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13 Tips For Sprint Triathlon Newbies

Posted by: on April, 6 2015

Found on USATriathlon.org and written by Sarah Wassner

You’re a sprint triathlon rookie. So what? With a little practice and a few simple tips, you can be just as prepared as a seasoned veteran.

Use this advice from a few of the top U.S. triathlon coaches to conquer the swim, bike and run — and everything in between — on your first race day.triathlon bike

Race Strategies for the Swim

1. Get in the proper position. “The swim can be hectic, especially if you’ve never swam in open water with dozens of your friends,” said Andres Douzoglou, triathlon coach and owner of Beyond Aero, a multisport shop in Berkeley, California.

Unless you’re a strong swimmer, try to position yourself away from the chaos.

2. Don’t panic. Getting caught up in the scrum of swimmers can be scary — and dangerous too.

“Newbies are wise to avoid the chaos by starting off easy,” said Marty Gaal, a coach with One Step Beyond Multisport in Raleigh, North Carolina. “And if you panic, roll over on your back, take a few deep breaths, and think happy thoughts. Seriously!”

3. Sight right. It’s important to sight while you swim to make sure you stay on course. It’ll also help you clock a faster split.

“Ideally, you’ll want to practice sighting in the pool beforehand by picking your head up every few strokes while maintaining kicking,” said Kate Schnatterbeck, a coach with Tri-Umph Multisport in Chicago. “Figure out the shortest line to get to each buoy, and pick your head up often. The more you do, the straighter you’ll swim.”

4. Kick it in. “As you get close to the end, kick a little more to get blood flowing to be ready for standing up and running,” Schnatterbeck said. “Swim as far into shore as you can, even if you’re touching the bottom. Then, take short strides all the way to the transition area.”

Race Strategies for the Bike

1. Get in gear. Before you head out for the swim, be sure to leave your bike in the transition area in the right gear. “If you’re going to be heading up a hill, then you’ll want to be in a low gear,” said Schnatterbeck, who also suggests checking your tire pressure to ensure they’re in the right range (between 80 to 120 psi). “If they’re properly inflated, that’s like getting free speed.”

2. Spin it out. No need to go all out on the bike from the gate. “Spin your legs for a few minutes to loosen up, then get into your pace,” Schnatterbeck said.

The same advice can be used heading into transition for the run. “Shift down into an easy gear and spin your legs so that you’ll feel better heading into the run,” Schnatterbeck said.

3. Remember the rules. It’s easy to lose your cool on the bike, especially if you have to brake or swerve as you weave your way around other competitors. Remember that everyone is nervous, so stay as controlled as possible to avoid an accident.

“Make sure you ride on the right-hand side of the lane and pass on the left,” Douzoglou said. Shouting out a simple “on your left” is the best way to give your fellow racers a head’s up that you plan to pass.

Race Strategies for the Run

Your legs may feel like Jell-O, but that feeling will pass. Stay strong, stand tall and keep running until you hit your normal stride.

“Practicing some transition runs before the race can help you get familiar with that feeling of running off the bike,” Douzoglou said.

If running isn’t your thing, keep in mind that it’s only a sprint, and you’ll be done before you know it.

1. Fuel up. Don’t hesitate to eat or drink during the run — even if it’s a short race. “A sprint shouldn’t require a meal plan,” Douzoglo said. “But if you’re thirsty or if you feel like you need a boost, drink or take in a gel.”

2. Break it up. The finish line may seem like an eternity away, but you can trick your brain into thinking it’s closer by breaking up the run into segments. “Go from mile marker to mile marker, and just keep moving forward. Run tall and smile — it’ll help others out there, too,” Schnatterbeck said.

Transition Tips

“Transitions are often where races are won or lost, especially in short races where every second counts,” Douzoglou said. Save precious seconds with these tips.

1. Practice. Set up a transition area in your yard and run through everything you’ll need to do on race day. Practice getting out of your wetsuit, cap and goggles and into your bike shoes and helmet. Then practice dismounting the bike and changing from your cycling gear into your running gear. “You’ll become more efficient the more you practice,” Douzoglou said.

2. Don’t get fancy. “Don’t try anything new that you’ve not already tried, like flying mounts or going sockless. Stick to what you’ve practiced,” Douzoglou said.

3. Remember to take off your helmet. “Try to be as quick as you can without forgetting anything, like taking off your helmet before you head out onto the run,”” Douzoglou said. “It actually happens to a lot of people.”

4. Don’t wear standard laces. Swapping your standard laces for elastic is an easy time-saving move. “A little Vaseline on the heel of each shoe will help you get it on and off quickly,” Gaal said.

A Rockville, Maryland-based writer, Sarah Wassner Flynn is a lifelong runner who writes about the sport for publications like Competitor, Triathlete, New York Runner, and espnW. Mom to Eamon, Nora and Nellie, Sarah has also written several nonfiction books for children and teens. Follow her on Twitter at @athletemoms.