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So, you’re going to tri. Congratulations for embarking on an adventure that will almost certainly lead to a lifelong triathlon addiction. You’ve probably already collected a litany of tips from magazines, online forums, and other triathletes, causing your head to spin. It can all seem complicated and confusing. What if, however, your best advice came in the form of what not to do? What if you’re thinking about this too hard?
If you watch a pro triathlete transition from the swim to the bike, she’s only doing two things: removing her swim gear, and putting on her helmet. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be more complicated. (OK, yes, packing your Ironman bags has to be more complicated, but not every triathlon transition needs to be tricky.) In that spirit, let’s simplify your first race experience—and your headspace, in general—and make some suggestions about what you don’t need.
Cycling gloves, whether half- or full-fingered, are designed for protection against abrasions in a crash. They also absorb shock, which is advantageous for longer rides, but it’s not worth the time during races to wriggle them onto wet hands, which is why you almost never see gloves (unless it’s very cold) in triathlon.
Yes, you’ve likely seen some massive setups at your local race, with some industrious athletes colonizing upwards of five square feet with spa amenities. Foot pails, towels, bath mats, dinette sets. When did the memo go out that T1 is an ideal time for a pedicure?
It’s true that wet, sandy, and dirty feet might portend blisters, and we understand the desire to get them clean after that barefoot run across the beach and grass, but transitions are too frenzied for perfection. A quick one-two swipe of your soles against your opposite calf should suffice. And if you just freaked out reading that advice, then a smallish towel in T1 is kosher—as long as you don’t spend too long with it, and as long as you don’t fear that your race is over if it disappears or if your neighbor already commandeered it.
SPF is extremely important. It’s widely recommended that we apply and reapply for all activity in the sun, all the time. For race day, you should obviously apply liberally before the race, which should last for multiple hours if you use a sweat- or water-proof variety. And if you’re going to be out there longer, then know that most Ironman-distance races have reapplication on course or as you exit to the run. Don’t complicate things in your transition.
4. Body Glide
5. Extra Nutrition for the Bike
It should all be on your bike. During sprint or Olympic tris, you’ll only need to eat one to three times on the bike, and it should all fit on your frame. If you don’t have a “bento box” for your top tube or a compartment built into the frame, then you can attach a couple of gels with electrical tape. (You don’t need to necessarily stick raw bars or chews right on your top tube without their packaging, but you do you.) For longer races, you should have most of your nutrition already planned and stashed on your bike. You shouldn’t need to be stuffing extra bars into pockets.
Pro tip: After you deck out your bike with all your stuff on it, take it for a shakeout ride before your race. Actually, you should rehearse race day fueling a ton. Practice finagling the packages and opening your fuel storage, and practice consuming them while you’re pedaling fast.
6. Extra Hydration for the Bike
Your bottles should already be on your bike by the time you get to transition, and you should plan out how many you need in advance. Many new triathletes pack lots of extra bottles on their frames, seats, and in between their aerobars, rendering their steed unnecessarily heavy. Exactly how much to carry is highly race- and athlete-dependent, so you should test it in training and plan it with your coach, but there’s no need to stage extra bottles on the ground in transition.
7. Frame Pump
Again, many triathletes load up their beautiful bikes with unnecessary weight. Of course bring an extra tube and flat repair (ideally stuck small and discreetly out of the way), but learn to use CO2 cartridges or tubeless repair in advance, and practice to the point of confidence before race day.
8. Reflectors or Lights of Any Sort
Take your reflectors off the spokes of your race bike. If you’re riding any bike at night, let alone your race bike, and in some instances for safety during the day, then you definitely need-fore-and-aft lights (not just reflectors). But in a race? You don’t need to warn a car that you’re on the road. They can tell from all the signs up and, hopefully, from the police officers directing them where to (not) drive.
9. Hand-Held Water Bottle for the Run
Especially for a sprint or Olympic tri, there will be ample hydration on course. Even for longer races, most courses plan aid stations frequently. (The caveat here is: In COVID times, if you want to be self-sufficient, we get that.) But if you’re just worried about spilling, getting enough down, or picking up the right cup, then it will be more worth it to slow down through aid stations than to set up your own bottle in transition, which might disappear, will definitely get warm, and probably become annoying as the run goes on.
10. Helium Balloon
You’ll see at least one at every race: a balloon to mark someone’s transition spot. Don’t do it. It’s a bit self-centered to think your post-swim haze will be worse than anyone else’s. What if everyone erected a balloon? Much easier to simply run/jog the transition zone pre-race, and memorize your route from swim to bike and from bike to run. Plus, it’ll help you warm-up.
Many triathletes over-think their first race (and their second and third…), but you don’t need to make it so complicated. Hopefully, in all your pouring over others’ advice, you remembered the most important words of wisdom: Have fun! If you can’t have fun stumbling through your first triathlon, then why do it? And if you simplify things by minimizing your stuff in transition, there will be less upon which to stumble.