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4 common beginner triathlete questions

Story highlights

  • It's normal to experience mild panic in your first triathlon swim
  • Your triathlon run pace will be slower than your normal running race pace
  • Use a brightly colored towel or chalk mark to guide your transitions

Tackling your first triathlon? Even the best triathletes in the world started somewhere -- and made their share of rookie mistakes.

Ironman world champion and Olympic silver medalist Michellie Jones wore her bike helmet backward at the same race two years in a row before getting it right. Mistakes happen, and no question is stupid -- especially when learning something new.

Here, we anticipate some of the questions and common pitfalls that arise for newbies navigating multisport.

I'm scared of the swim. What should I do?

It's normal to experience mild panic in your first triathlon swim, especially in a mass start. It's OK to take a break and breaststroke, or even hang onto an official's kayak (as long as you don't use it to make forward progress) to catch your breath.

Minimize the chaos by starting toward the back and to the side, out of the main pack, until your swim confidence increases.

Triathlete.com: Remaining calm in open water

I'm an experienced runner -- why do I feel so awkward when I start the triathlon run?

Running off the bike is an entirely different beast than straight running, at least at the start. You'll feel strange as your muscles adapt to a different body position and different demands.

Begin slowly and allow your body to adjust, and after 15 to 20 minutes you'll settle into your normal running rhythm. Also note that your triathlon run pace will almost always be slower than your pace in a standard running race.

Triathlete.com: Questions to ask at a bike shop

How will I find my gear in a crowded transition area?

Use a brightly colored towel (or, if allowed, a little chalk art signal on the ground) to easily identify your place. On race morning, familiarize yourself with the transition layout and the "in" and "out" entrances and exits for the swim, bike and run.

Toward the end of the swim, rehearse in your head what you'll do when you reach T1. Likewise, toward the end of the bike, rehearse for T2.

What and when should I eat and drink?

You'll learn through trial and error in training and racing what works best for you nutrition-wise.

Be sure to take in plenty of electrolytes (via sports drink) in the days before a race -- water alone will flush vital sodium and potassium from your system. Eat an early pre-race dinner; something simple to digest that your body is used to.

Triathlete.com: Is dietary variety overrated?

For race day breakfast, eat a few hours before the start and stick to simple foods such as oatmeal, toast and bananas. During the race, consume roughly 300 calories per hour from a combination of energy gels (the easiest to digest), chews or bars and sports drink, and sip some water at each aid station on the run.

For more beginner tips, visit Triathlete.com.