Intro to Triathon: Tips & Tricks

First off, THANK YOU, to all those who joined us for our first ever Women’s Intro to Triathlon Clinic on April 26th.  I saw a lot of familiar faces and then a fair number of new faces as well. It is exciting to see the number of people who are getting into the sport plus have a chance to listen to the women who have been doing it for a while.  When Amy, Jillian, Laura and Dabney spoke I could hear the passion they have for the sport and how excited they are to share that love with you.

For those of you who couldn’t make it (or those who were a little overwhelmed by the amount of information) here are some of what we discussed and some of the key tips!



Remember is that if you want to do a triathlon all you really need is a bike, a helmet, a pair of running shoes and the motivation to get started.  In this post we’ll be talking about a lot of other equipment – if you don’t have it yet – don’t sweat it – maybe you’ll build up to that point, maybe not but never feel like you can’t start with where you’re at.

Laura talked about doing her first triathlon on a borrowed bike that was way too big for her, I did my first (adult) tri on the road bike my parents got me as an 11 year old – needless to say about 5 sizes too small by the time I was 21.  You can do it. In an ideal world, I recommend getting the right size bike, getting it adjusted to fit you and getting it inspected to make sure it is in safe working order (might need a tune up or tires, etc).


So, first things first.  WHAT DO YOU WEAR?

Remember a few things

  • Comfort is king – find what works for you and go with it. That might mean a one piece tri suit, a two piece tri suit, a swimsuit, a swimsuit and tee shirt/running shorts.  Triathlon shorts or a triathlon suit will have a small layer of padding in the butt to make the bike leg more comfortable.  One piece vs two piece will depend on what is more comfortable to you (and even the race distance – bathroom stops become a consideration).  I like a one piece suit, Dabney said that on her 5’2’ frame the one piece gives her extra material that gets saggy when wet.  There is no ‘wrong’ answer when it comes to apparel – we just don’t recommend swimming or running in regular bike shorts! And fitted is good!  It will move through the water better (especially if you’re not wearing a wetsuit) and won’t be saggy when wet.
  • Try anything you plan on racing in BEFORE race day! You should never, ever, EVER be trying new equipment on race day.  Per Dabney’s suggestion – do a workout in your race day gear, find out where it’s going to rub or chafe.  Figure that out before race day so you can address it with Vaseline or BodyGlide.
  • Don’t wear anything under your triathlon shorts! No undies. Underwear will get wet and cause additional rubbing, chaffing. The chamois of your tri shorts should be right next to your skin.  Only other thing you might want is some body glide on the seams/stitching of the chamois. Think remove all friction.

Racing vs. Training:  There is a difference in cycling shorts and triathlon specific shorts.  Most of our panel recommends that you invest in both.  It might be a significant investment initially but cycling shorts will help during your training rides, especially if you’re doing longer riders and triathlon shorts simply everything on race morning.  Triathlon shorts have a much smaller chamois (sha-mee) then your traditional cycling shorts which is because they’re designed to be swam and ran in as well.  They’re designed to be very fitted and are still comfortable when wet.  I do most of my training in cycling shorts, expect for BRICK (bike-run) workouts when I’ll wear triathlon shorts.  Again – practice what you’ll race in. Even if you mostly train in cycling shorts do a few rides in triathlon shorts before race morning to see what that feels like.

Distance Considerations: In a sprint, Olympic or 70.3 race you will not be able to change.  Find a comfortable outfit you can wear for all three disciplines (again try it out wet, running and on the bike before race day). For longer distances such as Ironman races there will be a changing tent where you might be able to completely change, in longer distance races I choose to change to bike shorts and then into tri shorts for the run.

Wetsuits: Whether or not you want to wear a wetsuit (or legally can based on water temperature) will be one of the most important considerations for the swim leg of the race.  Wetsuits give you additional buoyancy, can help with sighting the swim course buoys and can help if you get open water anxiety.  A wetsuit will allow you to flip over on your back and float if needed.  The downside to wetsuits? 1) don’t get too dependent, they’re not ‘legal’ at all races depending on the water temperatures 2) a little longer in transition.

If you are going to use a wetsuit there are a few key tips to getting it on: treat it like a pair of panty hose, use the pads of your fingertips to avoid ripping the neoprene with your nails.  A great product called TriSlide is basically a spray that will help you get the wetsuit on and prevent it rubbing.  You can spray it around your ankles, wrists (for full sleeves), plus I do my neck/underarms to keep it from rubbing there too.

Sleeves vs. Sleeveless: Sleeveless gives you slightly better shoulder mobility, a lot of stronger swimmers tend to gravitate towards sleeveless suits.  Full sleeves offer greater warmth.  Know where you plan to be swimming and temperatures.





Start with a self-assessment: is swimming a strength or an area for improvement?  Are you comfortable in the open water?  Are you comfortable swimming in large groups?

It might be difficult to practice swimming in a large group, but open water practice before the event will be huge.  Try to find a group and go to some of the local lakes: Cedar Lake, Chester (public), Lake T, Marlborough (seasonal, parking pass req’d), West Hill and more. Make connections on Facebook plus Dabney and Laura mentioned that they’re always willing to meet up and do some practice swims!  (Great place to connect is our Women’s Initiative FB group – find other likeminded ladies).

In the race, if you don’t feel like the most confident swimmer don’t start in the middle of the pack.  Stay to the back or the outside – clear of the traffic and clean water.

Equipment tip: pack extra goggles – you might change you preference on which lens you want to race in the morning of the race, we’ve also seen people break goggles right before the start.  Better to have an extra pair of goggles and an extra cap just in case.


Know how to rack your bike.  The bike should hang by the nose of the saddle with the majority of the bike on your side of the rack (bikes will alternate directions).  Have the nutrition/hydration that you’ll need on the bike ready to go and easily accessible.  Practice eating/drinking on the bike.  If you are going to need to take on additional hydration during the bike leg of the race, practice bottle hand ups (have a brave volunteer stand with a bottle extended and practice grabbing it at slow speeds).  Practice looking over your shoulder when you’re about to pass, but keeping the bike straight.  All of these skills go hand in hand with bike handling skills – the more time you spend on a bike, practicing things such as grabbing a water bottle, eating a GU, etc the more confident you’ll feel.

After the swim you’ll run to transition, know where your bike is set up at.  Before the race walk from the swim exit to your bike (count racks, look for markers, use a bright colored towel or bar tape to help you locate your bike).  Change into your cycling shoes (or running shoes) and run your bike out of transition.

Socks vs no socks: The Great Debate. Bottom line, do what is comfortable for you – the couple seconds saved in transition don’t outweigh being comfortable for an entire leg of the race.  Jillian says she goes sock-less during the bike and then puts socks on for the run. I go sockless for both bike and run.  It all depends on you.  Putting socks on wet feet can be frustrating – it can be helpful to have an extra towel in transition (in addition to the one underneath all your stuff!).  If you have triathlon specific shoes they’re usually designed to be worn without socks and give better ventilation than normal cycling shoes.

Leaving transition, there will be a MOUNT / DISMOUNT line – you cannot get on your bike before then.  There are usually plenty of volunteers letting you know when you can get on, but this is another thing to scope out before the start.  The mount/dismount line usually gets congested our panel recommends running about 10-15 feet past the line and moving off to the side.  Don’t stress about clipping in right away, just get the bike moving and watch where you’re going.  Once you get moving you can get clipped in and start cooking.

Bike Rules: In a non-draft legal triathlon you need to keep 3 bike lengths between you and the person in front of you.  If you would like to pass, start to execute the pass.  Always pass on the left and do not pass 3 across.  If someone else is passing wait your turn.  Once you start to pass and enter the ‘draft zone’ it is your responsibility to execute the pass.  If someone is passing you, once their front wheel is in front of yours it is your responsibility to get out of their draft zone.  This does not mean you have to slam on your brakes, but it does mean you have to re-establish the three bike lengths.  Drafting – intentionally or unintentionally – can lead to a time penalty.  Also – don’t litter, let people know “on the left” when you pass and generally try to be a considerate racer.  Be aware of other racers and cars (if the race course is open to traffic).

Another good thing to practice during your bike prep is mounting/dismounting.

Equipment tip: Put your bike into an easy gear before the race starts.  You do not want to get on the bike and not be able to easily pedal!


After the bike, make sure you dismount before the dismount line! You’ll be tired, but listen to the volunteers and have a plan to unclip. Have a nutrition/hydration plan.  Do you need to carry extra gels/blocks/salt?  If so have it readily available and stick it into a pocket of your tri suit.  Listen to your body (even if you have a plan, sometimes you have to deviate from that plan based on how your body is reacting any given day.

Make sure you wear your race number on the front of your body during the whole run portion!  A race belt can make this a little easier, or pre-pin (safety pin) the number to the shirt you’ll run in (if you’re doing this you might want to swim in a swimsuit/sports bra and then slip the shirt on for the run/bike portions). Usually you do not need to wear the bib number during the bike portion (you will likely have bike numbers, maybe a helmet number + body marking).  The bottom line is know the rules of your race regarding numbers and be prepared with how you’ll wear it comfortably.

Other considerations: blisters and chafing.  Ah the joys of rubbing body parts!  Know yourself and your body, know what rubs and where your tri suit hits on you.  BodyGlide/Vaseline can be your best friends!  In a sprint race if you apply BodyGlide before the race it’ll usually stick with you, for longer distances or if you have other considerations (Dabney mentioned Vaseline for her toes/blisters) it is better to take the 30 seconds in transition, reapply and be comfortable for the run.

Equipment tip: A race belt usually makes it much easier to pop your number on for the run portion.  It is a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment that simplifies everything.



Coach Amy says “treat it like the fourth discipline” make sure you take time to think through your transitions and practice them.  Lay everything out in a logical order. You’ll find what works best for you.

Laura thinks about things from the bottom up (swim – bike): wetsuit off, shoes/socks on, sunglasses, helmet, grab your bike and go.  Coming back in she says think top down (bike – run): helmet comes off, sunglasses (either stay or off), race belt, socks/running shoes on and grab a hat/visor on the way out of transition.

Equipment tip: Have you tried your sunglasses and hat/visor together?  Turns out that mine don’t both fit on my head at the same time – so I had to make a race day decision hat or glasses.  Try EVERYTHING first.

Make sure your shoes are either open (Velcro released) and ready to slip on, laces either untied or loose enough to easily slip on.



-Figure out your nutrition plan, try different products, know how long before the race to eat your pre-race meal – it will be different for every person, but just practice it all before those long training days!

-Nutrition is usually easiest to take in on the bike – when you get to the run your stomach will jostle around a lot more, consider when you’re planning on taking on some additional calories.

-Coach Amy suggests trying “Dizzy Izzies” – spin around a few times in a circle (think bent over around a bat to your forehead), then dropping down to do push-ups and then doing your transition practice!  It might sound silly but you’re disorienting your body, feeling some fatigue and then having to perform under the pressure!

-Using clip on aero bars on a road bike?? This will change your overall bike fit – aero position is different than your road fit – if you are doing a lot of tris using a clip on bar consider getting the bike re-adjusted for you (especially for longer distances).

-“Stay in Your Box”  On race day the only people watching are your family and friends, don’t worry about what other people are doing, focus on you.  The cool thing about tri’s is the wide variety of different ability levels at the races. That means at your first race there will be people who are good, if you see them doing flying dismounts and taking their shoes off on the bike and riding a 10K bike – don’t sweat it – and don’t change your game plan (don’t decide you have to do a flying dismount because you saw someone else do it) stick with what you’ve practice.

– If something goes wrong, stay relaxed.  Don’t waste energy being upset – unless you’re trying to win the race if you have to stop because you got a flat, or had a mechanical, or have a cramp and need to walk its OK!  Use that time to drink some more water, get relaxed and then get ready to get back out there.

-Not sure about wetsuits?  Newington offers rentals and we usually do a demo too.  It’s a great chance to try before committing to it.

-Take up people on their offer of help – not just in the race.  Our Ambassadors repeatedly talked about how willing they are to connect with people at the races or to set up a practice day at the Lake.  These ladies are awesome and want to help.

-Any questions or things I forgot?  Jet over to our Ask Our Ambassadors page and submit a question.  The question goes out to all 10 of our lovely ladies and anyone who it applies to will get back to you.  You’ll get different responses from different women!

Plus you can always come down to Newington and chat with me or any of our other experienced staff!

Amanda Bayer

The Women’s Cycling Initiative

Newington Bicycle