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Lessons From My First Triathlon


Optional activity: Brett Robinson Coastal Triathlon

When the email came across my inbox, I considered it only briefly before saying yes. It was an add-on to a press trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, a place I hadn’t been in well over a decade. I considered myself to be a moderately fit person, if not a bit overweight, so what was the worst that could happen? I’d run half marathons, so how bad could a triathlon be? I had about two weeks to prepare but after swimming laps for the sprint distance, I decided to wing the rest.

It was just the sprint distance, after all, which was 300-meter swim, 10-mile bike, and 2-mile run. There was just one problem: I’d never ridden a road bike. I was borrowing one from a shop in Gulf Shores for the race, which they didn’t’ have ready for me to test out when I was fitted for it. The first time I rode it was the day of the race. They made sure to tell me not to wreck it, as it was an expensive bike, which only added to my anxiety.


The night before the race, my stomach was churning as we sat down to an Italian dinner. I’d be up before 5 am to make sure my transition area was all set up before the race started. I had my number written on my arm for the swimming portion and everything else I needed set up next to my bike. My friend and recent Ironman (!) Marina’s words were ringing in my head. ”

Don’t put your number bib on til the run. Keep a water bottle in your transition area. Don’t eat too many sugary race foods (gu, gel, bites, etc) unless you know your belly can handle it, but mostly just have fun!

So as I watched the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico and ran into the ocean to swim, I did just that. When would I have an opportunity like this again? It’s not every day you get to swim laps in the ocean. Next came my most dreaded part, the bike, so I took my time during the transition getting dried off and drinking water. I took my time, making sure I was comfortable, or as comfortable you can be on such a small seat, on the bike before speeding up too much. I didn’t change gears once for fear of flipping over the handlebars. As I made my way down the boulevard, I felt almost at ease. That was until it started raining. But it was almost time to turn around, so I knew the end was in sight. When I saw the transition area again, I was so excited I hopped off my bike and ran it through the chute as I ditched it. By the time the run came around, my body was over it, so I mostly jogged until I saw the finish line. No one but the volunteers were left but I WAS DONE! Now time for celebratory mimosas.


So would I do this again? Maybe, but the next time I would have some biking experience. I’d also want to do another triathlon in the ocean rather than a lake. Here are the lessons I learned from my first triathlon:

Less preparation can be good. In the past, I’ve let my preparation get into my head. For example, when it came to half marathons, I would tell myself I had to finish by a certain time. But with this triathlon, I just wanted to finish period. I may have placed fifth from last, behind some children, but I did it!

Your transition area should be how you want it. I read some articles online about how you should set up your transition area and I definitely peeked at my neighbors to see. But at the end of the day, it’s what you feel comfortable with. Do you want to change clothes between race sections? Come up with a method beforehand.

Road bikes are nothing like beach cruisers. I’ve ridden bikes before, sure, but nothing like a road bike. This has gotten me into trouble in the past when I injured myself on a mountain bike, so I tried my hardest to be careful on the road bike. The wheels have less give but tend to be easier to ride. But the seats are much less comfortable. I was afraid of hurting myself, so I didn’t lean over the handlebars like everyone else does and ended up uncomfortable for the rest of the day.

Have fun! At the end of the day, I wasn’t trying to qualify for some big event. I was trying something new and having fun. If you’re not having fun, or at least type 2 fun, which will allow you to appreciate it in hindsight, even if it wasn’t fun in the moment.

Have you ever competed in a triathlon?

I was in Gulf Shores for a press trip with Visit Gulf Shores Orange Beach and Geiger Public Relations. 


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