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Avoiding the Top 10 Triathlon Mistakes

 

What gives me the right to dispense advice about avoiding common triathlon mistakes?  Well, I’ve been racing for over five years.  I’ve done six Ironman events (including Ironman St. George in 2012, yeah, THAT year and Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013, yeah, THAT year too).  I’ve been a Level 1 Coach with USA Triathlon since 2011.  Most importantly, at least to me, I love this sport.  (Oh, as an aside, I have made many of these mistakes.  You can read my race reports for some of the more glorious Chernobyls, if you like.)  Does all that make me an expert?  No, but it does give me some decent amount of experience on which to draw.  Unsurprisingly, I get asked many, many questions about triathlons.  Some are totally expected.  Some are, ahem, rather bizarre.  The reality is that triathlons are tough.  Not, “this is impossible” tough, but also tougher than “I’ll just roll out of bed and finish”.  From merely picking a race to dealing with the endless amount of miles, gear, and advice, it is easy to make mistakes.  Since I only want to have fun and mistakes equal less fun, here’s the top ten mistakes that I think triathletes make and how to avoid them:

Top 10 Triathlete Mistakes

1.  More does not always equal better.  Too much gear.  Too much training.  Too much nutrition.  Too many races.

Too much of everything.  Most triathletes go way overboard with everything.  They have far more nutrition than they need to succeed (sometimes even for an expedition to South America…), they have far more gear than they’ll ever use (taking enough to reach the summit of Everest rather than a jog through the park), and so on.  Keep it simple.  Often, less is actually more.

2.  Don’t be Billy.  Billy would spend hours upon hours, aimlessly wandering his medium-sized backyard to retrieve his wayward jacket (or various other tasks).  A trip that should literally take two minutes would, instead, take Billy much, much longer.  Don’t be Billy.  Are you there to finish?  Are you there to podium in your age group?  Are you there to pursue an overall podium?  There’s no wrong answer to what do you want to do.  Most triathletes just want to finish and that’s great.  But, always have a goal (or, ideally, more than one) and know what you want to accomplish.  Along those lines, once you know that, create a plan based around it.  How will you start?  Where will you start?  Is a flying mount (link) necessary or even advisable?  Your plan will help structure your day and, hopefully, help you reach your goal.Triathlete mistakes

3.  Tinker, tinker, tinker.  This one, by far, haunts many triathletes.  Failure to be consistent will ruin nearly anything, but certainly an otherwise well-suited triathlete.  If you have a Coach, do what he/she says.  If you don’t, get a plan from somewhere and stick to it.  If you don’t have a plan, well, you are about to become Billy.  There’s a cold front coming so I’d start looking for your jacket now.  We both know it will take you a while to find it.  Don’t follow someone else’s plan and don’t materially deviate from yours.  Especially if you paid for it.  Even more especially if you paid me for it!  Likewise, don’t tinker on race day.  Do what you know and practiced.  Never try new things on race day; that’s a recipe for disaster.

4.  Study the map.  You wouldn’t take your family to the circus without knowing where it is, where to park, whether there were still tickets available, and so on.  Likewise, study the transition area.  Know where the swim entrance, bike mount line, bike dismount line, and run exit are located.  Mentally mark the location of your bike.  Do a complete walk-through of the entire transition process the day before the race.  Along these lines, know the rules of the road.  Like, no littering, no passing on the right, no drafting, no headphones, etc.  If you aren’t going to learn the rules, well, just be nice and a nice person.  That’ll probably keep you safe enough on race day.  Oh, and don’t be late on race day morning.  Set a backup alarm.

Triathlon Mistakes5.  Forget to shave? Know what can rub someone the wrong way? Stubble.  Why, you might wonder… because it is abrasive.  Know what else is abrasive?  Bike shorts and that silky-smooth shammy inside.  Wait, what you are thinking right now.  I just bought a pillow case made from the same material because it is so amazing soft and supple.  True, it does feel that way.  But, after miles upon miles, it will rub you raw.  Ever see dudes running a marathon with blood on their shirts where their nipples are???  Sure you have.  Looks painful right?  It is.  Get, use, and love your anti-friction solution.  Never, ever, never forget to do this.  Trust me.  Oh, and wear sunscreen.  Nobody wants you to turn into Lobsterman.

6.  You are not Arnold.  The Terminator was a machine.  No matter what you think, you are not a machine.  Warm-ups, cool-downs, stretching, recovery and sleep are rather important.  We all think that the main set of a workout is what matters most and that’s true, in a way.  But, fail to do the stuff that lets your body perform in that main set and you’ll be done doing that main set until that nagging overuse injury heals.  Or, you can walk like you are 85 when in fact you are merely 45.  Actually, you might have all the fluidity of Terminator.  And, no, not the liquid metal dude; the original that Sarah crushed.

7.  Putting your flag on the front line.  If you were playing Stratego (an awesome game, by the way), putting your flag out in front would almost certainly guarantee a quick and easy win.  For your opponent.  While you don’t necessarily need as much strategy on race day, you need to make some smart moves.  First and foremost, seed yourself correctly.  If you aren’t a strong swimmer, don’t push to the front.  I will swim over you without remorse.  Just as dreadful, don’t start at the back if you are a competent swimmer.  You’ll just swim over and/or around too many fellow athletes.  Successful seeding is critical to starting your day well.  Second, biking too hard, too early.  Unless you are doing a sprint race, pacing on the bike is critical.  Blow through too much glucose too early and your race is toast long before you can even think about the finish line.  Start slowly and build your effort.  Third, and most critical, respect the run.  Nobody ever won any triathlon in the water or on their wheels.  If you remember nothing from my glorious words of wisdom, remember this: It is all about the run.  Have a great swim, crush the bike, and melt down on the run?  You will hate your race.  Have a crap swim, suck wind on the bike, but run like you have the wings of Hermes?  You will have the a spectacular day.  So, let’s repeat and say it together: It is all about the run.  What is it all about?  The RUN.

8.  Resist the buffet line.  Just because there’s aid stations every mile on the run, with candy, chips, soda, some “ade”, water, and who knows what else doesn’t mean you need to eat back your race entry fee.  Know what you need to successfully finish and stick to that plan.  Recovering from a bonk will take you three cookies and five minutes of walking.  Recovering from a stomach gone south will take you two days and lots of toilet paper.

Racing Mistakes9.  Bridges are made of steel.  You are not a bridge.  Bridges have to be rigid, solid, structures.  They can’t sway, bend, or adjust.  That would be bad.  You, on the other hand, should have some level of flexibility.  While I completely endorse having a plan and sticking to it, know when you need to deviate from it.  In long course racing, especially full Ironman races, you are almost certain at some point to abandon that finely tuned and detailed nutrition plan you spent months creating.  Be ready to adjust on the fly.  When bridges are forced to adjust, they tend to collapse in some catastrophic manner.  Remember, you are not a bridge.

10.  Your dentist has been preparing for this day for years.  Don’t waste all those years of dental appointments, teeth brushing, flossing, and maybe even braces, whitening, or surgery.  Put them to good use.  Remember, you paid to do this.  So have fun and smile.  Especially as you are crossing the finish line.  Even if you are about to crap in your pants while simultaneously vomiting, smile for the camera when you finish!

So, there you have it.  If you can master these, you are probably going to Kona every year.  (kidding…)  You might not podium, but if you do follow these, you will almost certainly enjoy your day a lot more!

Thanks for reading and have fun racing!

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