... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tips for First Time Triathletes: Stop Reading Tips for First Time Triathletes

The triathlon is nearly upon me! In just three days I will FINALLY be able to truly call myself a triathlete. I am flying back to Oahu on Saturday afternoon, picking up my race packet, and then bright and early at 6:15am on Sunday I will be diving into the waters of Lanikai to accomplish the goal I have had in the back of my mind for nearly seven years.
Lanikai Tri Course Map!

I have been religious about training with the small exception of a couple days during moving, and I am happy to say that I am feeling supremely confident. I have trained in landscapes (and seascapes) more challenging than the are I'll be in for the race, and for much longer durations. I know I won't be fast, but I have no doubts that I will finish.

Wondering what else I could do to prepare for Sunday, I started looking up articles on tips for beginning triathletes during or immediately preceding the race. The first article I read (find it here!) was extremely helpful. It offered some very relevant advice on nutritional preparation, warming up, and how to time consumption of liquids or food before and during the race. I knew that I would need to carefully plan what I ate the day before and morning of, but never would have guessed that I should avoid eating during the transitions and rather wait until several minutes into the next activity to let my body adapt to the changing movement. I knew that I should check my position in the transition area, but but never thought of walking through from both sides so as not to become disoriented when entering from different directions from the swim, then from the bike.

Encouraged, I kept googling. The next article I found was about the swim portion. It started out all nice and calm, talking about ways to warm up, how to come in and out of the water, and how to "sight" so you stay headed in the right direction. I started getting uneasy, however, when it casually launched into ways to avoid getting your goggles and swim cap knocked off by flailing arms, where to swim so as not to get kicked in the face, and what do to in order to deter people from swimming over you (solutions in order, in case you were wondering: wear goggles with straps underneath swim cap so that they are less likely to be lost, swim around the perimeter and don't draft too close, and grow your nails out to scratch the shit out of any asshole trying to swim straight over you. Apparently that happens a lot.)

Suddenly I was feeling very nervous. Am I going to get a black eye as a result of wayward extremities? Losing my goggles would suck, a lot, but my worst fear is getting swum over. As I kept looking at various articles, I realized that any of these things are very likely to happen. Each of them reiterate that the most important thing in these situations is to remain calm and keep swimming. To quote the triathlon preparation page from REI:
       "There is no way to avoid contact in the swim. Arms are flapping and feet are kicking, and someone may swim over you. You're going to get punched and kicked—don't take it personally. You might do it to someone, too. Know it's going to happen, be prepared and don't panic. Stay calm and keep swimming."

I can't even stay calm while reading them. Although THIS is a great article, I quickly realized that reading more was probably a mistake, which was confirmed when, hours later, I went to bed and laid awake staring at the ceiling imagining taking a foot to the face, violently scratching people with each stroke, and water pouring into my goggles as I try to swim.

After that, I stopped reading about tips for first time triathletes.

Swim nightmares aside, here are the most important things I've taken away from my reading:

1. Start "fueling" for the triathlon at least two days before the event. Eat lean protein, easily digestible carbs, and small amounts of healthy fats. Hydrate well for several days.
2. Eat an early dinner the night before, then a high carbohydrate light breakfast at least two hours before the race starts on the day of.
3. Do a thorough warm up including slow jogging, light biking, or at very least some calisthenics.
4. Do not eat anything other than breakfast until within five minutes of the race start.
5. Double check entrances and exits to transition area in relation to your transition station.
6. Make sure everything is clearly laid out in your transition station.
7. Don't eat during transitions, but rather once you're on the bike.
8. Start each activity a little slow to let your body get accustomed to it.
9. Stay calm.

I am continually reminding myself that this first race is not to get a great time, but to do something much, much better: accomplish a goal that I have thought about regularly for many years, one that for years I was too intimidated to even say out loud. Whatever happens on Sunday, I have undergone a wonderful journey and become much stronger than I was back in December when I first set out to do this. It seems like years ago that I could barely stay afloat when trying to swim twenty-five yards! Crossing the finish line in any amount of time will be the culmination of one goal and the beginning of many more.

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