7 First-Time Triathlon Mistakes

Follow our pre-race checklist to make the best of your first triathlon

You signed up for your first triathlon, you’ve been training and you probably think that you’re well prepared. After all, how hard could organization and logistics really be—isn’t the hard part actually finishing? As it turns out, making simple mistakes could set back your time or even take you out of the race entirely and first-timers are somewhat prone to making mistakes.

Beginner triathletes have been joining up rapidly in the last decade. According to USA Triathlon, participation is at an all-time high in the U.S., the organization reached 550,446 total members in 2012. For reference, from 1998 to 2000, membership numbers were between 100,000 and 130,000. New members are important for advancing the sport, but they are also likely to slip-up. Check our list before your first race to avoid some of the most common beginner mistakes.

1. A poor sleep schedule. Getting quality sleep in the days leading up to your first triathlon can be difficult. It’s normal to be nervous, but several days on limited sleep will affect your performance and could make you susceptible to injury. Tossing and turning the night before isn’t disastrous if you’ve been able to keep up a good sleep schedule for the days leading up to the race.

2. Making a last-minute change. Consistency is key in every aspect of training, from what you eat before the race to which goggles you use in the water. Making changes without trying them in training could upset anything from your stomach to your race rhythm, and nothing is more annoying than leaky goggles.

3. Not knowing your equipment. Similar to using gear consistently, it’s vital to know your tools well. The most common issue is the bike—many triathletes just starting out rent their bikes for the race and some opt for pre-race tune-ups. If you don’t train with the bike prior to the race you won’t know what to expect, and worse, if there’s a problem with the bike you won’t know how to fix it.

4. Not drinking enough, or drinking too much. When it comes to long races, hydration can be tricky. In most situations, 16 ounces every half hour is ideal, but it’s better to learn how much water you need while training. Overhydrating is a common problem in triathlons, which can dilute sodium and potassium in your body.

5. Not preparing for the swim. Despite living 20 minutes from the beach, I trained for my first triathlon in a pool— and only in a pool. Then on race day I was both shocked and unprepared. First, there are hundreds of people swimming all around you; you will be hit with arms and legs. Then factor in the salt water (which you may swallow when getting hit), the current and, in my case, the jellyfish stings. If possible, train at least once where you’ll be competing.

6. Practice Transitions. Getting out of your wetsuit, mounting and dismounting your bike quickly and knowing when to grab water are all part of the race. Practice these little steps in regular training to ensure seamless transitions on race day.

7. Foregoing Sunscreen. Skipping sunscreen is always a bad plan, skipping it on a day when you’re already prone to heat exhaustion and dehydration is a terrible plan. Wearing a quality waterproof and sweat proof brand will save you on race day.