What I Learned Leading Up to My First Triathlon

I just finished my first sprint triathlon and here is what I learned and did leading up to the starting gun.




Eliminate the stress of forgetting something for your race by using checklists.  I have two main checklists:

  1. Packing List - everything I needed for the race day including pre-race fuel and clothes to wear home from the race.  I included 5 categories - General, Swim, Bike, Run and Recovery.  
  2. Race Focus List - key items I want to remember and focus on for the race.  These included the length of my warm-up, that I wanted to go hard on the bike right before the run.  This list will change race to race.  I also jotted a couple of notes right after the race for things to remember for my next race. 

Gear Bag

You need a gear bag.  It doesn’t have to be a new, Ironman branded bag, anything that you can comfortably fit your gear into and preferably with various pockets.  I like everything in its place.  I used an old cycling bag I have had for 20 years.  It worked great and was able to handle by helmet; two sets of shoes and everything except my wetsuit. 

I literally had my checklist and gear bag together and checked off each item as I packed it in the bag.  When the checklist was completed I knew the bag was complete and it went right into the car. 

I packed my bag race day minus 2 (day-2).  That way I had time to pick up any missing items.  I recommend that you don’t wait until the day before.  In most cases that is too late.


With my bag packed and wetsuit in the car (assuming the race is wetsuit eligible) I am off to the race.  

I headed to the race venue and picked up my packet as early as possible.  Going the day before was key for me.  You won’t be time crunched to have to get through getting your packet, getting marked, setting up your transition area and allowing enough time for a good through warm-up.

Pre-Race Briefing

Getting there Day-1 allowed me to attend the pre-race briefing; which was extremely valuable for this being my first race.  The host shared a couple of tips that I used.  I highlight those below.

Drive the bike and run courses

I was able to drive the bike and run courses.  I noted the hills during the ride and identified areas where there was gravel around turns and other potholes to avoid.  Really gave me confidence I knew what was coming on the run and bike.

I studied the transition area and knew exactly how the flow for each transition worked.  Once again this eliminated more uncertainty. 

Walk down and view the swim course 

Understand what buoys are to your right, left where you turn etcetera. Easier to get that down on land rather than in the middle of race.  Walk the transition from the swim up to the transition area.  Any uneven ground, things to avoid?  You have a change to see that. 

After your Day-1 course review you have reduced some of the uncertainty and stress of the unknown.  Now you are ready for Race Morning.

Race Morning

First thing I did was to get marked and get your timing chip.  For this HFP race they don’t pass out the timing chips until race morning, along with body marking. Remember to place the chip on your LEFT Ankle, as this will ensure it doesn’t get tangled with your bike sprocket. 

For my first race the transition area was first come first serve.  I selected a spot that was right by a large flag.  This was key for me being able to see when your transition area is.  Remember it is easy to spot your bike coming off the swim, but when you are coming back for T2 after your bike you won’t have your bike as an indicator.  Find a large easily viewable landmark to place your transition area. 

Here are a couple of items I used during my first race

Garbage bag – it rained right up until 15 before the race started so I was able to get my gear set up for the transition and have it laid out inside the large garbage bag.  My stuff was organized and dry.  When nit stopped raining I was able to quickly get it out the bag and kept it dry. 

Chalk – If you can’t get next to a landmark for your transition bring some sidewalk chalk or duct tape to put a big mark on the ground signifying your transition area.   Your transition area is set, now its time to get the wetsuit on and head to the swim.  You can also use duct tape.

Warm Up

Key - Warm up more than you think

I didn’t warm up enough and suffered a little on the swim.  I learned that I needed to swim enough to feel tired which was the adrenaline burning off.  You this by getting fully submerged and do 30 seconds of slow swimming with 15 second bursts.  Getting your heart rate up is key and gives you a great warm-up.  The colder the water the longer the warm-up.  Cold water on your body and face during a race is a recipe for disaster and open water panic.  

You are ready, oh one more thing - 

Remember to Have Fun!