Top 10 common first-time triathlete mistakes and how you can avoid them on race day.

4 Mar 2024

Photo Credit: NSW Triathlon

We triathletes do like to over complicate things. But to be fair, the sport does have a lot of moving parts. It’s not as simple as your standalone ocean swim or running race.  For many, the first triathlon can feel like a minefield with pitfalls at every turn, but if you can steer clear of a few common mistakes, you’ll have more fun and you’re more likely to come back again and again.

So for our newbie members and extended community, here are 10 common first-time triathlete mistakes and how you can easily avoid them on race day:

#1: Not practicing running after biking:  It’s pretty obvious that you should swim, bike, and run in preparation for a triathlon. But sometimes new triathletes make the common mistake of forgetting to put those individual disciplines together in training. The reality is that swimming, biking, and running is not exactly the same as swimming then biking then running—particularly when you’re exhausted physically. In particular, running after you’ve ridden is its own, very specific, very odd, experience.

Solution: It’s really important to include several bike-then-run sessions (commonly referred to as ‘Brick Sessions’).  Start with a short run after your longest bike for the week—and be prepared for the run to feel very, very strange: Your legs may not have any understanding of what you’re asking them to do and may feel bizarrely uncoordinated. That’s why you’re going to do a few more bike-then-run workouts. It will feel a little bit less strange each time you practice this, so that by race day it will feel almost normal. Almost.

#2: Forgetting gear on race day:  There is always someone who forgets to bring their swim goggles to the race. Or a bike pump. Or something else that’s equally important.

Solution: Put together a list of what gear you need / want. Break the event down through the three legs and write down what’s required. Then the night before you pack your bag, tick them off as you put them in. You’ll then have the list for the second (and beyond) race, and you can tinker each time till you get a perfect list for you!

#3: Not setting up transition correctly: So you’ve got all your gear, but how do you set up transition? There is no right or wrong way to set up transition, but as a newbie, this can be confronting and confusion.

Solution:  Arrive early, take a few minutes to walk around and have a look at how others have set up. What have they done? What tricks and tips can you pick up? Remember, imitation is the biggest form of flattery!

#4: Not being familiar with swimming in open water:  The race starts! But most triathletes tend to do the majority of their training in a pool. And there are plenty of local club races around NSW that conduct their swims in local swimming pools. But you may also choose to take on an open-water environment—such as a lake or the ocean.

Solution: If your event is in the ocean or open water, the more experience you can get in open water before race day the better. It’s an old cliche but ‘practice makes perfect’.

#5: Poor pacing:  The race starts and everyone  head off on their swim at pretty confronting speeds. Your adrenaline kicks in and you go with them because, after all, this is a race??? But be aware, this is a pretty simple issue that lots of newbies fall into, and it catches up with them quickly if they aren’t extremely well prepared and ready to go.

Solution: Build into your race. Your goal in the first race isn’t necessarily to win outright, but perhaps it’s about finishing and being able to run the whole way home. Have a watch, know what pace you can hold through training and try and replicate that on race day.

#6: Going off-course on the swim:  Not knowing how to sight on the swim is one of the most common mistakes new triathletes make. This might be the most common mistake made by triathletes—novice and experienced alike.

Solution: The key to avoiding swimming offline is “sighting,” which essentially means picking your head up out of the water to spot the buoy you are swimming towards. There are fancy ways to sight, but for newbies, you can simply swim a few strokes of breaststroke while you get your bearings. Another piece of advice. Don’t assume that you are on course just because someone else is nearby. You could easily be off-course together!

#7: Losing your bike / racking spot during transition:  So now you’ve done a great job creating the perfect race-day gear list. You brought everything you need and nothing more into transition, and you’ve got it all organised by your bike like a pro. You’ve done the swim and it was awesome. You ran into transition … only to find that you have absolutely no idea where your bike is within all the other bikes already in there.

Solution: Stop and look around when you pick your spot in transition. Are you near something you can use as a ‘landmark’?  Try to remember how many rows over you are and how far down the row is your bike? Work out where the swim comes into and walk it a few times back to your spot before the race. And a brightly coloured towel will come in handy!

#8: Not knowing the rules:  Let’s be honest, in your first race your only real goal is probably just to ‘finish’ and perhaps run the entire length of the run (or minimise the walking). If you ‘ve come from a running or swimming background, then you probably haven’t paid much attention to learning race rules. In triathlon, there are a lot of actual rules that you do have to follow, and it’s a common first-time triathlete mistake to show up on race day completely unaware.

Solution: Know before you go. Read the race’s athlete guide (every race has one) and attending the athlete briefing is an absolute must. Speak to a Technical official (referees), who are friendly and happy to share the important rules you need to know in your first race.

#9: Nothing new on race day:  We see people doing stuff for the first time on race day all the time. This is NOT the time to try new stuff!

Solution: You might be nervous enough without trying out new bike shoes, nutrition, goggles or anything else first time around. As a general rule, if you haven’t used a piece of gear in training, race day is not the time to test it out. Save it for next time or training.

#10: Not having a community, support network and training buddies:  It’s an individual sport, but lets be honest. Making mistakes are more likely if you don’t have a community around you. You need a support network, some training buddies and likeminded people with whom you can explore, share ideas, discuss and learn!

Solution: Join a club!  There are heaps of local clubs around NSW full to the brim of triathletes, who range from (like you) total beginners to experienced. Learn from them, train with them. Benefit from their mistakes and knowledge. Or at least enjoy their company whilst training, racing and over a quality cup of coffee.

Find your local club and take advantage of the ‘End of Season’ membership now sale, reducing the price significantly across the AusTriathlon / NSW Triathlon membership.

So there you have it folks. Our top 10 common first-time triathlete mistakes and how you can easily avoid them on race day.


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