Six tips for triathlon newbies from Dr. Vonda Wright – plus a few extras

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WRIGHT_VONDA_MD_ORS_20140725Trying something new can be both mentally and physically challenging.  Trying a TRI for the first time can send a new athlete over the edge.  Dr. Vonda Wright, Director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes (PRIMA) and Medical Director of UPMC Lemieux Sports Center and the Pittsburgh Triathlon, has some great tips to get you through that first triathlon.

  1. REST!
    Most new triathletes will focus on training for the swim, bike, run and optimizing sports nutrition while forgetting that a racing body needs REST!  For the best performance and decreased likelihood of injury don’t skimp on your daily rest!  This includes regenerative SLEEP as well as muscle rest (get off your feet) and mental rest.
  2. Lay some BRICKS!For newer triathletes the muscle change-over from swim to bike and from bike to run can be one of the hardest parts of the transition (even harder than the gear change).  Practice the transitions by running a slow mile after bike workouts or by spinning for 10 minutes right when you get out of the pool.  Even if you are not doing a true brick workout these mini bricks will train your muscles to transition more quickly
  3. Work on your WEAKNESSES!
    Many new triathletes are stronger in one discipline than another and are therefore tempted to maximize their strengths in workouts because it feels better.  The fault in this logic is that in a triple discipline race like triathlon your strengths don’t always make up for your weaknesses.  If you are a great runner… on your swim.  If you are a great swimmer….pound out the miles or work on bike technique.  It is your strengths that will kick in when times are hard so maximize your weaknesses for your best race.
  4. The race is really only 5 1/2 inches long!  WHAT?
    If you have put in the physical training time the true triathlon often happens in the 5 1/2 inches between your ears.  Triathlon is a tough mental event.  It takes resilience, problem-solving without panic, sheer grit and sometimes even a motivating mantra to pull you through. Practice the mental game just like your physical training with visualization, finding a mantra that pulls you through and dig deep.
  5. T1-T2…Transitions matter!
    transitionTriathlon is not just swim, bike, run…..the race is also the choreographed moves through the transition zones.  Since your T1 (transition zone 1 time) and T2 are part of your race you should practice them just like you practice the swim, bike and run.  They key to finishing is practice.
  6. Don’t Panic in the Water!You have been training for 6 months, you are standing with hundreds of other racers ready to dive right into arms and legs churning the water for the swim.  Your heart is racing, adrenaline is high and it is easy to rush into a panic and lose control of your breath and game plan.  Anticipate this.  Have a plan for YOUR race.  Alternate between freestyle and breaststroke until you feel comfortable and your breathing is comfortable.  You are going to be amped up at race start….anticipate it and be calm on the inside.

Other random tips:

  • Don’t worry – it is okay to pee in the water.  You may think it is gross but it happens.
  • Coaches count – triathlon is more than simply swimming, biking and running.  Seeking great coaching goes a long way for Building the best strategy and efficient training programs.
  • Get over gear envy – one of the fun parts of triathlon is all the high-tech gear.  Before you go out and spend thousands on gear make sure triathlon is your sport.  A suit, road bike and running shoes will do in your first try.

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