Choosing Your First Triathlon

Time to put your money where your mouth is. It’s sign up time – when all your thoughts and promises to do a triathlon actually become real. Now’s the time to pick a race, hand over your entry fee and mark it into your calendar!

Here are a few tips to choosing the perfect race. And to make sure you make it to the start line.

Have you ever begun to work toward something only to realize that you did not have the time, energy, or inspiration to finish your goal? Or worse, have you ever exhausted yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually so that you can accomplish a goal, only to realize that you didn’t enjoy getting there?

Choosing Your First Triathlon

Set a Realistic Goal

You’ve got to set a realistic goal if you want to succeed in the multisport arena. Now, “realistic” is different for everyone; what might be realistic for one individual is totally insane for someone else.

Everyone has unique responsibilities with regards to work, family, and community. The trick is to determine a commitment level that could create a balanced lifestyle and not lead to stress.

The more focused you are to obtain your goal, the better your odds. For instance, you might have specific times you would like to finish each leg of a triathlon in, as well as a finishing time.

There’s nothing wrong with having several goals, as long as you are realistic about your time and capabilities. For now, though, why not concentrate on one chief goal?

Now, here are a few questions that will guide you on what goal that must be.

What is the ideal distance for me?

Consider your present fitness level. Set your race goal but don’t set it too high above your present fitness level, most especially if your base training is just minimal.

Are you prepared to put in the training that is necessary prior to attempting a Sprint or Olympic-distance triathlon? If you’re not, how about a relay? Do you have adequate time to prepare if ever there is a certain race approaching that you plan on joining?

For example, if you come from a running background, but your longest run thus far has been six miles, and you’ve done no swimming or cycling, a Half-Ironman triathlon the following month isn’t realistic.

Besides your present fitness, think about how much time you have to train, how training can affect your family life, career, or both.

Although a Sprint distance demands a relatively small amount of training, training for an Ironman can be like dealing with another full-time job.

Which Race Should I Do?

You should check what races are in your area through magazines or through the web. Try this triathlon calendar to search by State, date and event type. Ask for the opinion of your triathlete friends about which races they would recommend.

Preferably, you should find a race that gives you sufficient time to get up to speed, depending on your unique circumstances. Do not rush your training. If it’s already late in the triathlon racing season, plan for next season.

When reviewing races, try to find the following information:

  • Period of time the race has been around
  • USA Triathlon-sanctioned, or sanctioned by your triathlon national governing body in case you reside outside USA
  • What your skilled triathlon friends say about it
  • Safety of the swim
  • Aid stations on the run course
  • The fee for the Race Application
  • Postrace food and activities
  • Available hotels and accommodations in the race area (if staying overnight)
  • If the race is at sea level or high altitude, for possible acclimation concerns

Keep It Simple….

Keep things as easy as possible for your first couple of races if you are a beginner. Local events within driving distance are better than having to deal with air travel, and taking apart your bicycle to fit into a bicycle case. (Destination races and air travel can be a great getaway for a veteran, but it is not a wise decision for a newbie.)

Small races are better than circus-like mass starts, and rural venues can be less intimidating compared to metro madness.

What Do I Really want to Achieve?

There are three common reasons people race: to finish, to improve, or to win. If you’re an experienced athlete or a top age-grouper, your goal would most likely be to finish or to improve on your previous finishing times.

Ask yourself, “Is this a race I just wish to finish, or am I prepared to put in the required higher level of training to set a personal best? If your next triathlon will be your first ever, then it’s best to set a goal of simply finishing.

Why Do I Want to Do This Race?

Many people don’t make an effort to document their motivation behind a goal. They might create a training schedule or goal chart and proudly post it on their refrigerator door for all to see, but they don’t bother to examine and write down the main reason or reasons why they are starting this training.

The thought of making new friends and socializing can help keep you motivated as you embark upon triathlon training.

Goals are very important. You might still find your motivation waning at crucial times during your training (cold and rainy mornings) if you do not have a clear idea of why you have set those goals. Once you’ve committed yourself to a race goal, write it down – whether in a diary, journal, or triathlon training log.

Always bear in mind your true motivation in going after this goal.

Good luck!


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