A few weeks ago I competed in my first triathlon - a super sprint distance race aptly named the Rookie Tri. It’s a 300 meter swim, followed by an 11.2 mile bike ending with a 2 mile run. I’m registered to race an Olympic Distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) at the CapTex Triathlon at the end of the month, so I figured this would be good practice. I’m so glad I did it, I had a great time and learned a ton.
Before getting into the specific lessons I took away, I’d like to heartily recommend this event. It’s a lot of fun and the organizers go to great lengths to make it accessible to newcomers. Triathlons are intimidating but this one really isn’t - mostly because so many other people are also first timers, so you shouldn’t feel alone. I never once felt like I should have known something I didn’t.
The swim is the most intimidating part of a triathlon for a lot of people. For most newer triathletes I talk to, this is their weakest discipline and the idea of a mass start seems insane to them. The Rookie Tri gets around this by breaking people into divisions when they register and then having staggered starts. Competitive triathletes can register in the “Open” division meaning they’d like to compete with others regardless of age group. This is the only group that actually does a mass swim. After that there are “Veteran” (meaning you’ve done 2 or more triathlons in the past) and “Rookie” (meaning this is your first or second triathlon) divisions who each start the swim 2 people at a time in their age group. It was a very relaxed way to start the race and made the swim portion a lot less terrifying for me.
People had told me ahead of the time that the bike portion would be hilly. I guess I take a certain amount of hills for granted, because I didn’t find it so bad and used the hills to pass people. Cycling is my strongest discipline, so your mileage may vary. The run portion was mostly on grass and involved doing an out and back, so you would pass the people in front of you. There was a short uphill section of the run, which just made it more interesting.
Another way that the Rookie Tri is particularly beginner friendly is that awards are given out separately for rookies and veterans. This makes it a lot easier to win a spot on the podium. I was only competing with other rookies in my age group, and so I managed to come away with a 3rd place finish! That was a great feeling.
All in all I was really happy with how things went. Here’s a list of take aways:
Race belts are a life saver. When you pick up your race packet, you get your bib number and some safety pins. USAT rules state that you must wear your race bib number for the duration of the bike and run, but clearly it wouldn’t be possible to wear it during the swim (it would either get soaked and soggy, or get torn up if you wear a wetsuit). The idea of fiddling with safety pins during a T1 seemed insane to me, so I took some advice from a more experienced triathlete and opted for a race belt that I left in the transition area with the bib number already attached. All I had to do was clip it around my waist when going from the swim to the bike. I bought one made by VeloChampion and it worked great for me.
Pace yourself. I made two pacing mistakes. I underestimated how hard the swim would be and I killed my legs on the bike. Full of adrenaline, I went out at full force when the swim started. Swimming is my weakest discipline and I remember being surprised when I was passing all these much more confident looking people! Then at about the 150 meter mark, holy hell I started to feel it and needed to tread water and take a break for a bit. The realities of open water swimming hit me (the waves!) as well. The second half of the swim was a lot harder than it needed to be as a result. Once on the bike, I pushed pretty hard which felt good at the time. I passed dozens of people and only got passed by one. I paid for it on the run though, so careful here. My run splits were about 8:20/mile which is slow for me on a 2 mile run, I should have been able to pull off 7:00/mile or faster. The lesson I’m taking away from this is that I need to do more brick workouts so I can better understand what I’m capable of on the bike without killing my legs.
Watch your step. The transition area is going to be hectic. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was that I would step on a bunch of burrs with my bare feet and have tiny barbs in my foot for the rest of the race - that sucked! When you’re setting up your transition area in the morning, take a moment to have look around and make sure it’s not in an area with lots of sharp brush, rocks, etc. You’ll be running there straight out of the swim and you’ll be a bit disoriented, so make sure you pick a spot with a clear path. Additionally, practice making your way to your transition area from both directions depending on the course map. I had it down coming from the swim, but got a bit lost in T2 which probably cost me a minute or two.
Finish strong. It’s easy to start to ease off when you see the finish line. You’re exhausted, you’ve been pushing yourself hard, but now isn’t the time to slow down! With just a few hundred feet to go, I noticed too late that a guy behind me was starting to up his pace and now my “finishing photo” is a shot of that other guy crossing the finish line right in front of me. It’s a race, and all in good fun - we even high fived each other right afterwards, but I do wish that I’d crossed the finish line ahead of him. Lesson learned - never again!
All in all it was a really great race and experience. Multisport is intimidating but I’d heartily recommend the Rookie Tri to any newcomers as a perfect way to get your feet wet (literally!). I’ll be there next year, competing in the Veteran category and I can’t wait.