Continental Cup after an elbow (or head or shoulder or foot) hit me in the eye.”

2. Bike: Don’t lose hope when you’re behind. “In ITU racing you are allowed to draft, and staying motivated in your group as you try to catch a group in front of you can pay off. In my two best races (runner-up at the Magog, Canada Continental Cup and top 10 at the Tongyeong South Korea World Cup), my group eventually merged with the lead pack and I had a fighting chance on the run. This might be different for a non-draft race but the lesson is the same: Keep plugging away knowing that hope is a powerful weapon.”

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3. Run: Being a good runner doesn’t automatically make you a good triathlon runner. “You are different runner when you get off a bike. This seems obvious, but being a successful runner I had to learn (and am still learning) how to get my running legs after biking hard. Some triathletes that are experienced can actually run better off of the bike then fresh, but it takes practice so do workouts that work on this.”

4. Transition: Looking at your feet could lead to a face plant. “Be calm and fast in transition. Speed is obviously the goal, but get your mind right first to avoid a penalty or a collision with another athlete that could have been avoided by staying cool and collected. When you get out on the bike after T1 and are getting your bike shoes on, keep your eyes up the road and do not look down at your feet. I made this mistake when I did the mixed team relay in Sarasota (my first triathlon experience) and I ended up with my face on the sidewalk. Your bike will go where your eyes go. Practice getting those feet in the shoes without looking so when you get in the race you will know how it feels to keep your eyes on the road and get your feet set up on your bike. (The same goes for getting your feet out of the shoes before T2.)”

5. Travel: Keep your cool at the airport. “When you encounter problems with air travel and want to throw your bike case at the airport attendant think, ‘kill them with kindness.’ Credit this to top American ITU athlete Erin Jones when she reminded a group of tired traveling triathletes trying to get rebooked on our way back from Alayna, Turkey. That return trip was almost 40 hours when all said and done. Stress takes away energy and getting upset only compounds the problem. Every amount of energy you save while traveling will be available for the race.”

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