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Every Wednesday in “Rookie in Training,” beginner triathlete Jason Devaney will share training advice he learns as he trains for his first half-Ironman.
You know how to swim, but not very well. The fastest (and only) bike you own is a mountain bike your parents bought you for Christmas five years ago. You can run three miles, but that’s about it. And you want to do a triathlon. Sound familiar?
Many of us started out like this. For those of you who are partaking in the sport for the first time this year, you’ve made an excellent choice because it’s a great sport. Triathlon is like golf: with a little training, it’s a sport than everyone can do. None of us will ever win the U.S. Open, just as we won’t ever be on the top step (or any step) of a race podium. But that doesn’t make it any less fun.
With this in mind, I wanted to go over some of the basic things new triathletes need to know. Believe me, there’s A LOT to know in this sport. But for newbies, all it takes are a few basics on gear selection and knowing a few terms to put them in the right spot.
RELATED: Beginner Triathlon Gear Checklist
You don’t need a spaceman-looking aero helmet and $500 cycling shoes to compete in a triathlon. A basic helmet and shoes, along with a simple triathlon outfit, will do just fine.
If your bike doesn’t have pedals that allow you to clip in, don’t worry one bit: just wear your running shoes for the bike. There are one-piece triathlon outfits that might work, but the best starting option is probably a simple pair of triathlon shorts and a top. These are made of a spandex-like material.
“Tri clothes are designed to be used in all three sports,” said Steve Makranczy, the co-owner of Transition Triathlon in Leesburg, Va. “The shorts have a seat pad like cycling shorts but it’s thinner and designed to drain water quickly so it won’t be in the way on the run. You’ll use the clothes even if you don’t race again. You can ride or run in it and it’s great for a spinning or yoga class.”
A triathlon bike worth $10,000 would be nice to have, but you will be perfectly fine using that old mountain bike. Riding even a road bike, which has very thin tires, takes some getting used to. Your mountain bike puts your more upright in the seat and since you’re used to riding it, stick with this for your first race (a sprint, I recommend).
Just one thing: It would be a good idea to bring your bike to a shop to get everything checked out. A mechanic can clean and oil the chain and check your tires and brakes. It’s also a good idea to learn how to do those things yourself. Maintenance is an important of owning a bike. A dry, rusty chain will lead to a slow bike time and it wears out the drivetrain.
“Assuming that they are planning on doing a shorter race, we always recommend that they use whatever bike they have,” Makranczy said. “If they’re pretty sure that they want to get serious about the sport or if they’re planning on a longer first race, we talk to them about the different benefits of road and triathlon bikes.”
Don’t be intimidated by other people when you’re setting up your transition area. There will always be some very fast people with some very expensive (and fancy looking) stuff. Believe me: We all started at the bottom.
Case in point: My first bike when I started in this sport was a 10-year-old, bright yellow road bike that looked like a school bus. I thought it was the coolest thing.
The bike course can sometimes be a bit crazy with a lot of people on the road. Always remember to ride on the right side of the lane. If you need to pass someone, always look over your left shoulder to see if anyone is coming. If it’s clear, pull to the left, yell “On your left!” and make your pass. Then move back to the right.
If you hear someone yell “On your left!” that doesn’t mean you should look to the left. It means there’s another cyclist trying to pass you. Hold your line and let him or her pedal by.
I know someone who was in a bad bike crash last year because when he announced he was passing another rider, the person freaked out and crashed into him.
Above all, Makranczy said having fun is the key to a successful triathlon debut.
“I think the most important thing when you’re getting started is to not take it too seriously,” he said. Look around for others who have the same ambition. The positive energy from the people in the sport is the best part for many triathletes.
“On race day, make sure you look around and take it all in! It’s going to be a ton of fun.”
Jason Devaney is a freelance contributor to Triathlete.com, VeloNews.com and Competitor.com. A resident of Virginia, he spends way too much of his free time training. When he’s working, he’s typically dressed in either sweatpants or a cycling kit. Follow him on Twitter @jason_devaney1.
Looking for a triathlon to sign up for this year? Check out our partner, the TriRock Series. Their eight events feature a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.