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Q & A with a Pro


I recently had the opportunity to help a new friend prepare for her first triathlon, Coeur d'Alene 70.3. Rachael had some excellent questions that I wish I’d have known to ask when I began racing. This discussion is more specific to long course racing, but many of the principles apply to any distance of triathlon.


  • What type of clothes do you recommend?

    • A triathlon-specific top and shorts (also called a “kit”) is a nice investment for most athletes. You can read a little more about kits here. These kits are made to be comfortable, minimize chafing, have additional pockets for nutrition, etc. and are designed to go from swim to bike to run with ease. Some athletes prefer to change between each discipline. Whatever you decide, practice it in training and be aware of any rules around this practice (i.e. no public nudity, nothing left on the ground around your bike, etc.)


  • What kind of wetsuit? Long sleeves/sleeveless? Where do I buy/rent one? Which brand?

    • I’d recommend investing in a good, full-sleeved wetsuit for beginners. Generally speaking, a sleeved suit will be the style you’ll wear most often. I personally love Blueseventy’s smooth fit, flexible materials and quality craftsmanship, but I also directed her to check out the styles available at our local triathlon shop, Tri Town, and see what she liked. As luck would have it, I had a used wetsuit in her size up for sale. It helps to ask around!


  • Where do I get my timing chip? Race packet? Body markings?

    • The athlete guide has all of the info on where/when to pickup your packet before the race. Usually everything is centrally located around the expo area and you pickup your timing chip at the same location. Body marking is on race morning, usually just before entering transition.


  • What do you eat/drink and how do you carry it?

    • Whew! That’s a loaded question. There are so many variables with nutrition that it’s impossible to give a standard recommendation. But here are the basics: Eat the majority of your calories on the bike, aim for easily digestible carbs in solid, semisolid or liquid form and consume around 300 calories per hour to start. Practice this in training and consider sampling a few different products to see what works best for you. Some people find they can eat a lot on the bike, others struggle with getting calories in and need to drink instead. Carrying nutrition is easier on the bike than the run, with bottle cages, bento boxes and various hydration systems. Again, I recommend visiting a local shop to investigate the best options for you.


  • Pointers for the swim/bike/run?

    • Anyone doing their first big race should be clear about their primary objective. Mine was to HAVE FUN! Rachael had the same goal, along with being able to finish without any spectacular blow-ups. Keep your overarching goal in mind all day and focus on prioritizing what’s necessary to achieve that goal.

    • My pointers for the swim are pretty simple: seed yourself with other swimmers who are around your level. Relax, don’t go out too hard and keep it steady. Be sure to get the feel of open water prior to race day, especially in your wetsuit if you’ll be wearing one. Consider joining some local group swims for practice with group dynamics in the water.

    • During the bike leg, keep the effort steady and focus on nutrition. The bike is perfect for eating and drinking in preparation for the run since your body can accept more nutrition while riding rather than running. I encourage all athletes to carry a little extra nutrition on the bike than they think they’ll need. An emergency gel has saved me a few times when an unforeseen issue arises causing the bike leg to take a little longer than expected. Know how you’ll carry your flat change items, bottles, nutrition, etc.

    • Running is Rachael’s strength, so she already had an idea of pacing and a lot of confidence in her ability to execute the run off the bike. This isn’t the case for everyone, though, so know your expectations and be prepared to modify them if necessary. There’s a saying in triathlon: “plan your race and race your plan.” Stay on top of nutrition; take something at every aid station and carry some simple carbs with you. A few gels, a couple packets of chews or a sports drink specific to you are good bets. Decide ahead if you’re going to run with socks, glasses, a hat or whatever and practice all of this prior to race day. The run is where things really get tough, so being comfortable and prepared can make a lot of difference.


  • Transition Questions- do I need locks for my bike and gear? Will anyone be there to help me in transition? Any tricks or tips for a fast transition?

    • Fortunately, races that require you to check gear into transition the day before also provide security for the transition area. Make a plan for each of your transitions and walk through it several times before race day. Set up a little transition area in the yard or at a local swim venue to practice your plan. Consider having a mantra that make the steps easy to remember. For example, “wetsuit off, stuff sack, helmet, shoes, nutrition, gone.” This provides a mental checklist when energy is high with a lot of distractions. Some races provide wetsuit strippers, where you can peel your wetsuit down past your hips, sit down with your feet up and the volunteers will pull the suit right off. It’s quick and particularly helpful in a crowded transition area with a lot of athletes fumbling around with their gear. Find out what assistance is available ahead of time. In full Ironman races there are volunteers in changing tents to help with gear, and I’ve seen this at a few halves. Whether you need their help or not, be sure to thank them for being there- usually their smiles and encouragement are valuable even if they’re not physically assisting you.


  • Should I bring extra of anything? What about if the weather is colder?

    • I always bring extra goggles. ALWAYS. I personally have never needed them, but I’ve donated several pairs to others who have had the misfortune of forgetting theirs or breaking them right before the start. Always bring a little extra nutrition on the bike as discussed above. I also travel with a miscellaneous bag of straps, tape, scissors, batteries, plastic baggies, rubber bands, etc. that can come in handy. As for cold weather, everybody is different. I’ve raced where I needed to put on a jacket in transition and I’ve seen people put on socks, gloves, even beanies and tights in transition. The decision should be a balance between how fast you want your time to be and how comfortable you want to be. Arm warmers rolled up and a vest are relatively quick to put on and can really make a difference when coming straight out of the water onto a chilly bike leg.


  • What do you eat the days leading up to the race?

    • Some athletes have very specific pre-race rituals, right down to the meals they eat. I do not, but I have never dealt with debilitating gut issues like others have. In general, eat balanced meals with foods that are familiar to you. Carb-loading is not the mandatory pre-race pasta extravaganza it once was thought to be. You can top off your body’s carbohydrate stores quite easily by adding a couple servings of carb-rich foods to your meals and snacks the few days leading up to the race. For example, if you usually have fruit with yogurt for a snack, consider adding a little whole grain granola to this. Or opt for cheese and whole grain crackers or a bar. Don’t get so distracted with race prep that you forget to eat- it’s surprisingly easy to do! The last thing you want is an unusually late and heavy dinner the night before the race disrupting sleep. Oh, and one more thing: don’t dramatically change your diet the days leading up to the race because that’s what your buddy Jonny does. I don’t care what kind of cleanse-keto-anti-inflammatory craziness you’ve read about, but if you haven’t been doing that for months, DON’T DO IT during race week! Eat foods you’d regularly eat, have a beer/glass of wine if you normally do this (yes, even the day before the race!) and listen to your body’s unique hunger/satiety cues.


  • What do you recommend for recovery?

    • I remember the first time I met Coach Flanny and he emphasized the importance of light activity the days following the race, also called “active recovery.” This helps keep the blood flowing to your muscles to facilitate repair and helps to remove all of that metabolic waste from your tissues. Sometimes my plan will say, “walk a ton” the day after the race. Easy swimming, spinning or doing other enjoyable, light activity the day after will help your body recover. Also, eat well! Many athletes dive into decadent “reward” foods that they’ve avoided through their prep for the race. Enjoy ALL foods, but take extra care to get the good stuff in, too. Easy on the alcohol, eat regularly and listen to your hunger/satiety.


Triathlon Q & A can be much like a set of Russian Nesting Dolls. Each question can open up a new intrigue, which leads to more questions. Even after 10+ years in the sport I continue to discover and learn; from little tricks to shave seconds off transition times to nutrition strategies for tackling a new distance (hello, Ironman). Offering a bit of mentoring to new triathletes like Rachael only serves to deepen the sense of community I fell in love with when I did my first triathlon. To read how Rachael’s first crack at triathlon turned out, click here.

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