This past week, with a few days to spare, I hit my goal of swimming 300 miles in 2013. Truth be told I would have met this goal earlier this month had I not missed almost a week and half of swimming due to all the icy weather we had in Philadelphia. This made getting to the pool early in the AM, which is typically the only time I can swim, nearly impossible.

Meeting this goal made me proud because as discussed in previous posts, three years ago I couldn’t swim a single length of a 25-yard pool! Reflecting on this reminded me of all that I have learned over the years.

As a triathlete, I have had no shortage of shortcomings and fumbles and have made my fair share of mistakes over the years. But just like with all aspects of life, I have learned from my mistakes, and become a better, stronger person because of that. Simply put, in the wise words of Oscar Wilde “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

Listed below are several handy triathlon tips that I have gained from experience over the years from racing anywhere from sprint triathlons to half ironman triathlons. This isn’t a complete list, but rather a few things I wish I had known when I first started. I know right from wrong now simply because I have been there and done that and sometimes, I know what I know now simply because I learned the hard way.

  • Each time you approach a new distance, make your goal simply to finish. This is especially true for long distances such as half ironman and full ironman. Doing so helps take the pressure off you to feel as if you need to go all out in a setting you are not experienced with.
  • I find that most triathletes were either purely runners or cyclists before embarking on the sport of triathlon. With this in mind, I find that these individuals tend to over look the fact that a triathlon is 3 sports wrapped into one and that when training for one you have to equally distribute your focus and effort between the trifecta. Spend all your time and focus on one and the other two WILL suffer.
  • For your first few races, any bike you’re currently riding will work just fine. In fact, many people have completed their first triathlon on a borrowed bicycle. Just make sure the bike is correctly fit to you and is in good working order. There is absolutely NO reason to shell out a serious amount of money on a bike until at the very least you determine you want to continue to do more triathlons and feel comfortable making that kind of investment. I competed in several triathlons on a road bike until I eventually upgraded to a TT bike.
  • If you live somewhere where swimming in the open water is out of the question during certain portions of the year like I do, do everything you can to find open water swims/clinics where you can practice when the weather gets warmer. Swimming in a pool is an excellent way to keep yourself active in swimming in the cold months, but swimming in the open water is an entirely different beast and essential to your training.
  • Practice everything: Mounting your bike, your nutrition before, during and after the race, gear, and especially transitions, because transition time counts! You would be surprised how much time it takes to change from swimming to cycling and from cycling to running (known as transitions, “T1” and “T2”) and the fact that this time is counted into overall race time could mean the difference between a grabbing or losing a podium spot. All of the time between the start of your swim and when you cross the finish line at the end of the run counts. All of it!
  • Never wear anything new to a race. Train with the clothes/kits you plan to race in throughout your training cycle to ensure it fits, is comfortable, has enough storage room for nutrition and will not chaff you. Nothing is worse than realizing you are wearing something that is irritating you 20 minutes into an event that will likely take you 3 hours to finish.
  • In the same vain, never eat anything new before or during a race. Get your body used to the nutrition you will take during the race by training with it frequently. Just as I mentioned above with clothing, nothing is worse than realizing you ingested something that is irritating your stomach 20 minutes into an event that will likely take you 3 hours to finish.
  • What you do AFTER training is equally as important to your actual training. If you intend to spend 12-18 hours each week training, you need to eat to support that level of exertion and you need to both rest and sleep as much as your body demands. If you don’t eat well, eat enough and get the amount of post-exertion rest needed to support your training cycle, you are setting yourself up for failure, fatigue, injury or all three.
  • Train in terrain and conditions that are alike to the courses and environments you plan to race in. For instance, if you will be racing on a mostly flat course in a very hot environment, you should train in these conditions as often as you can. I can remember overhearing a man from Florida in the transition area the morning of 2013’s Syracuse 70.3 race admitting that he did not incorporate any hill work in his training regime. The fact that this course packed a hearty punch of with 3,500 feet of climbing on the bike and over 1000 feet on the run, I could not even imagine how much this man suffered that day.
  • After deciding on a race, study the course maps and all other relevant information provided by the organizers. For example, research what kind of swim start will you be dealing with. Will it be in waves? Or is it a mass start? Will it be a running start from the beach or will you start treading water?  These seem like small details, but knowing this information upfront will make  you more prepared and ultimately could mean the difference between a good or a bad swim.

More: 5 Secrets of the Triathlon Swim

What handy tips do you have?

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