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Advice For The Newbie Triathlete

No. 1: Never take yourself too seriously. We do this sport for fun. Very few of us are actually feeding our families via swim, bike and run.

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Those of us who are accustomed to smelling like chlorine or putting lube in all sorts of surprising places have some advice for you, the new triathlete.

One of the most common questions I am asked is: “What is your best advice for me—a newbie triathlete?” To which I usually respond, “When I started the sport, I was the size of a small whale. This irony was not lost on me when the best wetsuit for me was, in fact, an Orca brand wetsuit. In that wonderful moment, I learned to never take myself too seriously. That’s my best advice—never take yourself too seriously. We do this sport for fun. Very few of us are actually feeding our families via swim, bike and run.”

During my first triathlon in 2010, I learned that a low-speed tip-over on the bike in front of a crowd is a normal rite of passage. I did not, contrary to my belief at the time, die from embarrassment. I did find that forgetting to tie my shoes before the run can prove slightly problematic. I also learned that a tri top can actually ride up just like a 1980s midriff—so it’s a good idea to practice in your race clothing unless you like the Richard Simmons look on race day. I also found out the hard way that using a Porta-Potty is more difficult than one might think—especially when sweaty and wearing a one-piece tri suit.

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As a seasoned triathlete, a great gesture is passing along tips to newbies. Along my way I have received some fantastic little nuggets of tri wisdom:

– Lubricate anything that moves on your bike or your body.

– Practice clipping in and out of your bike pedals until you can handle it without thinking.

– Sometimes a small, dry towel is a little piece of heaven in a salty, wet world. Have a small towel in transition to wipe your face, your nose or your feet (or all three—in that order, preferably).

– Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do. Translation: If you didn’t train properly, don’t sulk when you didn’t have the race you wanted.

– Practice everything you will do in the race before the race. Practice taking off your wetsuit. Test run your on-the-bike fueling.

– Open-water swimming needs practice in advance of race day. End of story. Cold water can be shocking, especially if you have only trained in a pool. If the water is chilly and the race allows it, get in before your swim wave starts, go in waist deep, bend over and put your face in the water (much like when you wash your face) and blow some bubbles. This small act really helps prepare the body for the cold without shocking your whole system.

– Do not worry about how you look in your tri suit or wetsuit. Everyone else feels self-conscious, too—just carry on.

– Wear sunscreen.

– Put your goggles on your head before your swim cap. The cap will keep your goggles in place in the event of being knocked around a little in the swim start.

– Keep your swim cap on your head! Did you know that you can get a four-minute penalty for losing your swim cap, a.k.a. gear abandonment? Me neither! (Until I was informed by a USAT official after my last 70.3 when I lost my cap.)

– Make a list of what you need for race day (and travel). Check it. And then check it 4,102 more times.

– Have a bottle of plain water with you at all times at a race site. You never know when you need a swig, a wash or a squirt for a number of reasons.

– Become a professional at time management and consistency. Teach yourself to complete workouts early in the morning. Your success, sometimes, will not hinge on how hard you train but rather on your ability to fit training consistently into your life without feeling selfish. Tackle your workout early in the morning, before the kids or the boss can find you.

– Do triathlon because you love it. (Or, do it to show any haters that you are better than them.) However your motivation begins, it’s still motivation and that is a good thing.

– Be brave, be thankful and make declarations that you can and will meet your goals. Find a race and register—set your goals early and work hard toward them.

– Remember: swim + bike + run = triathlete. You don’t have to do an Ironman to earn the title.

– Don’t forget that you were a person (spouse, child, brother, sister, friend, mother, etc.) before you were a triathlete. Don’t forget the people in your life who matter—those “sherpas” who will cheer you across the finish lines for, hopefully, years to come. In the event that you currently have no such sherpas, find a local tri club or group—you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll have tri family there for you.

– Finally, remember to be grateful for the body you have now, and the amazing work it does for you—each and every day—not just in triathlon.

More Beginner’s Luck from Meredith Atwood


Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is a 2015 Klean Team USA member, lives in Atlanta and blogs at