We know the intimidation factor in triathlon is substantial. If you’ve ever told someone you’re considering doing a triathlon—or that you (gasp!) just completed one—you’ve likely been met with an incredulous stare followed by remarks about your intrepidness. Most people don’t realise that the triathlete’s mentality is obtainable—relatable, even. In fact, this mindset can be easily achieved by following some basic, tangible tenets that we outline here. If you’re just getting into the sport, here’s your cheat sheet for a smooth, enjoyable entry. If you’ve been doing triathlon for a while, consider this a refresher course.
By Mackenzie Madison
1. Be a spectator at a race.
You can learn a lot from watching a triathlon unfold. You’ll get to see how racers transition from each discipline to the next, what types of equipment people are using, and get a general grasp of what a triathlon entails from start to finish. You’ll see racers of all shapes, ages and athletic abilities, which will give you a confidence boost and promote the belief that, “If they can do it, I can do it.” Triathlon is a sport of trial and error—you can learn from other people’s successes and errors just as you can from your own. By attending a race, you’ll get a serious dose of motivation and education on the basics of triathlon.
2. Rally your supporters.
Surround yourself with people who can give you solid triathlon advice, answer questions, introduce you to other triathletes within your community and just support you in general. Consider joining a triathlon club; the number of community clubs and teams is exploding. Also, there are programmes such as Team In Training that provide training guidance and structure while you fund raise for a charitable cause. Another option is to get a coach to help guide you through all the training, gear and racing. Take the time to seek out training partners and people who can support you in triathlon. You’ll soak up tonnes of information and likely meet some lifelong friends along the way.
3. Don’t expect instant perfection.
Like almost everything in life, nothing runs perfectly all the time. Most triathlon races and workouts will have their glitches. Triathlon involves three sports, so mastering each leg of a triathlon takes some time. Don’t expect your first bike ride, run or swim to be easy. You might find that your new pair of goggles doesn’t fit right, or you can’t get your heart rate monitor to work, or you get a side stitch running and can’t finish the workout. Starting out on a triathlon bike also requires some patience as you navigate the learning curve.
4. Become a student of the sport.
Ask questions. Lots of them. Start out with the basics and then dive into the more detailed information with time and experience. Learn the triathlon lingo—what does T1 stand for? Learn how to change a flat tyre. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to decipher power data when you’re just starting out. Figure out what you need to know and graduate your knowledge at an appropriate pace. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the gear, technology, training and (sometimes conflicting) advice, so make sure you ease yourself into the sport by building a solid foundation on the basics.
5. Celebrate the little improvements.
Improvement comes with time, energy and consistency. Monitor any progress in your times for certain workouts, perhaps your 500-metre swim time or your 5K run time, and enjoy the little victories. Or just be happy about feeling less tired after your long ride or being able to run that extra mile during your long run. Track what you’ve accomplished, how you feel and notice your improvements, however big or small.
6. Train your mind.
You are in control of your thoughts and actions. By visualising and creating positive self-images of finishing a triathlon or keeping up during a group ride, you are more likely to actualise those end results. Starting off on the right foot and thinking positively about triathlon and your ability will set you up for further positive experiences. You’ll enjoy triathlon more and see better results.
7. Don’t obsess about the competition.
While it’s healthy to embrace your competitive spirit, don’t blindly hold yourself to the same standards as everyone in your age group. Progress is what makes triathlon so addictive; you’ll find you’re always evolving as an athlete. If you come out of the water two minutes behind your age-group leader, don’t sweat it. Maybe she was a star university swimmer. You can’t control that. What you can control is your own ability and how you will play to your strengths.
8. Make realistic goals.
Setting too many overly ambitious goals right out of the gate will set you up for not being able to accomplish any of them. Make smaller, more realistic goals along your journey to achieve the bigger ones. Run that mile repeat a couple seconds faster, try an open-water swim or go down the hill in your aerobars. Successfully overcoming obstacles during intimidating moments throughout training and racing will propel you forward by miles.
Mackenzie Madison is an Oregon-based pro triathlete, cycling coach and certified coach with Zoom Performance.