10 mistakes to avoid when preparing your first triathlon

In 2012, I run my first sprint triathlon, in Stockholm. Crossing the finish line, I was happy, tired and proud -even got a cool tee-shirt!-. But I was also a bit disappointed. It’s only when I actually run the triathlon that I realised how I should have trained. Here are the 10 mistakes I made, and what I think I should done instead, combined in a post I wish I read when I started training for my first triathlon.

1. Inform yourself about the triathlon.. the night before!

To be honest I don’t really remember why I decided to sign up for Stockholm sprint triathlon when I moved to Sweden, in January 2012. Well, it sounded cool (and it was!). At this time, I was working a lot, I didn’t had lots of free time. If I had read a bit about how to prepare for the triathlon a few months before and not the previous night, I could have optimised my training much more.

> Read a few tips before starting training for triathlon.

2. Wait the last minute to register 

It’s scary to register for the race early –what if I am not ready? what if I can not make it?- I registered myself only 2 weeks before the race. Big mistake.

The thing is, we all need commitments. Once you registered and paid the non refundable fee (50-100euros depending on the triathlon), you will feel more psychological -and financial!- pressure to get on your training.

> Commit to the goal and register early.

Do it now: here is the link to register to Stockhom triathlon.

3. “Forget” to train biking 

You may think “How stupid?”… To my defence, it’s easy to under-estimate the biking part as it seems much more easy than running or swimming.

Know the 80/20 rule? Whatever the triathlon distance you will run, biking will probably be almost half of your total time. Mathematically, it just makes more sense to practice more biking.

Other good point, it’s easier to progress: how difficult is it to loose 30sec by kilometre running? By training biking decently, you can probably improve your 20km time by 10min. I know I could have.

And it’s also the easiest to train: you can just start biking everywhere -if you can. Then add a 1h/week of biking outside of town, where you can push more.

> Listen to me, there is no reason not to train the biking bit the most.

4. Skip the gym

With stronger legs you can bike and swim much more efficiently without getting too tired. So once in a while, add a session that focusses on building muscles. Hit the gym or get an app that tells you which moves to repeat. Spinning can also be a fun way to strengthen your legs.

> Objective: strong legs

5. Go to the pool.

Of course, you should train swimming at the pool, BUT not only. Do train in open water as well.

Swimming in open water is REALLY different from swimming in a pool. First, you cannot push with your legs at the end of each line. Second, you have to fight against the small waves or currents created by the wind. Thirdly, you cannot stop at the end of the line! So you have to be able to swim the complete distance without taking a break.

> Do at least 3 outdoors training (lakes, sea…) before the race day.

6. Only train sports separately

Triathlon difficulty comes from the combination of sports in different environments and with different uses of your muscles. Apparently, the trickiest is to bike after swimming (I read somewhere that professional bikers should avoid baths and stuff like this… ). So it’s good to experience these sensations. For me, the most difficult was to start running after biking, for the first 500m I just had the feeling I was really really slow.

You don’t need to absolutely try swimming + biking + running, but at least try to train 2 sports combined. For example, bike to the pool and bike back. Or bike to the start of your run.

Practice with the correct distances a couple of times. Trust me, sensations are not the same when starting running if you biked 20 kilometres before or just 3…

> Train swimming + biking and biking + running at least twice each.

7. Ignore transitions

Time doesn’t stop during transitions: chronometer starts when you dip in the water and stops when you cross the finish line running. So how do you go from swimming mode to the start of biking without loosing too much time?

It will just be stressful if you have never done it before. You don’t want to end up the night before googling tips for triathlon transitions -my bad. Training them will also give you a good idea of how to organise your gear efficiently (where do you put the towel, the socks…in which order etc..).

> Even if you don’t run to break a record, practice transitions a couple of times.

8. Think about your gear 2 days before

No, you shouldn’t probably invest in a really 3 in 1 expensive suit. Can you a find a quite cheap swimsuit that still fits ok? Are your swimming googles comfortable enough? Does the organisation provide a swim cap? Which underwear under your swimsuit? Which short and tee-shirt that are easy to put on and good both for biking and running? Do not forget the biking helmet -mandatory-.

You also want to train the last weeks with the gear you will use. Do at least 1 or 2 sessions with your wetsuit if you will wear one on the day D as it requires you to swim a bit differently. Not running the triathlon at home? Rent the bike for 2 days and try it the day before.

> The last 2 weeks, train with your race gear.

9. Go solo

Difficult to keep going by yourself for several months. Try to convince a few friends to take the challenge with you. You can even run it in Relay which can be really fun.

Take the opportunity of a few team trainings/information points if they exist. Stockholm has some good ones, I wish I attended. It will also make you more relax on the D day if you have been able to ask questions before or get tips from experienced runners.

> Buddy up with friends or other competitors.

10. Set up a time target 

If you are reading this post, you may be preparing your first triathlon. Don’t put extra pressure on you, do not set up a time to reach. You will do this next year!

As they always say, you should not do it if you don’t enjoy it. Don’t be too hard on you if you have to skip one session, it will not prevent you from finishing the triathlon.

> Enjoy the challenge and have fun!

I hope my experience will help you prepare better for the triathlon and I am sure you will have lots of fun.

Note that I am not a doctor nor a triathlon professional, just an amateur sharing her experience. Always visit a doctor before starting training if you have not done it for a long time.

With not combining sport challenge and tourism? Discover Stockholm running its triathlon.

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