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Make the Most Of Your First Triathlon

Don't fear the triathlon! Competing in one can be great for runners seeking a new challenge.

The warmer temperatures aren’t the only indication that summer is right around the corner. I always know that a particular season is upon us when I see an increase in emails about group bike rides and open water swims.

I'm talking, of course, about triathlon season.

My running friends organize group runs all year round, but here in New England there is only a certain window of time when biking and swimming outdoors is a good idea. And it’s during this time that I really see a difference between my running friends who just are just runners and my running friends who are also triathletes.

It is not the case across the board, but I find that some of my "just running" friends, even those I consider to be pretty hardcore athletes, find the idea of competing in a triathlon to be quite daunting.

And I get it. Running is not an easy sport by any means, but it only requires people to do one thing: run.

To complete a triathlon, participants must master three disciplines: swimming, biking and running, as well as efficiently transition between them.

Triathlons are different from running races, but they not have to be overwhelming. Here are some helpful pointers for triathlon newbies:

1) Prepare your race gear the night before. This free Triathlon Gear Checklist from Triathlon Geek will help make sure you remember everything and stay organized. Print it out on 8 1/2" x 11" paper and place your race gear on top of the arranged sheets. It’s a great way to plan, pack and bag your race gear so you won’t be scrambling around last-minute on race morning.

2) Arrive 90 minutes before the start. It may seem like more time than you’ll need, but remember: you have to park your car, haul all of your race equipment over to the start, set up your transition area, get marked with your age and race number, and put on your wetsuit. And this is all before the race begins! In other words, you need a lot of time to prepare – and time to relax a bit after you prepare.

3) Know where you’ll be entering and exiting the transition area between each race leg. You’ll want to get from the swim to the bike, and the bike to the run, as quickly as possible, so familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. Also make sure you know exactly where you’ve racked your bike; they have a tendency to all look the same when you’re staring at a sea of them.

4) A wetsuit is your friend. Sure, it’s not the easiest things to squeeze in to – or to get out of, for that matter – but it will keep you warmer and add buoyancy, which will help you get out of the water faster. BodyGlide is a great product that can not only help your wetsuit, well, glide on and off easier, but also prevent chafing and irritation.

5) Protect yourself from the sun. The biking and running portions will make up the bulk of your race. Use waterproof sunscreen, especially on your face, shoulders and arms, as they will be exposed the most. It’s also a good idea to wear a hat during your run to shield your face from the sun.

Training for a triathlon is a great way to mix up your running routine, challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, but when it comes to actually competing, it’s important to go in knowing what to expect. These tips will help take some of the uncertainty out of your first triathlon.

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