10 Tips for Your First Tri

author : TeamMPI
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By Coach Mark Sortino

There are so many small bits of knowledge that you will learn after racing your first, fifth and tenth triathlon that I can’t put it all down in one article. Therefore, I listed 10 tips to help you along your way in preparing for your first race. Always remember that just about everyone in your race was a novice like you at one point, so they wont laugh or think your silly if you don’t know something. 

1. Practice transitions

This may sound obvious, but you should set up an “imaginary” transition with your coach, tri club or in your own driveway and practice. Set up your own transition area laying out a small towel. Then run up in your wetsuit (if your race is wetsuit legal), with your cap and goggles in your hand. Start from the bottom up: put bike shoes on, put helmet on and buckle, put sunglasses on and grab your bike and run past the “Mount Line” and hop on your bike. Coming in, get off your bike prior to the “Dismount Line” and run your bike in, hang it on the “rack”, take your helmet off, take your bike shoes off, put on your run shoes, put on your race number (on race belt) put on your visor/hat and run out of transition. That’s it! Practice this over two days at least five times each. Keep the same routine. Keep it simple, and keep it smooth. Check out this video on transitions.

2. Check your equipment

SWIM: make sure YOUR goggles are relatively new -  if not, buy some new ones for your race. Inspect your bike or pay to have a tune-up at a local bike shop. Ensure that your tires are in good shape – if not, get new ones. Learn how to change a flat and carry the equipment to do so in the race. Ensure that your running shoes won’t fall apart during the race (if so, they’re old!). If you’re not sure, buy a new pair and take a few runs in them before the race.

3. Know the course

Drive the course before the race. If you can’t, study the map either online or on a map provided by the organizers typically in the registration bag. Know how many loops, any special caution areas or any extreme hills or downhills. This will go a long way in preparing you mentally for the race.

4. Eat Right

Eat good food that you like the day before your race, but keep it on the light side for dinner. Try eating 12 hours or so the night before your wake-up alarm goes off. This will allow plenty of time for digestion. Stick to your morning meal routine – whatever that is. However, aim to eat at least two hours prior to race start.

5. Sleep right

Sleeping the night before the race is less important if you’ve gotten good sleep that week. Shoot for your best sleep two days prior. This is more important than you can imagine. Then don’t stress about not sleeping well the night before – you’ll be fine.

6. Swim

If you’re a novice, when the start horn goes off for your wave, count 10 seconds before you enter the water. This will give you plenty of room to adjust and swim within your own space. If your goggles usually fog, buy a travel-size Baby Shampoo bottle. Put a small dab on your fingertip and lightly rub on the inside of the goggles. When you’re down by the water, dip the goggles in the water a couple of times and presto – no more fogging goggles!

7. Warm up

RUN easy for 5-15 minutes finishing with 2 pickups (these are short bursts of accelerations to about 90% effort – maybe 20 seconds max). If the opportunity is available, jump in water for a five minute EASY SWIM prior to your wave start. If the water is very cold, bring a “throw away” towel to wrap yourself in between the time you finished the warm-up and before your wave starts. A warm up is CRUCIAL to allowing your body to function properly at race start and is just as important for beginners as it is for elites.

8. Plan the morning

Study the “Schedule of Events” either on the race website or on the schedule often provided in the registration packet. Know when transition opens, closes and when your wave starts. Give yourself plenty of time to park, walk to transition, pick up your timing chip, be “body marked”, “rack” your bike, set up your transition area and learn where you enter and exit transition from swim to bike and from bike to run. Pick a time beforehand that you will go for a short warm-up run so as to get back in time to go over your gear (including setting your bike gearing up for the easiest gear to pedal from a stop) and exit transition before it closes. Give enough time to walk to the water and jump in for a five minute warm-up swim allowing at least 5-10min before your wave start upon completion.

9. What to bring on race morning

Lay out all your gear that you will be using the night before on your floor to ensure you have everything. Many people find lists to be very helpful here. Useful items to bring for race morning: sweats and hat (if you expect it to be cool), headlight or flashlight, tire pump, bottled water, light food to snack on and small towel to “mark” your area.

10. Smile at the finish line

Chances are you will have your picture taken at the finish line. You may not care at the moment, but smiling while crossing the finish line of your first triathlon only happens once – and you’ll want a good shot!



Coach Mark Sortino is a USA Triathlon Level II Coach and Head Coach for Team USA Paratriathlon in 2012 and 2013. Mark is also co-founder and owner of Team MPI (Multisport Performance Institute) that provides a diverse spectrum of services uniquely structured for both novice and experienced multisport athletes. For more information, check out www.TeamMPI.com


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date: August 9, 2013



MPI services include coaching, single & multi-day tri camps, clinics, swim video analysis, tri swim programs, bike fitting & more!



MPI services include coaching, single & multi-day tri camps, clinics, swim video analysis, tri swim programs, bike fitting & more!

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