Beginner’s Luck: 8 Things You Need to Know Before Your First Tri

Here's what you really need to know ahead of your first triathlon.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

In a recent column, I shared my foolproof secret to becoming a triathlete. In another, I shared even more secrets about consistency and boredom.

But what about actually doing that first triathlon? Are you on tap for your first this season? Well, race season is upon us, and many of us are embarking on our first triathlons this season—and that is wicked exciting—and terrifying—and amazing! Here are a few things that I think every budding triathlete should know before his or her race.

1. It’s Other People’s First Triathlon, Too

At the start of of a local women’s triathlon each year, the local race director asks, “Who is going to be a triathlete for the first time today?” I wish every RD would ask that before a sprint triathlon race—because I swear, there is always a good chunk of people tackling their first on the same day you are.

You aren’t alone. Even if you are alone (which you aren’t), everyone else had their first tri at one point, too. For the most part, triathletes are a really kind and welcoming bunch. You can ask anyone at the start of the race to help ease your mind, and they will. Unless they are a newbie—in that case—you both can go find an experienced person and hold their hands. I am not joking. At every race I attend, I look around and if I see someone who looks terrified, I will go talk with them. I remember exactly that feeling of terror. You really are not alone.

2. You Look Silly. (And So Does Everyone Else!)

Seriously. We are all wet, wearing Spandex and sitting on a bike or running down the road. Everyone in the entire race looks silly. Imagine what people from another planet would think if they visited us and saw that spectacle. The whole crowd would look insane, not just you. Don’t worry about what you look like.

Focus on the goal—which is the end of the race, and enjoying it.

3. Swim Bike Run—in that order, unless the Race Director says differently.

Remember that the task at hand is what’s important. When you are swimming, don’t think about running. When you are cycling, don’t think about running.

Break the race up into five parts:

transition 1
transition 2
– run

And do those parts when it’s time. If you bite off a piece of the elephant at a time, it makes the whole picture much easier.

4. Triathlon is Not the End of the World

If you don’t finish? So what. If you finish slow? So what. If you don’t beat that obnoxious girl who has it coming? Don’t worry about it. No matter the outcome, it’s “just” a race. But really. Life does go on. It does. Keep perspective.

5. Wear One Thing and Don’t Change Your Clothes

My number one blog post and article is about what to wear. Truth. It’s a real problem—especially for the gals in the room. Tight and stretchy clothes are really difficult to swallow for a first race. This article helps break it down a little. But the name of the game is wear one thing, and forget the rest.

6. You Should Care About Your Safety–Above All Else

Triathlon actually is a slightly dangerous sport. This is not to scare you, but rather to make room for gibing the sport the respect it requires. Take your safety very seriously in a race. Take care of yourself.  Don’t endanger yourself just for a personal record.  If you feel terrible then take pause–and ask yourself what’s going on. Pay attention. Know your body. And be careful on the bike course. Don’t be careless. Be safe, be smart and be a student of triathlon (e.g., learn the triathlon rules, follow them, the end.) Go here to read more tips.

7. You Should Care NEXT about Enjoying Yourself

We have chosen triathlon for many reasons—the fun, the challenge, and more. Remember to have a sense of humor and enjoy yourself. When it feels difficult, remember why you started. In the end, just don’t forget that it’s a race–not the end (or the beginning) of the world.

8.  Just Keep Moving Forward

All day, all race, remember to keep your eyes ahead and your heart happy. Just keep moving forward–and never give up. You can do this!

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours, a show which interviews interesting people who make the best of the 24 hours in each day. You can download a free triathlon race day checklist here. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at

Jan Frodeno Reflects on His Final Ironman World Championship

Immediately after finishing 24th place at his final Ironman World Championships, the Olympic medalist (and three-time IMWC winner) explains what his race in Nice meant to him.