Seeing that I compete more than I spectate I rarely have the opportunity to see what other athletes are doing during the race. I thought I would take some time and offer some tips for common triathlon newbie mistakes.
1) Nutrition - Be sure you don't over do it for nutrition for a sprint distance triathlon. 1 water bottle of sport drink on the bike will do the trick and rely on one or two aid stations for water to be used for cooling. No gels, bars or fuel belts are needed.
2) Transitions - This isn't an Ironman! You only need a few things for a sprint triathlon. Aside from the obvious (running shoes, bike, helmet and goggles) don't forget shoes for cycling, sunglasses for the bike and run and your cap which is usually provided in your race packet. I use to wear a visor for the run but I found I was losing a bit of time to put on the visor and with the sunglasses I really didn't need a visor for such a short run. The visor/hat is up to you, but i do think it makes a cute accessory to your race outfit. Don't forget lace locks for the shoes and a race belt for your number. Most of all-be sure your bar ends have plugs in them!
3) Gearing - More importantly than knowing how to shift your gears is knowing when to shift your gears. Be sure that you always keep a steady cadence regardless if you are going up or downhill or on a flat. The big Chain ring works best on flat courses but be sure you aren't in the heaviest gear. Small chain ring for big climbs. Your left gear shifter will change you from the big to small chain ring. YOu will find that you will spend most of your time changing the right gear shifter. Just be sure you aren't pedaling your legs off. Find a gear which you can apply some power to those pedals.
4) Clothing - I can't say it enough "if you look good you race fast". But please don't take this to mean a skimpy bikini to wear during the entire triathlon. Wear something which you feel comfortable in during the entire triathlon. Many people prefer bathing suits/sport tops and bottoms. I like one-piece trisuits from zoot. When searching for racing clothes, look for "triathlon" clothing and not cycling clothes. You want to avoid the padded cycling shorts for a sprint triathlon as well as loose cycling jersey's. Find a good triathlon clothing company (such as zoot) and spend a little money on several racing outfits.
5) Enjoying the post-race activities - I find that the competitive athletes who don't get awards seem to bail out before the awards ceremony. You don't have to stay for the entire ceremony but spend some time at the post-race function and meet some other athletes. Not only will you have an opportunity to eat lots of yummy food but you can enjoy the accomplishment of your race with hundreds of other athletes. And even if you don't do well, find a newbie and congratulate him/her on becoming a member of the triathlon world. The best thing about racing a lot is running into the same people at races. Knowing people at races is one of the best relaxers and mood-lifters for a triathlon.
6) Courses - Know the course map. The first couple triathlons were scary for me because I had no idea where I was going for the swim, bike and run. I just followed the many people ahead of me. Once I started racing Elite and participating in endurance events I realized that I can't always rely on the person ahead of me cause their may be times when there is no one ahead of you. While cops and volunteers usually do an excellent job of keeping you on the course, you can tremendously improve your racing time if you know where you are going. In addition to viewing the course map, check out the terrain of the course. Will you be climbing on the bike, should you anticipate a trail run, how many buoys are in the water before you finish the swim? Not only will you ensure yourself a safer race but less accidents will occur if everyone was aware of their surrounding. Oh-and you can be like me and check the weather ahead of time. Gotta know which way the winds are going!
I hope this blog was useful. For triathlon veteran's this information is nothing new. But when more and more people are getting into triathlons, it is never to early to educate a friend who could be a future triathlete.
*I want to give my condolences to the friends and family of Joshua Kuck (USF Cycling team) who lost his life on sunday at the Hilly 100 ride. Karel was not far behind Josh before a truck hit Josh's rear bike wheel. While cyclists and triathletes are always risking their lives by doing something that they love, please be careful and safe when training.